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Why is professional audio in the WFH age so difficult?

jshelbyj

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Thank you for coming to my rant.
If you want professional sound on a video call, the only option is a large condenser mic right in your face. And if you want professional DSP for that mic (compressor/eq) that's not tied to your company laptop (meaning it's on device DSP that can be moved to different computers), that puts you in the highest tier of USB audio interfaces (I've tried the presonus revelator which is affordable, but it's not great). And even when you're spending $$$ for a UA Apollo the 20 year old DSP's get outperformed by free VSTs.

And lets talk about headsets I've deep dived into rtings and audiophile reddit/youtube. There is literally only one I can find with an acceptable sounding mic. The DT 797 (
). Looking like a sportscaster isn't great, but I could get over it.

But what if you want wireless? Video calls are long. And 90% of the time you just need to listen making them a great opportunity to walk around the house and chore or bio. So wireless is pretty important! Well, then the situation gets even worse; suddenly everything is marketed to gamers. Which is ridiculously shortsighted when you consider the total addressable market for high end headsets is basically every business professional. I digress, but the point is standards completely shift when the market is gamers. And not just aesthetics. Rtings just moved the Audieze Maxwells to their top wireless gaming headset spot. They have the worst sound mic of any wireless gaming headset (https://www.rtings.com/headphones/reviews/audeze/maxwell-wireless). FWIW, they look promising otherwise. In general mics are an after thought for all headsets, but especially wireless ones. Things like freq responses being capped at 10khz (or even 3khz!) are common even on high end headsets.

So here I am with the same setup for the last five years after spending dozens of hours each year trying to find anything that would be an upgrade to my senny game ones and audient id4.

My ideal setup:

USB interface:
  • onboard compressor/eq with low latency and real time monitoring
    • Bonus: literally any other effects/processing
    • Super unlikely bonus: able to run VSTs!
  • Professional levels of stability (Hi Rode!)
  • Bluetooth/wireless input
    • Bluetooth is starting to become common, but all implementations I've seen aren't tenable for wireless headsets (rodecaster for example) due to using older versions of BT.
    • USB hosts for wireless input/out with non-BT and BT dongles. The Creative X5 has this! So not just bluetooth dongle could be used but ANY USB audio device. Including BT 5.3 dongles which are supposedly on par with range and latency to the non-BT wireless solutions.
  • XLR input. I'm putting this hear in the case that the Creative team sees this because it's basically the only thing the X5 is lacking (That and not silly DSPs - seriously - no one dropping $300 on high end audio gear is impressed by an effect called "crystal audio.")
  • Professional aesthetics and desktop form factor. Audient id4 looks great and fits perfect on my desk. This is less important and not a deal breaker to me, but if you're making a product for professionals it definitely does matter.
Headset:
  • Wireless.
    • Full spectrum in both directions. We live in the future. We shouldn't accept 10khz cut-off on a mic as acceptable.
  • Boom mic. Sorry apple, but no amount of sci-fi audio black magic is going to undo the law of garbage in garbage out.
    • Bonus: non-gooseneck boom. I prefer a boom arm that swivels only up and down. I understand why a gooseneck makes sense in live audio for mic positioning, but in everyday use it just means people position their mic wrong. And we have to tell them to adjust it because they're too quiet. And this goes on for years until I've grown to really dislike goosenecks (Mostly directed at steel series Arctis here since all my friends use them and this happens at least once a week.).
    • Bonus: physical mute switch when mic boom is in up position. One less thing to stress about.
    • Bonus: Condenser mic. I'm not sure if it's practical from a battery perspective, but there is a huge opportunity here.
  • Base station line in and line out.
    • Can you believe there are no wireless headsets that have this feature? Me either. I think the Astro A50s do, but I'm unsure.
    • Having this option to use the headsets as dumb devices opens up options like running them through a USB interface or switching them between computers quickly.
    • If you can't do this, then just make the USB output of your headset work without connection to a computer.
  • Aesthetics. Literally just don't make it have the gamer aesthetic and we're good.
  • Low latency. Bluetooth 5.3 supposedly is in the 10-20ms range, so this might not be a problem soon.
  • Physical switches. Headsets with capacative switches (like the Sony flagship) look nice, but the UX is poor for obvious reasons.
Thank you for letting me vent. I go through this cycle every year where I try to upgrade my setup only to find nothing better exists (at any price point even). Sometimes I start going down the route of LAV mics and wireless packs before I realize that's silly and impractical for a business environment. Hrmmm is it? IDK, let me do some research.
 

pablolie

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Doesn't seem hard, depending on what you call "professional".

