With WFH as my default work arrangement and without the luxury of a private home office, I often have to conduct my work at the dining table.
Fortunately, my place has a big balcony where the dining table is. This saves electricity on lights and fans since there is no lack of natural light and breeze.
But given the lack of walls to block out external noises, it can be hard to focus.
Tuesday is usually the worst when the loud pumping sound from the mosquito fumigation combines with whatever renovation works are happening in the neighbourhood.
I once had to do a Work It podcast remotely and head upstairs to beg the contractor to stop work for 30 mins because the microphone was picking up the hammering noise.
Granted, those incidents rarely occur. However, in many instances, I want to block any external sound or noise so that I can focus on the work in front of me.
I tried a wired earbud, but the wires can be annoying. I had once almost broken either end of the wire because I had forgotten about it and shifted my head quickly.
My next option was a wireless earbud. Maybe I am the only one experiencing this, but Bluetooth is incredibly wonky.
I often have to unpair it and pair it again. Because I also occasionally pair the same earbuds to my phone, it will swap over sometimes without my permission.
But most time, the intermittent disconnection is enough to drive anyone crazy.
I shared all these with the folks from EPOS.
That was my first reaction when they reached out to me via LinkedIn. Over lunch, I learned that EPOS used to be known as Sennheiser Communications.
Sennheiser Communications was established in 2003 as a joint venture between audio specialist Sennheiser and the world-leading hearing healthcare group, Demant.
In 2020, Sennheiser and Demant saw an excellent opportunity to focus on different business segments, each with independent, end-to-end responsibility.
Both parties agreed to conclude the joint venture and evolve the business segments into different setups: EPOS and Sennheiser.
They handed me their ADAPT 200 series (a headphone with an extended microphone) and the EXPAND 40 series (a speakerphone optimised for modern-day video conferencing) to try out.
After two weeks of trying it out at every possible attempt, this is what I think:
ADAPT 200 series
At 121 grams, the headphones are almost unnoticeable except for the cushion against the ears.
I started my first job in a call centre, and that experience might have made me more accustomed to such headsets than others.
The soft leatherette ear cushion covers feel soft, unlike the ones that come with cheap headphones and often give me abrasions or soreness after extended wear.
The overhead plastic that holds the ear cushions also feel sturdy. I don’t feel like I might break it accidentally.
One of the best things about this headphone is that it comes with its receiver adapter, which plugs into any USB-C. It also comes with a USB dongle version or if you prefer, turn it into a wired headphone by plugging the charging cable into the headphone and your computer.
At first, I thought this was unnecessary since I could connect via Bluetooth. But it quickly dawns on me that Bluetooth sucks.
With a hardware dongle, I don’t even need to pair it—just plug and play. According to EPOS, using the dongle provide better audio quality too.
It comes with a microphone that you can swing down when you need to use it. Again I was sceptical at first because this is a stereo headphone. I tried doing calls with my earbuds. Because I don’t get the feedback of my voice through my ears, I tend to raise my voice instinctively.
It is okay for the recipients since most video calling software has auto volume adjustment, so it won’t seem like you are shouting at your caller.
But it drained me after the call, and I only realised I had been raising my voice unnecessarily.
Via EPOS Voice™ technology, you don’t have that problem, as they manage to emulate my feedback even though I have ear cushions on both ears! (They do have the one-ear option)
What kind of sorcery is this?
The hardware also comes with noise-cancelling technology, so your caller will not be able to hear background noise from your end. This is great since my usual default Krisp is reducing their generosity over the free plan (which I am on), so my ability to use their software to remove noise is now limited to only 90 mins per day.
Lastly, the headphone has a quick access button to bring up Microsoft Teams. So if you have any calls on Teams, press the button and get right to the app.
It has up to 27 hours of battery life (my earbuds usually tap out after half a day). It also comes with EPOS ActiveGard® technology to protect users against acoustic injury caused by sudden sound bursts on the line.
EXPAND 40 series
I almost did not try this out because I told the EPOS folks that I don’t have a meeting room.
And given that my main problem is external noise, this speakerphone does not help me in any way.
Still, they were generous enough to insist I give it a go wherever possible.
One of my clients has a meeting room, but they don’t have a speakerphone. So often, when video conferencing is needed, the microphone is the one on whichever laptop is running the call. You can imagine the shoutings when the computer is at the other end of the room.
So I passed it to them to try out, and I became the recipient of that call.
Firstly the hardware is sleek. It reminds me of Iron Man’s Arc Reactor. But instead of running an endless supply of energy within, it carries three beamforming microphones that isolate voices from room reverb and ambient noise for a rich and dynamic audio experience.
Setting up and using multiple connection options (Bluetooth® or USB-C cable) for plug-and-play conferencing anywhere is easy. Likewise, it also carries a dedicated dongle option but an even easier setup and audio quality. And the dongle can be kept underneath the hardware for easy storage and retrieval.
With long battery life with up to 18 hours of talk time, it supports personal use and small to medium-sized meeting rooms for up to 8 people.
There are robust push buttons and clear LED indicators for your intuitive call control and peace of mind regarding call status (mute/on-call).
It even comes with a Microsoft Teams button that allows quick access to the MS Teams on the connected device. You can expect more Teams functionalities via future software upgrades.
Having done so many video calls, you may realise that platforms tend to prevent simultaneous speech so people cannot talk over each other. It is a courteous gesture but may impede the ability to cut in at the right time to drive a point.
ADAPT allows simultaneous speech via an industry-leading duplex performance that enables several people to talk at once without being cut off
Although it is more elegant to use an earbud, the practicality and long battery life make me regularly deviate to the ADAPT 200 series.
With so much stuff going on, it saves me the hassle of Bluetooth troubleshooting and the angst of running out of battery, especially when I’m on a good Spotify playlist.
With it, I also seldom engage Krisp, as that can be a big resource drainer, especially when you are on a call with multiple parties.
The EXPAND has also helped improve meetings by eliminating the need to repeat oneself as the microphone did not pick it up. Given how portable and easy to use, it is a must-have for every company with a meeting room.
Thanks to EPOS for sponsoring the products.
Special offer just for my readers
Use the code ADRIAN30 and get 30% off any purchase of ADAPT 260/261 and EXPAND 40T.