Conference phone buying guide

Conference phone buying gude and reviews

More and more companies are utilising the advantage of conference calling to enhance their working practices. It allows teams to keep up-to-date in real time and save travel costs when attending meetings. Conference calls in boardrooms, meeting rooms or at the office desk are essential to maintaining the pace of business in the 21st Century.


What you need to know

A conference speakerphone is not the same as a basic desktop speakerphone. The latter is generally a speaker facility on a simple desk or home phone. They generally have poor sound clarity, few features and no inbuilt noise cancellation. A speakerphone is a singe unit that can be either wired or wireless that is built to work in an open environment.

The balanced combination of five separate aspects provide the conference speakerphone with clear, understandable conversation. These are bandwidth, reverberation, amplitude, interactivity and noise. These five characteristics can be remembered using the acronym BRAIN. When they work in tune with each other participants are provided with the best possible sound experience on either end of the conference call.


Features

Conference speakerphones generally carry the same basic features as the traditional phone, such as hold, transfer, mute and redial. However, it is the additional features that provide the high level of audio that a conference phone needs.

Gain management

Gain management means that a conference phone will remove pickup from microphones that are not being used and continue to adapt throughout the call. This decreases room echo and interference and provides much clearer speech.

Directional microphones

Directional microphones mean that any noise or room echo that comes from behind the microphone is eliminated. The addition of this feature increases the cost of the phone but is essential for professionalism.

Duplex technology

If the conference phone carries full duplex technology participants can speak at the same time without clipping occurring, when one speaker is cut off by the other. Without full duplex performance participants will end up talking over each other and interrupting the general flow of the meeting, not to mention missing important points.

Audio input

Multifaceted and flexible interconnection abilities are essential in today’s conference phones. Versatile audio input and output capabilities means that external recording equipment can be connected, lapel or podium microphones enabled, and even that the system could be integrated within a room installation.


Think about your environment

It is essential that you consider your conferencing environment before your purchase a conference speakerphone, since each environment will carry its own acoustic challenges that will need an appropriate designed conferencing solution.

The small office or small conference room

This is a relatively small rooms that seats a maximum of four participants. It will have normal ceiling height and the addition of chairs and tables may make it seem cluttered. However, the clutter will cut down potential echo. Participants will also be placed closer to the microphone, meaning that a system with microphones reaching 7 feet should be adequate.

A standard meeting room

This is a larger room that sets up to twelve participants. There will more acoustic challenges in a room of this size, such as more echo and noise. But these rooms are often carpeted and have higher ceilings which will dampen echo and external noise. A system with a microphone capacity that reaches to twelve feet should be appropriate for this size of room.

A boardroom

A large meeting room like this will usually accommodate up to thirty participants and can be filled with large, empty spaces, angular furniture and hard surfaces. Quite often, a room of this size will not be properly served by a desktop unit and an installed audio system is utilised instead.

Out of the office

Many conference centres or hotel meeting rooms with be set up in a “U” configuration. The room will usually be carpeted and have an acoustic ceiling, which cuts down on noise and echo. But the real challenge comes in trying to ensure that everyone at the table to hear and be heard. You will need a powerful conference phone that has a minimal twenty foot pick up range.

Here are a few of our favourite conference phones:

Snom MeetingPoint

Snom MeetingPoint

This smart looking unit has a recording range of up to 10 foot and is equipped with full duplex technology. It reliably suppresses background noise and the OmniSound technology provides crystal clear voice. This conference phone is heavy on the security features: it features 12 separate SIP identities for top-level encryption capabilities.

Avaya 1692

A full-duplex speakerphone with 360 degree, 12 foot microphone pickup. Automatic gain control intelligently adjusts microphone sensitivity in real-time, making voice much clearer for all participants. RF Hardening technology prevents interference for mobile phones and other wireless devices. The Avaya can be future-proofed using available upgrades through downloadable software and firmware.

Konftel 300IP

Konftel 300IP

This all-singing, all-dancing model has all of the basics that you would expect on a conference speakerphone plus a whole host more. Suitable for up to twenty participants, the 300IP carries OmniSound HD for clear and natural sound. You can record and store meetings onto an SD card and can accommodate expansion microphones, an external wireless headset and a PA system, all of which make it a flexible and adaptable choice.

Polycom SoundStation 2

Polycom SoundStation 2

Ideal for smaller meeting rooms with up to ten participants, this conference phone can deliver clear voice from a ten foot range. It has built in Dynamic Noise Reductions which actively blocks background noise. The 360 degree microphone will pick up voice accurately, whilst it also resists inference from mobile phones. You should get no clipping or drop-outs with this choice of conference phone.

Mitel 5310IP

Mitel 5310IP

A more budget-savvy model, the 5310IP is a full-duplex unit which supports natural speech and clear audio with no clipping or cutting. Its uses “beam-forming array” technology to focus the microphone beam on the individual speaker, eliminating ambient room noise. It carries onboard noise reduction and automatic gain technology to further eliminate background noise. The Mitel 5310IP works in collaboration with any of the 53 series IP phones.