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Huddling around a smartphone with several coworkers during a key meeting is inefficient and unprofessional looking. If your team strategizes over the phone often, the best solution is a conference speaker.
This type of speaker was traditionally built into office landline phones, but newer ones can be connected to computers, tablets, or smartphones. Conference speakers are tuned to highlight vocal frequencies, so the people you’re speaking to sound clear.
Even if you’re working from home, a conference speaker will deliver a crisper and more reliable audio experience than using your phone (or putting your phone on speaker). Many have sensitive microphones inside, so you don’t have to shout or get close to the speaker for the people on your call to hear you. If you’re trying to maintain a safe distance between yourself and colleagues, getting a conference speaker also allows you to communicate efficiently without getting too close. In some cases you can start, complete, and end your call without touching the speaker at all.
This is an office — or home office — upgrade you may not have considered, but if you’re making and taking phone calls all day, it’s well-worth the investment.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Conference Speaker
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right conference speaker for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: Conference speakers were designed to not take up valuable desk space in an office; the ones we’ve chosen in this guide are all under 5.5 inches long. You can carry any of these speakers in a backpack, messenger bag, or briefcase, to use it at the office and home.
Wired vs. Wireless: Conference speakers can be connected to a variety of devices either wirelessly, or through a cable. Wireless connectivity is more convenient, but it means you have to worry about latency (lag), and wireless interference. Wired conference speakers can connect to your gadgets via a 3.5mm audio cable, USB cable, or the Lightning Port of an iPhone.
Battery Life: Both wired and wireless conference speakers run on battery power. Meetings can run long, so we made sure our picks last at least 20 hours per charge.
1. Sennheiser SP 20
This conference speaker comes from a company with more than seven decades of experience making audio gear, and it’ll be a substantial upgrade over using your phone on speaker mode, or cranking up your laptop’s volume.
It’s 5.4 inches long, and 5 inches wide, which makes it the largest conference speaker in our guide, but still small enough to carry with you easily.
Both the microphone and speaker have been tuned to highlight frequencies that ensure you sound clear to the people you’re communicating with, and vice-versa. Keep in mind that the quality of your phone or computer’s signal will play a huge role in how the conversation sounds; it’s always best to move into a spot where you have several bars of cell service, or a strong WiFi connection.
This isn’t a wireless conference speaker, but its compatibility is very impressive. You can connect it to a phone or tablet via a 3.5mm audio cable (phones without a headphone jack require an adapter), or your computer via USB. You can plug both cables into two devices, and merge both a phone and computer-based call (through a service like Zoom or Skype) and communicate with both parties simultaneously.
Despite its large size, this conference speaker gets 20 hours of battery life. The larger speaker and microphone will drain power faster, and getting nearly one day’s worth of talk time is considered quite impressive.
The ability to connect this conference speaker to both a phone and computer, and merge the calls, is very significant.
2. Anker PowerConf
This conference speaker supports the latest version of Bluetooth, has a six-microphone array, and a custom chip that enhances the quality of your voice while reducing disturbances like echo.
It’s roughly 4.8 inches long and 4.8 wide, which puts it in the middle of the pack when it comes to size. Keep in mind because this is a wireless speaker, you won’t have to deal with carrying around cables, which makes it more portable.
The conference speaker connects to all devices — smartphones, tablets and computers — via Bluetooth. It uses the latest Bluetooth standard (5.0), which is more energy-efficient, and significantly improves audio quality and range over previous versions. Using a wireless standard like Bluetooth ensures the speaker will be able to connect to new hardware as you upgrade.
As I mentioned earlier, the downside to going wireless is that it can introduce some latency, especially if the device it’s connecting to only supports an older version of Bluetooth. This won’t be a problem in most circumstances, but it’s something to keep in mind. If your call is incredibly important, or your connection is somewhat poor, you can connect it to a device using an included USB-C cable.
In terms of audio hardware, this conference speaker is very impressive. It has six microphones, which are pointed in different directions, so multiple people in a conference room can speak without degradation in audio quality. It uses a custom chip that blocks out ambient background noise, so your voice is highlighted when you speak. This chip also performs echo cancellation, and balances its volume to compensate for your distance from the speaker.
It has a rechargeable battery that can last up to 24 hours on a charge, which is impressive given its smaller size, and wireless connectivity. This is a great choice if you want to travel with as few cables as possible, and ensure compatibility with as many devices as possible.
This conference speaker has a custom chip to improve the quality of your audio, plus six microphones, and a full day’s worth of battery life.
3. Pioneer Rayz Rally
This conference speaker plugs into an iPhone or iPad’s Lightning port, and its microphone and speaker will greatly improve the quality of your voice, and how well you can hear colleagues.
Unlike the other options in our guide, this conference speaker is attached to an iPhone Lightning cable, which plugs directly into your device. When fully extended, the speaker is only 2.4 inches long, and 1.9 inches wide, but the cable can be folded to make it even more compact.
The speaker and microphone connected to this conference speaker won’t be as good as the ones found in the larger ones on this list, but they’ll be a substantial improvement over the ones built into the iPhone. This is meant to be the conference speaker you use in a pinch, when an unexpected call comes in while you’re on a business trip and you need to sound professional.
Its biggest strength and weakness come from the fact that it uses the Lightning connector built into Apple’s iPhone line, and many of its iPads. On one hand, it allows the speaker to draw power from your device, so you don’t need to worry about battery life. That’s especially true because it has a “pass-through” port, that allows you to plug the conference speaker into your iPhone’s charger while it’s connected to the phone, recharging its battery while you speak.
It doesn’t have very many extra audio features, but the conference speaker will automatically mute when you’re not speaking, and un-mute when you start talking, so background noises won’t interrupt your call.
The downside of using this conference speaker is that it’s only compatible with iPhones and iPads. If Apple moves away from using this connector, this accessory will no longer work with your device, which is a risk. Still, it’s hard to argue with this conference speaker’s extreme portability; it may even be a good choice as a second option you carry on your person during business trips for “just in case” scenarios.
This conference speaker is ultra compact, is totally powered by your iPhone or iPad’s battery, and has smart-mute to avoid ambient noise from ruining your call.