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Is poor meeting room audio keeping staff away?

AV installation at Motorway by MVS Audio Visual

Are your staff being kept away by poor meeting room audio?

Article by: Dan Morris, Head of Pre Sales

At MVS we are meeting a lot of organisations who are dealing with employee complaints about their office AV set up compared to their home set up. The modern workplace and the advent of hybrid working has changed the way most companies are utilizing their office spaces. The office is now less about desk work (which can easily be done at home) and more about meetings and face-to-face collaboration (frequently with remote participants), so when employees do come into the office it’s important that meeting spaces are fit for purpose. 

Recently, I have experienced numerous examples where the AV set up was completely inappropriate, such as:  

  • Large Hotel – the meeting rooms combined 75” screens with home office webcams, relying on the in-built mic. An audio disaster 
  • Travel Company –  a meeting room with 3 walls of glass and a wall-mounted microphone. OK for those sat close to the soundbar. 
  • Large Legal Firm Event Space – using a huddle room VC device for external events, which delivered such poor audio and video quality it left the event team embarrassed. 
Dan Morris, head of pre sales at MVS Audio Visual

In this blog I’m going to cover: 

The home office evolved quickly 

Jara Headset Home Office Scenario

Work used to be a place you visited daily, but today it’s what you do and not necessarily always in the same place. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated remote working exponentially and people (often supported by their employers) upgraded their home office space and bought better AV kit to make working from home a better experience. 

Laptops enabled Microsoft Teams, Zoom and other cloud-based video conference calls. Sitting in front of the laptop screen the inbuilt webcam enabled users to be seen and heard, though muting was prevalent due to barking dogs or screaming children. So, users plugged in their phone ear buds and then progressed to professional headsets with noise cancelling and professional quality mics. Many either purchased additional monitors, or got them shipped from work to home, so they could have a dual screen arrangement. And many fixed an external webcam to their monitor. Ultimately, they arrived at a workspace set up tailored to their needs and which enabled them to see, be seen, hear and be heard and just get on with their work without any technology challenges. 

Office meeting rooms need to catch up 

A lot of organisations rushed to implement meeting room AV and video conferencing software as a result of The COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, hybrid meetings have become normal business practice and meeting rooms need to cater for present and remote participants. But many don’t and if there’s one factor that puts users off coming into the office is poor meeting room audio. 

Hear and be heard in office meeting rooms 

When the words audio visual are mentioned people tend to think more about the visual aspect than audio. But in a meeting room scenario the importance of audio is amply demonstrated by this excellent exemplar video by microphone manufacturer Lewitt. 

So how do you ensure that you can hear and be heard? 

Ensure your meeting rooms have acceptable acoustics 

Recent trends in office design with exposed ceilings, glass walls and hard floors ensure a cool look, but this isn’t a recipe for a great audio. Sound bounces around the room and external noise can distract  meetings to a point where they can’t succeed. Simple things like rugs, soft seating and furnishings really help, but in some cases it may be worth investing in an acoustic survey. 

The results of the survey will help you decide what remedial action to take, with suggested treatments such as: 

AV installation in London at the Motorway offices by MVS Audio Visual

MVS has relationships with acoustics experts and suppliers, so can offer acoustic treatment as part of our overall solution. 

Invest in professional quality speakers and microphones 

As well as acoustics the shape, size and usage of your meeting rooms are all factors that need to be taken into consideration in order to provide a natural audio experience.  

The good news is that there is some awesome technology out there, and even all-in-one videobars have features such as Noise-Cancelling AI (gets rid of distractions like keyboard tapping) and Acoustic Fencing, which captures voices within a defined space and removes external chatter. But out-of-the-box isn’t always suitable for a meeting room, which is why engaging the skills of an AV Integrator is recommended. They will take time to understand how the room is used and design an audio solution to suit your rooms and your budget. 

Microphones 

Shure MXA920

Microphone placement 

Since audio is crucial for successful hybrid meetings, investing in high quality microphones is recommended. An all-in-one videobar may be suitable for a small meeting room, but as rooms get larger the limitations of their voice pick up might necessitate an extended microphone or installation of multiple microphones around the room. Your AV Integrator will recommend what best suits each room, but there are 3 options when it comes to placement: 

Tabletop mics 

We are all used to old-fashioned conference phones and having to huddle around one to be heard. Accordingly the table top is an obvious place to put a microphone/s. The longer the table, the more mics you are likely to need. 

Pros – having mics on, or sunk into, a meeting room table provides the ability to manually mute / unmute. In poor acoustic environments, having the mics closer to the participants helps with clarity 

Cons – having the mics on the table means unwanted noise (typing etc) can be picked up and, if you have an antique table, a bit of table clutter in the form of cables. Also if you need to move the table it means having to unplug / plug each time.  

