Conference calls are an unfortunate part of life for many of us; they’re never particularly enjoyable and are forever fraught with audio and video problems from ill-prepared remote participants. Over the last few years my working day changed from the occasional call with remote colleagues to spending almost the entire day on the phone – this has forced a huge shift in my peripheral technology needs. Investment in a good webcam, microphone and headset was no longer optional but truly necessary and directly proportionate to my comfort during the day, much like a good chair.
Like many, I have tried and tested all kinds of products but still haven’t landed on the perfect solution. My normal daily setup is a Plantronics Savi 700 series wireless headset and a Microsoft LifeCam Studio webcam. I would love to say I can’t fault the Plantronics, but I can – the battery doesn’t last long enough. With that sole exception, it is absolutely perfect and I adore using it, it’s just frustrating when I have to mess around and switch to my iPhone headset whilst mid-call. The webcam is acceptable, good, certainly better than most but again isn’t perfect, I’m not sure it ever could be because it’s either too low or too high, so ends up sitting on a tripod in front of my screen – which is a bit mad, perhaps I need a teleprompter?
The Sennheiser SP20 ML is a full-on executive gadget designed for the sole purpose of being a portable conference call station. It aims to allow calls to be held in small meeting rooms or offices without the need for participants to dial in using the ancient, crusty phone that is inevitably sitting in the corner of the meeting room. The unit is about the size of a CD and the thickness of a good book, it has an impressive premium metal finish contrasted with hard wearing matt black plastic; looks somewhat akin to a spaceship (not in a negative way!).
The device has only five buttons (answer call, decline call, volume up, volume down and mute) with each placed sensibly on the top of the unit. Many online reviews have slated it for not featuring Bluetooth, while I certainly would have used Bluetooth it certainly doesn’t *need* Bluetooth and frankly because it doesn’t I know it will work, immediately, as soon as I connect it. There are two cables, USB and 3.5mm audio jack, one connector if you’re using a PC and one if you’re using your Phone, the cables wrap cleanly around the exterior and are fixed into position to avoid coming loose.
As a big Skype for Business user, the device is completely compatible and is the only thing I have ever used that works all the time, every time. I have not once had to mess around changing my audio devices, if it is connected it is working – simple! The audio is crisp, clear with enough volume to fill a small room, the microphone according to my colleagues is equivalent to that of a headset and with perfect clarity. Given the brand, there is, of course, no reason to even need to question the audio, but do note that the speaker is not designed for pumping out music, it’s a conference phone! Although when tested in my hotel room, it’s certainly adequate for ambient background noise and far superior even to my iPad Pro.
One of the most fantastic and simple features over other products is that the mute button is (when engaged) surrounded by red LEDs, indicating that the microphone is not functioning. This feature provides immediate reassurance that sensitive offline conversations will not be transmitted while also giving a visual aid for others, avoiding the all too common “Are you on mute?” question. All of the buttons are ‘soft’ compatible with Skype, allowing me to mute, unmute or answer a call on my PC with that action being reflected on the device or vice versa. Very simple, very easy, exactly how it should work.
One thing I can’t quite figure out is if it has a battery or not. Sounds crazy but when I connect only the 3.5mm jack, there is a small illuminated LED and the audio sounds somewhat boosted. I’ve never intentionally charged the device, nor heard a low battery signal. I think this demonstrates the ‘function-first’ approach to design and frankly, I don’t need to know if it does or does not have a battery! Perhaps I will find out by chance one day. The device isn’t perfect for every situation, it is quite useless in a large noisy office but it is a saviour if you work in a home office or small meeting room and regularly take calls. The flexibility and its ability to immediately function when called to service
The device isn’t perfect for every situation, it is quite useless in a large noisy office but it is a saviour if you work in a home office or small meeting room and regularly take calls. The flexibility and its ability to immediately function when called to service has proved incredibly useful in allowing calls to just happen. Highly recommended if you meet the niche, I’ll be taking mine with me wherever I travel!