Summary: Jakub's Sennheisers have dug into his pocket one too many times for replacement headphone cords, and he was pretty sick of using a cheap clip-on mic for TeamSpeak. The solution? Cheap. Reliable. Comfortable. I'm sorry, I mean .Cheap .Reliable .Comfortable: the Plantronics .Audio 90.
I've been using Sennheiser HD580 headphones for a long, long time. Unfortunately, the rapid wear on the headphone cords, and the fact that replacement cords cost about $40-50, made the bi-annual excursion to the local snob-audio shop too painful. Besides, if there's one thing I've heard, it's that desktop mics are too dependent on range, clip-on microphones move out of position and those that wrap around your head are too cumbersome, considering you already have headphones on. Thus, I needed a headset.
With a minimal amount of research, I dove into the same local Best Buy and picked up the most expensive item there - the $30 Plantronics Audio 90. The low price is at both an incentive and a cause for depression. The incentive is obvious, the cause for depression is the knowledge that I shall never heard the sweet, subtle, soft sounds of PitchShifter in all their warmth for quite a while.
Fortunately headphones, unlike a Saitek joystick, don't come with any proprietary viru... software to torture your system with. The installation is as simple as that of any headphones, except that you need to accomodate the microphone jack somewhere in your sound card. Plantronics makes this easy, the single 6' (~2m) long cord splits into two segments about 10" (~25cm) long, one for the headphones, one for the microphone.
Any concerns on the impact that a shared cable has on audio fidelity should be dismissed immediately: you're buying hardware with a MSRP of $35USD. The sound quality is going to be inferior to $200 Sennheisers even if the wires were half-inch thick solid gold, isolated by the most advanced composites known to man.
Indeed, such is clearly the case. Even for an untrained and indiscriminate ear as my own, the Plantronics Audio 90 headset was obviously unable to compare to the Sennheisers. The sound quality isn't bad, but definitely not what an audiophile would ever subject himself to. Plantronics has also included an adjustable volume knob on the cord, but we'd recommend against using it to boost sound as much as possible. The amplification is quite inferior, it introduces a fair bit of distortion to sound output.
The sound quality of the mic is clearly inferior to that of a professional, dedicated microphone, but compares favorably to the cheap stand-alone kinds usually sold to computer users. Fortunately, sound quality is rarely an issue from the microphone, since the compression codecs on TeamSpeak or the like do far more damage than the mic itself.
One issue that I've always had with microphones, and the Plantronics Audio 90 headset is no exception, is that it's difficult getting sufficient microphone recording volume without increasing headphone output to uncomfortable levels. Perhaps it's simply a matter of my ears being tuned to quieter sounds, but it is difficult achieving my desired level of headphone volume while making sure my online buddies can hear my voice - unless I speak very loudly.
On the plus side, the headphones are very ergonomic. They may not be as comfortable as Sennheisers, but they're nicely padded, fit over even my over-sized head well, and even after hours of use there is no discomfort. This is by far a preferable solution to a one-ear headset or the earbud+mic solutions peddled for a mere $10-15 less.
The Audio 90 headset is also very durable. I made a little white lie suggesting this is the first pair I've owned. I actually switched months earlier after trying them out at the Rome: Total War event in Las Vegas. That set survived abuse for months, with the rollers on my chair legs going back and forth on the cable cord, the headphones being tossed aside after a frustrating match in a game and so on. The only reason they failed is because my cat chewed the mic cord after getting overly playful.
Contrasting the abuse these have survived compared to the gentle (if constant) use my Sennheisers got, there's little question about me switching back. Though perhaps one of these days I'll buy another Sennheiser cable again, those headphones will be reserved for occasional music sessions, not my constant work/gaming. It's hard to justify a cable that's more expensive than an entire headset that comes with a microphone to boot.
There's really only one major gripe with the Audio 90 and that is the really low-quality amplification offered by the volume knob on the cord. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd gladly pay an extra $10 for a better solution, especially one that included independent microphone and headphone volume adjustment.