If you’ve been in the conferencing industry for a while, you know that vendors (both legacy and new entrants) are constantly introducing new and improved video and audio solutions. When it comes time to roll out video solutions or refresh technology in in existing rooms, or even install video in large spaces like classrooms and auditoriums, audio quality can make or break the video conferencing experience. If you can’t be heard, there’s really no advantage in being seen.
Having been in this industry for more than a decade, I’ve seen what’s considered “state of the art” evolve quite a bit. A few short years ago, the traditional center-of-table speakerphone was considered good enough to place in almost every room. Today’s solutions tailor the audio components to the size and shape of the room; they also consider the type of collaboration that happens in those rooms. Audio is no longer a binary choice between basic tabletop speakerphones and pro AV installed audio.
Below are a few tips to optimize audio quality in your collaboration spaces.
Tailor your audio solution to the room. One size does NOT fit all. Research whether the audio solution you’re considering is designed with the specific size and shape of your space.
- In huddle and small rooms seating eight or fewer people, opt for an all-in-one audio solution with integrated speaker and mics at the front of the room. These solutions reduce cabling in the room, free up limited table space and provide great mic pickup with an intuitive front-of-room listening experience, e.g., the voices come from the same place as the people on screen.
- In mid-size and larger meeting rooms, a modular approach that separates speakers from mics provides optimal and scalable audio performance. The traditional center-of-table speakerphone approach works okay for mid-sized rooms — so if you’ve already invested, you don’t need to throw it out. But for the best audio experience, consider solutions that place speakers at the front of room and allow for customized mic placement that suits the size and shape of your collaboration spaces.
- For large spaces such as lecture halls and auditoriums, consider investing in an installed pro AV solution; one that incorporates ceiling mics, amplifiers and mixers to ensure everyone can hear the meeting as well as be heard.
Know your microphones. Make sure you provide sufficient mics to cover the full room. Check your vendor’s mic range and follow their guidelines. Not all mics have the same range so don’t simply assume “a mic is a mic.”
- Remember you will need to provide mic coverage for everyone at the table, but also for those who might be standing at the front or rear of the room, or while using collaboration boards or whiteboards.
- Most mics have a mute button included, so consider placing a mic within arm’s length of every seat in the room. Don’t force your users to fight over who controls the mute button.
Look for these audio technologies:
- Beamforming mics and mics that network to form beamforming meshes. This will focus the mic on the person speaking, reducing overtalk, garbled speech and distracting sidebar conversations.
- Acoustic echo cancellation. Sound within a confined space will bounce or reverberate off of walls, tables and other surfaces. Echo cancellation algorithms prevent the mics from picking up reverb, providing clearer audio.
- Noise suppression. Look for audio solutions that can identify human voices and suppress non-voice noise such as shuffling papers, fans or background noise.
Pay attention to room acoustics. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish when it comes to acoustic treatments. Poor acoustic design in a room can compromise the most advanced audio technologies. Resist your architect’s desire to design every room with four glass walls and shiny surfaces. Insist upon acoustic tiles, at least one wall that is not glass, and carpet or other fabric treatment to absorb sound. Even plants can help eliminate reverb so use your green thumb.
As meeting rooms solutions continue to evolve, vendors will continue to improve their technology using artificial intelligence and machine learning to further improve the audio experience. The meeting rooms of the future will self tune to adapt to changing conditions using these and other futuristic technologies. I’m personally excited to see how things evolve, and I’d love to hear your thoughts as well.