We look at a range of conference phones that can help ensure you and your team sound like professional communicators.
The conference call has become a staple of business life and is used to communicate with colleagues, suppliers and customers in other places.
If you’re the only person on your end of the call, the speakerphone on a normal handset can give passable results, though you’ll need a quiet room to keep background noise to a minimum (if not, we recommend that you use a headset instead). But if you have one or more colleagues or employees in the room with you, a proper conference phone is a better choice.
Features and options
You can have the best team in town but they won't seem so professional if they sound like they're sitting in the back yard. Conference phones are designed to pick up voices from multiple directions and over longer distances, and to provide good audio quality and volume to fill a room.
Some offer advanced features such as support for HD cameras and Skype for video conferencing, or content sharing from phones and laptops via USB or Bluetooth for more productive meetings.
You can get conference phones for traditional PSTN (public switched telephone network) connections or for VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol). As we’ve discussed earlier in our feature series, a VoIP service can potentially be a big money saver for your business and may include more advanced features.
You can use either a PSTN or an IP phone with a VoIP service and this applies to conference phones too. If you choose an IP conference phone, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the connectivity options such as Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) and PoE (PoE).
With these options to consider, here's a range of conference phones to give you an idea of what's available at what price.
|Polycom VoiceStation 300|
|Marketed as a basic but good quality conference phone, the VoiceStation is intended for smaller rooms and up to four participants. Polycom says the device’s dynamic noise reduction provides maximum microphone sensitivity while reducing background noise.||
|Microphones||3, range 2m|
|RevoLabs FLX 2|
|Instead of the conventional one-piece design, the FLX 2 uses wireless technology to link the microphones, speaker and dialler to the base unit. A 3.5mm socket is provided for connecting line-level audio, and a second speaker can be added.||
|Microphones||2 max (3 types available: wearable, directional tabletop and omnidirectional tabletop.)|
|Street price||$1600 including two mics|
|Being based on Android, the GAC2500 can be used in conjunction with Skype, Google Hangouts and other services, in addition to VoIP. The touch screen provides a familiar interface, and devices can be connected via Bluetooth or USB. HD audio is supported, and a second GAC2500 can be connected in lieu of additional microphones.||
|Microphones||3, range 3m|
|Polycom RealPresence Trio 8800|
|The Trio goes beyond the basic conference phone, and is marketed as a “smart hub for group collaboration”. Advanced features include touchscreen operation; content sharing from phones, tablets and computers via USB, Bluetooth, NFC and IP; automatic background noise suppression; optional support for an HD USB camera; and optional support for Skype for Business.||
|Microphones||3, range 6m (expansion mics available)|
|Polycom SoundStation IP 5000|
|Designed for smaller rooms and up to six participants, this model includes HD Voice and other technologies for improved clarity.|
|Microphones||3, range 2m|
|Designed for small to medium conference rooms, the CP860 includes HD voice, background noise suppression, and echo cancelling. Convenience features include the ability to record calls to a USB flash drive, and a 3.5mm socket for connecting a mobile phone or computer.||
|Microphones||3, range 3m (expansion mics available)|
|If you currently use conventional phone services but may switch to VoIP in the near future, a hybrid conference phone might be a sensible investment. The VP300 features bidirectional microphones with noise suppression, and the ability to record conversations to an SD memory card. VoIP setup is performed by connecting a computer to the phone and using a web browser, which is almost certainly preferable to messing around with the keypad and small LCD screen.||
|Lines||1 PSTN, 3 VoIP|
|Microphones||N/S, range N/S (expansion mics available)|
Note that we have not reviewed or tested – and therefore do not necessarily endorse – any of the products listed here. The above list of conference phones is by no means exhaustive. It’s intended to be an introduction to products, prices and features on offer. “Street price” is representative of prices advertised by resellers.