Plantronics, a well-known name in headset and communication-system technologies, has released yet another VoIP and multi-use headset for computer users. Their new product, the .Audio 480 “virtual phone booth”, is an analog and USB-capable headset with boom mic intended primarily for use with Skype and a long list of other voice chat and audio-based programs. It’s also billed as a functional headset for enjoying music and engaging in video games. We take a good look at the .Audio 480 to see if it lives up to its marketing claims and Plantronics’ already-excellent name.
Features and Design:
The Plantronics .Audio 480 “virtual phone booth” is a very high-tech, svelte looking boom mic and ear bud set. Because it doesn’t have a rigid over-the-head brace, the entire body of the 480 is sexy and thin, like a string bikini. It’s equally attractive on men and women (very much unlike a string bikini) thanks to the neutral silver and black coloring and futuristic design. The entire .Audio 480 weighs only a few ounces – even with the USB adapter. For laptop users on the road and that want a headset for VoIP, the .Audio 480 is amazingly easy to transport. It even comes with a nice leather carrying case with soft, felt-like lining.
Noise Canceling Microphone
Plantronics is very well known for their excellent noise canceling technologies. The .Audio 480 was given a noise canceling boom mic which blocks or greatly reduces wind noise, ambient noise in a room or office, etc. Instead of hearing a bunch of yadda yadda in the background, your callers will hear and pay attention to your voice – clean and clear, no distractions.
Sexy Bendy Boom
There’s nothing quite so embarrassing as having a fat honking sausage boom mic protruding in front of your face while you try to conduct a VoIP call or video chat. Get hip to the 21st century with an uber thin boom mic that’s thinner than most 3.5mm audio cables. It’s the Kate Moss of boom mics (without the disgusting coke addiction). Your callers may notice an increase in voice quality and your video chat friends will suddenly be able to see your cheery face.
Some VoIP headsets have only one ear bud, reducing calls to a single audio channel. The .Audio 480 has two ear buds, allowing for full stereo sound. While a headset may not be able to improve VoIP session quality, stereo audio can greatly enhance the overall experience and feeling of proximity in VoIP calls.
The Plantronics .Audio 480 headeset with USB connection
Setup and Use:
It’s pretty easy to set up and begin using the Plantronics .Audio 480 headset. After removing the 480 from the packaging, experiment with the ear buds to find the set that fits best for you. There are three rubberized ear bud sizes and one ‘memory foam’ ear bud set. Personally, I thought the memory foam set fit best and produced the best sounds. Your findings may vary.
Decide whether you’ll want to use the headset with analog audio plugs (3.5mm or 1/8″ headphone and microphone jacks) or if you’d prefer to use the USB adapter. Plantronics claims that the USB adapter enhances sound quality. I didn’t notice much of a difference, but I much prefer using USB simply because of convenience.
When donning the headset, you may find that the left ear bud tends to droop or fall out. You’ll need to brace the ear bud to the fold in your ear using the included ear tabs. It’s a strange feeling at first, but the ear tabs come in three sizes, so the comfort level can be adjusted enough that you don’t really notice them after a while.
Once the headset is on and connected to your computer, you may need to go into your Control Panel or System Preferences (Sound) and select the .Audio 480 as your in/out source of choice if you are using the USB adapter. You can also easily make this selection in Skype or any other chat/VoIP program.
Before using the headset, make sure that your computer volume is turned down a bit and that the adjustable volume slider on the .Audio 480 is also turned down. Failing to do so could result in you accidentally blasting your eardrums. Get an audio stream going and adjust the volume to a level best suited to you.
If you want to test out how you sound to folks on the other end of your VoIP calls, call your own number and leave yourself a voice mail. Speak naturally – read some text from a book or website if you don’t know what to say (“testing 123″ doesn’t always produce a satisfying track). Check your voicemail to listen to the natural awesomeness of your voice.
The Plantronics .Audio 480 ear buds, and ear tab w/mic
I set up the .Audio 480 headphones in Skype and made a few calls, left a few voice mails, etc. In all my tests, the .Audio 480 headphones sounded great – both incoming and outbound sounds were as good as or better than land line or cell calls. The tonal quality of voices was excellent. Even background noise seemed to disappear, which was a great benefit.
I used the .Audio 480 headphones with iTunes and an iPod to test the audio quality. All songs were either 128kbps from the iTunes store or 256kbps VBR files from my own CD collection. In every case, the sound through the tiny rubbery ear buds was nothing short of disappointing. There was virtually no bass at all. Mids were barely audible, and the only sounds clearly emanating from the headphones were highs. Familiar with using the EQ to adjust for proper levels with varying devices, I increased bass tracks. This produced a noticeable change, but the final output was strained, unpleasant and unnatural. The memory foam ear buds worked much better for me than the rubberized ear buds, but the improvement was negligible The only way I was able to get half-way acceptable bass was to shove the ear buds far into my ear canals, making the solution worse than the benefit. Sorry folks.
The Plantronics .Audio 480 headset is a fantastic looking headset and a marvel in minimalist design. It is great for Skype use and even better for video chats because of the super thin boom mic. Unfortunately, Plantronics is also marketing the .Audio 480 as a headset for listening to music, something it kind of stinks at.
If you’re looking for a headset that you can use to rock out and enjoy your CD or iTunes collection, look elsewhere.
If you’re looking for a VoIP headset, a portable solution for recording audio for podcasts, audio tutorials, etc., the Plantronics .Audio 480 headset is a truly excellent option.
At a suggested retail price of $89.95 USD, the .Audio 480 seems to be a bit pricey. The good news is that the .Audio 480 can be found through numerous retailers for roughly $55 USD.
• Great for Skype & video chat
• Futuristic, impressive design
• Super compact, easy to carry
• USB and analog connectors
• Tiny and weak for music
• Ear buds can be uncomfortable for some users