Just a few minutes into his best routine, the standup comic pauses, looks at his restless audience, taps the microphone and asks, “Is this thing on?”
While the comedian just cares whether his microphone (mic) works or not, the requirements of microphones in the corporate environment are much more sophisticated and demanding.
A sound system is typically made up of four components: input (the aforementioned microphone), processor (mixer and signal processor), amplifier and output (loudspeakers).
No matter how good the latter three components are, the sound of your presenters’ voices will NEVER be any better than what the microphone captures – and just as important…what it doesn’t capture.
A Couple of Things to Know About Microphones
Microphones are designed to pick up sounds from different directions. An omnidirectional microphone picks up sound from any and all directions. A unidirectional microphone is sensitive to sound from only one direction. There are several different types of unidirectional microphones. They vary by the defined angles for which they are designed to pick up and ignore sounds. This variability helps eliminate/reduce unwanted sounds and provides flexibility on where the microphone is located. By controlling the active listening direction of the microphone, there is greater latitude on placement of speakers (which otherwise could generate that squealing feedback) and the positioning of any other microphones (so a speaker’s voice is not picked up by multiple mics).
In theory, a wireless microphone is just like a wired one…except no cable. But, it’s a bit more complicated than that with a wide range of potential audio and radio issues. Implementing wireless mics can be challenging, especially when multiple systems are used. The newest generation of wireless mics are a lot “smarter” and more efficient than earlier iterations, making them a solid choice for meeting room audio. Yes, they will cost more, but by foregoing the cable, your presenters will have the freedom to move about and your tables will be unencumbered by cables or physical alterations.
Different Microphones for Different Purposes
While our perplexed comic often performs with a handheld mic, corporate environments utilize a variety of microphones to take advantage of different features and benefits.
Fundamentally, microphones are designed to either pick up voices or music. For everything here, we’ll focus on voice.
Microphones that are worn
Often in auditorium-like settings, presenters will use either lavalier or head-worn microphones. Lavaliers might clip to a person’s lapel, tie or another part of their clothing that is just below the neckline. A head-worn mic involves some type of headgear (usually hooked over the head or ears) with a small boom that holds the mic. The mic should be to the side of a person’s mouth, otherwise their breaths will become audible. In both cases, these mics leave the presenter’s hands free and usually allow them to move about the presentation area. Often these types of microphones will be wireless.
This is the type of mic our comedian friend might use. It can be detached from a stand and held in the hand. These types of mics tend to have filters to minimize the popping that can come from words with “p,” “t,” “b,” “d,” etc. They should also have shock mounting to minimize the noise from the thumps and bumps as the microphone is handled. You will find both wired and wireless stand-mounted microphones.
Tabletop microphones are often fixed in place. They tend to be either mounted on a “gooseneck” for easy adjustment or they’re a boundary microphone, which sits directly on the conference room table or lectern surface. The gooseneck microphone should be positioned between eight and 16 inches from the mouth of the person speaking. While the objective of most microphones is to have a person talking directly into the microphone, a boundary microphone is designed to pick up multiple people talking around the table while minimizing extraneous noises. The microphones can be freestanding or secured with the cable going through a grommet or table hatch – which are potential detractions. As noted earlier, wireless microphones can be a good option here.
Hanging microphones from the ceiling is another way to pick up a group of people talking, although a better application for this might be in a musical setting, such as a choir. Rather than hanging mics, for commercial applications, we prefer beam forming microphones. These microphones are incorporated into ceiling tile spaces. They can be highly directional but are still susceptible to picking up undesirable surrounding sounds.
Some Helpful Tips
At the end of the day, the goal of any quality implementation is to use the fewest microphones needed to get the job done. Every open microphone adds noise, which distracts from the clarity of sound.
If you are using multiple microphones, keep the following in mind: The distance between any two active mics should be at least three times the distance between the microphone and the person speaking into it. This helps eliminate that hollow sound caused by phase cancellation. This occurs when sound is “heard” by a neighboring microphone(s) slightly later than the closest microphone.
In any audiovisual implementation, the end solution is never better than the weakest link. While some users are only concerned about whether the microphone is working or not…for most, the quality of sound is nothing to joke about. Which is why E1 Audiovisual Technologies is here. We ensure there are no weak links. Anywhere. (Of course, the quality of the presenter is totally up to you.)