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What is good audio?

Audio is an often-overlooked element of audio-visual system design; displays, screens, videowalls and the many ‘visual’ elements of AV are often front of mind when people consider the kind of system they want. However, without good audio, many of these solutions will not be fit for purpose.

Take conferencing for example. While, the screen will most likely take centre stage in the room, without high-quality audio any meeting is likely to be ineffective at best and abandoned at worst.

For some years now, however, many of us have got used to expecting audio to simply be ‘good enough’. The first iteration of many software-based VC systems offered poor intelligibility but we were able to get by; downloaded music lost the nuances of earlier recordings but we sacrificed that for the ability to carry entire back catalogues around in our pockets.

Thankfully, this attitude is changing across the board and our customers will almost always say that audio is crucial in the vast majority of scenarios, whether that’s a lecturer or presenter, in a corporate environment or in venues such as healthcare and sports arenas where the intelligibility of announcements is critical.

Despite this, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what makes good audio; in the age of heavily compressed YouTube videos, designer headphones with built-in EQ, low-bitrate sound recordings and Bring Your Own Device, sound is an area that is still very subjective across our customer base.

Some customers prefer ‘flat’ uncoloured sound that is as natural as possible. Others are looking for a ‘cinema’ experience with heavy bass, high clarity and the application of dynamic effects such as maximisation and compression. To accommodate this, it is common for audio setups involving a DSP to have multiple ‘Scenes’ for customers to select based on the characteristics they are looking for while conforming to a good standard for equalisation, delay and balance.

In addition, what is perceived as good audio changes depending on the application and industry requirement. With this in mind, it is essential that each case should be treated uniquely; even rooms that look identical could need to be treated differently in terms of their acoustics due to the physical construction and fit-out of each space and elements such as HVAC interference or external noise that has to be overcome. Indeed, two seemingly identical spaces could have completely different characteristics of nodes, reflections and other acoustic properties, drastically altering the required system and treatment.

Integrators have a key role to play here, evaluating the acoustic conditions of a space, the intended use and any possible variations from the beginning, as well as gathering an understanding of what will be in the room once it’s complete – for example soft furnishing vs hard board tables – to best design the audio system. It is important to look at both the electronic as well as the physical aspects, and consider the need for hardware such as acoustic panelling. A small amount of acoustic panelling can sometimes improve spaces far more than upgrading speakers or installing a processor.

Using proven standards, such as AVIXA standards, throughout the design process allows the integrator to test and benchmark the physical attributes of the space and the system along the way through to completion and sign-off.

At CDEC, we are very conscious of our vendor-agnosticism when it comes to sound, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution and different manufacturers have very different strengths. In addition, a customer’s budget will have an impact here – a good integrator will always suggest the best possible solution within a given budget but also will not be afraid to call in specialists, in what is undoubtedly a specialist field, to assist if needed. All too often a solution is mis-sold so that it simply cannot achieve optimum performance but employing an experienced integrator can mitigate this risk.

One area in which technology is constantly evolving is in AV conferencing and presentation spaces. Beam-tracking microphones, intelligent arrays and clever conferencing solutions all promise improved clarity, and as presentation spaces become more connected, as voice control of equipment starts to become more prominent and as more staff work flexibly from remote locations, these technologies can make a difference in transmitting good quality audio regardless of where participants are located.

The world of acoustics unfortunately has not advanced as far, although there is a plethora of innovative acoustic material on the market that can help dampen out-of-control reverberations or eliminate resonant frequencies. A specialist acoustic consultant is still recommended to get the most out of an investment in acoustic control materials, although distributors and integrators are increasingly looking to add value by bringing in those skills.

No matter the vertical, when it comes to achieving good audio, there is no one-size fits all approach. It is important to design / specify an audio system based on the needs of the system, the space it is in and the key requirements of the finished solution. If the buyer does not fully understand these then the system is not likely to fulfil its requirements.

To find out more about our experience of installing high-quality audio systems in a number of markets, contact Jon Booth on the contact form below.



Author: Jon Booth, Solutions Architect
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