Your video conference is all set up. You logged in without a hitch. The display screen on the wall shows your (brilliant) content in crisp high-definition. This will be a great meeting, you think.
Then your boss logs on remotely, and says, “Hi.” Only it sounds like this: “Hihihihihihihih…i…i…”
D’oh! Bad acoustics strikes again.
Optimizing Audiovisual and Acoustic Synergy
Every year companies spend millions of dollars on high-end audiovisual systems and conferencing systems, and all too often they end up being disappointed with the performance.
Many times this disappointment is caused by one thing: sound quality.
The best-designed system will be useless if your conference room has poor acoustics. Acoustics are just as important to the audio performance of your audiovisual systems as the technology.
“Imagine sitting between two mirrors facing each other, like in a barbershop,” says Ben Shemuel, Audiovisual Discipline Leader at TEECOM. “What do you see? You see an infinite series of reflections. That same effect occurs when it comes to sound in conference rooms with parallel hard surfaces.”
It’s called reverberation, and it’s a big problem not just for conference participants who are in that hard-surfaced room, but for remote participants listening in.
How Bad Acoustics Affect Your Work
When we’re in an environment with poor acoustics, such as a reverberant conference room or a loud open-office space, we have to work harder to hear. This extra effort can result in something that researchers call “cognitive stress.” Scholarly studies have demonstrated that poor acoustical conditions impair cognitive function.
It’s just this simple: Having to concentrate on hearing distracts us from listening. When we don’t listen, we don’t participate.
“Well-informed architects will always use an acoustician for nearly any room that has audiovisual elements.”
So how do we solve this? Through early design collaboration. Architects, audiovisual designers, and acousticians need to combine forces to create conference rooms that succeed for users.
“There’s always a balance between aesthetics and performance in designing any environment,” says Tristen Connor, Acoustics Discipline Leader at TEECOM. “For example, in a large volume conference room, architects might be motivated to minimize the number of loudspeakers for aesthetic reasons. It might be better for a room’s performance to place a mic on a table, but for aesthetic reasons it might be better if it’s not placed there.
“If the architect, AV engineer, and acoustician collaborate, they can come up with the best option. Well-informed architects will always use an acoustician for nearly any room that has audiovisual elements.”
One example of a successful design outcome through collaboration is the Connie & Kevin Chou Hall at Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. This 80,000 sf educational building features eight tiered classrooms equipped for video capture (streaming or recorded) and teleconferencing. Both students and subject matter experts frequently participate in classroom activity remotely, so acoustical performance was important.
Perkins + Will, the architect for the project, and TEECOM, the audiovisual and acoustical designer, collaborated to create the optimal blend of technology and architecture. Where reverberation control was required, acoustical elements such as wood slatted wall panels were chosen for aesthetic as well as performance characteristics.
Collaboration doesn’t just produce aesthetic benefits — sometimes acoustics can make or break a project. Shemuel offers up an instructive example where a well-known AV and acoustics design company designed the paging and emergency evacuation system for a convention center. Their paging system design was adequate technically, but they didn’t pay attention to the acoustics of the space.
“The reverberant qualities of the space made sound unintelligible from that system. In fact, so unintelligible that the building inspector wouldn’t allow them to open the building,” says Shemuel.
How to Take Advantage of the Audiovisual Acoustics Synergy
There are two main ways you can take advantage of the AV/acoustics synergy in your project:
- Hire both disciplines as a dynamic duo. When interviewing an AV design consultant, ask them if they have an acoustician on board. How do they work together? What’s their process for design and commissioning?
- For larger projects, insist on corporate design standards that include both audiovisual and acoustical specifications. Not only will this enable rapid roll-out of a large number of spaces while ensuring consistency, it will help keep the implementation costs predictable.
Audio systems and acoustics go better together. Having the acoustical and sound system designers together at the table with the architects and owner is the perfect partnership for designing spaces that work — both for people in the rooms and beyond their four walls.