Essential Advice on Meeting Room Acoustics
Clear communication is key for effective meetings at modern businesses, companies and organisations. Without it, productivity can dip and opportunities be missed.
Which is why room acoustics are so important. If there is no synergy with your audio solution, then your meeting or video conference will be adversely impacted. Poor speech intelligibility can lead to missed details or participants needing to repeat important information, both of which can have a negative impact on not only your meeting but your business’ bottom line.
The challenges of today’s work spaces
Contemporary meeting room spaces offer huge challenges for AV teams and their audio solutions.
As designers of modern offices often favour hard, reflective surfaces, these environments may be pleasing to the eye but create headaches for AV teams. Sound propagates around rooms in different ways meaning effective solutions vary between scenarios. But for end users, regardless of the space, they rely on consistent audio quality and speech intelligibility to enjoy successful meetings.
Previously, I worked for the BBC as a broadcast engineer and for Brüel & Kjær as an electro acoustics expert. Now I am at Shure, helping businesses and organisations overcome challenges to audio success and supporting end users in designing and installing standardised systems for AV/IT.
Here is my essential advice on getting the most from your room acoustics and your AV conference solutions.
Always think about how technology and room acoustics work together
200 years ago, we didn’t have the possibility of using electrical amplification or digitally processing an audio signal.
Whether a space was a boardroom or council chamber, architects had to rely on the building’s form and materials to create the desired acoustic environment. And that is still true today. We can do a lot with electronics to enhance audio when providing a solution in a meeting room space but the acoustic environment is paramount in guaranteeing high quality. If you’re lucky enough to be involved in a room design, then ensure audio and acoustics are prioritised from the start. It will save you money, time and avoid a costly retrofit down the line.
Remember modern room aesthetics impact audio quality
In Scandinavia, there is a real love of glass and hard surfaces in company offices. Hard, wooden floors, glass walls and exposed brick work are on trend for room designers but they are not ideal if you want great audio quality.
Many companies and their interior designers favour clean office environments. But if it’s too clean, then there’s nothing to absorb the sound in a room. This causes potential audio issues with unwanted reflections, echoes and dead spots.
Use treatment on room surfaces
I was recently with a client’s AV systems manager who had convinced management to carpet huddle rooms with a deep pile carpet. Although there were maintenance issues in terms of keeping it clean, the room acoustics were vastly improved. Before treatment, employees would avoid booking these rooms because the sound was so hollow and stressful to listen to.
This is a great example of how updating the materials in a room can help enhance acoustics and audio quality.
Applying treatments to walls is another relatively inexpensive and unobtrusive option. Many organisations choose absorbing acoustic panels that look like a printed graphic. You can choose a company logo or corporate colours to feature on the front. These tiles can sit along a wall of a meeting room and participants often do not realise that this graphic or picture is absorbing lots of sound and unwanted reflections. It’s an effective way of balancing audio with aesthetics.
Remind participants of good meeting etiquette
Often unwanted noises in meetings such as shuffling papers, handouts or typing on a keyboard can be a distraction from a meeting’s sound quality. When we’re in a room talking to someone face-to-face, we instinctively filter these unwanted audio distractions out. But these are more obvious if we are not present in the room with the speaking meeting participant.
So it can be helpful to remind meeting participants of good meeting etiquette at the beginning - although expecting attendees to sit still for the duration of a meeting is a challenge. If “follow me” microphone arrays are incorporated in the AV design, these will automatically focus on the current speaker and reject adjacent and surrounding sounds.
Shure’s MXA910 Ceiling Array Microphone with IntelliMix® is a great solution which aids transparent meeting intelligibility. Participants are often oblivious to its presence in a meeting meaning they are clearer and more natural when speaking. The eight steerable lobes provide tight, directional audio pick-up.
Think about the positioning of speakers in a room
Putting a loudspeaker high-up in the corner of a room is not a great idea despite intuition telling us that this gives the best overall coverage. Corner-placed speakers will excite a room’s natural resonances causing uneven sound distribution and consequently muddied speech intelligibility, both locally and at the far-end.
You might have spent a large amount on some great speakers, but do not listen to the facilities manager when they say they want them to be out of the way in a meeting room space. If you look at any studio environment, the speaker is part of the furniture and not tucked away. We need to constantly remind ourselves about this.
You don’t need to be close to a microphone for it to work effectively
Aside from head-worn presenter types, most microphones do not need to be close to a participant for speech to be picked up. Indeed, being too close will often cause voice distortion because the microphone becomes saturated with sound. When a far-end participant complains of low volume, this is invariably due to electronic mismatch and not low level sound at the microphone - after all, participants in the room will hear the speaker quite naturally.
It’s been reported that Shure’s very versatile Microflex® Advance™ MXA310 Table Array Microphone often gets passed around between participants. But this does not need to happen either. The inherent coverage of the device means you can leave it alone and focus on what your meeting requires - clear and effective communication.