9th in a series about headsets
Up until 4 years or so ago, pretty well all of the headsets which were used in schools and libraries were connected with 1/4″ and more recently with 3.5mm plugs. The choices were pretty simple. But the introduction of USB as a third option made the subject a little confusing. What is the difference and does it matter?
The quick answer depends on how you or your students will be using the headsets. The 3.5mm plug, or “eighth-inch connector” as it’s also known, has remained until today as the predominant headset connection for classroom language learning and reading programs. (As a refresher, headset connections come in two-wire mono and three-wire stereo. You can tell the difference by the number of separated elements at the end of the jack.) If your classroom headsets will most likely be used for these types of conventional programs, then the 3.5mm jacks will most likely be adequate to the task since they don’t need to transmit larger bundles of data (at least not in real time). But there are some new applications on the horizon which could change the status quo.
The advent of distance learning programs for example places more of a premium on transferring compressed voice data and this is where the faster universal serial bus (USB) connection excels. Alongside this new learning model are the demands for greater headset speed brought on by the growth of gaming. First made popular in the educational realm by public libraries, headsets need to rapidly upload and download increased information at faster speeds than the 3.5mm jack was designed to accommodate. The Califone 3064-USB, 3066-USB, and 4100-USB headsets are made to handle these data speeds.
Another innovation brought on by the use of a USB jack is how it transfers power to peripherals. The USB bus supplies 5V DC regulated power through each port on the outer most pins 1 and 4 (pins 1 & 5 on mini-USB plugs such as into the 8101 MP3 player). These pins are longer than the data pins in the jack to ensure that the power connections mate first and un-mate last. Low-power devices that might normally require a separate AC adapter can therefore be powered via the USB cable, eliminating the need for associated AC adaptors.
So which type of headset connection you choose will be dictated in part by your application – are you an early adapter or a traditionalist?