* Prices may differ from that shown
After I returned from holiday and met up with cousins, nephews and nieces I had not met before, I decided to breeze into action and get my Skype working again. Although not of essential importance to use in transit, Skype is still an excellent way of free communication and with my old and trusty Skype Olympia home phone still in action after so many years of reliable service. But to use something more portable, I required a headset with a microphone to use with my laptops should I require using Skype "in transit" or when travelling. Now I've had quite a few headsets over the years with microphones attached: from cheap ones bought from Poundland where the cords start to fray early to "major PC brand accessories" brands whose products aren't comfortable or have terrible sound quality. Visiting a Maplin store one day in Edinburgh to buy a bigger capacity mini-SD card for my Samsung Galaxy Ace Plus was the same day I discovered Plantronics A365 stereo headphones with microphone.
Nar2's Quick Skip Product Spec
* Brand & Model: Plantronics .Audio355 Headphones & Microphone.
* 400mm size Neodymium magnet speaker cups & soft velvet pads.
* Adjustable height band to 10 settings, black PVC plastics and red inserts.
* Comes with a two-wire adaptor to one small jack.
* Swing up down, flexible microphone boom.
* 3-metre cord length with in line volume control and mic mute button.
* Ambient noise sound feature built in.
* My price £29-99 from Maplin Stores, online prices range from £26 to £42-99 Amazon UK.
General Design & Quality
Plantronics A335 headset has been available for a few years now online and offline though it is also known as "over the head multimedia head set," as well as the product name having a period (.) before the "A" and the product number and the "A" definition is for Audio. Quite why this is the case is frankly beyond me as it means as a product, the A335 headset is harder to track down with sellers inadvertently adding more tags to the product name and making it harder to find many prices for it.
You will receive this product in a blister pack that I found surprisingly easy to open unlike many blister packs that threaten to take your finger off. Out of the "blister pack," the Plantronics A.335's look unusually hip and cool because each cup is a full size headphone with a thick plastic Targa style band with an oval hole in the middle. Although clearly supposedly a design element, the hole actually helps as a way of hanging up the headphones when not in use and out of harm's way.
Coupled with a long 3 metre cord, the A.335 headset is well made for the price I paid and it comes with two separate small jacks for a headphone socket and a microphone socket should your computer support that. You'll also receive a handy adaptor that converts the two separate cords into one jack. Having an old Macbook with the twin ports really helps here, and my recent HP Latitude S5520 has the single combo port where the adaptor converter essential making these headphones-with-a-mic versatile for both systems. Decked out in thick black PVC plastic with red inner company writing, the fit and finish is excellent with this product on account that the square cups have been designed to appear as flush fitting with tight and precise gaps.
General Performance & Downsides
One of the first surprises I got from the A.335 headset is just how comfortable these headphones are, to wear and thus, use. They're not as comforting to use as say, the more quality feel with Sennheiser, but then again they're not rubberised or have top layer leatherette stretched across that in time, could start to become brittle and break apart like others. Plantronics have sensibly added leatherette - but at the bottom of the pads to protect the material and offer a bumper like design that never touches the ears. Compared to so many rivals on the market you get beautifully soft velour/velvet top layer rings as a bonus that keep my ears soft in use - the only downside being that after a couple of hours or so with one use, sweaty ears can happen due to the warming nature of the material. Plantronics' claim of "pillow soft," ear cups have just about got it right though and like so many other headphones on the market, the .A355 has a ratchet height adjustable band but with the more unexpected surprise of a total of ten different heights! Compared to my Sennheiser HD202 set, the .A355 is slightly smaller in look but equally doesn't fold up, confining the product for home use rather than travelling about with.
The second surprise I get from these headphones is just how beautifully rich the sound quality is. With an ample depth of bass that seldom vibrates unless your choice of music has a rather high bass sound by default, I find that Plantronics A.335 has a very similar warm and rich sound quality to my Sennheiser HD 201's, a pair of headphones that I have secretly hoarded for two years. Tone is bright but not hissy and any kind of media I am listening to which has stereo imaging comes across crisp and clear with little dullness.
In reality, what Plantronics have achieved here is nothing short of a miracle, because saddling it in a restrictive market as a microphone added headset for communication through a computer means it probably doesn't get a chance to be recognised often. Instead of producing default non-depth slim type "one ear" headphones for the use of VOIPE or online chat systems where a condenser microphone would be poorly sited or installed, the company have included a swing up and down arm for the microphone on the left hand side that can then be bent inwards or outwards to place right in front my of mouth, or as far as I like - or swung up out of the way completely with no idea to anyone that there's a microphone actually there! The headset cups are also 40mm in size though they are not replaceable or removable, thus confining them to be used as a pair of headphones for any other use but for DJ's who are used to taking one cup off at a time when mixing music.
As a headset with a microphone, I find that this product is great to use with my Skype account, with great clarity in conversation mode where the A335 picks up with crystal clear clarity no doubt in due to the Neodymium magnet cups that give a clear sound of those speaking to me in stereo. Even better is the ability to be able to use these headphones on a recording basis with my Apple computer, particularly if I am using the video maker or Garageband to record videos or voiceovers. The microphone has a built in gate design to it that doesn't allow interference to come over when recording through a computer (ambient sound) and though the function can't be switched off, there is an inline volume control pod located half way down the main sound wire with an additional button to mute the microphone if you don't want it - so much safer to your headset and computer/device than ripping the microphone wire out of the microphone jack on your computer/device connections.
A bonus to this design however is an unexpected boost of greater volume achievable on the in-line volume control. In a way, it would appear that the. A335 headset has a small amplifier built into the volume control that gives even more sound when the sound control on the device I'm using is already set at the highest. Be warned though that if you increase the volume you can damage your hearing and only high-powered devices will allow the in-line volume control to make a difference. Similar to Sennheiser's HD202's, the impedance is rated at 32, so no wonder as to how and why the .A335 can handle a larger volume as well as offering better sound quality than other brands.
Although I haven't experienced any downsides with this product other than perhaps availability, there seems to be a high number of reviewers who find that one of the headphone cup starts to fail "a couple of months," to a year. So far, I've been very lucky - but then I only use these headphones purely for Skype and the odd recording should I require using voiceovers.
A minor downside is that whilst the adaptor received comes with a red jack that differentiates it from the black headphone jack, the headset has twin black jacks - but both have little embossed decals on them that show you the intended function. It's a pity here that Plantronics haven't offered the colour differential, as it would match the rest of the red accents they've added to the overall design.
If you require comfortable large over the ear headphones that look modern, are reasonably well made, offer greater comfort without the feeling of being clamped in and one of the best sound quality speakers available, you'd probably have the best ones that money could buy - and in this instance though Sennheiser have a great range (not just with the HD202), the immediate and added advantage of the Plantronics .A335 is that it offers a microphone on top for communication and recording voices. Despite its patchy reliability from reviews online from other buyers, Plantronics .A335 deserve a second look. Not just on the account of its warm sound quality on offer but of greater and wider versatility options, despite its overall lighter and more compact feel. As a bonus it is a far better option for musicians who want to sing and record than a microphone alone with a separate pair of good quality headphones. Thanks for reading! ©Nar2 2013.