Your smartphone can serve as a speakerphone, and you might even have a Bluetooth speaker with a call function. But neither of those will cut it for actual conference calling—grab one of these dedicated Bluetooth conference speakerphones instead.
Update, 6/1/22: Updated with all new options and more thorough explanations.
The pandemic changed a lot of things about the way we live. One of the more dramatic paradigm shifts is how many of us work. Work-from-anywhere and hybrid working mean that a well-stocked home office is more than a luxury these days–it’s necessary to earn a living. And that means that much of the contact we have with others is remote, by phone, or using a computer.
That means we get by with mediocre or downright poor audio in many cases. That’s unnecessary thanks to speakerphones that improve communication quality on both sides of the conversation. And while your smartphone or webcam mic can pick up multiple speakers at your home or work office and amplify the incoming discussion on a relatively small and underpowered speaker, it simply can’t do these as well as a dedicated and separate speakerphone.
Desktop conference speakerphones have been around for years. Still, they have also often required some expertise to install and use and needed a wired connection to your office or home telephone system, often at high prices. If you need a higher quality speakerphone that resides on your desktop or conference table and has Bluetooth connectivity, there are now, thankfully, some great options on the market, and installing them is just a matter of plug and go.
The following devices are lightyears ahead of using your phone, a plain old Bluetooth speaker with a mic on it, or a webcam mic, thanks to features like echo cancellation, directional mics, and tuning for conference and video communications. Here are our top picks.
If you have a larger room and generally have several people in the room with you on a call, a speakerphone with more advanced capabilities and features is a good choice. The AnkerWork PowerConf S500 speakerphone will meet the needs of many small to mid-sized Work-From-Anywhere environments.
Measuring 5 x 5 x1.5 inches, the PowerConf S500 is slightly bigger and heavier than the CA Essential SP-2000, our budget pick. It’s also the most expensive of the three speakerphones reviewed here. That additional expense buys you more features and capability. If you frequently work in larger rooms, it’s the only one of the three that can be linked with a second identical unit to provide better coverage in a large room. In most cases, this won’t be necessary; the four microphones and powerful 10-watt output speaker will satisfy most users, especially those who work at home or hold multi-person conferences in a hotel room.
Setup is easy–pretty much plug it into a USB-C port with the included cable. Should you only have USB-A ports on your PC or Mac, an adapter (not included) will allow you to use the S500 with that device. Alternatively, you can use the included USB dongle to connect those devices that don’t have built-in Bluetooth. For those PCs/Macs, Smartphones, and tablets with Bluetooth, you can pair the speakerphone using Bluetooth. However, keep in mind that if you plan to use the S500 in stand-alone mode connecting with Bluetooth, you will need to charge the built-in battery with a wall-wart type power supply (also not included). You will likely be able to use the charger for your smartphone or tablet. The PowerConf S500 comes with a nice vinyl zippered carry case along with the cable and dongle.
AnkerWork also has downloadable software to control some functions through your smartphone or PC (different versions). These include checking the battery level on your PowerConf S500, choosing between Standard Mode to pick up all sounds from the near end, or Broadcast Mode to restore and deliver original sounds by turning the speaker off. You can also turn the indicator light and prompt tone on or off, set the Auto Power Off time from 5 minutes to 60, and check for a firmware update.
The PowerConf S500 has a few more controls than the other units. There are volume up and down buttons, a mute button, a Phone Call button, a power button, a Bluetooth button, and a Play button if you’re going to use the S500 as an audio speaker. An LED light bar shows the current operating mode, charge levels, and if you’ve connected another speakerphone unit.
Not everyone needs a speakerphone with this many features. But if you want one a bit above entry level, the PowerConf S500 is a good bet.
Anker PowerConf S500
If you need a speakerphone where everyone can be heard in a large room, this is the one.
You don’t have to spend a fortune to get a decent speakerphone. This one won’t break the bank and gives you the basic features you would expect. The Cyber Acoustics Essential SP-2000 is a small (4x4x1 inch) unit with a MicroUSB connector on one side and four buttons on the top. Two of these buttons raise or lower the volume. A third mutes or unmutes the speakerphone, and the fourth button connects and disconnects the speakerphone.
Setting up the SP-2000 is quick and easy. Just plug the speakerphone into a USB port on your PC or Mac. The USB port also charges the speakerphone’s battery. If you prefer Bluetooth, you need to charge the SP-2000 using a USB port on a PC or Mac or a five-volt wall-wart power supply (not included).
The Essential SP-2000 is also a terrific little speakerphone to travel with, especially if you have videoconferencing meetings in your hotel room or a small conference room. It’s small enough to fit in your laptop bag and simply plugs into a USB port. The cable provided with the speakerphone has a Male USB-A connector on one end and a MicroUSB male connector on the other. If your laptop only has a USB-C port available, you’ll need a USB-C to MicroUSB cable. Alternatively, you can connect the SP-2000 using Bluetooth and skip the cable entirely.
Cyber Acoustic Essential SP-2000
For a speakerphone that has most the features you need at a price that won't empty your wallet.
If you want a capable speakerphone that will serve as a decent music speaker, the Poly Sync 10 will fit the bill nicely. It has an integrated USB-A cable and an adapter to use it with a USB-C port. If you prefer Microsoft Teams, Poly sells a model specifically for that platform. Of course, the speakerphone also works with just about every other conferencing application you might use. The unit I received to review was the standard model without the dedicated Teams launcher.
As with many speakerphones, the controls are easy to understand and use. An icon of a phone handset turns the unit on and off, and there are volume and mute buttons. The mute button also puts the call on hold when you press it for 2 seconds. An LED bar on the lower part of the Sync 10 lights up to show the status of the speakerphone. Flashing green indicates an incoming call and switches to solid green when you’re in the call. A solid red bar means that the speakerphone is muted, and a flashing red bar indicates that the call is on hold. Setting it up is as easy as plugging it into a USB port.
The Poly Sync 10 is pretty hardy, with IP64 dust and water-resistant rating. It also has decent audio for a unit this size and two microphones to pick up people speaking in a room as large as 10 x 10 feet. You might want to consider a more expensive model if you will generally use it in a larger space.
One feature missing from the Poly Sync 10 is Bluetooth connectivity, limiting its usefulness if you want a speakerphone to use with a tablet or smartphone.
Poly Sync 10
If you need a solid speakerphone that doubles as a music station, this is a great option to consider.