When the pandemic struck in early 2020, everyone waited and see, but realised that it is not going anywhere and people had to stay at home to work. Then audio manufacturers started launching headsets designed specially for consumers who are working from home using Zoom, Microsoft TEAMS, and other telecommuting software.
Essentially, headsets have been in the market for decades, but they are mostly functional – it’s just a headphone with a boom mic. However, some brands take efforts to rethink of the new way of communication and then implemented a few simple and high effective features. In this article, I will recommend my favourite audio headset launched during the COVID-19 pandemic that is priced below S$100.
Based on feedback, many people do not want to spend a lot on headsets. In fact, most of them are using their every-day wireless earbuds for online meetings. Read on to understand why they are not ideal.
What To Look Out For in a Headset
A good headset should have the following benefits:
- Comfortable to wear for long hours (does not build up heat on the ears)
- Good audio quality for listening to meeting calls (should not sound cluttered or noisy)
- Good mic quality to allow other parties to hear you clearly (not necessarily studio-quality)
- Allow quick controls of audio volume or mic mute function
Wired Headsets vs. Wireless Earbuds
It is natural for consumers to want to use their existing wireless earbuds for calls instead of buying a dedicated headset. However, Bluetooth wireless headphones are generally less reliable when it comes to connectivity to laptops because there are actually different audio profiles that needs to be activated and this often creates issues. Secondly, there is audio lag in transmitting the audio signals, which cause communication delay and that is very annoying to everyone in the call. Finally, the mic quality is not clear enough for other parties to understand comfortably. Many of these wireless earbuds have strong background noise cancelling algorithm which makes your voice muffled. In fact, the mic pieces are so close to the ears instead of your mouth, it is simply a matter of physics that the mic could not easily pick up your voice as clear as with a boom mic.
3.5mm vs. USB Headsets
Should you get the 3.5mm analog connector or the USB version? I would highly recommend the headsets with USB connector because it interfaces to the device and lets you remotely control the volume as well as the mic mute features. The USB headset is also better in compatibility and delivers better audio quality as it uses the headset’s digital audio chip instead of the laptop audio driver. If your laptop has separate connectors for audio and for mic, then most modern 3.5mm headsets will not support, and you would need to purchase a separate splitter. You would not have such issues with a USB headset.
Note that not all USB headsets have integrated control with the telecommuting app, so it is important to read my reviews before buying. The other consideration is that you need a spare USB port, which has become fewer in new laptops as they expect you to invest in a USB Hub which increases the number of USB ports to connect more devices.
There are headset specialists like Plantronics and Jabra who design professional headsets to call centres and office workers for decades. You can’t go wrong buying from them, but they cost above $200 for the really good quality ones, as they have premium features like wireless dongle, background mic noise cancelling, ambient noise cancelling (ANC), meeting LED indicator. If you have the budget, then I personally recommend the Jabra Evolve2 85 which I have reviewed for NXT. Mind you, they retail at S$707.
Indeed, there are no shortage of choices for headsets. But for less than S$100? Well, I have reviewed some of these affordable products and this is the headset I would recommend for work at home, at office, for studies, and even for podcasting.
Creative Chat USB: Best WFH Headset Under $100
Creative Chat comes with 2 versions. I reviewed the Creative Chat 3.5mm version and I preferred the audio quality and functionality of HS-720 V2. Guess what? Creative then launched a hybrid of these two, offering the digital benefits of the HS720 V2 with the design quality of the Creative Chat. Plus, there is a new additional feature which I thought was absolutely useful: the Creative Chat USB mutes the mic automatically when the boom mic is swiveled upwards to the resting position. This is so much easier to control the mic mute, just by moving the boom mic position. But if you prefer, you can also manually mute it from the in-line control button without swiveling the boom mic.
The other helpful feature is the ability to hear your voice feedback into the headset. This means 2 things: when you hear your voice through the headset, it means your mic is unmuted. Second, you speak less loudly because you can hear yourself through the headset. Another good thing is: If you do not like this feature, it can be disabled.
Another feature available only in the Creative Chat USB is that it supports the SmartComms Kit through the Creative app. This feature is actually sold separately in Creative Soundblaster Play! 4, but now it’s part of the Creative Chat USB. With features such as VoiceDetect, which automatically detects your voice and automatically unmutes the mic as you speak, and NoiseClean, a feature that aptly cancels out any unwanted static background noises during online chats, enjoy more productive and less disruptive calls with just a few clicks of a button.
The Creative Chat USB is clearly the best headset below S$100 for work-from-home, for office, for studies, and even for smartphone calls, because it has this list of features that no other headsets in this price range offers:
- Mic feedback monitoring, with option to disable
- Swivel boom mic to auto-mute, with option to override mute by button
- USB-C digital audio connectivity works with laptops, game consoles, smartphones (USB-A converter included)
- Direct volume and mic controls with the software
- Creative SmartComms Kit with features like VoiceDetect, NoiseClean-In, NoiseClean-Out.
- Supports custom EQ via Creative App (only supports Windows)
I hope this article helps you in understanding the benefits of the different headset types and why I prefer to use wired headsets than wireless headphones. If you want to read up more headsets before making a decision, click here for the list of headsets I have reviewed.