ClearOne Max EX
In the land of conference phones, it can be difficult to find a good system at a decent price. ClearOne's Max EX appears to be an exception, offering a solution for small-business owners. This moderately priced ($549) conferencing phone delivers clear, noise-free voice communications during incoming calls, and it's expandable.
The ClearOne Max EX may not have a space-age look like, but its basic black color scheme fits well in any office environment. The main phone unit contains three built-in microphones with green LEDs that light up when the phone is activated. Front and center, the monochrome LED display panel measures 2.2 by 0.6 inches and is easy to read under normal lighting conditions; unfortunately, it doesn't have a backlight, so it's indecipherable in a darkened room. The alphanumeric keypad, which has a decent feel and isn't too mushy, contains function keys, including volume controls, conference (for connecting to a conference provider), redial, power on/off, and mute. There's also a Flash button that enables call forwarding, call waiting, and three-way calling, as well as a phone-book button. Unfortunately, the phone book holds a mere 10 entries, and these can be accessed by only their speed-dial numbers, which means you have to have a really good memory or keep a cheat sheet handy to know what numbers are being called.
The Max EX also supports connections to recording devices such as a cassette recorder. However, it doesn't support connections to cell phones, which is a feature found in Polycom's SoundStation2 line. With the Max EX, you get a matching 4.2-by-5.5-by-2.5-inch base station that's designed to plug directly into a wall socket and has jacks to connect to a standard RJ-11 phone line and the Max EX phone pod via a 12-foot Cat-5 cable; both cords are included. The Max EX can be expanded with up to four phones using a single phone line by purchasing ClearOne's Max EX Expansion kit ($399), which includes a phone and a 12-foot Cat-5 cable that plugs directly into your existing Max EX phone. Alternatively, you can purchase one of ClearOne's MaxAttach kits, which include two, three, or four Max EX units at discounted prices.
Setting up the Max EX was easy and required little direction from the online manual. We were generally pleased with the sound quality of the unit, but callers on the opposite end complained of a slight echo. However, the phone's full-duplexing capabilities kept communications clean and stutter-free during a three-way conversation, and background noise was negligible.