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Peer Review: ClearOne RAV900

Peer Review: ClearOne RAV900, MSRP $3,095 (includes three microphone pods)

Product:ClearOne RAV900 audioconferencing system

Price: $3,095 MSRP (includes three microphone pods)

Company website:www.clearone.com

Plus: Impressive looks; wireless remote control with LCD readout; software configuration allows easy presets for various setups

Minus: Microphones must be daisy-chained together, limiting seating configurations; weak wireless remote signal

CLEARONE HAS a history of creating products that allow systems integrators to interface traditional house sound (integrated microphones and speakers) with audioconferencing, creating in essence very large speakerphones. These products have been marketed under the Gentner brand, which is well known in AV integration circles for its acoustical echo cancellation products.

Over the past few months, the company has switched to use of the ClearOne brand, and the new RAV products allow ClearOne to find a niche in the lower-end of the installed audioconferencing system market. This niche play has been strengthened by the addition of executive level talent from a major competitor.

RAV (pronounced “rave”) is marketed as a step above a single-unit speakerphone, such as ClearOne's MAX systems or the Polycom SoundStation, which have integrated speakers and microphones housed in a single unit, often accompanied by satellite microphones, but no external speakers. RAV is also marketed as an inexpensive alternative to custom installed systems, which ClearOne claims average $10,000 or more. I tested the RAV 900, which lists for $3,095.

Design

The basic RAV 900 system comes with three microphone pods, a wireless remote control station, a rack-mountable base station, and two external speakers. Overall design of each of these pieces was impressive.

The microphone pods are well built, resemble a giant “C,” and have microphones built into the pod in three locations, equidistantly spaced around the “C” to allow for nearly 360-degree pickup. Each microphone unit also has a mute button and green/red lights to indicate un-mute/mute, respectively. In black and silver, the units look impressive on a conference room table, much more so than typical satellite microphones on lower-end audioconferencing systems.

The audio mixer base station is a single rack-unit device that can be rack-mounted with cleverly designed end panels that double as reversible rack-mount ears. The rear of the base station has a significant number of connections, including phone/handset, Ethernet, RS232, left/right speaker, and dual RCA recording/playback connections. The playback connections allow external sources such as a CD player to play audio through the external Bose speakers while the RAV 900 is not in use, effectively doubling as a small sound system. During a call, the far-end caller can hear the playback device inputs, and the playback as well as local and far-end audio can be recorded during a call via the stereo RCA record connections.

The 900 MHz wireless remote control station also looks very elegant sitting on the conference room table and provides wireless control of the audio mixer base station, which can be housed in another part of the room, closer to telephone and Ethernet connections and audioconference recording equipment. The remote control station has an LCD screen that allows basic control of the base station and dialing functionality. The same functionality — dialing, event logs, and system checks can be achieved via a web browser. However, I found the control via Ethernet very limited compared to the features of the wireless base station.

Performance

It's not often that a speakerphone is equipped with a Bose stereo speaker package, especially 161 Series speakers. Both speakers are shielded, meaning they can be used near CRT monitors and other equipment that generate electromagnetic interference. I set up the speakers at one end of an executive boardroom and had no difficulty hearing the far-end caller as the speakers produced rich, full sound that made even basic phone conversations sound impressive.

However, the signal on the remote control station is surprisingly weak. ClearOne notes a 50-foot range for the remote control station, but my tests found that the range of the wireless remote control station was approximately 20 feet and fell off rapidly after 10 feet unless direct line of sight was available between the base station antenna and the wireless remote control station.

ClearOne also recommends against housing the base station in a metal cabinet because of the limited wireless distance. Because the base station is rack-mountable and many integration cabinets are metal and/or hidden behind cabinetry, the weak signal of the remote control station could create a problem for integrators.

The microphone pods perform well, but setup is a bit of a pain. First, the way the RJ45 jacks are placed on the bottom of the unit means that the supplied cables with RJ45 plugs don't slide easily into the microphone pod jacks. Second, while the documentation says that standard RJ45 cables can be used, caution is advised. My evaluation unit didn't come with the normally supplied third microphone pod cable. Because another cable was required to connect all three microphone pods, I attempted to use the included 568-B Ethernet cable to connect the third microphone pod. However, I found that the cable's protective boot wouldn't allow the Ethernet cable to properly seat in the microphone pod's RJ45 jack. Additionally, the standard Ethernet cable was too thick to properly lie in the wire channel on the bottom of the microphone pod, leaving the cable sticking out of the side of the microphone pod and the pod sitting cockeyed on the table.

Value

For those looking for a mid-range audioconferencing solution that provides features often only found on high-end customer audioconferencing systems, the RAV 900 represents a good value at $3,095.

Tim Siglin is an industry analyst and co-founder of Transitions Inc., a business and technology development firm serving startups and Fortune 10 clients in the United States, Europe, and the Pacific Rim. He can be reached at mmayfield@hanleywood.com



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