My Travel Headset

by Dave Michels

I have a lot of headsets that I use each week. I use a different headset device for telephony/PC work, dog walks, travel, and mowing. Each of these use cases have different enough requirements to warrant a different, optimized device.

For the past few years, my travel headset has been the Bose QuietComfort 35. I actually got them used from my co-blogger Colin the day after Apple killed the headset jack on iPhones. Prior to the Bose, I carried a pair of Etymotic wired earbuds recommended by Michael Graves. I’ve always preferred wired headsets for travel as it’s hard enough to keep my laptop and phone charged and in a plane the wired connection isn’t too inconvenient. I installed large foam eartips on the Etymotic’s for effective passive noise filtering.

However, I found the Bose more comfortable and more delightful than I expected, and they became preferred over my Etymotics. However, they are bulky. So bulky that I kept the hard case for them outside my bag instead of inside it. I usually put them away when the plane landed and didn’t bother getting them back out again for airports and taxis.

One time I wore them around the neck as I walked through the airport only to discover I lost the cord (easily unplugs on both ends) and had to spend $30 for a new (proprietary 3.5 mm) cord.

Over the past few months and several trips, I’ve been testing out some alternatives. I now declare (and recommend) the Plantronics 6200 UC as my primary travel headset.

Here’s why:

  • Wireless is nice. I didn’t fully appreciate this as airplanes are so confined. However, I’m often dealing with both a smartphone and a laptop in a confined space so no cord is nice. I also tend to take aisle seats, so not managing a cord while letting other passengers in/out is much easier.
  • Noise Filtering: The 6200 has both a decent passive filter and active noise cancelling (ANC) system. Even without media, wearing the 6200 is reasonably effective at managing noise.
  • Easy to Wear: They are very comfortable. I just wore them there and back for a 9 hour flight to Europe. They don’t hurt my ears and I can even sleep with them.
  • Easy to Not Wear: Instead of taking them off, I just remove them from the ears and let them hang around my neck. They are not going to fall off or get lost. I don’t feel a need to put them away when I land, so I now listen to my media in the airport and taxi.
  • Decent charge: They can last through an overseas trip.
  • Easy Button: There is a large, easy button for play/pause. Easy to find and operate. The power on/off and ANC on/off are also easy, but deliberate.
  • Lightweight: I tend to wear them quite a bit during a trip. This includes subways and walks. It’s not a big deal to put these on and wear them all day while sightseeing (in or out of ear).
  • One ear: I remove one ear if I need to hear something nearby. While that’s technically possible with other any headset, it’s particularly easy on the 6200 as it’s such a short cord. It just ‘disappears’ without getting stuck in my seat belt or tangling.

I have yet to find any perfect product, so here’s my short list of complaints.

  • Case is too large: I don’t bother with it. I pretty much just wear them all the way to my hotel. Occasionally, I stick them in my bag. So far so good, but I’m likely shortening their lifespan.
  • Microphones are not great. For telephony they use invisible microphones that are down around the collar bone. If I don’t actively manage interference (jackets, scarf, etc.), I get complaints about audio clarity.
  • I would prefer USB C for charging. I carry a separate cable for charging the headphones since my phone (and laptop) use USB C. At home, they have a nice charging dock for portless charging.

I still keep the Etymotic’s in my bag for backup as they don’t require charging or take much space. Though, technically you can use the 6200 while charging.

I have officially retired the Bose and quietly laugh at those that lug that dumbbell on planes.

The Plantronics 6200 runs around $300 and is readily available from expected retailers.