Developments in mic technology

Sandra Kellermann, conference business development manager EMEA at Audio-Technica, offers her take on the recent advances in microphone technology as well as some practical considerations for installers. She speaks to Anna Mitchell.

AM: Where have the biggest recent advances been made?

SK: It differs from manufacturer to manufacturer of course, but the conferencing industry is in constant pursuit of enhancing the features and functionality of its systems, and developments in DSP power and software have lead to real advances in this area over the last few years.

As far as Audio-Technica is concerned, it’s as important for a system like our ATUC-50 to be easy to use as it is to deliver excellent audio quality. Users can control what is a very powerful DSP through a simple web-based browser, which makes set up and operation as simple as possible. 

The user experience is so important in many areas of product design these days, and clever design of both DSP and software has brought welcome advances in the conference market, just as it has elsewhere.

AM: What advancements have been made in easing the process of set up, correct mic placement and configuration?

SK: Things like the use of industry standard cabling, simplicity of engineering, having programmable, multifunctional units and conference management software with user-friendly interfaces I’d say are the most significant developments. All aid the set-up and configuration processes – and they can really add to the flexibility of a conference system.

AM: Must a compromise be made between good quality audio and maintaining good room aesthetics?

SK: Yes, it must to a certain degree of course. There are simply certain laws of physics which cannot be escaped and have to be taken into consideration, e.g in conferencing the use of a microphone with appropriate pattern for that application, nearfield loudspeaker parameters etc.  It is often said that the conference unit would not win the beauty pageant in race with sleek installation microphones, but then the conference units fits best the purpose of conferring. 

I would point out, though, that the Audio-Technica ATUC-50 does have a removable, paintable front panel to allow for customisation to fit into a conference room’s specific décor.

AM: What is the biggest battle for integrators/consultants trying to sell the importance of good quality audio for conferencing (including video and audio conferencing)?
SK: Frequently the biggest hurdle is to convince the end-user to provide the time for a proper demonstration and to hear the sound quality of a system. 

An end-user (not an acoustic engineer or a professional AV installer) can determine the sound quality only by listening, which is obviously one of the bases for good sound intelligibility – of key importance with conference systems of course. 

Very often the end-users confuse the terms, “sound quality” and “speech intelligibility”, but basically the message is – we can’t hear it well enough. And when demoing, it is always useful to have another sound system at hand to compare the two.
Too often, buying decisions are influenced by spec sheets or price and users don’t think about audio quality, because it’s intangible and can only be experienced with a proper demonstration. So it’s up to installers to educate their customers that the most impressive system on paper will underperform if it doesn’t sound good – either by design or set-up. Education is very important in this market.

AM: What maintenance considerations should installers take into account when deploying microphones?


SK: In one sense, once a system is set, levels adjusted and environmental conditions taken into consideration; it very often runs “as is” during an event. Of course ad-hoc adjustment can take place, but the fact is that that is seldom the case, as in the heat of the battle there is often not much time to fiddle with parameters and frequently there are not the skilled personnel to do so.

Installers really need to consider how easy it is to ‘re-purpose’ a conference or discussion system in these days of multi-use rooms etc. Is a system going to allow for different types of meeting, enable easy set-up of different translation channels, record discussions and even be moved from one location to another without too much hassle? Scalability and redundancy are also key factors to think about – the ATUC-50 can be used in a variety of ‘topologies’ to ensure that the system continues to work if there’s a problem with cabling, for example.

Yet this varies very much from event-to-event, installation-to-installation and surely giving the possibility of on-the-fly sound parameters adjustments can be just beneficial.

Audio-Technica is featured in a wider article on microphone technology that oyu can read here.

More Q&As in the series:
Duncan Savage, systems group manager, Shure UK
Jens Werner, portfolio manager for Business Communication, Sennheiser
Malcolm Crummey, sales manager UK & Ireland, TOA
Iain McCowan, senior DSP, Biamp Systems
Romano Cunsolo, director of marketing and business development, Xavtel

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