New Gear: ClearOne Chat 160

At lasts years visit to Astricon it became clear that  it would be good to “tool up” for having conference calls at remote locations. As I described previously, the ClearOne Chat 50 USB speakerphone that I had brought along was not really adequate to the task of a conference call with a number of people scattered around a hotel room.

I can’t fault the device as it, like most USB attached speakerphones, are intended as personal audio devices, to be used by an individual at a desk. It’s microphone pickup pattern describes a 120 degree arc across the front of the device. That means that fully two thirds of the room are off-mic and won’t be heard very well.


Some while later I tried the Ipevo X1-N6 USB attached speakerphone which is a larger and appears to be more suitable device. However, after trying two of these devices and finding both  problematic, I cannot recommend them.

This year I will not be attending Astricon, nor will Randy Resnick. However, VUC regular Tim Panton has ideas about assembling a group of developers on the Friday of the event and staging a VUC call from the event location.

Since Tim is himself a developer I suspect that he will be able to attract a very good crowd, and the conversation could be very interesting indeed. I’d like to ensure that he’s able to capture that conversation in a quality manner and share it the rest of the VUC audience. This is completely self-serving since I’ll be in that audience.

I could have sent him the Yamaha PSG-01S speakerphone that I reviewed previously. While possibly better suited to the situation than the Chat 50, it’s still fundamentally a personal audio device and would probably be less than ideal.

Tim has said that he’ll be bringing an older Mac Book and an iPad to the conference. That means that he could possibly use a USB attached or Bluetooth capable conference phone.

Three possible devices come to mind:

The Polycom VoiceStation 500 is an analog conference phone, so typically attached to a POTS line and not HDVoice capable. That said, it supports Bluetooth connectivity to a cell phone or computer. That makes it possible to use a soft phone on either the Mac or iPad to join a VUC call via either SIP or Skype. We’d give up on wideband audio, which is a pity, but have two possible connect methods.

The Yamaha  PJP-20UR is a USB attached speakerphone device that appears to support HDVoice. To my mind that makes it more attractive than the Polycom device. I think that I would have more use for it given it’s wideband capabilities. However, at well over $500 US Yamaha is certainly very proud of this device, moreso than I feel is warranted.

Which brings me to the winner of this little contest, the ClearOne Chat 160. A USB attached speakerphone with wideband capability and 360 degree microphone pickup it seems like a solid choice.The fact that it’s Skype certified gives me some confidence as well.

At around $330, it’s also the most affordable of the three devices, which sealed the deal. I’ve ordered one and will have it sent to Tim at the Astricon host hotel. He can use it to join the VUC call On Friday October 29th.

After Astricon I’ll give it a workout myself and see if it’s the definitive answer to my quest for an effective portable conference phone for a small meeting room.