Not long a reader posed this question about USB speakerphone devices;
“Hi Michael – I read your blog article about chromebox for meetings. I’m in the UK and I think there will be good takeup when its launched here but I’m concerned about sound quality mic and speakers in untreated rooms. Have you found any USB table top devices matrix mics with high quality speaker that could be integrated at proportionate cost? – Thanks, John”
It’s an interesting question. As I was answering him via IM it occurred to me that the answer might be worth sharing.
There are a lot of USB attached speakerphones available. I’ve tried quite a number over the years. Some are good. Some are cheap. As you can imagine, rarely are the good ones cheap. The major difference to be considered is whether the device undre consideration is intended for use by an individual or a small group.
In my travels there have been times when I’ve engaged in some very long phone calls. It may be that I’m speaking to my wife while killing time in some far off hotel, or perhaps consulting with an associate on a tech support matter. In such circumstances I’ve come to believe that a USB attached speakerphone and a soft phone can be a very convenient combination.
USB attached audio devices are handy when you have a computer readily available. Being USB attached they save you the trouble of finding a way to provide network connectivity for a traditional IP conference phone.
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.
I find that I’m simply drawn to novel and innovative approaches to problems. In the VUC post-call ramble this past week Michael White of E4Technologies described something that’s stuck in my mind as being pretty cool.
He was working with a large-company-who-shall-remain-nameless on a very significant installation. It was going along well. They had selected a line of SIP hard phones from a large, well-known manufacturer, and were generally happy with the results. That is, happy with one exception; they didn’t like the performance of the speakerphone on their chosen model of desk phone.
Yes, it’s true, I’ve been a little distracted. Recently a lot of my focus has been work related, as I’ve been on a project in Baltimore the past two weeks. During the time I’ve been staying at a Doubletree near Johns Hopkins University. It’s a quiet place with a good restaurant, including a nice wine list.
Sadly, cellular service in the area is spotty. I’ve had no T-Mobile coverage in my room. That leaves me relying upon VoIP over the hotel Wifi or my Sprint Mifi. Happily, those have been decent options.
In mid-July I traveled to the UK, visiting my employer’s head office in Cambridge. Being away from my home office is in some ways a drag. I’m so accustomed to being in control of my local network, which is certainly not the case when I’m abroad. Suffice it to say that I can’t use anything VoIP related from within the office LAN at HQ, with the possible exception of Skype.
At the hotel where we typically stay near HQ there is wired internet access provided by Swisscom. It’s a decent service, reasonably fast and reliable. However, at 15 Pounds Sterling (around $22 USD!) per 24-hour period it’s also very dear. To get around some of this cost one of my co-workers loaned me a company issued Vodaphone 3G USB dongle. This was the first time that I’d used one of these little gadgets.