In the AV world, we put a predominant amount of focus on video quality (that is, image quality). This is understandable. Studies have consistently shown that video quality has a unique psychological effect on people. When people view video with better image quality, they tend to perceive the entire experience as better, including the audio.
So, perhaps it makes sense that we want installations to have the best video quality possible. However, this shouldn’t come at the cost of the audio. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happens too often in corporate, education and government environments, and this can have a negative effect on the overall effectiveness of the space. It is true that when the video isn’t high quality, people may be less inclined to use the AV system, because it feels less effective. However, without quality audio, the system will actually be ineffective.
Why does this happen? Part of it is because video quality is so apparent. One thing these studies demonstrate is that people can perceive changes in video quality quite easily. When a 1900×1200 video image is compressed to a 1280 x 800 resolution on a display, you can tell, even with good scaling, and people know this. However, the same studies have shown that minor changes in audio quality aren’t always perceived as acutely. Budgets are always tight, so when costs get restrained, it’s easy to start reducing the audio budget. After all, it’s a conference room, not a rock concert, right?
The thing is, this isn’t the right way to think about things. While it’s true that employees probably won’t be watching blockbuster movies in the conference room, and teachers won’t be jamming out in class, that’s not really what audio systems are for in these types of spaces.
Audio systems in these spaces are often called “speech reinforcement,” and that’s for a good reason. Much of what is sent through the speakers, even in a modern conference room, is still spoken word. Whether it is someone talking on a video call or simply the voiceover in a video, speech is still the key part of information coming through conference room speakers. Even in a small huddle space, you must be able to hear clearly in the room and be heard clearly by anyone on the other end of a web conference.
This is why we have audio systems in conference rooms. Without the right microphones in the right locations, not everyone in the space is heard clearly on a web conference. Without a good digital signal processor (DSP) to process the audio, sound distorts and the buzz from the noise floor is unbearable. Without the proper amplifier, you either won’t be able to hear anything or the speakers will blow out. Without quality speakers, you might as well throw out the rest of your audio system, because you won’t be able to hear anything, and what you do hear will just sound flat-out bad.
So why make such a big deal about audio? It’s because, during a meeting or class, audio systems are all about clarity. While a picture may be worth a thousand words, the audio in a conference room is where much of the vital information is communicated. If you can’t hear what the other person is saying, you might as well pack up and go home, because you are missing the whole point of meeting in the first place.
If you handle AV in corporate, education or government environments, let us know your thoughts on the importance of audio quality in meeting space AV in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!