Open offices present noise hazards. It is a vicious circle – someone makes a call, speaks up to be heard making more noise, someone else counters by speaking louder and so on. But how loud is loud? A whisper is 34dB, the typical conversation is 60dB, a vacuum cleaner 70dB, and heavy traffic 90dB.
Safework NSW recommends that noise levels should be kept below 50dB if the work requires concentration or effortless conversation and a maximum of 70dB if its repetitive routine work.
But it has found typical noise levels exceeding 85dB over an eight-hour period in offices characterised by the vicious circle. It also says noise becomes more disruptive, especially if it is unwanted sound like gossip or personal conversations or annoying low-level buzzing from lights and air conditioners.
While costly and often ugly sound absorbing materials can be placed in the workplace, sound isolating headsets are probably a better alternative to breaking the vicious cycle.
That long preamble is by way of justifying the Jabra Evolve range from $69 to $571 depending on need. The cost increases depending on the level of noise isolation, speaker frequency response, HD voice, mic sensitivity, active noise cancellation, and corded or Bluetooth connection.
The Evolve 75 is second from the top and was chosen for the review because of:
- Bluetooth and USB connection
- Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) via 4 HD Voice mics with a minimum of 17dB cancellation
- Music grade frequency response 20Hz-20kHz
- Battery life – up to 30 hours music with ANC or 15 hours talk on a 2.5 hours charge
- User comfort and Bluetooth 4.2 for up to 100m distance from source
- Windows desktop, Android, iOS and Mac including 2 multi-point connections for computer and smartphone
- Compatibility with Dragon NaturallySpeaking, Skype, Avaya, Cisco etc
Before you ask why music grade, often an underlying sound and morale issue, especially for millennials, is the ability to stream music. But imagine if everyone streamed their favourite music in a cubicle. It would be chaotic and add precious dBs to the office environment. Catch 22 – unless the headphones have reasonable music response, workers tend not to wear them.
In the Box Jabra Evolve 75
- Jabra Evolve 75 headsets and discrete boom arm mic
- 5m bright orange USB-A to micro-USB cable
- Jabra Link 370 USB-A 4.2 Bluetooth LE dongle (if your computer does not support LE)
- An optional charging stand (most will just use USB)
- An attractive hardcover carry case for travel
First impressions are they are commercial grade and while they weigh 177g they are not heavy. The headphones are on ear style so noise isolation from the foam earpads is limited to about 15db – but that is what ANC is for. I can see them lasting well and long in a commercial environment.
How do they sound?
Beach Boys “Let’ Go Surfing” vocals were clear and crisp. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto with piano and bass drums was excellent. It has a Balanced sound signature (bass boosted, mids recessed, treble boosted) which is optimal for this type of device. This means you can add more bass to make it Bassy or more mid/treble to move it over Bright Vocal.
Using it as a hands-free headset it gave a depth to speech that you just don’t hear from a smartphone speaker. There is plenty of volume adjustment.
However, there can be an issue with some users and on-the-ear headphones. It is called the occlusion effect — where users hear their own thumping heartbeat or hollow/echo of their own voice — it is caused by bone conducted sound vibrations and they usually have a history of sinus or may have in-canal hearing aids. These people are better off using over-the-ear headsets. Those that suffer from the Lombard effect (speak louder as there is no parity between what they hear in the head and external volume) may find them difficult to use.
I loaned the set to a friend who wears a headset (mono, over-the-head with boom mic) all day in a 40-seat call centre. Her response was that the difference it made was absolutely stunning.
The ANC took all the incessant background chatter away, allowed her to hear her customers and talk in a normal voice. After a day, she was demanding the Evolve 75 for all employees.
She liked the integrated busy light and the ability to listen in to an external conversation without removing the headset (ANC on or off button on the left).
It is compatible with Skype for Business (separate version), Citrix, Cisco, and many more US platforms.
The Evolve 75 lasted all day in a busy call centre environment with about a third of the charge remaining.
- Balanced 20Hz-20kHZ sound
- ANC gives at least 15dB reduction in background noise
- 30m Bluetooth or USB (handoff functions to smartphone not tested as depends on the platform)
- Good build
- Great battery life
- Bluetooth 4.2 LE dongle supplied
- Great package that can be used for music when travelling
- On-the-ear design not suitable for those who suffer occlusion or the Lombard effect
- Limited on-set controls – volume +/-, ANC – may need a controller pad for some UC environments
I have been impressed with Jabra from their Elite Sports earbuds to their Stealth Bluetooth earpieces (for smartphones) – all products perform flawlessly and last.
It also has a pedigree. It is part of the GN Group based in Copenhagen, Denmark founded in 1869 that laid the world’s first submarine cable, which carried the first telegraph line linking East to West and brought the world closer together. Sister brand is ReSound, world-leading hearing aid experts.
It blends design and technology to bring people with profound hearing loss closer to hearing a natural, personalised hearing experience and can transform the hearing aids into wireless stereo headphones.
Jabra focus on voice and sound quality – having a conversation and they do it flawlessly.
For what these are – ANC, Bluetooth/USB, on-ear-phones they are a 10 out of 10. There are two versions – one customised for Skype for Business (not tested) and one for other UC platforms. Both have an optional charge stand.