Wall mounted mics 

Pros – good for even pick up in wide / short spaces and being placed away from the table reduces ambient noise (paper / keyboards / pen clicking etc). A clear desk affords greater room flexibility and better overall room aesthetics 

Cons – not best suited for long / thin rooms as distance between users and the mics will vary greatly, leading to varied experience at the far end and reduced quality as the participants get further away from the mic 

Ceiling mics 

Pros – For better voice coverage across a room, consistent speaker clarity, reduction in pickup from typing / paper shuffling etc and elimination of wires ceiling mics are recommended. Recommended for rooms with multi-functions where tables are moved frequently. 

Cons – In poor acoustic environments the effect of poor acoustics increases exponentially with the distance between the person talking and the microphone. Moving the mic further away by mounting it in the ceiling introduces more of the room sound, reducing clarity

Speakers

BOSE Panaray MA12 array loudspeaker

Speaker placement 

Too often I have seen long boardroom tables with one or two speakers placed in the middle of the table, or ceiling speakers randomly mounted in spaces between HVAC, lighting and fire alarm equipment. Participants sat in the wrong place either can’t hear or can’t hear clearly. 

Speaker type and placement plays a role in how sound travels around your meeting space. An all-in-one videobar may be ok for a small / huddle room, but in bigger spaces using more speakers delivers a better, balanced sound over a greater area and ensures meeting participants can hear wherever they are sat.  

Wall mounted speakers 

Pros – where installing ceiling speakers is difficult or impossible, these provide an alternative in a permanent VC meeting room, where you want to keep the table clear of clutter. Having wall mounted speakers by the display means video and audio come from the same place, giving a more natural communication experience and avoiding the “Voice of God” effect. 

Cons – not best suited for long / thin rooms as distance between users and the speakers will vary greatly, so people at the back may not be able to hear clearly 

Table-top speakers 

Pros – Table top speakers, like table top microphones, are beneficial in poorer acoustic environments because they reduce the distance between the listener and the speaker and therefore reduce the impact of the acoustics of the room. This reduced distance also allows the speakers to operate at lower volumes, which helps further lessen the room effect, lessens listener fatigue, and reduces the risk of audio spill outside of the room. 

Cons – They add to table clutter and can get damaged or disconnected by users. When tables are frequently moved around, wall and ceiling mounted speakers are better because they don’t need to be disconnected. 

Ceiling mounted speakers 

Pros – for rooms set up permanently for hybrid meetings they offer an elegant solution. Speakers can be placed to provide the optimum coverage for the room so meeting participants can hear clearly wherever they are sat 

Cons – where ceilings have existing equipment (e.g. HVAC) already installed, optimum placement of speakers may be compromised. Solid ceilings make installation messy / expensive. The “Voice of God” effect can also be a compromise.  

How we behave in meetings and how audio technology helps (or not!) 

Meetings take many forms, from formal presentations to more interactive meetings, with just a few people, or a whole company. And every participant is an individual, from the quietly spoken, sedentary introvert to the animated extrovert who likes to walk and talk. 

The challenge that AV Integrators love is to design and install an audio solution that allows meeting participants to behave naturally and not worry about being close to mics and speakers. Fortunately, the technology vendors have developed some clever technology to ensure that everyone can be heard and hear if appropriately used. 

GOTCHA – it used to be possible to whisper something to a colleague during a meeting. Even something derogatory about a colleague. Today’s audio technology is so good it will pick up your whispered comment! 

How modern audio technology helps create a good audio experience:

Beamforming – this helps microphones focus on the person speaking and where they are in the room. And if they move around, their voice is picked up by the nearest mic to ensure they are always clearly heard. 

Audio visual conferencing graphic

High-quality microphones also feature internal digital signal processing (DSP) to distinguish our voices from remote voices and background noise. Microphones with built-in DSP improve the overall conferencing experience. 

Dynamic / Dedicated / Muted coverage areas: 

Meeting rooms are often dynamic spaces.  People are entering and leaving; audience members may be talking among themselves.  In contemporary offices, the meeting space may be open to the rest of the work area, and the random noise of talking or general activity in adjacent areas can drift into the meeting space.  While this noise might be barely perceptible to people in the room, it can be distracting and intrusive for remote participants if it is picked up by the microphones. 

In this brief video by Shure, you will see how microphone technology can be used in different scenarios: 

How to ensure your meeting room audio exceeds user expectations 

If getting your people back in the office is important you need to ensure that hybrid meeting environments are at least as good as what they have at home, if not better. As demonstrated by the Lewitt video, good audio is non-negotiable. And to ensure that your meeting rooms have the right audio set up requires the skills and knowledge of people who know what they are doing. So we always recommend employing the services of an expert AV integrator.  

Speak to an expert 

MVS Audio Visual is a commercial AV Integrator with a passion for anything audio visual. If you need our expertise to help with an issue you are facing with your current AV set up, or with a new AV project we would love to help. 

Contact us today 

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