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Andrea High Fidelity USB Stereo PC Headset

Andrea High Fidelity USB Stereo PC Headset With Noise Canceling Microphone

NC-185VM USB

$54.95 on the Andrea websiteAndrea NC-185VM Headset

What’s in the box:

  • Andrea NC-185VM USB noise cancelling headset
  • CD with 1) AudioCommander® and 2)VoiceCenter software

Fifty-five dollars, plus shipping, seem like a lot to replace the headset you got for free? Not if you count the price of frustration and the cost of comfort. This headset just feels good–the ear pieces cover my ears but don’t pinch or rub so I could wear them all day/night. The sound is bright and clear, very satisfying for an output system that doesn’t take up half a room. It’s a little light on the bass, but only a little and one could compensate some by fussing with the AudioCommander graphical equalizer. What do you expect for something that weighs in at less than your smartphone?

Even more important to me than listening to it: it listens well to me. My main purpose in acquiring this headset was to replace the one included with the latest version of Dragon Naturally Speaking. I couldn’t believe the struggles I was having with the speech recognition software, and they seemed to be escalating rapidly. Suspecting that the headset didn’t match my voice quality, I sought out a better solution and found one with the NC-185VM.

Installation? Plug it in and listen or talk. How hard is it to insert a USB connector now that I’ve memorized the orientation of the drive on my computer? The included tickler applications on the CD are not necessary to the operation of the headset, but they’re fun and sort of related. One could use the microphone to record and then mix it in AudioCommander, which provides an easy introduction to the standard mixing interface, presents, and left/right balancing. Play with the VoiceCenter, which puts an icon in the Task Bar for quick voice recording of memos and notes. The graphical reproduction of the sound waves of the file weren’t particularly functional for me, but they are fun and can provide some general feedback about sound quality, or at least let you know if you’re recording at all.

In addition to directly playing back the voice notes, one can e-mail them; helpful if you think of something you just have to tell someone or if you email yourself reminders. The e-mailer is set up to work with Outlook. I haven’t yet  gone through the contortions needed to see if this could be changed to work automatically with a different client. The voice notes can also be embedded in multi-media environments, such as the applications in the current versions of Microsoft Office. The “Push and Hold to Record” function associated with the Task Bar icon means no diving through menus to do all this.

In addition to well-thought-out features such as Push and Hold, the headset has a well-designed in-line control switch. Increasing and decreasing volume are clearly marked, as is the Mute button. I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted with other devices trying to figure out which way is Up and whether or not This Thing Is On. The operations light built in to the USB connector provides similar feedback. The long connector wire between the headset and computer means that I can sit back a bit, and relax to listen or focus on what I’m saying in Speech Recognition mode.

I had a great time playing with the Alarm, one of the Notes options in VoiceCenter, making clever messages to entertain myself. I even set it to go off in 10 minutes and then dove into my current favorite game (purely for research purposes). With some difficulty, the Alarm interrupted and warned me that it was time to get on with my life. It was just as easy to hit the Snooze Alarm examplefunction here as it is on a dark, cloudy morning, but it did pry me out of there before I had wasted another entire day. But hitting the Snooze/Rerun button was simple enough that it did not destroy my concentration. For folks with physical problems related to computer use, or those seeking to avoid injury, one could set the Alarm for 20 minutes to remind users to take a break and at least get their fingers off the keys and their eyes off the screen for a few seconds.

According to the website, “Andrea's PureAudio USB solution bypasses your desktop or laptop computer's integrated sound system, providing increased intelligibility and performance of microphone input and stereo speaker output for all of your digital audio applications including VoIP and speech recognition programs.”

Noise cancelling was barely noticeable in cutting out ambient sounds as I listened. It seemed more like noise filtering than canceling, but was definitely present for the recording functions, successfully ignoring all kinds of fluctuating ambient background sounds, bangs and bumps. A huge step forward from the days when any recording needed the silence of a studio to be even remotely successful.

The Pro-flex wire microphone boom is easy to adjust to correct positioning for different users and holds its position well during headset removal. “Wire” may be misleading in describing this firm but flexible and adjustable piece. It may get smashed out of adjustment a bit when the headset is folded flat for storage/transportation; or it may not. The 150 degree rotation range of the boom on the earpiece means that it’s likely that the mike can be folded up alongside the headband without distorting the wire. The rotational range also means that the mike can be easily adjusted for right or left placement. (You do know, don’t you, that you should have the mike to the side of your mouth in order to avoid popping plosives and hissing sibilants?)

Despite its light weight and relatively compact footprint (earprint?), the NC-185VM is sturdily constructed and will hold up to a significant number of sudden removals, trips in the bottom of book bags, and the other indignities to which headsets are subject in the modern world. I presume that the dual plug version has all the same advantages. This is particularly significant if you’re doing any speech input, as your computer will want a formal introduction to any device you change to. Retraining isn’t the onerous chore it once was, but it’s still a step between you and productivity.

If you’re looking for a general listening headset or if you’re specifically seeking a headset for speech recognition, the Andrea NC-185VM is more than worth the cost, even at full price.

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