Tools Of The Trade: Plantronics CS60 wireless office headset system

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The Independent Online

Some internet phone services can be used with an adaptor and a regular handset, but applications such as Skype and MSN Chat, as well as the new Google VoIP product, are designed to work with a computer. The problem is that most computers, especially laptops, have quite poor sound.

This is where Plantronics comes in. It is already a well-known name in business communications, providing headsets for everyone from call-centre workers to aircraft pilots. Its equipment is designed for heavy users.

And when it comes to internet telephony and other computer-based applications, Plantronics is also aiming for the high end of the market.

The CS60-USB is a computer-compatible version of the company's cordless headset for phone systems. Rather than relying on a machine's Bluetooth connection, it uses DECT radio technology - as found in digital cordless phones - to communicate from a base station to the headset itself.

The base station plugs into the computer's USB port, and acts as a charging base. The system, the company claims, has better sound and a longer range than the alternatives.

Plantronics scores highly on how the CS60-USB headset is put together: it is robust, and sits neatly on the desk in its charging stand. Three different headbands are available to suit users' preferences and, although the set itself is quite hefty, it is comfortable enough to use. It certainly has the appearance of a piece of equipment that could stand up to intensive daily use.

The company's claims about range were harder to verify in tests, however. Plantronics says the CS60-USB works up to 100 metres from the base station, which means, in theory, that you could connect it to the PC and still answer calls in a different part of the home or office. In practice - in an office with both DECT and WiFi networks running - the CS60-USB started to struggle at around 15 metres. It might work better in a less "noisy" environment.

Another factor, though one outside Plantronics' control, is the quality of the internet telephony link itself. This will vary, especially if there is heavy traffic on your local network or elsewhere on the net.

At the moment, Skype seems to offer the most consistent call quality of the consumer-focused VoIP providers, but no audio equipment, however good, will compensate for a flaky VoIP call.

A further drawback is that the CS60-USB has just one earpiece. This is fine if you make only voice calls. But it rules out using the headset for listening to CDs, gaming or other computer applications and makes it rather hard to justify the price.

RATING: 3 out of 5.

PROS: BMW-level build quality.

CONS: internet telephony is still in its infancy; only has one earpiece; expensive.

PRICE: £199 excluding VAT.