These days most headsets are designed for cell phones or computer/console games. Thus their sound quality leaves something to be desired. In my years as a Macintosh consultant, I have come across hundreds of headsets, microphones and headphones and found a few to be adequate for a specific task. So sitting next to my Mac are three microphones, two headsets, and a couple headphones. Why so many, you ask? Each one is needed for a specific task. I need one microphone with good sound quality for doing voice overs in Final Cut and iMovie, but it is just too bulky to use every day with iChat. I have the same problem with headphones for iTunes and Soundtrack Pro, the good ones are just not comfortable for everyday use. You get the picture.

When I received the “.Audio 85” from Plantronics, I thought to myself “great one more set of headphones to clutter my workspace.” But then I did a little research and found out that a Plantronics headset was used for Neil Armstrong’s historic “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” transmission from the moon in 1969. So I figured, I should give it a try, as a company who has been around since 1962 might know what they are doing.
First off, something on the packaging caught my eye. “Designed for use with iMac, PowerMac, PowerBook, iPod” was displayed proudly on the front. In fact the largest type on the package says “Foldable Stereo Mac Headset.” For you Windows users, this may not be a big deal, but to Mac users a product designed specifically for us is wonderful.
After opening that package, I thought they had forgot something as there was no software CD. I soon found out,audio85_settings that isn’t a problem. I plugged it into an available USB port, went to iChat and select “Plantronics Headset” for both Sound output and Microphone. Next I clicked on the phone icon next to a name in my buddy list and a few seconds later I was talking to someone in another country.
audio85_ichat_sidebar The sound quality was amazing, far better than any other headset so far, in fact the person on the other end of the chat commented that it sounded much better than normal. That must be the noise-canceling microphone at work. On the cord there is a mute control and volume control, so you don’t need to keep iChat’s windows displayed. The adjustable headband and microphone fit comfortably and was very lightweight.
I next tested the microphone for quality, by recording audio with my professional microphone and then recording the same dialog with the .Audio 85’s built-in microphone. I never expected it to match the quality of a high-end mike, but I was hard pressed to tell the difference between the two recordings.
So far it has eliminated the need for two mikes and a headset. Let see how it does with replacing a pair of stereo headphones. I listened to a CD and a few MP3 files while it was still plugged into the USB port. Next I unplugged the .Audio 85 from the included “USB plug & play” adaptor and connect it directly to my iPod. The sound quality with both setups was amazing. The headset even folds into a about a quarter of its expanded size.
The .Audio 85 comes with a leatherette carrying pouch for storing and travel. The .Audio 85 has a suggested retail price of $79.99 and is available at Apple’s online and Retail Store as well as other retail outlets where Apple products are sold. Plantronics’ web site should be updated with information about the new headset by the time you are reading this article. I can definitely recommend the .Audio 85 headset for any Macintosh user, that needs a microphone or a headset or a pair of stereo headphones or any combination thereof. I liked it so well that I have already ordered a second pair to add take along with my PowerBook.