Phone Calls, Eight Ways

I was talking to my old friend Stephen Southall on the phone earlier this week. Stephen was at home in Ontario; I was in my car, talking to him on my cell phone’s speakerphone, driving up North River Road, here in Charlottetown.

The quality of our conversation was similar to what one might have experienced from a ship-to-shore telephone in 1947: there were swaths of his conversation that I couldn’t hear, swaths of my conversation that he couldn’t hear, and a lot of jumbled speech in the middle.

Stephen made the cogent point that despite all the supposed advances in technology in recent years, there has never been a worse time to make a clear telephone call: if I’d called Stephen land line to land line in 1995, our call likely would have been clear as a bell. And if it wasn’t, I could have called Island Tel to complain about it.

Thinking about this today, I realized that, sitting here in the Reinventorium at my desk, I have at my disposal eight different ways of making telephone calls.

I decided to call my office voicemail from each of these, and read the identical phrase, by way of allowing me to contrast and compare their voice quality. Here are the results:

Device/App Description Audio File
Amazon Echo Amazon Echo Dot sitting on my desk.
Google Home Google Home sitting on my desk.
Cell Phone Nextbit Robin Android phone.
Speakerphone Nextbit Robin Android phone in speakerphone mode.
Skype (Cell) Skype, running on my Nextbit Robin Android phone. The Mac Telephone app, running on my MacBook Air, using a wired headphone microphone.
Google Hangouts Google Hangouts, running in Chrome on my MacBook Air, using a wired headphone microphone.
Skype Skype, running on my MacBook Air, using a wired headphone microphone.

I am not an audiophile, so I’m not as well-equipped to judge the results as others, but I find the variation in quality interesting, and also find that samples that “sound worse,” seem to allow for a higher comprehension rate.

The Amazon Echo and Google Home, for example, both sound clearer on the surface, I find it easier to understand the speech on my cell phone, which is less clear, but seems to have a wider frequency range.

It’s also kind of freaky to realize that I have so many options at hand for making telephone calls.