The Cisco 730 Headset is much more than a headset, or headphone….
I have a relatively long history of being involved with headphones and portable music players. As the author of software that syncs with mobile digital music players, and the owner of several high end headphones/in ear monitors I have been focused on the relationship with both the sound of these things and the usability of them. Dapper, my app, has been in the MacOS App Store since 2014 and synchronizes users’ music on their iTunes/Apple Music app to 3rd party players. There is a lot of friction in the usability of those players, regardless of how great the sound may be. Issues of usability in the player music app UI, in the connectivity for transferring music or even in supporting playlists are examples of this friction.
It’s all about balance.
In the world of bluetooth headphones, I see the same thing happening. A balance or lack thereof between audio quality, battery life and functionality… with functionality being a very big portion as these devices become not only listening devices but also microphones for our phones and noise cancelling devices for our plane/train rides and more…
The Cisco 730 headset nails each of these use cases and then some, while future proofing you as your experience with the device progresses… which makes it a fantastic headphone; there is a lot of detail here and a journey… let me explain:
When you purchase a headset or headphone, your initial evaluation naturally turns to sound quality. How good does this thing sound? You may spend some time listening in a store or even on an evaluation unit. The 730 is, in my mind, a very good sounding headphone, or more specifically: An surprisingly awesome sounding headphone for the price and market target. It’s tonally very well balanced with a great sound stage and detail that will best most “regular” headphones on the market under $350. It is the type of headphone I would comfortable recommend to most regular users who will get an instant upgrade in their experience and move them closer to “audiophile” quality than many of them have heard before: It is in the same league as mid-range “audiophile” headphones I own from Sennheiser (HD650) and Focal (Spirit Classic) and sits between the two from a quality perspective.
Now, from an audiophile perspective where you may be listening to “retail price” headphones in excess of $500, its not that headphone. The bass is good, but not as tight as I would like it to be, and the treble is wonderfully clear but sometimes feels like its on the border of being harsh. Then again, its a bluetooth headphone with EQ capabilities, and a Mic for audio calls which blows away anything close… where you would be basically out of luck on the “Audiophile” side.
Next, you look at connectivity options. My Sennheiser and Focal come with one format: A 3.5mm stereo cable. This is great for on the plane to connect to the seatback entertainment system, but of course the open back HD650 is horrible for this use case. The Focal has an “inline remote With mic” which I can hold up in order to take calls, but its really there in case I absolutely have to take a call, its certainly not anywhere close to a standard use case for the headphones. Then there is Apple and their removal of the headphone jack which causes me to tote around my lightning to 3.5mm cable. Ugh. Audiophile headphones just don’t travel well at all anymore. Enter the new crop of Bluetooth headphones, usually with rather limited connectivity options. How do you pair to a seatback entertainment system?
The Cisco 730 comes with several connectivity options:
3.5mm TRS Stereo Cable. First, a 1 meter (3ft) 3.5mm super thin, light, flexible cable for that planes case. Unfortunately its not a 4-conductor “headphone plus mic” cable to plug into your old smartphone or laptop, but these days bluetooth is a better way to go.
Next is a USB C to USB B cable which connects to your PC or Mac and makes the 730 show up as a USB sound and Microphone device. The cable exits the 730 on the left hand side angles slightly back so that the cable can drape behind your shoulder. Its also the charging cable for the headset so you’ll be using this quite a bit.
You can, of course, buy a USB-C to USB-C cable if you want to connect the headset direct to a laptop that has a USB-C port as well.
Next up we move to wireless connectivity. The 730 supports up to 8 different Bluetooth devices (Including BT 5.0). That is to say you can pair it with 8 things. I have mine paired to my iPhone, iPad, Laptop and also my Sony NW-WM1A music player. The headset supports SBC, AAC, aptX and aptXHD codecs so my NW-WM1A connects great using aptX HD while my Macs connect using SCO. Your connection will depend on the software you have available on your operating system, and with some tweaking as an example, you can get your Mac talking AptX to improve fidelity. My “high fidelity tests” were done connecting my Sony W1A to the 730 using AptX-HD. My Mac was connected using the included USB adapter…
Operating System Mic woes.
Unfortunately the Cisco Headset will only connect as well as the host operating system will allow. In the case of my Mac Pro running macOS Catalina, the Mic portion of the 730 was connected and defaulted to narrowband audio of 8kHz. which made for bad audio recording quality initially:
Luckily, Cisco includes a USB adapter with the 730 which allows you to circumvent whatever Operating System shortcomings you have, and the 730 paires to this using Bluetooth. When this is set up the 730 delivers Wideband audio recording at 48kHz instead of 8kHz! The moral of the story: Its not the headset, its your OS, and you should use the USB adapter:
Managing the connectivity.
