Review: Invoxia Audioffice (2013)
While we wouldn't go so far as to call Invoxia's second-generation version of Audioffice ($299, aka AudiOffice or Audioffice 2.0) perplexing, we can say that the accessory -- billed as an office-ready telephone and speakerphone solution for the iPhone and iPad -- is nearly as challenging to recommend today as the company's NVX 610 was almost two years ago. Both the design and iOS-focused features are similar, and the price has been cut in half, yet Audioffice hasn't gotten past the core issue of its predecessors: it's still not great as a business phone.
This isn’t to say that Audioffice lacks for aesthetic appeal. In our prior review, we noted that “Invoxia has done such a great job with the industrial design of NVX 610 that we were beyond excited just to see it sitting on a desk.” Only modestly tweaked, that design continues to be Audioffice’s single biggest selling point. White, gray, and silver with an Apple-like transparent top surface, the new Audioffice measures 11.4” wide, 5.55” deep, and 2” tall, sporting a traditional cabled telephone handset on its left and an iPhone-sized dock recess on its right. Should you want to use it with an iPad, an included plastic insert attaches to its back to hold the tablet in place, and Invoxia now includes three types of connectors—Lightning, Dock Connector, and micro-USB—so you can make a charging connection with any docked device. The handset has been redesigned a bit relative to NVX 610’s, now featuring a matte white interior with a less obviously iPhone 4-inspired silver band on its edge, but still retains a black ear speaker at the top and tiny microphone hole at the bottom.
Your initial appreciation for Audioffice will depend on two factors: your tolerance for DIY accessory assembly, and whether you use a device case. Invoxia’s latest package contains a boatload of parts—including tiny cables, dock inserts, below-dock inserts, and adapters—which you’re tasked with putting together using a manual before trying Audioffice for the first time. In addition to the base, which contains a docking well that requires you to choose a cable, a connector mount, and a dock cover, you get a magnetically-attached triangular holder for the handset, the USB-cabled handset itself, and finally an international wall power adapter to assemble for your country.
Recesses on Audioffice’s bottom substantially manage the dock and handset cables, while the below-dock inserts are designed to hold your choice of device-specific plugs at just the right height to make an electronic connection with a bare iPhone or iPad. Those needing a case-compatible connector might want to consider self-supplying some glue to keep the Lightning or Dock Connector plug elevated above the dock’s surface; very few cases will work properly otherwise.
Despite the complexities of assembly, Invoxia deserves credit for giving customers flexibility during a time of connector and device transitions. Once you’re through the one-time physical setup process, there’s really not much to worry about from a hardware perspective to continue using Audioffice, unless the connector isn’t for whatever reason making a solid connection with your encased device. And it’s worth restating that the fully-assembled unit looks really nice—aesthetically superior to 75% of the speakers we’ve seen for the iPhone, and at least as sharp as the best speakerphones we’ve tested in the past.
Unlike NVX 610, which was an overcomplicated near-standalone VoIP/Skype phone that happened to have an iPhone dock built in, there’s no question this time that Audioffice is meant primarily to be a speakerphone. You’re meant to place an iOS device in the dock, leading to an on-screen prompt to install the free Audioffice app from the App Store. Mimicking the look of the classic iOS Home Screen—an unnecessary carry-over from Invoxia’s app design for the NVX 610—this app displays the time, provides access to call-handling settings, and even automates the initial Bluetooth pairing process for you if needed. Once the Bluetooth connection’s made, you can stream both music and cellular phone calls through Audioffice. By comparison, the wired docking connection facilitates charging and music, but not calling.
It should be noted that Audioffice differs from NVX 610 in omitting some internal hardware and connectivity options. The Ethernet ports are gone from the back, and the one computer-ready rear USB port is so optional that there isn’t a cable in the package to make use of it. Surprisingly, the USB port is not for iPhone or iPad synchronization. Assuming that you self-supply a USB cable—one with a classic D-shaped USB plug, no less—you can connect a computer for Skype/FaceTime calling and music listening through the computer’s own apps. If your computer has poor speakers or microphones, this might be worthwhile.
The six-speaker array inside Audioffice has one real plus: it sounds pretty good for music at regular near-field volumes. Respectable bass now radiates out of a bottom-mounted driver, while good mids and treble can be heard coming from small drivers positioned on the front and sides. The system’s ability to produce sound in a near-circular field isn’t unique, but it’s uncommon, and some users might like it. Unfortunately but predictably given the size of the drivers and enclosure, sonic distortion becomes profound at the system’s not-quite-small-room-filling peak volume, and is at least somewhat apparent starting at just a touch over the halfway mark. Consequently, we wouldn’t pick this as a speaker system over most $300 rivals, but it sounds better—stereo separated, fuller-bodied, and louder—than any unassisted iPhone 5 or iPad at moderate volumes.
Once again, however, Audioffice’s key issue relates to its supposedly key selling point: speakerphone performance. Across comparison tests with two callers, we were told that under the best conditions, the accessory’s handset sounded only a little better than the unassisted iPhone handset, and otherwise not as clear—sometimes superior in apparent proximity, but generally a bit lower in intelligibility. On our side, hearing callers through the Audioffice handset sounded only a little better than through the iPhone itself, then only in midbass warmth. By contrast, callers told us that Audioffice’s microphone sound quality in speakerphone mode fell somewhat below the iPhone 5’s internal mic. Thankfully, speakerphone calls sounded decidedly louder and cleaner to us on Audioffice than on the iPhone 5, as we’d expect from a considerably larger speaker.
The collectively modest sonic differences were further burdened by odd bugs and interface issues. On one test call, music continued to play through the iPhone even after a phone call began, an issue we’ve never had with another company’s speakerphone accessory. Additionally, since the handset uses a sensor rather than a physical button to measure whether it’s been hung up, we found that it sometimes didn’t end a call when it was laid to rest on its triangular mount. Generally, the unit toggled properly between speakerphone and handset modes when calls were in progress, but we sometimes needed to press a silver button on the Audioffice to manually switch modes. Invoxia’s come some way from NVX 610, but issues still remain.
Overall, the new Audioffice is a more appealing product than NVX 610 was, but it’s still not good enough for us to generally recommend—even at its considerably lower $299 price point. Despite a highly attractive enclosure and respectable speaker performance at low volumes, it doesn’t offer the sort of great overall speaker or speakerphone experiences one should expect from a nearly $300 audio accessory. We’d solely suggest considering it if you’re looking for a handsome speakerphone to place on your desk, and aren’t particularly concerned about dramatically better-than-iPhone 5 sound quality in handset or outgoing speakerphone mode. Invoxia still has some work ahead to further streamline Audioffice into a product that we’d actually consider using on a daily basis.