If you’re anything like me, you use a headset for numerous different things during the working day. Speech-to-text software is important to me, and I also listen to music and watch video during the day. If I’m working in an office with other people around I’ll use a headset so as not to disturb them. So, I want a headset with good-quality audio output that can also deliver my voice to Nuance’s Dragon software clearly and precisely.
The Voyager Focus UC from Plantronics seems to fit the bill, on paper. Designed primarily for the office, Plantronics says it’s good at delivering music too. That’s just as well as it’s expensive: the lowest prices online hover around the £180 mark (about $260) as I write.
This isn’t a fold-away, lightweight, stowable piece of kit: it’s chunky, weighs 155g, and if you travel for work might be a pain to carry around. Plantronics does provide a neoprene case, but this won’t offer a great deal of protection in a full travel bag.
When you’re not wearing it, the headset can sit on a sturdy charge stand. Alternatively you can charge it directly via USB — the slot is discretely located on the bottom of one of the earpieces. Up to five blue lights on the same earpiece indicate the battery charge level.
The Voyager Focus UC is a Bluetooth-only headset. Some might miss the option to take the wired route, but setup on both a PC, handset and tablet is very easy. Once paired, with Bluetooth switched on or the dongle plugged into your computer, all you need to do to make a connection and start working is switch the headset on. There’s a button on the edge of the headset that’s easy to find by touch for this job, so you can switch the device on and off readily while wearing it.
The headset it tells you when it’s connected and also lets you know the battery level, so you’ll know whether to recharge it when you’re done. I’d like a battery report when I switch off too, please, Plantronics. That should be achievable via a firmware update.
When you don’t need the mouthpiece it can be swivelled out of the way, lying parallel with the headband. I’d like to be able to lock it in this position for safety, but that’s not possible. Still, the mouthpiece swivels all the way round so that you can wear the
headset left or right handed — and it switches audio channels to suit your preference.
Sound quality is good enough for me to use this headset for leisure listening. I’m no audiophile, but the bass and treble mix sounded fine and there’s plenty of volume. I also appreciated the active noise cancelling, which works a treat when trying to eliminate the sounds of a busy office. It’s easy to turn ANC on and off using a button on one of the earpieces. With ANC on, claimed battery life reduces from 15 to 12 hours.
My speech-to-text accuracy with Nuance’s Dragon software was up to its usual high standard, and Skype calls sounded good both to me and the people I talked to, so the microphone was clearly communicating with my PC perfectly well.
All of the on-device controls are really easy to use. To change volume you twist the outer case of one earpiece, and press the large central area to play/pause and go forward and back between tracks. To take or end an incoming call you tap the centre of the other earpiece. There’s a call mute button on the microphone, which could be a bit easier to find by touch.
On-ear comfort is superb. Some headsets feel constricting, but not this one. People around me told me there was minimal sound bleed even when I had music turned up to the max.
Despite all these positive features, the Voyager Focus UC isn’t without its drawbacks.
A small light on the Bluetooth adapter is meant to flash red in mute mode, and purple when streaming media. It didn’t do this for me, for some reason, but I wasn’t particularly bothered about that. More irritating was the constant bright blue light on the USB dongle. None of my other Bluetooth dongles light up to tell me they are active.
The headset’s smart sensors were also a bit iffy. You can answer a call just by putting the headset on; it’s also supposed to stop music playback when you take the headset off and start it again when you put it on. Although it would pause music, it wouldn’t restart it, and if I paused manually before taking the headset off, it would resume playing when I put the headset on the desk.
This is intriguing, as Plantronics also sent me a consumer-grade BackBeat Sense headset, which shares a lot of its usability features with the Voyager Focus UC. The BackBeat Sense did a brilliant job of stopping and starting the BBC iPlayer app on my iPad when I took it off and replaced it. Plantronics does say in the manual that functionality might vary by application, and tells you how to reset the sensors.
Overall, £180 is quite a lot to pay for a hands-free headset, and I expect things like the smart sensors to work perfectly for that money. But as far as sound quality and usability are concerned, this is an excellent headset. If you don’t need the microphone side of things, the same can be said for the consumer-grade BackBeat Sense, which costs around £100 (~$146)