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Choosing a USB Headset for Remote Interpreting

Headsets anyone? (Photo by: Barry S. Olsen)

Published Decemeber 8, 2015


With a growing number of platforms that provide remote interpreting (simultaneous) for a plethora of use cases (e.g. Interprefy,  VoiceBoxer, ZipDX), interpreters now find themselves needing to equip their offices with the right equipment for the job. And since interpreters don’t usually have a sound technician on the payroll (or at least I don’t), knowing a bit about sound and headsets becomes a real asset.

For this blog I want to focus on something absolutely crucial for anyone planning to work remotely as a simultaneous interpreter. It’s called “full-duplex audio.” Put simply full-duplex audio allows you to receive and transmit audio signals at the same time—something absolutely essential for simultaneous interpreting, of course.  This simultaneous two-way flow of audio is often called “doubletalk” by audio engineers (No, it is not the sinister cousin of Orwellian “doublespeak”). For the tech geeks out there, you can read more about it here.


Unfortunately, as my business partners and I at ZipDX discovered while building a remote simultaneous interpretation platform for conference calls a few years ago, finding a high-quality USB headset that is capable of simultaneously receiving and transmitting high-quality audio is not a simple task. The reason? Many of the USB audio chips used in headsets today can’t deliver a consistent audio signal from the microphone while sound is being played in the headphones. And that is a big problem if you plan to use the headset for simultaneous interpretation.

 Most retail electronics stores do not stock more than one or two models of USB headsets—usually low-end models for the occasional Skype user and high-end models for hard-core video gamers. To complicate things further, sales associates usually don’t know enough to provide the guidance to ensure you get the USB headset you need. So what’s a hardworking simultaneous interpreter to do?

Fortunately, there are a handful of full-duplex-capable models out there that handle doubletalk very well. A big “thank you” to Michael Graves from ZipDX for compiling this list. All headsets have been tested and can send and receive high-quality audio at the same time. For convenience’s sake, the links offered below are to Amazon. The headsets, however, can be purchased from multiple sources.

This is a great, inexpensive headset from a company that only makes headsets. It’s light, comfortable, durable and sounds great. They are available in single or dual-ear models. VXi sells refresh kits that include new foam for the earpieces and pop filter for the mic. That gives you some sense of how long they expect the headset to last.

The headset cable ends in a “Quick Disconnect” (QD) fitting. You must add a suitable lower cable, of which there are three: 

This is the same headset as option #1, but equipped with a Plantronics type Quick-Disconnect connector. This allows it to be used with a less expensive Plantronics DA40 USB adapter cable.

These are light and sound good. The round control in the cord has a rotary volume control with mute function.

On a pure audio quality basis this headset works adequately. It’s not the most comfortable. It connects to the computer via USB. It has a control in the middle of the wire that’s actually a Bluetooth radio, so it can also be paired to a cell phone.

These USB headsets are available in single or dual-ear models. They’re not as durable as the VXi. They have a flat cable that some may find to be stiff.

You’ll notice that all of these USB headsets are wired. Wireless technology introduces a whole new set of complications and is best avoided for remote simultaneous interpretation.

Finally, this list is not exhaustive. There are certainly more headsets out there that are capable of handling "doubletalk." As I find and test them to confirm they do work for simultaneous interpretation work, I'll add them to the list. 

Do you have a question about a specific technology? Or would you like to learn more about a specific interpreting platform, interpreter console or supporting technology? Send us an email at

*This blog first appeared in October 2015 the Tech-Savvy Interpreter, a column written by InterpretAmerica for Jost Zetzsche's monthly translation technology newsletter the Tool Box Journal


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