Update 18/01/2018: Plantronics have posted an article going into the design process of the 8200 over here
So, its after August 25th, the Embargo is lifted and I can finally talk to you about the Plantronics Voyager 8200
First off, Wow, It seems like my initial first impressions with the Plantronics Voyager 8200 were extremely popular, it’s also sparked some interesting conversation from a competing vendor who seem to have been caught off guard and wont answer my questions.
I’ve reached out to multiple Jabra contacts looking to see if they have a direct competitor in the works with no answer and I personally don’t know anyone at Bose to talk with so at this point we have to review these on their own.
Cmon guys, Competition is what makes everything great!
Now being as transparent as I can. I haven’t received any compensation or incentive for this review. I do however personally use a Plantronics Focus UC as my daily driver and would like to think I’m being as unbiased as possible in these reviews. As unbiased as a human can be anyway. In saying that, I do make a lot of comparisons between the 8200 and the Focus, although I’m not going to complain if Plantronics send me a unit for long term review.
My review unit was one of only two in the country at the time and was obviously a development unit used by internal Plantronics staff. As such I did experience some software bugs that I’d expect to be ironed out by release.
So the all-important part is what they sound like.
If you have seen any of my other reviews, you know how much I hate using vague words to describe audio performance, but unfortunately the way we measure these things is very emotive.
I ran these through my usual tests of songs I used to tune stereos to and I’m very happy to report they sound incredible. Low end frequencies are perfect with very little fall off to the lower end of the spectrum in comparison to the Focus without sounding oversaturated and boomy, a common issue on cheaper can style headphones and something completely lacking on its nearest competitor the Jabra Evolve 80.
Bass tones were perceivable down into the 20hertz range and the drivers can generate enough pressure to play tricks with your head. The full cans also help any “noise bleed” when you’re getting a bit excited with the volume as to not disturb co-workers.
For those wondering, I also tried these with Windows Sonic for Headphones and they worked quite well with that. But not having any reference on this, I’m excluding that from the review.
Having used the Focus UC as my daily driver for so long, the control layout of these is very familiar. Whilst all the switches and buttons are easy enough to find, the Volume control can be difficult to locate and use despite it being textured. There is a bump on the left can to locate your finger in the correct place, like the F and J home keys on your keyboard. But there is very little feedback when moving the control. I’d recommend enabling Volume Tones in Plantronics Hub to provide some audible feedback and help with this.
Additionally the volume controls only move one “step” per movement of the control, with no automatic repeating. Having to repeatedly “jog” the volume control to adjust the headphones distracts from the quality of the headphones as scratchy plastic on plastic sounds can be heard. Hopefully something that can be fixed in an upcoming firmware update
The Mute/Open Mic button is in a much better location when compared with the Focus. Gone are the days of everyone hearing you fumbling for the mute button on the mic boom. The button is perfectly placed for your thumb on the right can and can be activated quite simply whilst on a call, or for the Open Mic function.
I think someone took onboard my comments about the LED indicators for battery charge and “in use” indicators on the focus as they have improved dramatically on the Voyager 8200. These are now nice and very noticeable from another side of the room… if you’re looking at the right headphone anyway.
When paired with my Samsung S8 via Bluetooth, performance is great. No compression artefacts or stuttering, I did notice about a .5 to 1 second latency with input audio, but nothing you would notice in day to day operation. Using the included BT600 USB dongle, the latency is almost imperceivable with no quality issues to speak of.
3.5mm TRS Jack
Whats this… Bluetooth and a 3.5mm jack? I can have my cake and eat it too?
Almost. These were so close to being the one headset to rule them all. But the 3.5mm connector is only a TRS style instead of TRRS. Meaning no CITA/Microphone support.
This isn’t an issue until you realise that connecting a 3.5 mm lead the device deactivates Bluetooth ENTIRELY! Dropping its connection with your Mobile and the BT600 dongle connected to your PC!
This is my major complaint with these headphones. Many laptops and tablets support the CITA headphone standard used by mobile phones as a microphone input these days and disadvantage here is if you plug the headphones into your Mobile, you wont get notifications from your PC and if you answer your call on your mobile, the microphones on the 8200 wont be used. Forget plugging them in to one of those “silent presentations” and still getting mobile calls.