Key is a quiet environment and a top microphone. I use a Shure PG42USB, which I rather like a lot and sounds great. Picks up a mouse farting behing a wall, so the environment better be quiet. For quality audio output, I use a JDS Labs Atom 3 with either Beyerdynamic DT1990pro or Shure SRH1540. And for don't-really-care-about-utmost-resolution moments, something like the super compact Audioengine A2 just do fine for me.

That said, several people are happy and sound good enough just using the integrated audio in their laptops, which has come a very long way (except for laptop speakers of course).
 
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raindance

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We use Teams. I simply transfer the call to my cell phone when I want to walk around. However, there's a catch: Teams is very fussy about audio devices and a lot of Bluetooth headsets don't transmit intelligible audio to the far end in Teams...

At the computer end, what works best for me is a Logitech webcam. I tried various USB condenser mics - which sounds great for about a minute and then Teams automatically levels them down to zero volume. It doesn't do this to webcam devices, only USB microphones...

I'm very picky about sound on calls and deliver a lot of training from my computer (which is recorded). People have told me that the audio is best with the webcam, by far, at least in the Teams application. Second best is with the cell phone when it is held to my ear, not on speaker and not on Bluetooth.

It seems, in my case, that simple is better.

Note that I have spent years designing and implementing whole room video conference systems using automatic mixing / gating and high end echo cancellation, and these environments benefit from high quality mics and signal processing, but computer based applications with mysterious audio pathways just don't seem worth the trouble because they do mysterious proprietary "things" to the audio, causing results to be unpredictable at best.
 
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jshelbyj

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We use Teams. I simply transfer the call to my cell phone when I want to walk around. However, there's a catch: Teams is very fussy about audio devices and a lot of Bluetooth headsets don't transmit intelligible audio to the far end in Teams...

At the computer end, what works best for me is a Logitech webcam. I tried various USB condenser mics - which sounds great for about a minute and then Teams automatically levels them down to zero volume. It doesn't do this to webcam devices, only USB microphones...

I'm very picky about sound on calls and deliver a lot of training from my computer (which is recorded). People have told me that the audio is best with the webcam, by far, at least in the Teams application. Second best is with the cell phone when it is held to my ear, not on speaker and not on Bluetooth.

It seems, in my case, that simple is better.

Note that I have spent years designing and implementing whole room video conference systems using automatic mixing / gating and high end echo cancellation, and these environments benefit from high quality mics and signal processing, but computer based applications with mysterious audio pathways just don't seem worth the trouble because they do mysterious proprietary "things" to the audio, causing results to be unpredictable at best.
Professional video is easy at least!

I wrote a blog post about my setup a few years ago. Still working very well.

 

pablolie

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This is the same mic I use. It's discontinued since long but it's better than the Shure MV7, and I get compliments by coworkers all the time about my audio.
Indeed, I have tried many and that is the one that works and sounds best for me. Super clean sound. And it also incorporates a DAC and headphone out, so you could easily get away with only that. I aso use the omnipresent Logi C920 webcam, but don't use its (admittedly pretty good) integrated microphone - I much prefer the Shure.
 
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jshelbyj

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Doesn't seem hard, depending on what you call "professional".

Key is a quiet environment and a top microphone. I use a Shure PG42USB, which I rather like a lot and sounds great. Picks up a mouse farting behing a wall, so the environment better be quiet. For quality audio output, I use a JDS Labs Atom 3 with either Beyerdynamic DT1990pro or Shure SRH1540. And for don't-really-care-about-utmost-resolution moments, something like the super compact Audioengine A2 just do fine for me.

That said, several people are happy and sound good enough just using the integrated audio in their laptops, which has come a very long way (except for laptop speakers of course).
Right, yeah the easy solution is a big condenser mic. Tried and true. I may go down that route, but since my role has me interfacing with dozens of strangers a day I'm reticent to be "that guy." Not that I judge anyone for doing it! I have met several people that do, and I think it's great. I'd prefer the mic to not be in the frame though. Looking at pencil mics for that, but I didn't have the luck I wanted with Samson pencil mics. Possibly I could sound treat my room better to dampen room sounds.
 

staticV3

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jshelbyj

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Just out of curiosity, what do you find unacceptable about the recording quality of the MH630, MH751, JBL 100, G433: https://www.rtings.com/headphones/tools/table/115042
I think they sound great!
Nice! Yes, I did see the Coolermaster's which IMO are an improvement over my Sennheiser Game One's. They lack the harshness of other headset mics.
My struggle is that they're still no where near the quality of what's possible with even a cheap stand alone condenser mic (or the mic on the Beyerdynamic DT 797 headset like the video linked above.) Maybe I'm being super picky, but why shouldn't I be? It's my voice. I want it to sound as good as possible. Especially because my career depends on having strangers listening to me. The difference I'm quibbling over is clarity of speech vs. aesthetically pleasing speech. Video calls are uncomfortable and a chore when everyone sounds like an mp3 from 1997.

