UPDATE Aug. 15, 2011: There have been a few changes to the new model, which you can read in this additional post.
Continuing with another “gear I like” post… Yesterday my Logitech H555 headset finally gave up the ghost. I’ve had this USB headset for about three and a half years, which may be a record for me. I’m very tough on wired things where I have a propensity for yanking on the cord. I’ll routinely do clumsy things like try and walk away with it still attached to both my laptop and my head, or drop the headset on the floor, or get it tangled up with other things on my desk. So it’s a wonder it survived this long, and a testament to how good the product is.
I greatly prefer using a headset to relying on a laptop’s internal mic and speakers. Those internal sound devices can make conference calls and even point-to-point contacts painful because the person on the other end can get a lot of echoes, typing clatter, and environmental noise. A headset may make you look like a Time/Life operator (“Can I take your order?”) but it really makes business dealings more professional and your personal chats more pleasant.
The sound is fantastic, and I find it to be very comfortable to wear for extended periods since it has dual adjustable earpieces with thick pads. It’s not as comfortable as a great set of over the ear studio monitor headphones, but those aren’t really as portable. This headset can fold up into a convenient carrying case (sized just right for a nice Fedora logo sticker!) which makes it highly portable and unlikely to be damaged in transit.
The connection from the headset is actually via two 1/8-inch TRS plugs — one for the stereo headphones, and one for the microphone. You could plug that into a large number of laptops that have separate headphone and mic connectors. Why TRS for the mic then? Ah, that’s where the magic comes in. There’s a USB dongle into which you can plug the leads and that allows the mic to become a noise canceling, low-powered condenser. The resulting sound from the mic is very clear, which makes my VoIP calls comprehensible to folks on the other end of the conversation. You can also use it for screencasts and podcasts, although of course the sound won’t be as good as a professional large condenser type microphone.
But how does it work with Linux? Spectacularly. It’s automatically recognized on every Fedora I’ve used it with, starting with Fedora 9, as a USB audio device. I can use PulseAudio to easily control the volume on the mic and headset — and if that’s inconvenient for some reason the headset cord has a mini control which allows me to vary the headset volume with a rotary dial, and mute the mic with a slider switch. The control is at a perfect location, not too close to my neck and not too far away to find when I’m in the middle of a conversation.
By the way, I don’t shill for Logitech or anyone else. This is just a gadget that has made my life easier. I use the H555 daily, usually for several hours, on voice-over-IP softphone calls. Now that Google+ has a neat Hangout feature for multi-party video conferencing, I sometimes use the headset with that app as well. Hopefully this post will help someone have an easier time choosing a device to suit their needs.