Ceiling Mics: Working 50 Percent of the Time for 50 Percent of the Time

4/14/2015 4:20:00 PM
By Joey D’Angelo
I have seen, and sadly tried to avoid, countless installations over the years with ceiling mics. I’ve had a countless number of architects suggest them to me in the middle of meetings where we are discussing room configurations and the ever-present desire to have reconfigurable furniture systems. This always comes up…without fail, in divisible rooms. And when it does, without fail, I always say to everyone in the room that “based on my experience, 50 percent of the time, ceiling mics work 50 percent of the time.” After the usual round of chuckles dies down, I get serious. Wanting to be a good consultant, I don’t want to be too stern or inflexible, but at the same time I want to educate my clients, manage their expectations, lay out all the options, and give them something that works.

I begin this discussion every time with a layman’s discussion of the volume of the humans within the room, versus the natural volume of the room, and how that can affect what the other side of an audio or videoconference hears. I talk about how it’s best to get the loudest and clearest human speech into our audio system, in relation to the noise of the room, which given the current “fish tank” conference room design trends, becomes important. (Note to self, blogging on current non-tech friendly architectural design trends next month!) By this time, I usually have the attention that is needed to move the discussion into the options category.

When presenting options in this scenario, you have several, all of which have their pros and cons:

1. Mics built into the table – ideal solution and nearby the mouths of users; however, some users have bad etiquette and cover them or crinkle papers in front of them.
2. Wireless mics – convenient but batteries die; moving them around in relation to the loudspeakers in the room changes path lengths and thus the tuning settings of echo canceller.
3. Ceiling mics – nice and out of the way, but hit or miss, especially a miss in rooms with poor acoustics, which are all the rage in architecture right now.
4. Fancy beam forming ceiling mics – supposed to work well, but I’ve never been able to afford them on any of my projects so that I could find out.

After presenting all of these options, it’s decision time, and your client has heard all the options…what do you do? I want comments…because this is a problem that plagues us all. I will actively join in on this discussion, so let us know your thoughts.

Joey D'Angelo (joseph.dangelo@cmsalter.com) is a vice president at Charles M. Salter Associates. He has worked at Salter for 15 years since the day he graduated from Cal Poly SLO. He likes to be challenged professionally, listens to punk rock, and plays many instruments.

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