Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Headphones for Skype on your ProMac (OSX)

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me "Oh we could have a Skype meeting!" or "Do you have Skype?" I would be sipping mai tais on a beach in Bora Bora right now. Skype? What's all the stink about Skype? Well, I guess it was meant to be, because I have discovered it truly is a cool convenience for bridging distance and saving time not having to physically meet. And if that were not enough Oprah uses it all the time, and I just saw it on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" too! So there must be something to this!

So this is a review of headphones, rather than of Skype itself. I do not have a webcam so to use Skype I need a headset with microphone. I have now purchased my THIRD headset in search of the right pair. Here in Phoenix, Arizona I've shopped at BestBuy, Target and Fry's Electronics.

Fry's had a mind-blowing selection -- everything from sound-canceling headphones to simple earbuds. My first trip in there I was completely overwhelmed and left the store having not bought a thing. Its not that there were not salespeople available, I just had a hard time deciding. They have price ranges from oh, like $10 to over $50.

I initially bought the iHome LifeTalks Basic Headset, model IH-H400AB, which had an analog (not USB) connection. I paid $19.99 at Fry's Electronics for this headset.

According to the iHome website...

- high quality audio
- adjustable noise canceling microphone
- cushioned ear cups

Technical Specs:
- frequency response: 100 - 20000 Hz
- sensitivity: 99db +/- 3db
- cord length: 6.6 ft. (2m)
The problem with these was that there was only an analog connection and nowhere in their instructions did they explain that you have to adjust your Mac system preferences, so I was confused as to how to get the sound to work. I called the iHome customer support line and got a lovely, polite woman in India, who explained to me that iHome does not support the Mac! Oh sure, they only profit from the hip name modeled after the Mac (i.e. iPod, iMac, iHome). How do you say in Indian "Sheesh!"?

BTW, the only place there is an Analog Audio Line-in Port and an Analog Audio Line-out Port on my MacPro are on the back of the computer, which is not the most convenient for plugging in headphones. It shortens one's "leash." And besides a USB connection promises a better quality sound. So these were promptly returned to Fry's Electronics and I decided I must need to shell out double the money to get what I really needed.

HEADSET #2: I traded in that headset for the upgraded iHome LifeTalks Foldable USB Headset, model IH-H413UN, which had a USB adapter. I paid $39.99 at Fry's Electronics for this headset.

According to the iHome website...

- USB digital & analog audio
- adjustable noise canceling microphone
- padded ear cups & headband
- foldable Technical Specs: frequency response: 20 - 20000 Hz sensitivity: 99db +/- 5db cord length: 6.6 ft. (2m)The LifeWorks website for this model states: "The included adapter gives you an option for connecting the headset through you computer's USB port or 3.5mm headphone or microphone jacks."

The way this product is designed is, in theory, to be able to use both analog connection and USB connection. Should be versatile, right? The problem: The analog jacks fit into a chubby USB adapter, which does not fit snugly into the USB port on the front of my MacPro tower and wiggles as I move. So when I am on a Skype conference call someone says "Do we know who is causing the interference?" Yup, that would be my computer and my brand new $40 iHome (a.k.a. Does-Not-Support-The-Mac") headset. Back to Fry's Electronics it goes!

This product is nothing but poor design, and no surprise, made in China. No thinking about an actual Mac computer or how they are designed. No thought on functionality. Here is a picture the unnecessarily chubby USB port. Because of its fat design there is not room to slide the USB into the keyboard port, thus eliminating one possible option for connection. Just plain DUMB.

Logitech USB Headset Casque USB H330. I paid $29.99 at Target for this headset. It is also available at BestBuy and I believe Fry's Electronics as well.According to the Logitech website...

- USB connectivity for Mac® or PC
- Noise-canceling microphone
- Adjustable, lightweight headband
- Stereo sound
- Rotating, adjustable boom
- Ideal for Internet calls

Their site says "Stereo sound in seconds -- a plug-and-play USB headset with a noise-canceling mic for your internet calls, music and movies." What more could a DIY gal ask for?

BTW, here is what your Mac OSX settings should be for this product. Just go to System Preferences > Sound > Output and System Preferences > Sound > Input. Then test the sound on Skype to be sure your settings are correct and you are good to go! Happy Skyping!

And be sure to set your Skype preferences too: