iPhone headsets for conference calls

I’ve been using my old iPhone 3GS as my work phone since last October. No other decision in my working life has been easier. Replacing the standard corporate smartphone that I got from my employer with an iPhone not only has increased my productivity but has somehow brought a joy when calling a customer, checking emails or accepting an Outlook invitation.

In this post I will talk about my search for the perfect headset to use in conference calls.

I feel that the topic has not been discussed much considering how popular the iPhone is becoming as smartphone in the enterprise.

The requirements that I had were:

  1. The headset had to be wired, no Bluetooth.
  2. It had to be a stereo headset, not a one-piece device.
  3. It had to be extremely portable. That ruled out any over the ear headset type.

Once your requirements are so precise you end up with limited options and only in-ear headsets fit the bill.

I will give you my opinions on three different headsets, that I have purchased in the recent months and that I have been using in my conference calls:

  1. The standard white Apple earbuds.
  2. Sennheiser MM70i. [1]
  3. Plantronics Backbeat 216.

This is by no means a review or a detailed comparison, just some considerations that hopefully will help you find the headset that works better for you.

Before we jump into the pros and cons of each headset, let me give you a small warning. I have not found the perfect one. After testing three models I am not 100% convinced on any of the three and I am painfully still looking for a better alternative. If you have any good suggestion feel free to add a comment.

Apple standard earbuds

\"Apple

Everybody is familiar with the white earbuds, so ubiquitous around our towns. The sound quality is not great at all but in my tests, they’re fairly adequate when making phone calls.

Pros

  • Ease of use and simplicity. There’s no need to try different eartips to find the correct fit. You plug them in and you’re ready to go.
  • Ability to hear your voice and to hear things around you. I put this characteristic as an advantage because this helps me keep my voice low. I naturally speak at aloud and in an open space office that can be a problem.
  • The cord never gets tangled thanks to the material used. That means that the moment you take them out of your bag you can start using them.

Cons

  • You need to hold the mic close to your mouth in order to be heard properly. That can be a problem if you want to take notes during a call.
  • The material used seem not to be of high quality. Many colleagues and friends have confirmed that the Apple earbuds need to be replaced after only a few months.
  • I don’t like using the white earbuds at the office. They just seem so unprofessional and you always give the impression that you’re listening to Coldplay instead of talking to an important customer.
  • I’ve found that the sound coming out of the earbuds is high-pitched. A few times I’ve finished a long conference call with my hearing being tired so to speak.

Sennheiser MM70i

\"Sennheiser

Sennheiser has been in the business for many years, making excellent professional headsets (e.g. for airplane pilots) and for audiophiles. I’ve had a pair of Sennheiser i300 for many years that still work very well.

Having a similar pair of earbuds with the addition of a mic has convinced me to buy these MM70i.

Pros

  • The mic is superb. In my tests there’s no need to hold it close to your mouth at all.
  • Great passive noise isolation. I put this one as an advantage if you happen to call a lot from your car or from noisy environments.
  • They come with a useful collar clip to better adjust the position of the mic and keep it in place.
  • They have an asymmetric cable. I’m a big fan of this type of cables as I like to keep the earbuds hanging from my neck when I don’t use them.
  • Great build quality and materials.
  • These Sennheiser have the best sound of the three. Music or voice doesn’t make a big difference for this headset.
  • Extremely comfortable for long use.
  • They are now my headphones of choice when I am out an about – for work or pleasure – and have replaced the i300. As a side note, this headset works very well with Siri.

Cons

  • In the same way this headset is great at keeping the noise out, it also isolate you from the environment around you. Again, if you tend to talk aloud this could be a problem.
  • The cable is short. It’s perfect if you keep your iPhone in your chest pocket but it’s barely long enough if you place it on your desk. Expect to pull the cable a lot if you tend to move on your chair when talking.
  • The cord always gets tangled due to the material used. You can forget being able to answer a phone call using this headset if it’s not already plugged in and the earbuds hanging around your neck. The time to untangle the cable is enough to see your kids grow old.
  • The mic has the tendency to position itself upside down so quite often you turn the volume up instead of down and viceversa. Bummer.

Plantronics Backbeat 216

\"Plantronics

Plantronics is well known among people that work in contact centers. They have been making high quality, durable, heavy duty telephone equipment for help-desk personnel for many years. When I saw that they also sell an in-ear headset I didn’t think twice to order it.

Pro

  • The mic is excellent when used outdoor. Even if it’s windy you’ll be heard very well. I’ve had mixed feedback from the people I have been on the phone with regarding the mic sensitivity. Some of them could hear me very well, others asked me to place the mic closer to my mouth.
  • The cord is totally tangle-free thanks to the material used. Instead of using the usual rubbery plastic, the cord outer shell is made of cloth. Think of the cord used in irons.
  • The cord is long and you can place the iPhone as far away as you want on your desk. I like it.
  • Excellent build quality. Plantronics have not compromised on the quality of the material used and build quality.

Cons

  • I am afraid to say that the earbuds don’t stay in. I’ve tried all three silicon earpieces that ship with this headset but obviously the earbuds’s shape don’t adapt well with my ears. A tiny movement, even only a smile causes the earbuds to move in my ear and therefore change the pitch of the sounds I hear. That is very annoying because whenever I used them I have to keep readjusting their position in my ears to ensure a proper listening experience.
  • For long use I have found the earbuds to be uncomfortable. I believe that this is somehow linked to the previous point. It’s a no go for me. Too bad.
  • The silicon earpieces tend to stick to the skin of your ear canal. That is likely a desired feature because that effectively helps to isolate you from any background noise. The downside is that it’s a pain to insert them in your ears and take them off. I’ve missed a couple of calls while frantically trying to insert them in my ears and slide my iPhone to answer the call.

Verdict

Well, as I said at the beginning of this post I have not found my ideal headset yet. I am still looking for the perfect one.

Strange as it seems, I have found that the standard Apple earbuds work better for me in most situations. They’re practical enough to use them every day and the act of inserting them in your ear is very fast. I have never missed a call when using them.

If I happen to be outdoor, or on a train, the Sennheiser are way better. They become practical if I happen to keep my iPhone in the internal pocket of my suit jacket and earbuds hanging by the collar of my shirt.

The Plantronics are a big mystery to me. I have the clear feeling that they have the potential to be the best of the three headset I own. The problem is purely with the way they fit – or don’t fit I should say. This is obviously a problem caused by the shape of my ears. It’s very likely that the majority of people won’t have this problem. My advice is to borrow them from a friend first before buying them.


  1. In the links above I have included the Amazon referral code for macography.net. This is my first experiment with this program and I want to be clear with my readers that if you purchase any of the headsets linked in this post by clicking those links I get a kickback. This is a personal blog, feel free to use the normal Amazon website to order your headset if you are ill at ease with referral programs. No offense taken! ?

2 thoughts on “iPhone headsets for conference calls”

  1. I’m assuming your quest continued after this post. Can you come back with an update on where you landed? I’m trying to help a colleague that has a remote office. He’s coming through loud, but still with muffled lack of clarity, and often the initial sound of the first word is cut off. I’d love for your research to help him. Thanks for posting.

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