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Beam Me Up - Microphones

As offices begin to reopen, many are implementing a hybrid model that allows working from home on some days and from the office on others.

To support this, many companies will want to improve the video conferencing experience within their conference rooms. For most conference rooms, this means upgrading audio to something more than speakerphones and/or microphones strung across a conference room table.

For many conference rooms, beamforming microphones will be the best solution. While this might sound like something George Jetson would use, beamforming microphones have been around for several years now. In fact, you may have used one and not even known it. They are designed for use with integrated audio-conferencing solutions or as an audio component of an integrated videoconferencing system.

Here’s how they work.

A beamforming microphone is actually an array of up to 20 microphone elements. The microphone has multiple ‘steerable’ lobes that can be aimed at points in a room ranging from two-to-eight feet wide depending on how far the microphone is from the intended audio source (i.e. someone sitting at a conference room table).

The array picks up all of the audio from the room and through a complex set of processing algorithms, removes the audio that is not coming from a lobe’s assigned coverage area.

This is a huge deal. Modern commercial architecture is largely made of solid, flat, hard and VERY reverberant surfaces such as glass doors/walls and polished concrete floors. A standard microphone will pick up all of that reverberation from the room, which significantly degrades audio quality. The beamforming microphone will reject all of that extraneous audio energy for a clear and highly intelligible audio experience.

AND you don’t have to sacrifice aesthetics to accomplish it. The most common beamforming microphones are designed to fit into a two-foot square ceiling tile. They look just like a discrete air vent but will often have a small LED that is red to indicate mute and green for unmute.

Prior to beamforming microphones, a 12-person conference room might have eight small form factor microphones installed into the table or hung from the ceiling. You can easily accomplish this with just a single beamforming microphone and have significantly better audio.

As an example, the Shure MXA-910, which really leads the way for the mass adoption of this technology, has eight independently steerable lobes that can be digitally adjusted to cover specific areas.

I am going to continue to beat the conferencing drum. Remote working is here to stay—for some. And those who migrate back to the office will have to meet and collaborate digitally with their colleagues. It’s not fantasy technology from the Jetsons or Star Trek. Beamforming microphones are real – and REALLY cool. I cannot think of any better conclusion than, “Beam me up, Scotty.”


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