The Plantronics Blackwire 720 ($149.95 direct) is a deluxe wired stereo headset for use with VoIP clients that doubles as a Bluetooth headset for cell phones. It's a good choice for outfitting desk-bound employees in a call center?one of Plantronics' original target markets, incidentally, before the company migrated to the consumer realm. It's also a solid pick if you just want something comfortable to wear at your desk all day.
The lightweight Blackwire 720 features a padded, perforated leather headband, plus two padded earcups. Each earcup can adjust down or up an extra inch or so, with little clicks that indicate various settings as you move up and down. A boom mic projects outward on a plastic stem; you can adjust its angle and position easily, again with click settings that are easy to push through. The earcups fold flat and store easily in the included carrying case, which is hard plastic but with a cloth covering and inside pocket to store the wire.
Inline on the black wire is a 3-inch remote control. The remote contains buttons to mute the microphone, adjust volume up or down with a sliding rocker switch, and two buttons to answer or end calls from a PC or a cell phone, respectively.
Installation on a PC is simple; simply plug the headset into a free USB port, and download Plantronics' free Spokes software from the company's website. The Spokes software makes controlling calls from multiple sources easier. Spokes also installs a battery meter for the Blackwire 720 in your PC's icon tray, and updates your UC presence status whether you're on a mobile call or a PC call.
Pairing with a phone over Bluetooth works the same way as it does with a regular Bluetooth headset. The Blackwire 720 can detect when it's on your head and activates, the same way the Plantronics Voyager Legend Bluetooth headset does. The mobile talk button flashes blue and red when pairing, solid red when charging, and stays off when fully charged.
Simply put, this is one comfortable headset. It sounds great, too, at least through the headphones. In a series of Skype tests, voice quality was impressive overall, with a clear tone in the earpiece. In voice mail tests, I heard clear transmissions through the boom mic that didn't sound overly compressed or digitized, but they did sound a little thin and distant. I was completely intelligible, though. The same was true with cellular calls; I tested the Blackwire 720 paired with a Verizon Apple iPhone 5 and heard similar results in both directions.
One other downside: When using the Blackwire 720 as a Bluetooth headset, you still have the wire to deal with; it only detaches at the point of the inline remote. You can unplug it from the computer, since the Blackwire 720 has a rechargeable battery, but then you have to carry part of the wire with the headset. That makes this product for those who will use it all the time with a VoIP client as well as a cell phone; otherwise, you could get a stereo Bluetooth-only headset that's fully wireless (or a mono headset, for that matter).
There are certainly less-expensive options than the Plantronics Blackwire 720. But if you're using Skype or another VoIP system?which already saves you a ton of money when compared with a copper wire system?using a good headset will go a long way toward ensuring voice quality remains pristine in both directions. The Plantronics Savi 440 is a good wireless option that sits in one ear, if you'd rather have a headset in that style, and also has way more range than most Bluetooth headsets, although it's more expensive than the Blackwire 720.
More Headset Reviews:
??? Plantronics Calisto 620
??? Plantronics Blackwire 720
??? Plantronics Voyager Legend UC
??? Native Union POP Bluetooth
??? Motorola S11-Flex HD