Audio technologies – the microphone and speakers – are two of the most important audiovisual (AV) technologies for distance collaboration. Without good audio, great video and data sharing mean nothing.
The things you hear – Audio Technologies
Part one of this series discussed important considerations about the things you see in a conference/collaboration room. The main data displays should be assessed based on quality, image quality settings, and other factors. The user interface to control the AV system, and possibly other room elements, will impact usability and acceptance of the system. What is heard is also important, so this continuation covers microphones, speakers, and systems. Your audio system might be even more important than the display because clear intelligible sound can be crucial depending upon the use cases for the meeting space.
People speaking need to be heard, and heard well, especially in executive-level boardrooms and important videoconferencing spaces. Remote participants should not suffer from poor equipment that is not up to the task. Use cases should drive microphone selection. For example, if you are using a microphone in the same loudspeaker zone that is amplifying that microphone, the selection of a microphone is crucial not to create feedback.
The industry trend is to use multi-element beamforming microphones which can be mounted in the ceiling, walls, or on the table. These electronically controlled systems adapt in real-time to people speaking from multiple locations or a presenter who walks around the room as they speak. Multi-element beamforming systems can also be designed to be more sensitive to sound coming from one or more specific directions. Depending on the configuration of your conference room or theater, and its uses, beamforming mics improve sound quality and reduce echo.
Speaker systems are another area where there is a hefty penalty for compromise. Make it a goal that no one in the room has to strain to understand what is being said. If things like speaker counts, speaker locations, or room acoustics are compromised, then the chance of issues with feedback in the room grows significantly. Higher speaker density allows for lower sound levels resulting in better speech intelligibility. Cutting back on the number of speakers is common for cost reduction but there are times when the investment in more speakers eliminates dead zones and provides clearer sound.
In some situations, zoning the ceiling speakers may be beneficial. Zones are really only needed if you want the speakers controlled differently. Applications such as different ceiling heights or areas requiring voice reinforcement are probably the two most frequent. Doing any sort of active voice reinforcement in an area requires careful planning with the audio system to make sure there’s no feedback. Yes, amp channels cost money, and there’s additional labor to run multiple cables to zoned speakers, but it makes it a better experience for everyone; with no feedback in the room. If you just have remote audio participants in a conference room or are just playing audio and don’t need to control areas of the room independently, one zone is fine. Simple math calculations can be used to determine the proper number of speakers needed to ensure all areas of space are covered appropriately.
The last blog in this series will discuss key audio technologies that you don’t see when you enter a meeting room, including the audio processor and mixer. We include these in a discussion of the back-end considerations when selecting an AV system. The things you don’t see also play an important role in optimizing the value of the AV solution and there are plenty of places where you do not want to compromise in the back end. Stay tuned for Part III – The Things You Don’t See!