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Choosing the Right Microphone for Your Next Audio Conferencing Project

Gene Houck of Audix Microphones gives detailed advice on how to pick the right microphone for a plethora of audio conferencing scenarios.

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Choosing the Right Microphone for Your Next Audio Conferencing Project

With more and more being asked of AV Integrators, it is important to maximize your time and choose the right microphone during preliminary conversations with your clients to ensure that you’re designing an audio conferencing solution that meets your client’s needs and expectations.

Here are some initial questions that will help you make sure you specify the right microphone for the job:

  • Ask them to describe the room. Is it big or small? Are there lots of windows, soaring ceilings, no ceiling at all? Is it carpeted or hard flooring?
  • What is the nature of the business that will be conducted in the room? Is it a traditional boardroom with set seating – or perhaps it’s a reconfigurable room, with flexible seating that can be rearranged to accommodate more or fewer participants, as needed?
  • How will the table(s) be used? Will drawings or plans be spread across the surface and used? Do people stand around a white board or use a projector? Is there a presenter area? These are important details you’ll want to know BEFORE you begin planning the system.

Now that you know about the room and how it will be used, you can start to ask your client about how they envision their audio conferencing system. It’s alright if they don’t have any vision, that’s why they hired you! But it’s always good to ask for their ideas and preferences.

Related: 3 Ways to Improve Your Clients’ Conferencing

Now, the two main questions you will need to decide on your design are:

1. Do you use tabletop or ceiling microphones?
2. Wired or Wireless?

The answers to these questions will allow you to get to the next level of product specification needed. Let’s next discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of using tabletop versus ceiling microphones in audio conferencing solutions.

Tabletop Microphones for Audio Conferencing

  • Gooseneck Microphones
    • Considered to be the most effective choice because they offer the best “direct sound” (shortest distance from the microphone element to the sound source). Although they are visually less attractive and take up quite a bit of table space, most manufacturers do offer a small 5”– 6” gooseneck model that minimize the visual impact.
  • Boundary Microphones
    • Second best selection for “direct sound” benefit. They can be effective for one or shared with two. Visually more attractive than a gooseneck microphone, they can be moved around or permanently installed in a table. Models with button functionality and logic/remote capability are available. Sensitivity is increased because of the coupling of the table surface. This can be a good thing, but also can increase unwanted table sounds such as paper shuffling or pencil tappers.
  • Boundary Button Microphones
    • Smaller footprint than a standard boundary mic, these microphones are permanently installed and offer a better aesthetic to the standard boundary mic. Do note that if the table space requires large paper plans or blueprints to be laid out, any boundary mic could find itself trapped underneath.

Ceiling Microphones

Long regarded as the last option for successful sound quality, it is important to note that those long held opinions are fast changing. There is a strong trend towards ceiling microphones for conferencing. What are the reasons for this surge?

  • More and more companies are opting for conference rooms that can be reconfigurable (flex seating). Permanently installed table microphones are not an option. Zone capture with overhead ceiling microphones or tabletop wireless are the only choices. Of those two choices ceiling mics offer ease of use without the need to
    recharge batteries.
  • Ceiling microphones allow for a clean table.
  • The advances of noise reduction features of current DSP along with improvements to ceiling microphone technology combine to produce successful results not achievable a decade ago.

If a ceiling microphone solution is desired, there are a couple of model design choices from hanging single or tri-element microphones, in ceiling gooseneck models, to flush mounted models. If a suspended mic (hanging cable or gooseneck) is aesthetically acceptable, they have the advantage of placement that is nearer to the desired sound source.

Flush mounted microphones are desirable because they are not noticed. They can, however, require more gain (particularly at heights higher than 10 feet) that can introduce more room noise. Coverage patterns that different ceiling microphones provide is also an important detail that you don’t want to overlook. While one single-element ceiling microphone will provide a coverage of approximately a 5-foot radius, one tri-element ceiling microphone can cover up to a 10-foot radius. That’s quite a difference and an excellent way to maximize both performance and your client’s budget.

audio conferencing, right microphone

Is a ceiling-based option the right microphone for the job? Gene Houck of Audix explains the benefits and drawbacks of several audio conferencing solutions.

Wireless Microphones

What about wireless? A wireless solution provides certain flexibilities and has the advantage of a microphone element being closer to the desired sound source. A wired microphone solution, however, can provide a reliable signal with ease of operation whereas a wireless microphone may be susceptible to outside frequency interference as well as battery maintenance. Wireless solutions can also have a much higher cost factor to consider.

Microphone Capsule Selection

Finally, consider that another means to improve acoustic performance is to select a microphone capsule that provides the appropriate directionality needed. For example, if choosing a table top gooseneck microphone, consider a tighter hypercardioid pattern when incorporating a one microphone/person ratio. While the clear majority of ceiling microphone jobs will favor the unidirectionality of a cardioid polar pattern, the more focused hypercardioid pattern can help tame a lively room and a supercardioid or shotgun capsule can be a problem solver for higher ceilings.

In summary, the more you work on audio conferencing solutions, you’ll begin to see certain trends. But now more than ever, solutions are no longer “one size fits all.” It’s important to treat each of your customers with the same care, regardless of whether their conference needs are for 4 chairs or 40. We are in the business of communication services, and by asking the right questions, you’ll be able to provide the right microphone for an excellent conference solution that will satisfy your clients and impress whomever they are collaborating with.

Learn more about Audix on their website.