Think back to the last time you were in a meeting room with a group of people trying to communicate with another group of people over a speakerphone. What are some of the complaints you would hear? There is too much noise in the background? You cannot hear the people further from the speaker?
AnkerWork came up with a solution for those problems in the form of the PowerConf S500 Speakerphone. The S500 is a high-quality, ultra-portable speaker that is built for professional conference calls and presentations. A recent addition to AnkerWork’s lineup of tools, the S500 offers:
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Two-way AI noise canceling
- 360-degree HD voice capability
- A Zoom-certified stamp
- 3600mAH battery that provides up to 16-hour battery life
- The ability to support up to 12 people on one unit
Its footprint is not too large at 5” x 5”. It can be held in one hand, but it packs a lot of weight into that package. It also comes with a hefty price tag at $219.99, compared to lower-end models at around $100 to $120.
The S500’s HD voice capability stems from its four built-in microphones with a 32 KHz mic sample rate, producing better audio quality than most speakerphones on the market, which offer a 16 KHz mic sample rate. (A mic sample rate reflects the number of times the analog signal sent by a microphone or instrument is sampled per second. The higher the number, the better the clarity and quality of sound.) All these features work together to provide advanced noise cancellation and crystal-clear audio. It is easy to notice the clarity and depth you hear when using the device. When you add in more people at greater distances, you still get the same quality. Lower-end models will have a noticeably tinnier sound.
The Zoom hardware certification program is a program for manufacturers that produce hardware designed to integrate with Zoom. This program allows you to certify that select hardware is compatible with Zoom software. Certification includes testing at a third-party lab as well as Zoom’s own subjective testing. Even though it advertises its Zoom certification, it is still compatible with other videoconferencing platforms.
The S500 is currently designed to work well in medium- to large-sized conference rooms that can fit up to 12 people. However, you can pair it with another S500 device, and it will work in meeting rooms with up to 20 people. Part of this is due to its 360-degree microphone technology, but part is also due to its VoiceRadar technology, a two-way AI noise-canceling feature. This enables the device to limit unwanted environmental background noise and let you focus on active speakers. It can also be used in your professional personal workspace.
To get started, the first thing you need to do is download the AnkerWork software. The software contains firmware updates that may help the performance of the device. You can download it on a desktop/laptop computer, and it is also available on both iOS and Android platforms, so you can update the firmware from your smartphone as well. From there, you will want to plug in the Bluetooth dongle or the USB adapter. It will automatically download the drivers you need. Before you start using the S500, you should fully charge the device to extend its lifespan. It will take four hours to fully charge the device. Not sure if you remembered to charge the battery? You can easily check the battery life remaining while the unit is on by pressing the power button once. The light bar that runs along the front of the speaker will switch from green to blue and will reflect the percentage of remaining battery life by how far the LED bar goes across the device.
The front side features four rubberized control buttons, including power, play, link, and Bluetooth connection. The back features a USB-C charging port. On top you get four control buttons (volume down, mute, phone call, volume up). The S500 can connect to your device via USB, Bluetooth, or an adapter.
The VoiceRadar technology is designed to focus on the voice source no matter the distance. I performed a test of its voice isolation and clarity from about one foot away from the speaker, five feet away, and ten feet away. Here is a summary of my findings:
- 1’ away: with one person speaking, the sound is crisp and clear; with background chatter/music, the sound is clear and the background noise is unnoticeable.
- 5’ away: with one person speaking, the sound is clear; with background chatter/music, the sound is clear and the background noise is unnoticeable
- 10’ away: with one person speaking, the sound clear sound with a little distance detected; with background chatter/music, the sound comes through but is choppier as the mic tries to focus in on the voice.
At about ten feet away, there is a decline in performance. When you add in background chatter or music, it is even more pronounced, with the music bleeding through as the microphone tries to focus on your voice. It is even more noticeable if you are moving around the room at greater than ten feet and speaking while music is blaring. Even still, you can be heard. So, it is not a perfect solution, but it is a good solution. It removes the distance problem when using a speakerphone and will work well if you can keep music from blaring and the background chatter to a minimum.
Overall, the device is easy to set up and use, whether you are pairing it to use in Bluetooth mode or connecting via the USB adapter. The portable conference speaker is useful for meetings, depositions, mediations, virtual hearings, and more. The VoiceRadar technology, while not flawless, does make it an excellent choice for business professionals and frequent travelers. You can find a “good enough” speaker for less, but if you are in the market for clear, high-quality sound in a device that will not require you to get up and walk over to the microphone when you wish to speak, this is worth checking out.
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 12, Number 7, Febuary 2023. © 2022 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.