When designing a boardroom, conference room or training facility, organizations tend to focus on the video component. Video is sexy, and the ultra-high-definition displays on the market today can make it seem as if video conference participants are right there in the same room.
But audio is equally important. If conference calls have poor audio quality, users will lose faith in the equipment and the organization won’t see the desired return on investment.
Many organizations are building out conference rooms with a lot of glass as part of the trend toward open office areas. The problem is that glass reflects sound, creating an echo effect that can cause conference calls to be unintelligible. Conferencing equipment that would provide high-quality sound in the right acoustic environment simply won’t perform well in a fish bowl.
Glass isn’t the only culprit — large video screens and white boards are also highly reflective. Drywall is somewhat less reflective, whereas things like fabric, carpet and wood absorb sound and create a better acoustic environment.
Unfortunately, customers aren’t engaging Rahi Systems early enough in the design process to discuss things like the acoustics of a room. These issues are considered after the fact, so we have to look at adding treatments to improve acoustics in a facility that’s already been constructed.
If the room has drywall, the best option is to install sound-absorptive wall panels. They come in different sizes and shapes, and you can get custom cuts, fabrics and colors. Some can even be painted to blend in with the wall. They can be hung anywhere there’s an open space.
If you have a lot of glass, there aren’t many places for hanging wall panels. You can cover the glass with curtains or other window treatments but that defeats the purpose of the open office effect. In this case, you can install sound-absorptive ceiling tiles that go directly into the grid. They also make hanging baffles that absorb sound and can be aesthetically pleasing if you have a large open ceiling. Of course, carpeting can also help.
Microphone placement has a bearing on audio quality as well. When the microphone is close to the person speaking it’s not going to pick up much of the sound of the room. If the microphone is across the room from the speaker, it’s going to pick up echoes and other indirect sounds. However, many people want microphones to be hidden, which makes it harder to improve audio quality in a reflective room.
Technology is getting to the point where we have a little bit more control over issues such as late-arriving echo from a microphone. We can use digital signal processing, but the reality of audio is that, at some point or another, it’s in the physical world. There’s only so much technology can do.
Your best bet is to bring in Rahi Systems‘ A/V team as early as possible in the process — ideally during the construction phase. We can evaluate a room and use recording devices to take measurements. We can place microphones where you think you’re going to want them and let you decide if the sound quality is acceptable. If it isn’t, and you don’t want to relocate the microphones, we can look at adding wall panels to the room. We have helped many customers design conference rooms that suit their aesthetic tastes while also providing high-quality audio.