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Gadgets: Plantronics Mx500i 3 in 1 headset

After a few click-filled phone calls and the Monkcast folks complaining that my volume was too low, I got a new, affordable headset: the Plantronics

Mx500i 3 in 1 headset. I’ve used the headset for two days both on the phone and for recording audio on my computer. So far, I like it.

Check out the photo set in flickr for a close look at it and it’s different parts.

The Need for Headsets

Us web worker types and other work-at-homers get obsessive about headsets because we spend so much time on the phone. When I first started working at home, I made what’s the probably the number one newbie phone mistake: I got a speaker phone. My thought was that I’d be able to type, not have to hold a phone up to my ear, etc.

Well, speaker phones are nice and all — esp. the super-fancy Polycom one I have — but what you really want is a headset. With a headset, you can type plenty, but also wonder around the house, kiss your wife good bye, and do all sorts of other things. I like to pace when I’m “thinking” on the phone, so being able to walk around my house is a huge benefit.

Headset Criteria

Key to a good headset are, in order:

  1. Having a mute button.
  2. Having a mic volume control of some sort.
  3. Audio quality.
  4. Comfort.
  5. Having a volume control.

Plantronics Mx500i 3 in 1 headset: mic volume

Most headsets have the first, but fail on the second. Even when they do have mic controls, as with the Mx500i, there’s usually just 2 or three settings instead of a wheel.

I put audio quality low because most headsets are “good enough.” Your land-line quality is already kind of crappy — compared to Skype on a good day/connection — so it’s a low bar to worry about. That said, you want the physical quality of the headset to be good so that it doesn’t get damaged by your (or “my”) obsessive twisting and even chewing of and on the wires. I think that’s what killed my last headset: too much fiddling around.

Comfort is important, for sure, but since I don’t spend all day on the phone — just 2-4 hours, upper average I guess — it’s not key for me. I’m the kind of person who gets all bent out of shape when I feel my shoe-laces brushing against my ankle, so I think I’m a little sensitive. More importantly, I’ve noticed that you get used to whatever you stick in or around your ears: comfort is more something you get used to rather than get right off the bat.

Having a volume control is a bit of a silly feature. I always have it jacked all the way up, so I rarely use it. Sometimes I spin the volume wheel for fun, but I don’t actually use it. None-the-less, having a volume control is sort of like having that “Close Door” button in the elevator: I don’t think I actually need it, but it makes me feel good to think that I actually have more control.

The Mx500i: A-OK

Plantronics Mx500i 3 in 1 headset: everything

So the Mx500i, then, right? The things with that set it apart and made me purchase it are:

  • “Under-ear” rather than head-band. This seemed novel, so I wanted to try it out. So far, so good. I like the more discreate look of it. Why does look matter? Because of the USB option (see below) I can use it got webcaming and recording video…
  • USB adaptor. The Mx500i comes with a USB adaptor that allows you to use it as a USB headset. The audio quality is surprisingly good (check out the video above), and the USB cable is nice and long. The really smart thing about it is that you plug the 2.5mm phone jack of the MX500i into the USB cord rather than the USB cord being permanently attached. This means, you add the extra hassle and bulk of the USB adaptor only when needed. Also, I’m hopeful that the USB adaptor will work with other 3.5mm jack’ed headsets: though I haven’t tested this out yet. I wonder if it’ll work with my Verizon Razr if I get a big USB to little USB adaptor: knowing Verizon’s lock-out junk (down to the power adaptor!), probably not, but it’d be cool if it did ;>
  • Portability. I hadn’t actually planned on this, but the Mx500i is small enough to carry around with you. As I travel a lot, this is great! Not only would this be good for hooking up to phones, but also using Skype and recording audio and video podcasts on the road with a high quality mic. As some reviewers noted, it sucks that the Mx500i doesn’t come with a case, but a little DIY-spirit is all it takes to go out and but a cheap ($0.98!) index case to stick the thing in.

Over all, then, I think the Mx500i 3 a good headset. I’m glad I got it and I’m actually looking forward to using it for podcasts, as well as phone calls. The portability aspect is esp. nice. The price at Amazon is currently $38, which is nice and low for how good the quality is. Indeed, it’d be good as a general USB headset on it’s own, so being a two-in-one (computer and phone) just makes it all the more compelling.

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Categories: The Analyst Life.

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12 Responses

  1. Thanks for the detailed writeup. I've been using a speakerphone to leave my hands free, but it's loud and my wife finds it distracting when she gets home in the afternoon.

    Your approval is good enough for me — I just placed my order.


  2. Dave: great, I'm glad it was helpful. Even though the Amazon reviews are plentiful, I still find little details like pictures of the different components and samples of the audio nice to haves. Tell me how the use of the head-set goes 😉

  3. Got mine yesterday and took it for a spin. It’s much better than my four-year old Plantronics headset – smaller, lighter, no battery, clearer.

    It’s a gem, and cheap, too.

    Thanks again for bringing this to my — and other’s — attention.


  4. Dave: I’m glad to hear it’s working out 😉

  5. Dave,
    1. One typo in your article: …”3.5mm phone jack..”. The phone jack is of 2.5mm instead.
    2. Can we plug a 2.5mm stereo headset into the USB cord to listen stereo music?

  6. Hao Le: Thanks for the correction. There's only one earphone, so stereo is sort of reduced to mono.

  7. Dave, I mean using another stereo headset with the Plantronic USB cord. Does the latter provide stereo output to any stereo headset?

  8. Thanks for this blog! I just bought the headset and I love it!

    Where do I find that DIY-spirit case?

  9. Bryan: I got it at the local grocery store, HEB, in the office supplies/school section.

  10. my mate wanted to know something about this, ill point them to your website, thanks

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Eric…

    Check this articles i found about the latest products on Electronics and Gadgets….

  2. […] People Over Process » Gadgets: Plantronics Mx500i 3 in 1 headset (tags: gadgets amazon headset) March 21st 2008 Posted to Links […]