Sidetone on a Headset: Meaning, History, & Pros/Cons

Many people are confused about whether a sidetone on a headset is good or bad. The simple answer is that it depends on the user and what the headset is actually used for.

Personally, I would rather have a sidetone on my earpieces or headphones, especially when I talk to someone using my mobile phone. Aside from that, I also want to have complete control of its volume so I can adjust or mute it when needed.

Some people prefer not to have a sidetone (also called “mic monitoring”), while others seemingly cannot live without it. You might be wondering what it is about a sidetone that causes users to have such differing opinions.

History & Interesting Facts About Sidetone on a Headset

1. What is sidetone? In what Industries is it used?

Sidetone is the sound of a user’s own voice from a headset or headphone when engaged in a call. Technically, it is audible feedback which could help you verify that the person on the other end of the line is hearing you.

Since sidetone is an indication of active transmission, some people prefer to hear it, as an assurance that they are heard or clearly understood by the person they are speaking with.

In my case, it makes me feel more comfortable when talking on the phone. It is natural that we hear our own voices when we talk to other people every day, and I want to feel the same when calling someone.

While most users want sidetone, the preference varies when it comes to the volume of it. Some just want a little bit on their headset, while other people want it to be as loud as possible.

Old analog, landline phones have always had a sidetone, and the practice has been around for many decades. The original purpose of a sidetone was to make the caller recognize the volume of his voice. Back then, old transmitters became distorted when someone was talking too loud on the phone.

In the advent of VoIP and mobile phones, the sidetone has become expendable. Modern telephony practitioners have discovered that removing sidetone is the easiest way to minimize line echo,. This will be discussed in detail later.

Today, sidetone on headphones is typically used in the telephony, radiotelegraphy, and aviation industries.

Telephony is the most obvious field of technology where we can use sidetone. It is in this industry where it began. Its primary function is to prevent a user from speaking too loudly when using a telephone.

Sidetone has been on telephones since the 19th century. In the early part of the 20th century, a more controlled or softer version was used, where the effect was just enough to let the user know that the device is working.

Meanwhile, in radiotelegraphy, or wireless telegraphy, a sidetone is utilized as a marker that transmission between two devices is active. Like in telephony, sidetone feedback indicates that the receiver has successfully received the information sent by the sender.

The information transmitted could be in the form of a human voice or Morse code.

In the aviation industry, sidetone is extremely important, since an error in communication could lead to disastrous consequences. Aircraft pilots must be sure that tower personnel clearly understand their messages during takeoff and landing.

Announcers using public address systems often use headphones with sidetone as well. With it, the speakers can hear themselves instantaneously, rather than waiting for the delayed output coming from a loudspeaker.

2. Why is sidetone important to landline and mobile telephony?

Having the proper amount of sidetone on a headset or telephone device has become overlooked in modern times. Perhaps it is because most people now tend to rely on email, chat, text, and video messaging applications to communicate with one another, rather than the traditional voice call.

Most of the popular mobile phone brands have removed sidetone in all of their devices. However, there are still some mainstream brands that do incorporate the feature into their products.

As explained before, sidetone is important when it comes to landline telephony because it allows you to modulate your voice while talking. The right level of sidetone allows you to speak with the proper volume. This is favorable to you, to the person you are talking to, and to the people around you.

You could argue that sidetone should be necessary for mobile telephony as well. For one, having the ability to hear yourself while talking contributes a lot to enhance user experience. It is more natural being able to hear yourself while talking to someone else.

Without sidetone, you may feel the need to raise your voice, or even shout, just to ask the other person on the line if they can hear you.

I believe that sidetone is actually more needed in mobile phones because we use them in public, compared to landlines which we use in the comfort of our own homes. Other people do not have to hear what we talk about on the phone and we also do not need to disturb them with our loud voices.

Another importance of sidetone is to function as a connectivity guarantee. As long as you hear a sidetone, you can be sure that you are connected to the other line. It is quite often that we continue talking while on the phone with someone, only to later realize the other line has already dropped.

3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of sidetone?

Some of the advantages of sidetone have already been discussed above. For example, hearing your voice while talking, and making sure you are still connected to the other line.

Sidetone could also benefit gamers who need to talk to their teammates or competitors while playing. I also play online games using my laptop and have enjoyed using headphones with sidetone quite a lot.

The difference is immense. At first, I could not believe that something as simple as a sidetone could improve the gaming experience so dramatically. Now, I struggle to believe that I used to wear headsets without sidetone.

Overall, sidetone improves the whole communication process. It allows for a more precise understanding between two parties. It prevents any mistakes or confusion, especially for those who are working in high-risk occupations.

Despite the benefits you get from having sidetone on your headphones, there is one major drawback. According to sound experts, sidetone could reduce the sound quality coming from your headphones. Technically speaking, it is because the extra noise (your own voice) competes with the audio transmission coming from the other line.

This is the reason why most of today’s well-known mobile phone brands have chosen to create their products without sidetone.

Some companies design headphones that can separate the headset signal from the microphone signal. It gives the effect of a sidetone, but the two signals do not compete with each other.

4. What is the difference between a sidetone and an echo?

Some people think that a sidetone is the same as an echo. They are not the same, in the sense that a sidetone, like your normal voice, can be heard simultaneously as you speak.

An echo, as the name implies, comes with a noticeable delay that may be annoying for both parties of a call. A slow server or inferior connection turns a sidetone into an echo, which would be an unwelcome occurrence for any user.

For a sidetone to be classified as an echo, it must be loud and delayed. In public telephone networks, sidetone is usually either subtle and delayed, or loud and simultaneous.

In the first case, the sound is so soft that you could not almost hear it. While in the second one, the sound happens almost at the same time, so it is not considered as an echo.

Echoes commonly appear in VoIP and mobile phones. This is why these networks typically apply echo-cancellation software and equipment.

5. How sidetone affects the future of office work

Upgrading audio technology at work has become a priority for many businesses today. Proper communication has always been crucial in the success of a team or a company. Thus, investing in the latest audio devices remains important.

Call handlers should be able to hear their voices accurately while talking to customers on the phone. It is not only to avoid having any miscommunication, but also to prevent shouting at a client. Even among employees themselves, communication lines should be as clear as possible in order to work together with more efficiency.

Today’s workplace has to endure new sources of noise that previously never existed. Many modern offices have already ditched the cubicle set up in favor of a new, more open layout with multiple workers sharing a single table.

Noise management in the office has become crucial, and having something as simple as sidetone on a headset could provide a great deal of improvement.