Dev-Audio’s Microcone: A Novel New USB Conference Microphone

Many thanks to self-described Blogalyst Dave Michels for pointing out a new usb conference microphone from Dev-Audio called the Microcone. Featuring six microphones and some on-board DSP this little device is purportedly able to capture the directional cues inherent in a meeting.

The company sells a related OSX application that is said to record six tracks in parallel. Each track corresponds to one of the size directional microphone pickups.

According to the companies web site:

“Microcone® uses innovative intellectual property based on microphone array techniques. Microphone arrays consist of multiple microphones functioning as a single directional input device: essentially, an acoustic antenna. Using sound propagation principles, the principal sound sources in an environment can be spatially located and distinguished from each other. While the Microcone device can be understood conceptually as a single intelligent group microphone, in fact it is a microphone array device containing several microphone elements acting in an integrated manner.”

They’re leveraging acoustic beamforming, something that I have mentioned a few times in the past.

As you may know surround sound technologies (aka 3D audio) have been a very dear subject for many years.  Some of the details about the device makes passing reference to 3D audio.

In a twitter exchange I posed a question about the logic behind the number of microphone elements, to which they responded:

@mjgraves @DaveMichels #microcone captures full audio & tracks multiple voices in 3D. Azimuth angles are a side output for visualisation.

and

@mjgraves @DaveMichels #microcone uses beamforming to track voices. More mics = tighter directivity & better noise suppression.

Still, I wonder if what they’re doing is truly 3D? Most of the audio recording/playback we experience is 2D. At best it makes some effort to synthesize depth of field through physically positioning some kind of sound source behind the listening position. Such is the case with all the common 5.1 & 7.1 surround schemes associated with movies.

True three dimensional audio is something considerably more. For example, 3D audio should be able to convey height. Surround sound with height is called “periphonic” surround, and exceedingly rare.

It’s difficult to see how recording a conference in such detail would be used in a practical sense. In theory it would be possible to discern if the speaker was standing or sitting, or even pacing about the conference room. That could add an extra level of realism to a telepresence experience. My hunch is that the Microcone is not something that would be found in a telepresence suite.

Still, the Microcone is a curious device. It would certainly be interesting to give it a try in service of a project. For example, I could envision recording a live VUC session at Astricon. It would be a panel discussion. We’d have the flexibility to isolate different portions of the room in audio post-production. That could be fun.