Earlier this year, Sennheiser launched a new Lync optimized conference speakerphone series – the SP 10 ML and SP 20 ML. Both models have received high praise, including winning the IF Product Design award 2014 and the Reddot Award 2014, which is no small feat.
I wanted to dive deeper into some of the aspects about what makes this series special and how that translates into using these devices in the real world. So I had the opportunity to speak to Brian Brorsbøl – Head of Product Management, CC&O – from Sennheiser Communications to find out just that.
Intelligent Speaker Design
Sennheiser are known for their audio heritage and the SP series is no exception – a dynamic neodymium speaker with a digital amplifier sits in the heart of the SP series with dedicated sound profiles to handle music and communication appropriately. The optimum way of reproducing voice requires a different equalisation pattern to that of music, so having the different profiles results in a speakerphone that can deliver a clear, detailed presentation of voice while being able to switch to a more dramatic and exciting music presentation. While on USB, the speakerphone can dynamically optimise the audio profile, suitable to what it is being heard. When using the SP 20 ML via the jack with a phone or tablet, the audio profile can easily be switched by holding the mute button for a couple of seconds.
To try this in practice, I connected the SP 20 ML to my phone and changed the profiles, using the switch technique described above. The music mode does transform to a more open, wider and more pleasing sound. With business professionals becoming more mobile, it is very useful that this device doubles up as a portable speaker, especially given the compact size.
For devices such as a compact headset, the speaker and the microphone are separated by distance, reducing the issue of a generating a feedback loop. But this configuration is not possible on a speakerphone, which is designed to project sound outwards at a higher volume for a whole room of people to hear clearly. The microphone picks up the sound from the speaker as well as the echo and causes feedback, looping continuously. To combat this, speakerphones generally turn off the microphone while the speaker is on. While this removes the feedback problem, it can impact the flow during a meeting – if a participant wants to speak while another participant on the other side of the call is already talking, the speakerphone has to turn off the speaker and turn on the microphone. This can truncate the participant’s contributions while the device switches to listening, impeding communication. The situation can get worse if there are multiple people on speakerphones in one call, all competing for talk opportunities.
Sennheiser wanted to create a device that would allow natural two-way conversation while intelligently eliminating the loopback completely. They created Dual Talk that implements a combination of advanced DSP algorithms and electroacoustics for an intelligent microphone that dynamically removes the sound from the speaker and corresponding echo while allowing the speech from the participants to flow through uninhibited, thus allowing natural, flowing communication.
In practice, I found that the SP series delivered on the ability for seamless communication, with no intermittence or delays of any kind; it was very clear and concise.
Bridging a Gap
Another great feature, and one of Brian’s favourite’s, that Sennheiser implemented in the SP 20 ML is the ability to bridge calls between a softphone and a mobile phone. For instance, plug the SP 20 ML into a laptop for a call on Lync and plug the jack into a phone that is connected to another mobile caller. The SP 20 ML will bridge the calls together, making for a convenient option should the need arise.
To try this out, I made a Lync call and then another call with the mobile phone connected. I thought I would need to reach for the instruction manual to find out the proper way to merge the calls together but, to my surprise, no additional work was necessary – the SP 20 ML automatically merged the call calls together and everyone was in an instant conference. When workers are out on the road, in the car or just in poor data coverage, this feature would definitely come in very handy to easily merge a mobile phone user with a Lync call.
Out and About
The SP 20 ML has a built in battery that provides 20 hours talk time when roaming – this is when it is connected to a mobile via the jack. Brian was very clear that the 20 hours talk time is not ‘marketing hours’ but real life hours. Businesses rely on these devices and need specifications that give a genuine impression on how well the devices can perform in the field.
A speakerphone for a professional business needs to look like it fits into a professional environment, as well as being capable of being a workhorse. Sennheiser have achieved a very different look from other products in the market – a sleek design, a metal fascia and details, and a particularly solid construction result in an iconic design that suits modern businesses very well.
Connectivity for Audio Quality
The SP series connects via USB and a jack (on the SP 20 ML) – there are two reasons for the wired only approach: ease of use and audio quality. One of the tests that Sennheiser conducted while developing the SP series was that in order to deliver a solution that doesn’t require support, then plug in and talk is a better option. When using a wired connection, the speakerphone simply plugs into laptop or phone, negating any delays or need to pair the device. For instance, if a user is receiving a call on their mobile, they can easily plug the device into their phone and almost instantly, the conference is ready to take place. Pairing devices often requires instructions and does come with a delay while the pairing takes place. When it comes to audio quality, a wired connection does not have to undergo compression for transmitting wirelessly, or suffer from interference from any other devices that are also utilizing the 2.4GHz range which can lead to audio drop outs or other quirks. A wired connection is the most reliable connection possible, so Sennheiser have supplied a wired only approach to ensure consistent, quality sound while being incredibly easy to use for every user, so that all the focus is maintained on providing efficient communication.
Having first hand experience with the Sennheiser SP series, the results are impressive. It is a sturdy device with looks that impress. Sennheiser’s audio quality certainly lives up to expectations. For business professionals that need a Lync optimized speakerphone for impromptu conferences on the go, it is a device that will not disappoint.
See the SP 20 ML product page on Sennheiser’s site here.
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