And, while wired headsets have some ok options, the option for wireless is slim. That's my main struggle right now. I have my streamdeck+ setup with a macro that switches between my wired and wireless headsets, but I feel like I can only use wireless if I absolutely have to due to the sound quality. And so my wired headset starts to feel like a chain to the desk after eight hours.
 

DVDdoug

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There are good headset mics like whatever Lady Gaga & Garth Brooks use on stage (with a wireless transceiver) or whatever sportscasters use, etc.

Latency always exists when a multitasking computer is used because the operating system is always multi-tasking and interrupting the audio. You need buffers so the audio can be interrupted and still flow in and out smoothly and a buffer is also a delay. Similarly, the Internet is buffered because you don't have a constant uninterrupted connection and there is error checking, etc. Latency can be minimized (i.e. you can get-away with a smaller buffer) by running only one application, minimizing background operations, and using a fast computer. Sometimes it can be made unnoticeable but it can't be eliminated as long as you're using a computer.
 

TheBatsEar

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My solution is a MiniDSP UMIK1 on the table and a regular wired Beyerdynamic DT990 Edition. I get compliments for the clarity of my voice, but of course everything else going on in the room goes over the net as well.
If something comes up for less than 500€ or so, i might be interested.
 

pablolie

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We should aso note that good ergonomics are key. Anyone that has taken a few singing or speaking lessons knows about the fact you have to find your relaxed power posture. If you are uncomfortable, you will never sound your best, because you will not breathe etc as freely as you should. The ergonomy of my environment is key to me, and I regard it as part of a great audio-vidual setup.

Aso, I make sure to brush and spoil and feed my cat before key presentations/recordings/weninars/etc :-D Otherwise he tends to chime in unexpectedly. :-D
 

jhaider

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We use Teams. I simply transfer the call to my cell phone when I want to walk around. However, there's a catch: Teams is very fussy about audio devices and a lot of Bluetooth headsets don't transmit intelligible audio to the far end in Teams...

AirPods Pro work brilliantly for Teams calls.
 

khensu

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It is ridiculous. I finally settled on just using a spare pair of Galaxy buds for my calls, but I don't need video most of the time. They aren't great for music, so they'd be sitting around unused otherwise. The only downside is the battery. It will only last about 2.5 hours, so they can be a problem on those days where I am on call after call. If they do die, I just plug in a cheapo wired headset that works fine, but obviously limits mobility. Neither of those are worthwhile for music.
 

robwpdx

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For a microphone, the DPA 6066 is relatively unobtrusive. They are used on Broadway. Excellent fidelity. They use an unusual connector and need 5-10V of power. It can be provided by DPA DAD6001, or a compatible wireless transmitter pack. You can do the same with a lapel microphone. Any pro sound company like Gotham Sound in NYC can help you on that.

If you want the European LDC look on your desk or an SM7, you can do that.

Wireless IO I have not played with. I see wired or wireless earbuds on professional calls. That removes the need for feedback suppression.

Depending on your computer you can run a DAW with any set of EQ & compression plug-ins you like. Or you could run your DAW on a separate machine and run the out into your videoconferencing machine.

For a physical interface, there are many new podcast mini-mixers which act as a digital audio interface.

If you want multiple cameras and switching for video conferencing, Aaron Parecki has a youtube channel where he provides several solutions. He probably has discussed audio in video conferencing. Curtis Judd Audio discusses sound for video.

Before finalizing, anything digital adds delay.
 

maverickronin

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I bought a used BSS BLU-160 to use a crossover and EQ for my speaker/subs. It had way more IO than I needed for that so I ended up getting a Shure MV7X that runs into the BLU-160, goes though a noise gate, compressor, and limiter, and then goes into a MOTU M2 interface on my work PC.
 

mrbungle

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At the computer end, what works best for me is a Logitech webcam. I tried various USB condenser mics - which sounds great for about a minute and then Teams automatically levels them down to zero volume. It doesn't do this to webcam devices, only USB microphones...
Both Teams and Zoom caught up and provide far more audio options now. “Don’t adjust mic sensitivity” fixes the volume issue.

I use a shotgun mic to not have anything in frame and it works well. The MKH416 is overkill and not ideal inside, but it sounds very good in my room and the resell value is high due to its popularity. I would probably went with the Deity knockoff if it would have been not constantly sold out beginning of Covid. Use it now with the Babyface Pro connected to RME ADI-2 DAC and FiiO FF5 earbuds for monitoring.

I too use AirPods Pro 2 for big meetings without camera where I’m unlikely to speak much and where I want to move around.
 
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