The Cone of Conversation - Conference Room Technology


The cone of silence was a laughable failure in the spy world of the 1960’s television comedy and the 2008 movie “Get Smart,” but the retro-futuristic device wasn’t a complete flop — at least, not for inspiring today’s meeting technology. In both versions of the production, the anti-espionage apparatus ensconces participants to enable private conversation that the others in the room can’t hear. What it gets wrong is privacy; everyone outside “the cone” can hear what’s being said while those inside, can’t hear each other. What it gets right is the real-world concept that meeting participants need to be heard clearly, without interference of background noise or the interruption of other voices — no matter where they’re located.
Get_Smart-Cone-of-silence.jpgTraditionally, a productive audio environment has only been attained behind the closed doors of a conference room. Today, however, that’s not always possible. Not only is there increased competition to reserve conference room real estate but people are doing more work from home, on the road, and in an assortment of open spaces with less than ideal audio environments. In addition, precedence for reservations are likely given to executive leadership or more critical meetings. As a result, people are scrambling to find an available open space to meet, such as cafeteria or a desk. They also using their cell phone or laptop audio for the call. These devices weren’t designed to capture or deliver audio to a team, no matter how closely they gathered around. They’re equipped with one microphone that captures everything. On the far-end, participants are left to decipher what information they need. It’s a workflow that’s frustrating and unproductive.
At Yamaha UC, we knew we couldn’t change the environment of where people are meeting, but we could change the technology, utilizing years of sound and audio engineering expertise. Rather than having a cone of silence, we created a cone of conversation using our new SoundCap technology in the YVC-330 conference phone. SoundCap embraces not only the unpredictability of where people meet but also adapts to the environment in several ways.

First, this technology allows for location flexibility. With a small, lightweight design, participants can change locations on the fly. Designed to be portable and powered by USB, it can go anywhere.  

Second, it features multiple microphones and sophisticated DSP. This ensures every participant is captured and allows for anywhere, anytime meetings. In the past, conference phone mics picked up the person speaking as well as everything around it. Now, using human voice activity detection (HVAD) technology, the audio can be analyzed before it’s relayed. This is much like the mental process that happens when people meet face to face in a noisy venue. The human mind unconsciously sorts through all the audio present in the space to focus on what they need to hear. Because human voices work in a narrow frequency range with a specific pattern, HVAD is able to recognize those patterns and then, subtract other information. For example, it can distinguish the clicking of a keyboard and other background noise and eliminate it from the final signal.

Third, the audio is highly adaptable. Participants can meet in a glass room, a giant auditorium, or a small cubicle on a populated floor. Auto tuning capabilities analyze the room from an acoustic perspective and adjust itself dynamically in order to support all the various conditions. A good example of the extent to which this technology improves the audio quality is on a tradeshow floor. Tradeshow floors are notoriously full of noise and people, and finding a quiet spot is near impossible. Despite all the audio chaos and bustle, it identifies voices that are outside the cone and don’t need to be included, as well as noise and eliminate them for a perfectly captured signal.

The final factor is apparent loudness. Some people speak loudly and some people softly. Today, for the best listening experience, technology levels out both. This was an idea that came from the live music entertainment industry. In a concert, a mixer allows the bass guitarist to be increased while the vocal level is decreased to achieve the perfect balanced output during a performance. The same technology is used to even out the volume of different participants in meetings.
The cone of silence was an absolute bomb, but it shouldn’t be the anecdote for today’s meetings. Great meetings don’t just happen in the perfect conference room with the perfect acoustic environment and aided by an audio system with all the bells and whistles. With emerging technology, such as SoundCap, productive conversations can happen anywhere.

Learn More about the YVC-330!