September 2011


I’ve collected a number of headsets over the years even back in the days when Infra Red and RF were the only game in town. Wired headsets offered reasonably good sound quality and usually had one big drawback – the cable. Whether it’s made of rubber or cotton or nylon, the cable tangles, takes time to stow away neatly or is a mess when trying to untangle for usage. Then there is the jack at the other end of the headset.

Over the years I’ve replaced my wired headsets because the cable on the jack end is broken. The worst offender for my money is Ultimate Ears. I can’t believe ey charge you Hk$200 (~US$25) to replace faulty cable even if the ear pieces are still in warranty. I was told several times that cables are not covered in the one year warranty. Consumer protection advocates please hear my plea.

Wireless headsets have their own problems. The earliest models were bulky or unreliable. Bluetooth was meant to correct the range, connectivity and fidelity problems but it’s not been my experience so far – at least not with stereo headsets designed to both listen to music and pick up the call when the phone rings. Sure the Plantronics headsets I’ve had the fortune of using were great for calls especially the Plantronics Discovery 975 with a carry case that also acts as a charger. But my experience with the Altec Lansing Backbeat 906 and the Jabra BT3030 hasnt been as rewarding. Then my wedding anniversary came and my wife got me the Sennheiser MM 450. This is not my first Sennheiser but I hope it would be my last. The MM 450 are over of the ear design and can be folded for neat tucking away for storing in it’s own zipped pouch. This is the first headset I’ve seen that is designed to be used either with or without wires, with or without noise cancellation. My Bose Quietcomfort 3 doesn’t work without switching on the noise cancellation which necessitates the need to have a standby battery nearby in case you run out of juice.

The entire headset construction feels very solid without feeling heavy (106g). The swivel joints on the cups allow for folding when you need to stow away the headset for traveling. The controls are all on the right cup so you don’t need to remember which controls are on which side of the headset. The MM 450 is a Bluetooth headset with a built-in mic so you can use it to listen to your favorite music and be able to answer incoming or outgoing calls as when the need arise. But there will be occasions, like when on airplane, that you aren’t allowed to use the wireless option. On these occasions the MM 450 is equipped with a 2.5mm to 3.5mm cable jack. The MM 450 offers reasonable sound isolation. I am inside TimeSquare shopping mall in Hong Kong listening to a Bette Midler album as I typed this blog review. I can hear a faint hint of noise within the mall but surprisingly I barely notice kids laughing and running near where I sit. Much of this is thanks to Sennheiser’s NoiseGard technology which sufficiently mutes my surrounding.

One additional feature of NoiseGard is the “talk through” feature which allows you to momentarily suspend noise cancellation, activate the mic so you can listen to everything around you, and suspend the music. This is great when you need to talk or listen to someone for a few short period before returning to listening to your favorite music. What I also found interesting is you can use NoiseGard even when you are not using the Bluetooth feature of the headset (I.e., using the cable to listen to music). “Talk Through” still works as long as you have battery.

Using the MM 450 with the supplied cable turns it into a standard headset meaning you lose the ability to make calls with the headset. NoiseGard and Talk Through still works though as long as you got battery. In the event that you eventually lose battery, the MM 450 becomes a normal wired headset. So whether you got juice or not this headset will work. Of course it’s best to keep an extra battery around. Speaking of battery, the MM 450 has a removable or user replaceable battery.

Three buttons control the MM 450. The center of the right ear cup has a blue light blinking every three seconds. Press it for a couple of seconds to turn on and off. Press it for 5 seconds if you want it to go into discover model. A nice welcome for me is that one it’s been paired with my phone or my iPad I don’t need to go into discover mode again in the future. The Jabra BT3030 requires you to set it to discover mode each time you power it up if you want to use it to make and receive calls. The center button is the power call answer/end and is surrounded by volume control and track skip buttons. All are very responsive, again very welcome change from experience with Jabra and Altec Lansing. At the bottom of the right cup are two additional buttons: one to activate NoiseGard; the other for Bluetooth.

Battery life depends on what feature you are using: Bluetooth only is 10 hours; Bluetooth with NoiseGard is 8 hours; and NoiseGard only is 20 hours. Just remember when you run out of battery, you can still use the MM 450 like an ordinary headset. How is that for versatility?

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I just read Steve Duplessie’s take on the HDS acquisition of Bluearc. If I had a dollar for every time I read about HDS buying a NAS appliance, I’d still be poor. They tried it a few times with some small OEMs over the years and in most cases the problem was part technology and part a sales issue.

Let’s face it… HDS is used to selling humongosaur-like systems to the very large enterprises who can afford to buy big iron. Much of HDS’ traditional hardware (manufactured by parent Hitachi) is designed around block-based storage (yes, agree with Steve on this).

Unfortunately for HDS, and lucky for NAS-behemoth NetApp, there are still customers out there, even the big ones, who need file storage  because companies still store a lot of information in the form of files – probably a lot more than you feel comfortable with. I have a 1.5TB redundant NAS appliance at home serving the four members of my family. Yes, applications like ERP, CRM and SCM have limited use for NAS systems and will run a lot faster if the database is running off a powerful SAN engine. But for 100% of employees in any company, they will need to store their files in the network somewhere – and a NAS is a perfect place for that.

So back to HDS… why does HDS need a NAS solution? Likely because customers are hinting they need it. But more importantly lacking a NAS  solution gives competitors like NetApp a window to get in and slowly eat through the HDS armor that surrounds Mr Enterprise customer.

Will this ever work for HDS? I think the bigger challenge for HDS is understanding the technology and being able to sell it convincingly.  From history, this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where all those countless NAS technologies that HDS tried to sell got buried. The good news is HDS has had a few years of history selling BlueArc. Now its just a matter of getting the sales people (in Asia) to get moving.