Now, this all said, the 730 supports three simultaneous connections: 2 Bluetooth + 1 USB and also plugging the 3.5mm cable in. It will auto switch to whatever one starts playing on USB/BT, which makes the switching a little easier.
Since only 3 things can be connected, two of which can be Bluetooth, you’re not going to have you iPhone, Sony WM1a and Mac all connected. To solve this issue there is an App that runs on your phone or tablet which allows you to manually select what you want connected – you pick from the devices in your history list:
Speaking of controls, the headset itself has controls on both sides for controlling playback as well as certain settings, but more on that later we we cover more “things” that the headset does which need to be controlled.
Microphone, Noice Cancelling and Ambient Mode
As I mentioned above, the Cisco 730 has “a microphone” in it in order to allow you to use it with your phone or computer as a recording device. Essentially its not a headphone, it is a headset, which implies Mic and also the ability to receive calls and summon your favorite personal assistant.
“This voice-honing, boom-less technology has six microphones that transmit crystal clear audio, with powerful background talker and noise reduction. It also includes adaptive noise cancellation that adjusts to the noise environment (office, café, airport) and cancels out local distractions.”
I have been using a Jabra Evolve 80 headset to record videos and tutorials for business because it has been giving me the clearest sound possible with both a boom mic and good noise cancelling from the vent thats two feet from my desk. Its not very sleek and so I would not use it on video calls since it basically made me look like an advertisement for Disney World or a helicopter school.
The 730 has changed all that. It’s noise cancelling is fantastic for the two scenarios when I need it the most: Recording high quality videos at my desk, or traveling on a plane. My experience in traffic has not been as good, but to be honest I do not have anything to compare it to as I will not walk outside in public with my bright orange accented Jabra Mickey-Ears. The Cisco 730 though, is absolutely go-out material.
The six mics in the Cisco 730 are used, 3 per side, to beam form your voice and detect background noise. As a result there is no need for a wrap-around boom and you get two functions as a result. Active Noise Cancelling, and so you can hear when you want to, Ambient Noise Monitoring where the outside noise is piped in, for example when you need to hear what is going on around you. Better yet, when you remove the headset to chat with the person who just walked up and said “Hey”, the Cisco 730 with its proximity sensor will automatically stop playing your music, only to resume when you put the headset back on. Genius.
The noise cancelling
Now, as you can see, things are coming together. I have a headset with excellent sound quality, excellent connectivity options and also excellent noise cancelling and ambient capabilities… but what about battery life, you ask?
Well, when you turn the 730 on or push the power switch up briefly she will let you know how much talk time you have remaining. In my case she has never said anything below a few hours. Now, this is because I also plug the headset in to the Mac and im pretty good about charging my devices, but suffice to say the rated 25 hours of listen time and 18 hours of talk time seem absolutely valid. I will come back and edit this post at some point when I do run out of juice… but that won’t be any time soon.
The core here is I simply don’t have to worry at all about battery life, and the 730 voice let me know every time I turn it on how much is left.
That female Siri-like voice isn’t just there to keep you informed about battery level, voice prompts can be turned on for any number of functions, but my favorite is that she will alert you when you’re muted and you’re trying to talk by simply saying “You are muted” in your ear. Genius again.
Voice prompting can be turned on for a host of options which I turned on initially and then backed off of. They’re super helpful and once you get used to the information presented by the audio tones you can dial back the “assistant” voice.
The 730 has controls on both sides of the headset. They are essentially buttons underneath a rubberized surface with raised bumps to help you find your target. For all your basic calling functions, on left side is a single button. This button can be used to answer an incoming call (press once), put it on hold (press again), reject a call (double press) and also end a call (long press).
A mute button is placed on that same side in order to either mute an active connection, or to turn on the red LED on that side indicating you’re “on a call” or just “busy”.
For music control, the other side of the headset has a four way set of buttons with a fifth button in the center. The four buttons allow you to increase or decrease volume, or skip forwards and backwards between tracks. Pressing the center button stops and starts playback, as does removing the headset if you have the feature turned on.
Double-pressing the center button here triggers your digital assistant whether that be Siri , Google Assistant or Cortana.
I found it took a little while to get used to where the controls were, but once your head is wrapped around the notion hat calls are not he left and music is on the right, you’re good to go.
Software and Updates
As you can see the Cisco 730 Headset is less a headphone and much more an intelligent mobile audio device. Its sensors, microphones, buttons and DSPs can all be updated and controlled by software…. either on your mobile device or via Cisco’s Collaboration apps on your desktop. This means means a lot of headroom to improve features and add functionality just the way you would expect in the new ear of connected smart devices.