Surface Headphones 2+, A Better Way to Teams
A few weeks back, Microsoft announced the Surface Headphones 2+ that answered the nagging question – why aren’t Surface Headphones certified for Teams? Considering that the headphones are the company’s flagship audio device, you would think that they would be certified with the company’s own productivity software.
But, as it turns out, and this will not be a surprise to anyone who has worked with Skype-certified products, Microsoft will not slap the certification logo on anything that has vanilla Bluetooth connectivity. This means that for the Headphones to be certified with Teams, they too needed to jump through some hoops.
Those hoops, as it turns out for this peripheral, require the Headphones 2+ to use a dongle and have a new dedicated Teams button on the earcup.
For this review, I am primarily going to focus on the Teams features as that’s the new functionality with the peripheral, everything else is nearly identical to the Surface Headphones 2. Also, keep in mind that this peripheral will set you back $299 and is only available to business and education customers – consumers can only buy the ‘standard’ version of the Headphones 2.
Say Goodbye to Traditional PC Lifecycle Management
Traditional IT tools, including Microsoft SCCM, Ghost Solution Suite, and KACE, often require considerable custom configurations by T3 technicians (an expensive and often elusive IT resource) to enable management of a hybrid onsite + remote workforce. In many cases, even with the best resources, organizations are finding that these on-premise tools simply cannot support remote endpoints consistently and reliably due to infrastructure limitations.
So what makes this device Teams certified? The dongle that ships with the device achieves a high-quality connection between the headphones and your PC but it still connects via Bluetooth which surprised me at first.
Why? Bluetooth is…not my favorite. Yes, it works well about 90% of the time but that last 10% can ruin your entire day. And I will admit that I was skeptical that Microsoft’s dongle would make the peripheral better but I am here to tell you that this is, in fact, true.
I know this because I typically wear the Sony XM3 headphones during the day and use them for Teams calls but there is one slight problem, the connection drops if I leave the room where my PC is located. With the Headphones 2+, I can walk my entire house and the connection does not drop.
The dongle is a single-device connection – even though it is Bluetooth, it will only connect to the Surface Headphones 2+ which should eliminate interference from multiple devices trying to use the same radio.
The dongle also has a light on it that changes color depending on if you are muted or have an open mic. This will help cut down on talking when muted but it also helps by letting others around you know if your mic is hot and can keep them, in theory, from talking and being heard on your call.
There is also the ‘Teams’ button on the right earcup that if you press it, will bring the Teams application into focus. This is helpful for when Teams is minimized and a call comes in that you need to quickly accept and by pressing the button, this brings the app into focus to assist in that process.
The microphones work well and easily pick up my voice. I have not had anyone complain about the quality either but for your listening pleasure, below are three samples: Sony XM3, Surface Headphones 2+, and Audio-Technica ATR2100.
Audio test samples
Surface HeadPhones 2+
With the Headphones 2+, you get a better connection, features that make it easier to know the status of your microphone, and a simple way to bring the Teams app into focus. Not a bad update to the headphones but it’s not all perfect.
The dongle is of the USB-A flavor, USB-C would be a better choice as it’s more future-proof than the A connector. Microsoft says that they selected USB-A as that is what most corporate customers have available on their machines which is a valid argument, but the industry will move forward faster if the big players like Microsoft make an effort to truly push the port.
The other issue is that the light on the dongle is on the side – in my office, this makes the light face the wall which means it adds no value in my configuration. The takeaway here is that if this feature is important to you, make sure the light is facing a direction you can see it as it’s not on the end which would solve this problem – hopefully, this gets fixed with the next generation.
While I would not put this as a Headphones 2+ negative, I am not in love with the soundstage of the headphones. For the price, they certainly push a bit into the premium audio category and the sound is a bit bloated or muddy for my preference. You can tune the audio with the Surface Audio application, and it does improve things a bit, but the clarity is lacking compared to the XM3s. That being said, if you are currently using a low-end headset, the audio experience will be an upgrade.
Noise cancellation works well but it is not leading the industry here by any means. It certainly is a notable addition to the peripheral and something most users will enjoy but for those that don’t, it is easy to turn off.
What it boils down to is that I can recommend this peripheral for someone who is looking for a good Teams headset as it checks all the right boxes for stable connectivity, noise cancellation, easy volume controls, comfort, and a professional design. But there is enough room left for improvements to the audio quality and light on the dongle that the Surface Headphones 3+ may be the ideal solution but until that future arrives, you can’t go wrong with 2+.