Review: ClearOne Chat 160 USB Conference Phone

Since then I’ve used it around my home office a number of times, mostly in G.722 based wideband. To my ear it sounds fine. But my ear is not necessarily instrumentation grade, so I’ve made a sample recording to have some measurable results to look at.

This recording was made by recording  directly into Cool Edit Pro v2.1 at 16 bits in mono with a sample rate of 48 kHz.

I tried to be consistent with the testing technique I used previously with the Yamaha PSG-01S. I set my dining room table up like it was a small board room, then walked around the table to each of the four side, speaking a little at each location.

Happily, the Chat 160 proved to be truly omni-directional. The recording level was consistent regardless of my location.

In the spectral graph of the recording I’ve added a pair of lines denoting 4 kHz and 8 kHz on the vertical axis. Even though the sample rate of the recording was very high it’s clear that the Chat 160 rolled off the high-frequency response just below 8 kHz. So while it’s perfectly satisfactory for G.722/G.722.1 based wideband telephony, it’s not quite up to the best capabilities of “super-wideband” codecs like SILK, CELT, or G.722.1C. Nonetheless it seems more than satisfactory for common voice applications.

Unlike another USB attached conference phone that I’ve tried, the Chat 160 showed no sign of problems with unacceptable noise level or DC shift in the output.

The absolute output of a bus-powered USB device is in part limited by the amount of power available to drive the output amplifier. The Chat 160 output seems loud enough to service a small room with 3-5 people around a table, just like the situations we faced at Astricon.

I purchased my Chat 160 from Amazon.com for $330. At that price it’s certainly not cheap, but it’s not unreasonable either. Most personal speakerphones are in the $140-200 range, but are simply not appropriate for use with a group. A freestanding SIP conference phone, like the Polycom Soundstation IP5000, costs over $400 but is much less convenient for portable applications.

I accept that not everyone needs a portable, USB attached conference phone. It’s clearly a niche application. If it happens that you have such a need, I find the Clear One Chat 160 to be worthy of consideration.

9 thoughts on “Review: ClearOne Chat 160 USB Conference Phone”

  1. Hi, and thank you for the review!
    I am looking for such a device, but portability is not mandatory. We have tried a Polycom 2W which was very convenient with a lot of options, but the people could hardly hear us if we were are more than 50 cm of the device (we didn’t use it through soft VoIP, but with cellphone lines, if that makes a difference).
    So I am considering the Ipevo or the ClearOne 160 USB. Typically it would be for conference of 2 to 5 people in a small room (3 x 3meters), for gotomeeting or skype.
    Are there other options to consider? Thanks a lot in advance!
    Francis

    1. I have tried the Ipevo device twice, and found it wanting on both occasions. (http://www.mgraves.org/2009/12/review-ipevo-x1n6-internet-conference-phone/) I caution you to be wary of that device.

      The Chat 160 is in contrast a vastly superior device, every bit up to the task you describe. However, it is a USB connected device so only appropriate for use with a computer and soft phone. They may make a version with an analog jack suitable for use with a cell phone. If so that would be ideal.

      Further, the new Polycom Soundstation Duo (http://www.mgraves.org/2011/10/new-polycom-soundstation-duo-conference-phone/) is a very good match for your application. It has multiple interfaces, including an analog jack making it useful with a PC or cell phone. It may be a little more expensive than the Chat 160, but the versatility of IP, PSTN and analog audio interfaces is worth the extra cost, IMHO.

      1. Thanks a lot for your insightful and quick answer!

        I checked the price of the Polycom duo conference phone is a bit too much expensive for us unfortunately. The 2W would have been great if the microphones were better 🙂
        I will give the Chat 160 a try.
        Again, thank you for your help!
        Have a great day,
        Francis

  2. Thanks for the review!
    I have a question: how is audio quality compared to usb microphones such as the Blue Yeti, Samson Meteor Mic, Audio Technica at2020, ecc..?

    1. As it happens I own a Blue Yeti as well. The Chat 160 and the Yeti target very different applications. The Chat 160 is much better at handling a small group for a meeting. The Yeti is better as a mic for one person. It’s monitoring solution doesn’t suit anything other than headphones.

      From a pure audio perspective the Yeti makes a better recording. It’s not bandwidth limited. Any device the targets telephony applications is likely to be deliberately rolled off above 7 KHz. This is accordance to TIA regulations for “wideband telephony.”

      1. Thanks for the answer.
        I’ve just found out that Skype’s SILK codec covers a range from 20hz to 12khz, and since I would use it only individually, I think I’ll go for the Samson Meteor + headphones for better audio quality (even though a speakerphone is a very handy solution) 😉

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