Review: Yamaha PSG-01s Personal USB Speakerphone

A few months back I received a sample of a new USB attached personal speakerphone device made by Yamaha. It arrived about the same time that I started looking for a better solution for ad-hoc conference calls in small rooms, like hotel rooms. You may recall that I felt this need after the experience after hearing Zeeek trying to conduct a VUC call from the host hotel at Astricon 2009.

As is my usual strategy, I tossed the little PSG-01s into my suitcase thinking that I make use of it for a while and see how it handles the road. It’s been on the road quite a while now, and doesn’t seem to suffer the travel a bit. The device is a rugged little aluminum tube. It’s built to last.

Yamaha has a long and enviable history in pro audio products, many of which I’ve used in TV and recording studios over the years. The little PSG-01s is a more consumer oriented offering, but it seems like a well-considered design.

The PSG-01s is position sensing and works in two orientations. Standing on its end it functions as a USB speakerphone, with both of the front-mounted speakers serving up the party on the other end of the call. When laid on its side it switches off the microphone array and splits the two speakers to provide pseudo-stereo playback from the host computer.

I say “pseudo-stereo” as I doubt that a meaningful stereo image can be generated by a pair of small drivers only couple of inches apart. Nonetheless, it’s an effective little playback device. I used it to listen to some Escape Pod podcasts while traveling and found it more than up to the task.

Standing upright so as to be in speakerphone mode you can see a clear plastic ring on the top of the unit. That ring lights up to indicate that the microphone array is active. Yes, I said “microphone array.” The PSG-01s has a small array of four directional condenser microphone capsules in the upper-end of the chassis.

This microphone array is especially interesting as it gives the device the ability to pick up sounds from all around the device. You may recall that I’ve used similar devices that only picked up sounds from a 120 degree arc directly in front of the unit. This is why those devices have proven unsatisfactory for conducting conference calls with several people seated around a small table.

There are a number of buttons on the side of the device. These buttons control volume up/down, hook state and recording/microphone mode.

When the accompanying PSG-01s Controller is installed to the host PC (Windows only) the device becomes nicely integrated with the Skype client. For example, tapping the off-hook button causes the Skype dialing dialogue to be displayed. Tapping the on-hook button terminates a call just as you’d expect.

The top most button toggles the state of the units microphone. The PSG-01s can easily be used as a microphone to record directly to the host PC. In this mode the speaker is disabled.

The back of the device features only the mini-USB connector for connection to the host PC. The device is bus powered so no other connection is required. Unlike some other devices that I’ve tried, the PSG-01s was properly powered by the USB port on my laptop & netbook.

It appears that I’ve been working my way down the device in describing it to you. Well, if you look at the bottom of the device you’ll find a threaded socket. It appears that the PSG-01s can be mounted on a mic stand or tripod. I didn’t have such hardware handy to try this myself, but it seems like a nice idea.

I found that I really didn’t need the Controller software. It works as promised but if you like to keep your PCs systems clean & simple you simply don’t need to load the program. The manual states clear that the controller software is not required because the PC will see the PSG-01s as a generic audio device.

I did think it was really cute the way it uses the inertial sensors to make the Controller GUI come & go. Just shake the PSG-01s and the controller software pops open. Shake it again and it goes away. How very Wii-like!

That’s enough about its various physical properties & software….now on to how it works!