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Plantronics' Blackwire 725 And Voyager Edge UC, Hands On

Publish Date:

Saturday, February 28, 2015 10:37 am PST

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Tom's IT Pro

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The open-office concept has gained popularity thanks to companies like Google and Facebook, and for good reason. The format fosters communication and collaboration between co-workers -- yet there are drawbacks. A warehouse-style space also breeds ambient noise; walls do serve a purpose. Fortunately, technology is catching up to serve the trend.

Plantronics recently released the Blackwire 725 voice over IP (VoIP) headset and the Voyager Edge UC Bluetooth headset. I got a chance to test out the two units and found both of them to offer many nice, functional, features with few drawbacks.

 

Blackwire 725 VoIP Headset

The Blackwire 725 connects to your desktop or laptop via a USB connection. In order to get any Plantronics audio device running, you need to install Plantronics Spokes. The software is available on the Plantronics website for both Windows and Mac OS, and it allows for the device to interact with your softphone of choice.

Plantronics Spokes was easy to set up; the software downloaded and installed in less than ten minutes. Upon plugging in the Blackwire 725, Spokes immediately recognized the device and set the headset as the default audio device for VoIP calls. The software enables users to customize the amount of data gathered in call logs, change ringer settings (headset only, PC only, or both) and set the default softphone for outbound calls.

The Blackwire 725, with an MSRP of $179.95, has nicely padded earphones that rest comfortably over the ear and provide good coverage. The headband is padded as well. After several hours of wearing the headset I did find the top of the headband to be a bit uncomfortable. This was because the headset slid forward slightly during use, positioning it over a different part of my head.

However, I have an exceptionally large head, and I always adjust headsets to the largest setting because of this. This usually causes headsets to fit a bit strangely, but after a bit of repositioning, the Blackwire felt fine. In the end, this is a minor complaint. If you don't mind repositioning the headset every couple of hours, this should not be a problem.

The headlining feature of the Blackwire 725 is its Active Noise Canceling (ANC) technology. If you have any experience with noise canceling headphones, you know the technology can be hit or miss. The Blackwire's noise canceling, though, does not produce a droning ring in the ear. Noise-canceling is used to cut out low-frequency background noise, such as ambient chatter in an office. However, you will still be able to hear any noise source directly next to you, such as someone trying to get your attention.

The Blackwire's ANC successfully cut out background noise, although it does take a bit of getting used to. I found the ANC to be best while on a call instead of on all the time, as the change in ambient noise can be a bit distracting if it's what you're used to.

As for the sound quality, audio coming in through the earphones was always clear, and the controls provide a wide volume range; the ANC technology certainly helped in louder environments. The sound quality of the microphone is passable. The microphone is by no means a bad one, but it stood out as lackluster beside the high-quality earphones and other Blackwire features. In fact, I found that the Voyager Edge Bluetooth headset offered a higher quality microphone when used as a VoIP device.

The headset controls are responsive, although I had some issues with the sensitive volume controls. One of the features of the Blackwire 725 is that calls can be answered by putting on the headset; this setting can be turned off in Spokes. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this feature worked every time when using supported VoIP software.

Conclusion: Blackwire 725

  • The Blackwire 725 VoIP headset is a fairly cost-effective choice for the desk worker. Plantronics Spokes software is easy to set up, and the headset offers a nice set of features at the price point, particularly if you're interested in the device's noise-canceling capabilities.
  • The headset features Active Noise Canceling (ANC) technology, volume and mute options, SoundGuard hearing protection, digital signal processing (DSP), and wideband audio (HD voice).

 

Voyager Edge UC Bluetooth Headset

The Voyager Edge is on the higher end of the Bluetooth headset spectrum at $199.95. The sleek design is complimented by the included charging case, which holds an extra charge and a half for the device. The headset fits comfortably in the ear, and that means a lot from someone who routinely has issues with wearing earbuds. The earpiece is fitted with a plastic loop that fits into the notch of the ear, eliminating the need to shove the earbud into place. After several hours of wearing the device, there were no signs of it changing position, and it continued to feel comfortable in my ear.

The earphone audio quality is crisp, and seemingly only limited by the reception of your connected phone or PC. If the reception isn't so great, the device controls allow the Voyager to climb to a fairly high volume. When indoors, the microphone performed very well, actually outperforming the Blackwire in terms of microphone quality. The audio coming in on the other end was always clear and full; again, the sounds quality was seemingly limited by the primary device.

However, the Voyager mic does have some issues in the wind. The microphone is sensitive and often produced crackling on the other end of the line. As this is marketed for businesswomen and men on the go, this is certainly a problem. While driving, I had to keep the windows up in order for the other person to hear me clearly, and outside I either had to find a windbreak or stand with my back to the wind to cut out the extra noise.

Fortunately, the Voyager's range is quite good. I didn't hear any drop in audio quality when fifteen feet away from my phone. In fact, the audio doesn't seem to degrade at all until it is out of range completely. As for battery life, the device provides up to six hours of talk time, and with the included charging case, this goes up to fifteen hours without access to an outlet. The battery preserves itself fairly well when on but not in use. After leaving the device on overnight after being fully charged, the headset had lost about half of its battery life.

Connecting the Voyager to a phone can be done via traditional Bluetooth device searching or NFC (near field communication). Making and answering calls using voice commands was fairly straightforward, and answering a call by putting on the headset also works well. In general, controlling the Voyager is an uncomplicated task. All buttons on the headset are responsive, although the "answer call" button on the back of the earpiece feels a bit flimsy and could be prone to breaking over time.

The Voyager Edge can also connect to a PC for VoIP calls. Similar to the Blackwire 725, the Voyager connects via Plantronics Spokes software. The device comes with a Bluetooth USB dongle to improve audio quality, as Bluetooth connections provided with PCs are usually not up to the challenge of transferring audio information. The dongle can be stored in a small compartment at the bottom of the charging case, making it easy to move around without fear of losing it.

Setting up the Voyager Edge on my PC took a bit more work than the Blackwire. Spokes automatically found the USB Bluetooth dongle but did not associate it with the audio device itself. Instead, I had to manually find the device and switch it to the default VoIP device. After this was done, the PC had no problem recognizing it, even while connecting and disconnecting it in the middle of calls to switch between the Blackwire and the Voyager. The Voyager also had no issues being simultaneously connected to my PC and my phone. I was able to answer calls on either device using voice commands without a problem.

Conclusion: Voyager Edge UC

  • The Voyager Edge UC Bluetooth headset has a sleek design and fits comfortably in the ear.
  • Even though the microphone does not perform well in the wind, the range, usability, and battery life should make this a prime candidate for anyone looking for a quality Bluetooth headset.
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