Conference room telephone setup
September 22, 2009 10:46 AM   Subscribe

I need some help setting up a telephone system for a large conference room (about 50 people) for question and answers.

I'm looking for something that would allow the 50 or so participates to ask and have questions answered by someone off site. I'm not sure if I will have access to a land line, so systems that work with either land lines or cell phones would be helpful. I would prefer a system that has little cost as I'm not sure how often it will be used.

posted by emmysue01 to Technology (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One laptop + Skype account (that way the 'expert' on the other end can either use Skype themselves, or you can phone a landline from the Skype Pro account)

Then hook that laptop up to a daisy-chain of speaker phones, enough to comfortably cover the conference area. Something like:

The Quattro 2 from Phoenix Audio. (about $600 a piece from Googling quickly).

Cheap (relatively) and portable.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:11 AM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for your quick response, Static. I had these ideas as well; I guess I was hoping there was another option that I had overlooked. Also, I failed to mention that I'm not sure if I will have internet access at this venue.
posted by emmysue01 at 11:18 AM on September 22, 2009

If you don't have internet access or a land-line, then you could get a cellular Internet dongle for the laptop.

Also, you don't really have to use a conference room speaker-phone, I guess to save money you could find a solution that is literally just a series of microphones. I just so happen to have a "Musicians Friend" catalog in front of me so...

A mixing desk, lets say.. a TASCAM US-1641 Interface. 8 Powered mic inputs. $400.
Then 8 long mic cables, about $25 a pop
8 Cobalt Co4 Mics, ~$300 total
And a cable to get from the mixer -> laptop. About $20, with connectors.
8 Desktop mic stands, $20 a pop.
Total ~$1080

Could get a smaller mixer, if the conference room is quite close and the mics work well and live with 4 microphones to half the cost.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:42 AM on September 22, 2009

What about getting a bluetooth speaker phone and moving it around to the person talking?
posted by reddot at 12:45 PM on September 22, 2009

Response by poster: We We could do with one microphone as the participant asking the question could move to it. The issue is a speaker that allows the whole room to hear the response.

Thanks again for your help!
posted by emmysue01 at 1:12 PM on September 22, 2009

Fifty participants is quite a number for a telephone call, so this becomes complex for a number of reasons.

First on the list is to find out about the venue - many places will be experienced in this kind of thing and may well have an AV team on site that can do the hard bit for you. If not, at least find out if they can provide either internet access, a landline, or an extension (preferably analogue) from their PBX, and a small PA with a couple of mics.

The outcome will determine your subsequent moves: whether they can provide it or not, you'll need a small PA system so participants can hear. You probably only need a couple of mics - one for the host responsible for the call, and one (possibly wireless) for participants who have questions. And a mixer - for the mics, and also the 'telephone equipment' which we'll get to next.

If the venue can provide reliable broadband internet, Skype might be a good option, but I wouldn't recommend using it over a cellular dongle. Skype's protocol is often blocked on mobile carriers and is likely to have drop outs even at 3g speeds. If you use Skype / a computer as the telephone interface, I'd recommend an external (FW or USB) soundcard to interface with the mixing desk, rather than trying to get a mixing desks aux sends to feed a 3.5mm soundcard connector reliably. (Any local computer musicians or DJs might be able to help you with this.)

If there's an analogue landline, or extension off a PBX you could perhaps hire a Telephone Line balancing unit - the sort of thing used in phone-in radio shows, but might be better off hiring a Polycom conference phone that can output a line level signal to feed in to the PA.

If there's only a digital PBX extension, or no phone on site you'll probably have to resort to getting someone handy with electronics to wire you up a cable that will connect the headset / handsfree plug of a cell-phone, to suitable connectors for the mixing desk inputs and outputs.

If you go the Skype route, the guys from the Conversations Network have a really good how to video on getting the best sound quality out of Skype (the presentation is geared towards recording interviews, but take what's useful and adapt to your needs).

That's the proper way to do this, which needn't be expensive if you know the right people, but if you don't you may have to cough up or accept a lower quality solution.

Oh - having gone to that much effort, it's probably worth recording the call for participants to re-listen - get consent from all involved if neccessary.

Wow, that was long -- if it made your head hurt, just pick a venue with some conference and banqueting experience and an in-house AV team. Good Luck :)
posted by dirm at 6:44 PM on September 22, 2009

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