Today’s post is from guest author Greg Moquin.

Greg recently joined Sennheiser as a Technical Application Engineer. He is a forty-year veteran of the AV industry and was an audiovisual Principal for sixteen years with consultant firm Shen Milsom & Wilke. Greg’s experience also includes nine years as a Consultant Applications Engineer at Extron and fifteen years as an AV systems engineer/integrator.

There are many audio solutions available for any meeting space. Often, it’s helpful for a designer to listen to and observe user technology expectations and experiences to acquire the correct answer.

Any consumer can acquire an AV product for any use. That product may or may not meet user expectations. IT would benefit by enlisting a qualified AV designer to assess which products and technologies benefit their spaces. AV designers can draw from their experience, knowledge, capabilities, use cases, and technology progression.

Let’s look back at the progress of AV systems to better optimize our meeting space audio solutions.

Recognize to refresh: How far video and audio solutions have come

Since the mid-2000s, video conferencing shifted from a hardware codec solution supported by custom analog audio capture and amplification equipment reserved for those who could afford it. In contrast, today’s AV tech is software-supported and readily available on desktop and mobile devices.

As high-bandwidth internet access became more prominent, it replaced expensive telecom ISDN, T1, and other circuits. The industry has also shifted from NTSC-resolution video displays and cameras to 1080p and 4K resolutions. In addition, analog audio is now a mix of analog and digital.

Video and VoIP conferencing technology became of interest to businesses as consumer demand showed a desire for more visual connection with co-workers, clients, friends, and family globally. As mobile phones and tablets became more powerful and affordable, users wanted easy-to-use phone-based video conferencing apps.

Personal conferencing and content-sharing apps influenced corporate, education, and government spaces. Users now expect simple personal device experiences in meeting spaces.

In the late 2000s, AV focused on creating collaboration tools and migrating to PC-based conferencing. USB AV bridging tech allowed users to make mobile devices the host of calls, and the room’s AV system provided the conferencing peripherals. Users benefited from reduced travel costs and the ability to invite globally dispersed people to meetings. Still, very few meeting spaces and classrooms supported electronic conferencing, and working from home was not the norm.

A dramatic shift in how we work drives AV innovation

When the global pandemic occurred, employers recommended that employees work from home. Easy communication and collaboration were essential. Remote workers dedicated portions of their homes to office space. Bedrooms or nooks now feature IT equipment, cameras, and audio peripherals supporting software conferencing apps.

During this time, employers prepared for a return to work, upgrading offices and meeting spaces for collaboration between distributed teams. Employers and the workforce quickly embraced the benefits of cloud-based video meetings, and video conferencing became a vital function of modern work. But some people began to feel disconnected.

Conferencing and collaboration software developers responded with innovative solutions to enhance user experiences. New features included personal backgrounds, games, quizzes, workgroup virtual room separation, and immersive and collaborative video and audio features.

Innovation and demand drove AV technology advances, such as laser-based higher brightness and higher resolution video projection, larger LCDs, and finer-pitch LED displays. These options dramatically improved image viewing experiences and enabled immersive conferencing.

The AV industry also improved user experiences with enterprise-wide IT room control and integration automation. IT manages room and conference scheduling and networked audio and video (e.g., Dante and AVoIP).

Designing flexible conferencing spaces and how audio can be affected

Since before the global pandemic, audio capture and listening experiences have expanded to include home and corporate offices, cubicles, huddle rooms, conference rooms, large meeting spaces, and lecture halls. Each type of location presents unique challenges and solutions.

Designers must consider room shape, natural echo, and ambient noise. In addition, designers must account for viewing conditions, furniture, room and ambient lighting, color, and finish to create spaces where cameras can best present attendees.

AV design professionals must also make equipment and user experience design decisions alongside architects to ensure solutions meet modern design standards. Today’s aesthetics minimize visible cabling for a ‘clean’ environment. Contemporary interior design also contributes to the innovation and development of integrated audio capture products.

To ensure high-quality communication, conversations must be clearly captured and transmitted despite different languages, dialects, acoustics, and ambient noise. Without quality audio capture, processing, and transmission, collaboration would not be practical via any conferencing solution.

Sound may be the most essential of our five senses. We share images. But images are often shared with text or verbal explanations. Cinema was once silent and quickly migrated to talking films. Audio-only radio programming came before television, CATV, and now on-demand streaming.

Users are accustomed to high-quality audio as if someone were speaking directly into a microphone. The average person may not understand the possible limitations of using microphones further from users, e.g., ceiling and boundary microphones. The further away a user is from a device, like a speakerphone, the greater the reduction in audio quality. Modern audio digital signal processing has helped resolve some issues.

The latest solutions provide automatic gating, acoustic echo cancellation, and automatic ambient room noise suppression. However, if the conversation occurs more than a foot from a microphone, the overall quality is still less than that of a person speaking directly into a microphone.

Bridging audio systems of yesterday and today to optimize meeting spaces

Microphone technology has benefited from innovation. An example is the pressure zone microphones created in the late 1970s. Product engineers discovered the benefits of compressing ambient sound into a small boundary microphone using the surface of a ceiling, table, or piano. Today, people use the technology in wired and wireless boundary conferencing microphones.

In the 1960s, microphone manufacturers created a hyper-cardioid shotgun microphone capable of focusing on a voice from long distances while rejecting ambient noise. When paired with parabolic dishes, shotgun mics have supported press conferences, cinema and TV production, live music, and sporting events. AV system designers have used shotgun mic technology in meeting spaces, focusing these microphones on room conversations from longer distances.

In the past ten years, many highly respected audio product manufacturers, including Sennheiser, have added this shotgun microphone technology into ceiling and table conferencing solutions. These solutions capture room dialog from digitally controlled and processed beam-forming arrays.

How today’s audio solutions vary depending on the intended environment

Audio conferencing tech varies for each environment. Ambient noise-canceling headphones with boom mics are an excellent solution for conferencing in airport lounges, home offices, or cubicles.

Private offices may benefit from a PC desktop with media loudspeakers and a webcam with an integrated microphone. A small meeting and collaboration environment may benefit from an AV bar with an integrated video camera, loudspeakers, and an intelligent microphone array.

TeamConnect Bar Solutions – Product Introduction

TeamConnect Ceiling Solutions

Sennheiser’s commitment to providing secure, easy-to-use solutions with unrivaled audio quality remains a key driver in enhancing the conferencing experience. Sennheiser’s legendary headphones and wired and wireless microphone solutions complement Sennheiser’s innovative business communication products. Team Connect ceiling and bar products, Sennheiser’s flexible SpeechLine Digital Wireless microphone system, and Sennheiser’s Mobile Connect 2 audience participation mobile phone app are a testament to Sennheiser’s dedication to developing products that provide the highest quality of conferencing audio communication and user experience.