Jesper Kock (JK), Director of Research and Development at Sennheiser Communications, explains how headset design is evolving to meet the needs of unified communications, mobility and wearable technology
Q. As a business, why should we care about headsets?
JK: The headset is one of the most underestimated items of equipment for professional office environments. With Unified Communications (UC), headsets are no longer just an option for businesses, but a necessity. They play an important role as a ‘technical interface’, ensuring seamless interaction with a company’s IT environment, and as a ‘personal interface’, for example when communicating with a client. This is where audio quality and headset comfort come into play. Both are important for the user experience and can ultimately affect the overall success of a UC implementation. That is why businesses should take headsets into account even in the early planning phase of a UC roll-out. Spending millions on a UC implementation only to save money on headsets is as bad as buying a Ferrari and fitting it with budget tires.
Q. How has headset development changed in the last decade?
JK: We have seen a lot of innovation in the last 10 years. Today, we are no longer developing just a headset but rather a complex IT device: UC headsets are powered by miniature computers working constantly to maintain optimal sound characteristics and fit into complex IT infrastructures and sound environments. Software has become paramount to the quality of communications and is now at the heart of headset development.
In fact, more than half of our engineers currently work on software.
In their role as a technical interface, headsets need to comply with thousands of standards. They need to be compliant with softphone providers and be able to interact with phones and mobile devices, from iOS to Android and from USB to classic phones. This is no small task and requires a wide range of skills.
At Sennheiser, we have significant teams of highly specialised engineers focused on dedicated development areas, such as sound engineering, embedded software development, mechanical and hardware engineering and system architecture.
As a personal interface, we need to ensure our headsets transmit the clearest and most natural sound possible, so our users feel as though they are in the same room as the person they are speaking to. This may sound simple, but it requires a great deal of engineering skill and years of experience.
Q. How have mobile working practices affected headset design?
JK: As work becomes more mobile, people need to be able to make calls and schedule meetings regardless of their location. Truly mobile working will only exist when everyone can be clearly understood even in the most challenging sound situations, whether in a car or at an airport. Our sound engineers have perfected algorithms to optimise noise cancellation, speech intelligibility and sound quality in every situation. It all comes down to the right combination of software and hardware, for example the three specialised microphones within our PRESENCE system.
Another crucial aspect of modern headset design is automation. If everyone is to concentrate on what’s being said, users shouldn’t have to make adjustments to their headset. Instead, the headset should adapt automatically to different sound environments, and that demands a lot of engineering expertise and attention.
Q. What future trends in headset development do you foresee?
JK: Headsets are starting to make the transition from a peripheral component to an integral user interface that contributes intelligently to its ecosystem and adds value beyond audio.
A headset is already the constant companion of many office workers, so adding features doesn’t require a change in user
behaviour. Since a headset sits on the user’s ears, it is well placed for wearable technology. In the future professional headsets could measure physiological stats, such as heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, muscle tension and even brain waves.
This information could be used to optimise the office environment and the individual user experience.
In addition, location data from a headset could provide opportunities for context-aware computing. By using situational and environmental information about people, places and things, needs can be identified and addressed automatically, enabling the IT ecosystem to support a more intelligent work day.
For the foreseeable future, the communication experience will continue to be the most important feature in headset design. The next frontier is to provide a truly immersive experience in which both parties feel as though they are right next to each other.
Collaboration between our parent companies Sennheiser & WDH provides us with great opportunities to achieve this. Our headsets are the product of the best qualities of both companies, Sennheiser’s expertise in research and audio and WDH’s in the development of technologies that support miniaturisation.