I really do hope this is something that Plantronics can address in software. Even if they can’t keep the A2DP connection going for music. Keep the Bluetooth Headset profile active to the BT600 and mobile calling or perhaps we will see a version in the near future with CITA/TRRS support.
The good news is the 3.5mm input is still passed through the DSP to allow for good noise cancelling so you can totally use these on a plane. Especially with the dual noise cancelling levels. As the DSP is involved the volume controls on the headphones themselves work, but you should however maximise the volume on the 3.5mm source to prevent it sounding muddy.
As usual with Plantronics devices and unlike their Jabra cousins, the USB connection on the device is purely for charging and firmware updates. There is no option to connect the headset via USB if there are issues with the 2.4 ghz spectrum in the area, you could of course opt for the 3.5mm if you don’t need to use the microphone.
The included usb charging lead isn’t long enough to use whilst wearing and unlike the Evolve 80’s there is no support for charging over the 3.5mm jack. The thing to note is as the DSP is used for audio on the 3.5mm jack (even when ANC is off), meaning that if the headphones do go flat. You cant bypass with the 3.5mm for even just audio.
This is where I’m happy to say these smash everything else out of the water.
Let’s break this down. There are 2 types of noise cancelation here and its important we understand the difference between each.
First we have ANC or Active Noise Cancelling
This is using the devices microphones and the builtin DSP to play an inverted version of background noise. This makes it so you don’t hear background noise like background conversations, the hum of an airplane engine or even a crowded area whilst wearing the headphones.
The ANC on the Voyager 8200 comes in 3 flavours. Disabled which just uses the passive noise cancelling of the ear cups. Medium which is ideal for an office situation, it blocks out most sounds whilst still letting you pick when someone is trying to speak to you and High which when activated blocks out almost all external sound. I can’t compare it to anything like a high end pair of dedicated noise cancelling headphones. But these definitely have the best ANC in a UC headset presently.
The Plantronics Hub app also allows you to customise the Sidetone of your own voice which the amount of voice fed back into the headphones for you to hear, this helps prevent you from shouting in an effort to hear yourself.
Then we have Input Noise Rejection
This is accomplished using an array 4 of microphones and a signal processing trick known as BeamForming to only receive audio from a certain direction. We have been using this trick in the radio industry for years. The short version is that the sound arrives as each microphone at a slightly different time. The DSP knows what the different times should be and only selects sounds that meet this criteria. The Voyager 8200 uses this to only select audio from a small area just in front of your mouth.
I was initially sceptical of how well this could work until I tested them during my first impressions review and was surprised. Obviously then I had to know I’d figure how far I could push it.
Below is some quick footage taken from an assortment of my Mobile with its built-in mic, my laptops built in mic and the mic array in the 8200 UC. You can clearly make out my speech in each of the clips using the 8200 with the exclusion of the last one, which you cant hear me in from my mobile either. This was in a crowded dining hall with 100s of people having conversations in the background.
I am planning to go back to the same location and see how solutions like the Focus UC and Evolve 80/65 cope with a similar situation, so stay tuned!
Excuse the camera wobbling etc. I didn’t have my camera setup with me.
I will say that the BeamForming logic can most definitely introduce what sounds like compression from the DSP but this is the Beamforming algorithm doing its best in a noisy environment.
Here they are in a normal quiet environment, and whilst these aren’t studio mic quality or even as good as the Mic on the Evolve 80’s they are definitely more than adequate for Skype calls and conferences.
Heres my usual sample phrase
And heres a longer clip I saved using the test headphones for an upcoming youtube clip
Pricing and final thoughts
With an expected street price of approx. $500 AUD these come in at the sweet spot for decent full can noise cancelling headphones. Competing directly with products like the Bose QuietComfort 35’s yet offering features needed to use them for any unified communications platform such as Skype4B or Microsoft Teams.
Whilst I dont usually rate things with a score or anything, These are definatley on my recommended pile. Now I just need to figure out if I can afford to drop a pair on my credit card before Ignite…
Things I like
- Beam Forming Noise Rejection
- Noise Cancelling
- Sound quality
- Smart sensors
- Certified for Skype for Business
Things I don’t like
- No CITA/TRRS support
- Disables the Bluetooth radio when using 3.5mm jack
- ANC can sometimes be a little too good
- Beamforming Mic introduces some DSP effect
Thanks, this has been a bit of a new format for me, especially with the YouTube bits, Let me know what you think below