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Let me get straight to the point: stop using the built-in laptop microphone during meetings and video calls. Poor sound quality is one of the most annoying problems during a (video) call. You are usually not bothered by it, but your conversation partners are. Fortunately, this problem is easily solved with a good headset.
This blog was originally published on the website of Voys South Africa.
I have tested the most popular headphones and earbuds for calling. Do you ever hear from someone that your audio quality isn’t great? Do you experience this yourself? Then read on.
I tested the headsets in three main environments:
The best-selling earbuds of 2022 are the Apple AirPods Pro 2. I’m going to see how they stack up against the competition to determine which headset comes out on top.
I tested the following devices:
Some of these headsets have Environmental Noise Cancellation (ENC) or Active Noise Cancellation (ANC). Both options offer noise cancellation, but there is a difference in the way the headsets filter the sound: ENC filters the ambient noise entering your microphone; ANC filters the noise entering your ears.
For your home office, the best option is a special external microphone. Some webcams may have one built in, but it’s better not to use that microphone. Do you work from home a lot? Then an external microphone is the best solution. I chose the Røde NT-USB.
You can combine the Røde with the loudspeakers of your monitor because the microphone is directional. You don’t see headphones on camera because you’re not wearing them. In addition, the sound quality is great. Because there are often other people in my house, I usually connect wired earplugs to the Røde. The microphone has a function where you hear your own voice through the earbuds, so you talk softer.
The Røde microphone is great for my home office, but I don’t like dragging it into the shared work environment. In addition, it is an expensive solution.
If I have to make calls at the office, I try to find a quiet place. In addition, in this environment I need something that I can easily take with me and that filters out background noise. Do you use Apple devices? Then the second generation AirPods Pro is a great option. And that’s a good thing given the approximately R6,000 you’ll pay for them.
For that kind of money – and less – there are plenty of other options. At scarbir.com you will find all kinds of headphones for every budget. Are you looking for a headset for the office? Then you need earplugs with Environmental Noise Cancellation. EarFun and Soundcore are popular Bluetooth earbud brands and both offer great solutions for just over R2,000. I tested the Soundcore Anker Life P3 (R2,300 at Takealot) and the EarFun Free Pro (R2,500 at Manicaa).
I also ordered four pairs of wired earbuds:
After testing the options at the office, the Soundcore is the best Bluetooth solution. However, that is surpassed by the USB-C earplugs.
Pro Tip: Turn off Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) during a call. If you can hear your own voice, you talk much less loudly. You will make your colleagues happy with this. With the Soundcore you cannot switch between noise-cancelling functions during a call which is something to bear in mind.
Now that I’ve tested the two indoor scenarios – home and office – it’s time to go outside. How do these headsets fare in windy conditions?
I love calling when you’re on the go, especially if it’s a one-on-one call. I often take a walk for conversations that go into depth. If physically walking together is not possible, then talking and walking during a telephone conversation is the best option. Research shows that it is better for the depth of your conversation because you listen better than with a video conversation, so you connect on a more visceral level. In this context, therefore: calling > video calling.
Of all the earbuds I’ve tested, the Soundcore and the ULIX RIDER 30 handle wind the best.
When it comes to music quality, I have a long and a short answer to this question.
The long story: Bluetooth audio quality is poor and you can blame Apple for this
Apple made a commercially very smart move when the company removed the headphone jack from iPhones. They basically created the market for wireless headphones and their share of this market is 34 percent. That means Apple made $12 billion in sales of AirPods alone in 2021.
But for audio quality, Bluetooth is not the best option. Bluetooth is a wireless protocol, and the higher the audio quality, the larger the audio file. Larger audio files require more bandwidth and Bluetooth doesn’t have much of that. That is also the reason why the sound sometimes cuts out when you are on a call: as the bandwidth then has to be shared, it is therefore halved. To make the most of the available Bluetooth bandwidth, companies use codecs to compress the files while preserving as much audio quality as possible. Popular codecs are:
Why did I say you can blame Apple for poor sound quality? They only support AAC, the worst codec.
That might make you wonder: why should I pay for high quality lossless audio when using Apple Bluetooth headphones? My honest answer? You shouldn’t.
To enjoy music, you’ll need a non-Apple smartphone and earbuds that support high-quality codecs. In addition, it is good to adjust your Spotify settings so that you listen to high-quality audio. To be fair, you can’t only blame Apple as all the wireless earbuds I tested all support only AAC. Even the expensive Bose 700 only supports AAC and SBC.
The wired headphones I tested tell a completely different story. Which brings me to the short answer.
The short story: for audio quality, go wired and look at KZ
The short answer is that for the best audio quality you want to use the wired KZ ZSN PRO.
For only R450 (at Marshall Music) you get an amazingly good sound quality. Through these headphones I have rediscovered the pleasure of listening to music. The quality of the sound depends on the quality of the audio output from the jack port. My Android phone with a Qualcomm 888 chip has a high sound quality (384 kHz/32 bit). Together, the phone and the KZ ZSN PRO form a perfect pair. Are you willing to spend a little more? Then the KZ ZS10 PRO is even better. They will, however, set you back around R1,500 (at Dealsdaily).
It’s good to know that the iPhone also has a built-in digital-to-analog converter that supports up to 24-bit/48 kHz lossless audio. So if you have an iPhone and want great audio quality, use a Lightning to 3.5mm Headphone Jack Adapter.
Of all the headphones I’ve tested, the Soundcore Anker Life P3 is the best Bluetooth solution for calling at home, in the office, or on the go. They sound a little tinny in a quiet environment, but they perform well in the office and very well when it’s windy outside. With a decent price, these are the lightweight wireless earbuds you want.
At half the price, the ULIX RIDER 30 is actually the better solution. They perform better in a quiet environment and sound much more neutral. In an office environment they are slightly worse than the Soundcore, but outside they outperform the Soundcore. This makes them the best choice.
There’s one area where the AirPods Pro 2 beat the rest, and that’s filtering out the noise around you through Active Noise Cancellation. But as I mentioned earlier, is ANC on while you call? Then you automatically start talking louder and that is not so pleasant for your colleagues at the office.
My favourite earbuds are the KZ ZSN PRO. I had already started listening to my Bose 700 wired headphones because of the difference in sound quality, but the KZ earbuds blew me away. They’re not bad for calls either: only the Soundcore Anker Life P3 is better for the office.
If there’s one thing you should take away from this review, it’s this: stop using your laptop’s built-in microphone. Your phone is built to make calls, your laptop isn’t. So using headphones is a big win for both the people you talk to and those around you. You don’t even have to dig deep into your pockets to please them. Then you can also get the most out of your favourite music.
Below is a handy overview of my findings per headset. Below that you will discover which headphones perform the best per environment. Are you curious how the headsets sound? I made all kinds of recordings during testing, which you can listen to here.
Best to worst
Best to worst
Best to worse
On our blog we post about a lot of stuff, just go for it and read some posts for your own fun.
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