A couple of weeks ago, over at the Broadband Reports forum on VoIP Tech, there was a question posed about selecting the best low cost microphone for VoIP applications. This is a topic that I’ve considered at length. It has much in common with my background in recording and broadcasting. On that basis I weighed in with some opinion. As I my way, I probably provided a longer answer than anyone anticipated, or even wanted. After re-reading it a few times I thought it worth sharing here as well.
The original question:
I realize many problems people experience are due to a lousy mic that isn’t noise canceling or picks up sounds from a anywhere in the room. There are many ways to improve this. I like the idea of a pickup pattern that is very isolated in front of the mic and within a finite range so I don’t have to wear the mic but maybe this is asking too much. If the mic only picks up sounds very close to it, wearing it can sure avoid a lot of problems. Don’t know if firewire or USB3 is better than USB2 or if its better to run the mic directly into your mic input of your motherboard or audio card or something else. Latency is not our friend! VOIP is so sensitive to extraneous noise so this needs to be addressed and is dependent on the ambient noise of the user. Any recommendations? Few of us work in a soundproof office.
This is a semi-rant on a somewhat common theme for me, getting the best audio quality. In pondering these two new video calling devices from Tely Labs and Biscotti one thing stands out as unfortunate…they both rely exclusively upon an array of microphones built into their respective device. I find this to be short-sighted and unnecessarily inflexible.
At both ends of the call there’s considerable room tone. In particular you can clearly hear that the conference room at Tely Labs is a simple drywall box. It sounds boomy and reverberant.
As I have described elsewhere, I find that the use of a speakerphone is always a last resort. It’s really only appropriate when you have a group of people collected for a call. To use a speakerphone when the call is just on-to-one is to permit the ambient noise and nature of the room to have undue influence in the audio quality.
My ongoing involvement in the VoIP Users Conference has me occasionally pondering my home office equipment. While I make my living in the broadcast television equipment business, in truth, audio was my first love.
The VUC can easily be joined using any phone, but sometimes a phone…even my long-time companion Polycom IP650…doesn’t feel like the right tool for the job. So last year I put a microphone on my holiday wish list, the Yeti from Blue Microphones. Seeing an opportunity to address the my voip-geek habit, my wife decided to put one under the Christmas tree.
The Yeti is in many ways special. It’s a USB-attached microphone, so it plugs directly into a computer. That means that the critical electronics of the pre-amplifier are housing in the mic itself, away from the harsh electrical environment of the computer’s internals.
Further, the Yeti has three microphone capsules under it’s wire mesh head. The output of the three capsules can be mixed in various combinations resulting in several directivity patterns; omni-directional, cardoid, stereo (left-right) or figure-eight (front-back.) This makes the Yeti very adaptable to different situations.
Let me lay before you a simple premise; people who habitually wear a wireless headset in public are often viewed as Geeky, Nerdy or very possibly even Dorky. The trouble isn’t the technology, but rather the question of its use, and abuse in various circumstances. Whether wearing such a headset is socially acceptable depends largely upon situational context. I’ve mentioned this once before.
To wear a wireless headset is most often a matter of convenience, only occasionally a matter of necessity. I accept that there are states where such tools are mandated for use while driving. I applaud such laws, and further think that a driver should not be allowed to operate a cell phone in any manner while a car is in motion.
Actually, I suspect that such headset laws are the result of intense lobbying by a secret cartel formed by the world’s leading headset manufacturers. It seems fairly obvious to me that Plantronics, Jabra, Motorola and maybe Jawbone form a kind of headset-axis-of-something-or-other.
The Eyeball in question has a built-in digital-to-analog adapter and presents a USB interface to the host platform. It’s a very good quality microphone. The fact that it includes a webcam is a plus if you use things like Skype for video calling.
I’d buy one of these myself, but my wife gave me it’s bigger sibling, the Blue Yeti not long ago.
Have you ever encountered something that seems a little odd, then find that you are in fact surrounded by examples if it in your daily life. So it is with “Beam Forming.” You may never have heard of it, but it’s all around you, and it’s more than a little interesting.
Wikipedia tells use that, “Beam forming is a signal processing technique used in sensor arrays for directional signal transmission or reception.” It is essentially a way of using an array of omnidirectional sensors to synthesize directionality.
Cast into the audio domain beam forming is a way to use the signals from multiple omnidirectional microphones to create the equivalent of a direction microphone. Further, since the process is based upon signal processing, it can be variable. It can create the equivalent of an electronically steerable microphone, complete with the ability to “zoom” in or out. It’s not unlike a zoom lens for sound.