Most phones sold these days have a speakerphone mode. This setting is usually good enough for an impromptu hands-free call in a quiet office. However, when you get on the road in a noisy car, the phone's flaws are made apparent. For example, the built-in microphone can be less than ideal for canceling the levels of road and wind noise present in a car at highway speed, which leads to poor quality on the receiving end of your calls. I'm sure that you dislike repeating yourself to callers as much as I do, so let's look at how to improve call quality.
Visor-mounted Bluetooth speakerphones feature more sophisticated microphones with noise and echo-cancellation technology located closer to your head, which can dramatically improve sound quality. How much of an improvement should you expect? I've recorded outbound calls from five speakerphones (and my test phone's internal microphone) to demonstrate.
All of the recordings below were made on the same day in our CNET test car -- the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo, one of the noisiest cars that I've ever driven -- while doing 55 mph over the same stretch of US-101 just north of San Francisco in an attempt to eliminate variations in engine noise, wind noise, road texture, and cabin acoustics.
The phone used to test all of these speakerphones was my personal handset, the HTC Thunderbolt on the Verizon 4G network. After suction-cupping the Thunderbolt to the windshield, I recorded an outgoing call using the smartphone's internal microphone. The recording below retains quite a bit of road noise and the spoken words sometimes exhibit a choppy, clipped quality.
Listen now: BlueAnt S4 call quality sample
The BlueAnt S4 does a fantastic job, almost completely eliminating the road and wind noise between words and only betraying a hint of background noise underneath the sound of my voice. Output volume is good and spoken words sounded natural with little to no clipping.
Listen now: SuperTooth Crystal call quality sample
The SuperTooth Crystal almost splits the difference between the baseline recording and the BlueAnt S4's. I was able to notice the road and wind noise beneath the sound of my voice, but not in the pauses between words and statements. There's almost no noticeable clipping of the spoken words until the last few seconds, where things get just a bit choppy. However, the SuperTooth Crystal's sound quality has a compressed, CB radio-esque quality to it that I don't really like.
Listen now: Plantronics K100 call quality sample
I really like the sound quality of the Plantronics K100's recording. Background noise is almost totally eliminated, both under the sound of my voice and in the silent spaces, and there's nearly no clipping of the spoken words. Good output volume puts this and the BlueAnt S4 at a close tie for best-sounding microphone.
Listen now: Jabra Freeway call quality sample
The Jabra Freeway is one of my favorite speakerphones for audio output because of its three-speaker sound system. However, the audio quality of its microphone and noise cancellation is decidedly middle of the pack; it's not the best in this shootout, but it's not the worst either. If you drive a loud car and care more about hearing than being heard, this is the one to choose.
Listen now: Griffin SmartTalk Solar call quality sample
The Griffin SmartTalk Solar's recording exhibits a clipped and compressed quality that doesn't really please my ear. Overall, it sounds better than the baseline recording, but road noise is still present under the sound of my voice. This is, to my ear, the worst sounding of the bunch. I should also note that while the SmartTalk Solar's loudspeaker was the quietest, it's solar-charging and simple feature set make it the most hassle-free in this pack.
To my ear, the recordings from the Plantronics K100 and BlueAnt S4 exhibit the best outbound call quality of the pack, tying for first place. The Jabra Freeway falls, as I stated earlier, in the middle of the pack at third place, followed by the SuperTooth Crystal and the Griffin SmartTalk Solar in fourth and fifth places, respectively. Which of these speakerphones did you like the best? Which models would you like to see tested in the next shootout? Sound off in the comments section below.