Like many of you, I’m always in the market for a good headset. Whether it’s in-ear or over-the-ear, I’ve been using headsets for decades during phone interviews (and videoconferences in more recent years) to keep my hands free to type. So, when Shokz invited me to test its new OpenComm UC headset, which doesn’t put a speaker on or in your ear, I was intrigued. Here’s what I learned.
1) Bone conduction technology is very cool.
I’ve known about bone conduction headsets for a while, but this was my first opportunity to give the technology a real test. The OpenComm UC doesn’t cover your ears or require you to insert anything into them. Instead, the sound is transmitted through vibration via the bones in your skull. (Bone conduction is how we hear our own voices.) Basically, the headset bypasses your eardrum and transmits sound vibrations directly to your inner ear.
With its open-ear design, the OpenComm UC lets you hear your surroundings. As a recreational runner, I know that type of situational awareness is a smart choice for outdoor exercise—and it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that Shokz offers a handful of sport headphones that use the same technology. For home or private office use, bone conduction is an ideal choice because it allows you to hear that knock on your door, among other things, while you are conducting private business on your phone or laptop. It’s also a smart option for installers who need a hands-free phone option on location.
2) It’s light. Really light.
The OpenComm UC weighs 0.07 pounds. The company touts all-day comfort and they are right. I wore these for hours—and while I can’t say I forgot they were on, I got used to the soft silicone exterior in a hurry. The headset loops behind your ears, while contact points (transducers) sit comfortably in front of your ears. The black wraparound frame is almost too flexible; I was able to comfortably place it in position on my head, but I would avoid submitting this $200 professional headset to a Stretch Armstrong stress test.
3) Setup is (mostly) straightforward.
A foldout start guide makes it easy to connect your phone via Bluetooth 5.1. Volume controls reside behind your right ear, with the plus (+) button also used for power and Bluetooth pairing. When listening to audio, pushing both volume buttons together allows you to cycle through two EQ settings, which are not identified by the voice prompt, but can basically be described as “low and tinny” and “loud and full.” A single multifunction button on the right contact point handles answering calls, navigating through song choices, and more.
One quirk of the OpenComm UC is that it has a very singular focus, meaning it is not initially setup to let you easily switch between your computer and portable device. This is not really a hassle unless, like me, you regularly switch your headset use between videoconferencing on your laptop and taking calls on your iPhone. Thankfully, the OpenComm UC includes a multipoint pairing function (though you’ll have to search for the instructions in the separate user guide). Without this, switching between devices involves far too many steps to be practical.
It’s not a perfect solution—setup is a little tricky and there’s still the matter of unplugging the USB adapter every time—but it’s better than the alternative. A button to automatically switch between paired devices would be a welcome addition. Shokz knows this is a pain point, and I was told the company is working on a solution in a future model.
4) Performance is solid.
Permanently mounted on the left side, the microphone boom arm is less than 4 inches long and can be rotated about 270 degrees, so it can sit near your chin or be tucked away near your ear. The arm is also surprisingly slim and not particularly distracting on videoconferences.
As far as my audio quality, the noise-canceling mic performed very well for videoconferences and phone calls. There were no complaints of me sounding like I was down a well or across the room. Also, people in the same room, even standing very close to me, could not hear the other half of my conversations.
I was honestly surprised at the richness of the sound (with the proper EQ setting) from the OpenComm UC. I’m not going to retire my studio headphones, but you are not settling for a low-fidelity option for the sake of wireless convenience. Depending on the mix, you can feel some minor vibrations on some audio tracks, but that’s a small price to pay if you want to listen to ZZ Top in the office while simultaneously remaining aware of surroundings.
No complaints on battery life during my test, and I was able to get consistent Bluetooth performance within the reported 33 feet. The OpenComm UC also includes a carrying case with a dedicated slot for the USB adapter and a pocket for the proprietary magnetic charging cable.
So, is the OpenComm UC worth the investment? It really depends on your situation. While I got used to the vibrations quickly, some people might never be comfortable with that aspect of bone conduction technology. Plus, this may not be the right headset for open or collaborative office environments, particularly if you don’t want to hear water cooler chatter or other distractions. However, for at-home workers, it’s a great fit (no pun intended). The headset is comfortable enough for hours of daily use, the controls are simple, and it delivers a truly professional audio performance.