When it came to voice communication over the internet I was a bit late to the party. I am pretty sure I was still typing things out long after Skype, Team Speak, and Ventrilo became commonplace. Since I’ve made the jump into more modern times I’ve always been looking for the best tools for leading my guild and running a podcast. Over time I’ve come to rely on Plantronics to deliver those tools. There are plenty of articles about how those products stand up in a gaming environment but I thought I would take a look at them from the perspective of a podcast producer.
Most podcasters seem to have certain sets of gear that they like. I’ve seen some recommendations for “must-have” setups that seemed to make sense. I even went so far as to go out, buy a condenser microphone, a stand, and a pop filter. The irony in that purchase is that the quality of my work suffered immediately. I don’t blame the equipment. It is mostly related to the acoustics of my office and how condenser microphones work. There was simply too much echo, too much outside nose, and the fact I had to be pretty close to be heard. I’m sure I could make it work but then sometimes the path of least resistance is best.
I switched from the expensive “professional podcaster” set to a Plantronics GameCom 780. Now the 780 isn’t exactly an inexpensive set up as headsets go but, by comparison, I thought it was pretty solid. I immediately noticed an improvement in the quality of my work. My co-host Chris even praised the quality of my audio. The microphone picked up a bit of outside noise but, in general, a simple noise removal took care of everything. It is a solid option for the podcaster that is looking for an “all in one” solution. It was the success that I had with the 780 that moved me on to the GameCom Commander.
Unboxing The Commander
To say that Commander comes in a nice box is like saying that David Bowie is a handsome man. It just doesn’t do anyone justice. Both the box and David Bowie are beautiful. The headset comes with a solid carrying case to hold it (it may even prevent the TSA from breaking the materials), a climbing carabiner, and a few interchangeable Velcro labels for the top (I chose Aperture Science). You also get the option of connecting the device via USB or standard microphone pins. The whole package was stunning really. It exuded completeness and quality. I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t impressed. To sweeten the deal further it comes in a cardboard box that just slides up instead of a terrible blister pack. Props to Plantronix for that!
The Commander is a solid, heavy headset. It is made of formed plastic, leather, and metal. The microphone has a far greater level of mobility than the 780 and can easily be positioned close to the mouth but not where you’ll hear the sound of my breath brushing past it. The ear cups are made of leather and actually have sound dampening. That was a bit of a shocker at first as I was accustomed to hearing myself talk. I would imagine the noise canceling to be at a level equal to some lower cost ear protection. It certainly does more than the old ear plugs I used during my days working in the slaughter house. I was pleased with that.
My only gripe with the Commander versus the 780 is the feel on my ears and head over a duration. The Commander grips me pretty tightly and the leather gets hot. After about 30 minutes of extended use I start to get uncomfortable. After an hour things are pretty painful. I never experienced this with the 780 and I’m working to adjust the Commander a bit to relieve this. I’m not sure if everyone would experience this or if it is just me. For a 30 minute podcast it isn’t a deal-breaker.
When I look at sound quality I look at two things. The first has to be how I actually sound through my speakers. I truly feel that from a subjective prospect I sound louder and clearer when using the Commander headset. You can listen to a recent episode of Game On to confirm that. You can also compare it against an earlier episode of MMO Radio to see the difference. It isn’t huge but it is there. Both blow away the quality from the Multiverse. There is simply far less noise on my microphone and I love it.
I am also huge on how audio looks visually during editing. For all of the perks of the 780 there is a lot of noise on the line even when I’m not speaking. It doesn’t cancel sound as well. It also picks up things I don’t necessarily want it to. I’ve noticed a huge improvement in the waveform during editing. So much so that even though I don’t find the Commander to be as comfortable I will still continue to use it.
The Plantronix GameCom Commander is an expensive headset. There is no doubt about it. As a gamer I’m not sure I can say with absolutely certainty it is far superior to less expensive competing devices. As a podcaster, however, I can absolutely endorse the Commander to the fullest extent. Podcasting gear is expensive and can run a lot more than this headset. I look at the two options as in the same ball park. At this point I simply won’t be picking anything else up. I have no reason to even look. I get everything I need and want out of the Commander and look forward to many years of podcasting with it!