Mic technologies to improve audio quality

TOA says array microphone technologies are chainging delivering convenience and qualiy in conference environments. Malcolm Crummey, sales manager UK & Ireland for the company, outlines how and why.

Are there any important emerging technologies that will improve the capture and processing of speech in conference environments?

MC: Array microphone technologies detect and track sound sources which eliminates the inconvenience of setting up multiple gooseneck or radio mics in conference applications. The benefit to the user is they no longer have to worry about speaking directly into a microphone, as with correct placement and control of the mic array their voice will be clearly picked up. 

TOA’s new AM-1 Real Time Steering Array Microphone features a low-profile design to be placed unobtrusively on a podium, table-top, or wall/ceiling.  It allows users the freedom to turn and tilt their heads and gesture naturally without having to be concerned with the location of the microphone.  With a pick up range of 180-degrees and up to 3m optimal placement is easy.

Where have the biggest recent advances been made?

MC: A combination of technologies are helping to improve audio quality, most notably DSP within mixers and new configurations such as array mic designs.  In the latest digital audio mixer from TOA, the M-864D features innovative technology such as Automatic Resonance Control (ARC), a measurement and processing algorithm that optimises speech and sound clarity in facilities with acoustically challenging environments.  It automatically identifies room mode frequencies and applies an inverse response curve to compensate for the measured room response.  There are no specialised measuring micrphones required, just the existing set up, good or bad, and multiple tests can be carried out at numerous locations within the space to optimise sound quality.  Other useful features to improve audio quality include a Feedback Suppressor and Automatic Clipguard, and full parametric EQ all controllable via LAN.
What advancements have been made in easing the process of set up, correct mic placement and configuration? 

TOA’s new AM-1 Real Time Steering Array Microphone System has a dedicated app for control and set-up from an iPad and works in real time, giving the operator immediate feedback from the intuitive GUI to change parameters such as pick up angle width and distance, or change the output volume, and includes a remote mute of the system.  Automatic Gain Control ensures consistent levels from multiple users or if a person moves closer or farther from the mic.  The adjustable coverage angle from fixed to wide allows the mic array to capture one set of voices and not another, or to steer away from the coverage of on-stage loudspeakers.

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

MC: The greatest challenge for installers is with radio microphones, as compared to any traditional wired gooseneck/table-top/boundary-type, or the latest array mic technologies.  Radio mic transmitters require fresh batteries, frequency selection, allocation and management, and an operator to fix mics to presenters, and collect when finished.  

Wired mics simplfy this aspect of maintenance but thought needs to be given to the number of microphones in use, which will impact on the type/size of mixer required, and if further technologies are required such as automatic mic mixers, feedback suppressors, EQ, etc.

TOAs range of digital audio mixers feature modular or fixed configurations, giving the flexibility of selecting the right mixer for the number of inputs required and all have built-in DSP including those primary functions mentioned above.  

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

MC: Not necessarily any more with the advancements in design and technologies as mentioned above from TOA, including array microphones and DSP built into the mixers and mics as opposed to separate units.  Line array speakers such as the TOA SR-H and SR-S series reduce reverberation in hard spaces improving audio quality while looking sleek and modern, and our wide-dispersion F-series cabinet and ceiling speakers enable fewer speakers to be installed while giving a more even coverage within a space.

What is the biggest battle for integrators/consultants trying to sell the importance of good quality audio for conferencing (including video and audio conferencing)?

MC: The biggest challenge as always is budget.  Audio seems to be treated with less importance compared to video, or signal management and routing, even lighting!  A picture may be worth a thousand words but not in AV presenation and conference applications…What good is a crystal clear 4K UHD 50ft image of the CEO giving an annual speech to investors if the audio suddenly drops out or is unclear?  Audio systems, from microphones, to speaker systems, even room acoustics needs to be given more and at least the same thought, planning, and budget as the visual aspect in AV.

TOA is featured in a wider article on microphone technology developments that you can read here.

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

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