Conference Room Audio

The Unsung Hero of Virtual Meetings

The ‘video’ part of video conferencing typically gets the glory and attention, but the audio component is just as important. Pixelated video call? Annoying but tolerable. Unintelligible audio? Immediately takes a virtual meeting’s productivity to zero. 

Since audio quality can make or break a meeting, we’ve outlined the basic components and common issues for conference room audio.

The Basics of Conference Room Audio

For a virtual meeting, you obviously want both ends of the call to hear one another clearly. In the conference room, you’ll need microphones to pick up the audio of the “near-end” (people inside the room) and speakers to output the voices of the “far-end” (people on the other side of the video or audio conferencing call).

The size of the conference room impacts what set-up will work best. 

  • For smaller conference rooms, an integrated speaker phone could serve as both microphone and speaker. At Neurilink, we often recommend Polycom Trio phones or the Crestron Mercury for this option. 
  • For medium to large conference rooms, you’ll need microphones and speakers intelligently placed throughout the room. Common options for microphones are overhead beam arrays or hanging pendant mics. There’s also table mic options like gooseneck mics or low-profile puck-style mics.
  • For large to very large conference rooms, you’ll need a Digital Signal Processor (DSP). This device takes all the microphone feeds and routes them to the far-end participants via phone lines or over the internet.

More mics and speakers can easily lead to more problems: mysterious echoes and feedback issues, loud air conditioning humming over voices, and tangled cables running everywhere. Here are common issues and ways to address each one.

Common Issues

Echo, Echo, Echo…

Have you ever been on a video call where someone’s voice is echoing? This is called an audio loop, and it’s caused by the near-end mic picking up the far-end audio through the speakers. That audio is then sent back to the far-end, causing them to hear their own voice echoed back to them. If their mics are also capturing that audio, you can quickly end up with a chaotic and stressful audio mess.
Microphones that are made for video conferencing usually have echo-canceling properties to avoid this exact scenario. You still hear the far-end audio perfectly through your conference room speakers, but the signal is canceled before it’s routed back to the other end of the call.

Microphones, in room amplifiers and speakers provide voice lift, while the DSP manages the audio routing and processing for the room and the far end. DSPs are excellent for large conference rooms as they are made for managing echo-canceling across multiple mics and speakers.

Too Much Background Noise

Our ears can focus on an individual voice in a crowded room, but microphones aren’t as good at this. Environment noises like loud HVAC systems and chattering co-workers can make it difficult for the far-end to understand the primary voices. And if a conference room isn’t designed with sound-absorption in mind, reflective walls and tables can add vibrato that further obfuscates voices.

When designing a conference room, work with an AV integrator and a designer to add acoustic panels to the room. These help dampen voices from bouncing off walls and ceiling. For hallways, use sound masking to help reduce the intelligibility of the voices and noises coming from inside the conference room. Sound masking helps keep confidential conversations from being overheard.

A Mess of Cables

Larger conference rooms need more mics and more speakers, with each traditionally requiring long cables running to a mixing board. Video feeds also need their own dedicated cabling, which increases the complexity of mixing and managing the system. The physical issues of detangling and hiding wires can quickly become a nightmare. Any changes to the system are expensive and time-consuming. We’ve migrated to wireless routers, yet the AV world can remain stubbornly wired.

 

We often use Dante, which digitally connects all the AV components onto the same network and manages them using sophisticated software. Instead of running long dedicated cabling through floors and walls (or even worse, across the table!), each analog audio device is plugged into a tiny Dante-enabled box that converts analog audio to networked audio that can be carried via Cat 5 ethernet cabling. This allows audio to be flexibly routed and helps protect the audio signal from any frequency interference. The signals are sent via the Dante network processed at a digital signal processor and then mixed down to one channel for delivery. This also means only 1 high-quality input to your video conferencing system.

The Best Solution: Hire a Professional

Don’t settle for low-quality, “out of the box” audio that disrupts the flow and productivity of your business. Work with a professional AV integrator to ensure that your conference room has a high-quality audio experience on every virtual meeting. We can fine-tune your system to properly align the audio quality. We also understand interoperability and can work with your IT team to ensure that AV systems integrate smoothly with your network.