The Audio Ecosystem, Part 3: Loudspeakers

Chris Lyons | June 18, 2020

A meeting without video is still a meeting; a meeting without audio is cancelled. In fact, 81% of IT Decision Makers say audio has the biggest impact on improving the quality of virtual meetings. Good sound is easy to overlook, but poor sound cannot be missed.  It causes fatigue, increases distraction, and reduces comprehension – all of which reduce productivity and revenue.

In this series of blog posts, we’ll discuss the importance of each part of the audio ecosystem in delivering intelligible and natural sound. The job of the audio system is to capture the voices of people in the room for transmission, and to reproduce the voices of people coming from the other location.  In blog post #3, we’ll discuss the role of loudspeakers.

While the microphone converts sound into an electrical signal, the loudspeaker converts a signal back into sound. In the context of meeting rooms used for training seminars or AV conferencing, ceiling speakers are often thought of only in terms of their size, sound level, and coverage area. The growing trend, however, is toward networked speakers that offer more advanced capabilities and time-saving features.

The growing trend is toward networked speakers that offer more advanced capabilities and time-saving features.

Loudspeaker Sound Quality

Of course, the ceiling speaker’s fundamental job is first and foremost to reproduce speech clearly. But modern AV conferencing spaces increasingly include a wider spectrum of multimedia content, making it essential that the loudspeaker can handle music and other sounds in addition to speech. A two-way driver is often required, with frequency response that is optimized for voice intelligibility yet with enough range to sound pleasing with a variety of program sources.

Amplification

Every loudspeaker needs an amplifier, but power amps carry a load of installation baggage: they take up space, they need AC power, and they generate heat. A Dante speaker, on the other hand, includes an integrated amplifier, and can be powered by PoE or PoE+ over the same network cable that carries the audio signal. Using self-powered speakers eliminates the need for power amplifiers altogether. A PoE speaker can produce more than adequate sound pressure levels for typical AV conferencing applications, but on some models upgrading to PoE+ may deliver a significant boost in output level for rooms where slightly higher volume is desired.

Signal Routing

In most meeting rooms, traditional ceiling loudspeakers rely on a dedicated connection from the amplifier, and the amplifiers are all fed the same audio stream from an output on the audio mixer. Networked loudspeakers can take their signal from any point on the audio network, which provides vastly greater control over signal routing. Also, eliminating the amplifiers also eliminates the need to adjust the signal levels between the mixer output and amplifier input, and the amplifier output and loudspeaker input.

DSP Utilities

Ceiling loudspeakers are often thought of as passive devices that simply reproduce whatever signal they’re given, but they can be active contributors to the sound of the audio system. Even with comprehensive audio processing in a mixer or digital signal processor, it is often desirable to apply some additional processing that relates to the loudspeakers in one part of the room or even to an individual loudspeaker. With networked loudspeakers, the cost and time of synchronizing external stand-alone DSP products is eliminated, especially when combined with microphones like the MXA910 with IntelliMix® which also has built in DSP.

Equalization (EQ) can help to correct for sound reflections caused by nearby walls, for example. Digital delay helps to align and connect lip sync with a video feed so that the presenter’s audio and movements are in line and not disjointed.A limiter can prevent the sound level from exceeding a prescribed maximum in the presence of extreme signal variations. Finally, a signal or tone generator is an enormous time-saver when the system is being dialed in, both to verify signal paths, identify speakers, and confirm proper installation. 

Audio Security

Dante-enabled loudspeakers carry the added potential for the audio connection to feature enhanced security. In the case of Shure Audio Encryption, this extends security from the microphone at one end of the audio chain to the loudspeaker at the other end in the room, which is an appealing benefit to clients who are particularly concerned with the privacy of meeting content. This prevents unauthorized persons from accessing the audio stream through the loudspeaker connection.

Remote Management

No matter how advanced or high-tech a sound system may be, the ongoing functioning of loudspeakers needs to be checked periodically like every other component in the system. Networked loudspeakers offer the added benefit of remote management. Audio management software can verify that each loudspeaker is operating normally, and send a message to a technician when a speaker goes offline or otherwise needs attention. This way, time is only spent on solving actual problems instead of constantly checking to see if problems exist.

The ceiling loudspeaker has gone from being under appreciated and overlooked to being a full-fledged member of the audio ecosystem. With network connectivity and a flexible configuration tools, loudspeakers are ready to do more than just making the sound – they can make the sound everything it should be. 

Read the other articles highlighting the Shure Audio Ecosystem for Conferencing:

The Shure MXN5-C Networked Ceiling Loudspeaker provides high-quality sound reproduction for AV conferencing applications. The MXN5 integrates seamlessly with other Shure networked PoE-enabled audio devices using the Dante audio networking protocol to deliver high quality audio with minimal installation complexity. Learn more.

Chris Lyons

Chris Lyons is a 30-year Shure veteran who has filled a variety of different marketing and public relations roles. His specialty is making complicated audio technology easy to understand, usually with an analogy that involves cars or food. He doesn't sing or play an instrument, but he does make Shure Associates laugh once in a while.