Microphone Techniques That Will Improve Your Conference Calls

During an important conference call, sound quality matters. Without clear audio, it's almost impossible to understand what the other party is communicating, unless you resort to sign language and lip reading.

When talking face-to-face, the sound of your voice travels through the air and encounters little resistance along the way. On the other hand, conferencing systems introduce new technological variables that can hinder the sound before it reaches its destination. Noise, poor analog/digital encoding, and bad microphone placement can all have a significant effect on the final sound.  

In this practical guide, we've shared a few common audio mistakes that can create problems during conference calls, as well as some smart microphone techniques that can improve your audio recording and delivery.

How Sound Gets Distorted

First, we need to make a distinction between analog and digital audio signals. When you speak into a microphone, the vibrations are converted into an electrical analog signal. From there, the audio signal may pass through a converter that changes it to a digital format. This series of 1s and 0s is written in a numerical language that your computer can understand and reproduce through your speakers.

When analog audio is converted to digital format, it has a specific bandwidth, which refers to its resolution and quality. This is a lot like saving a high- or low-resolution digital photograph. Low-resolution photos start to look pixelated when you zoom in, and low audio bandwidth also has less clarity and definition than its original analog source. Audio bandwidth is measured as the number of audio samples per second (also known as the "sample rate").

With a limited audio bandwidth, you don't hear the full frequency spectrum, which can make it difficult to understand what a person is saying. As a digital signal is sent through your speakers, noise is also introduced, which can be measured as the "signal-to-noise ratio". Depending on the number of bits in each audio sample (the "bit depth"), more digital noise will be generated. This is why it's so crucial to invest in a conferencing system with built-in noise reduction.

To combat noise, many Yamaha systems also have Human Voice Activity Detection (HVAD) – which analyzes a signal to isolate the vocal frequencies from the digital noise. They also include Acoustic Echo Cancellation (AEC), which neutralizes initial reflections that are picked up by the microphones.

The Consequences of Poor Sound

Low-quality sound can have a serious impact on a conference's outcome. If you can't hear the other party, it creates a stressful situation where you're straining to understand what they're saying, and you don't want to keep asking them to repeat it. It's just like when the music cuts out at a party, and the crowd energy dies with it.

The first time that poor sound affects a conference, we take a deep breath and deal with it. However, when sound issues are persistent in the conversation, both parties will eventually lose patience and give up. That's the last thing you want to happen during a crucial business meeting.

Even more damaging are situations where poor audio results in a misunderstanding between managers or teams. A garbled word or prolonged pause may be interpreted as a slight, and this can damage trust between parties. It can also create a blame-game situation, where one company looks unprofessional for having faulty conferencing technology. Luckily, there are affordable, high-quality microphone systems on the market today that can virtually eliminate any of these audio issues from taking place.

Microphone Techniques to Improve Your Sound Quality

Once you've decided to invest in a modern conferencing system, there are a few common-sense microphone techniques that can help capture better audio.

First, you need to speak directly into the microphone, with enough distance to not introduce clipping. When you speak away from the microphone head, the sound becomes quiet and muffled, and it can be much harder to discern the content. Likewise, if you move the microphone an inch from your face and speak at a normal volume, you will produce harsh harmonics and distortion. Generally, it's a good idea to move the microphone at least a few inches away from your mouth, and position it slightly lower so that vocal plosives (i.e. popping vocal sounds with "k", "p", etc) are less emphasized.  

Meanwhile, if you're wearing a lapel mic, you need to be careful not to accidentally bump or drop it during a meeting. The ensuing noise can be extremely painful when amplified and sent through the conferencing system. Likewise, shifting your clothes around can produce loud scuffing sounds, which sound ghastly for the conference attendees. Just stay conscious of microphone placement and vocal direction, and your audio quality will be in another league.

Ready to invest in a revolutionary system (like the Executive Elite) that refines your conference call audio? Connect with one of our representatives, and learn how quality communication products and smart mic placement can make all the difference.