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Exceptional audio will be the bedrock upon which the classroom of tomorrow is built

In the run up Education Week 2020, ITP.net caught up with Sennheiser’s director of Sales & Marketing, Mig Cardamone, to hear how advances in audio technology will help to enhance the learning and teaching experience

Exceptional audio will be the bedrock upon which the classroom of tomorrow is built

As the education sector continues to evolve and adapt in the wake of the global Coronavirus pandemic, e-learning is set to play a far more prominent role in the education of millions of young people across the region.

However, as education providers continue to redefine their image of the ‘classroom of the future’, there are a number of key challenges to be overcome, particularly for those companies who are driving innovation in the field.  

“From a Sennheiser perspective there are probably two main drivers of change and evolution in the professional audio industry. One is the shrinking spectrum available for the use of wireless devices operating on radio frequencies, which for us means wireless microphones. The other is the convergence of AV and IT and the associated shift from a hardware focus to one of software and network integration,” said Mig Cardamone, director of Sales & Marketing at technology and hardware specialists Sennheiser.

“As the demand for mobile services has grown exponentially and with it the need to deliver high speed internet connectivity, governments all over the world have been selling off large parts of the spectrum, which were previously used by wireless microphones, to mobile phone operators for 3G, 4G and now 5G services, a sell-off that is harmonised at trans-national level across geographical regions.

“Subsequently manufacturers of wireless microphones have needed to develop more spectrum efficient products and as an industry leader we have been leading the way in such developments, as well as re-evaluating how best to utilise the available frequencies for all of the applications for which we provide solutions, he explained.

Education week runs 13-17 September – tune in to be a part of this content intensive week.

Click here to register…

As the region’s mobile network operators move to gobble up as much spectrum as they can in order to densify their fledgling 5G networks and build out and densify their existing 4G networks, there is a danger that tech producers in the region could suffer a shortage of available spectrum.

“The Program Making and Special Events (PMSE) industry is a critical application where wireless devices need to have good range, to be fast i.e. low latency and crucially to have lots of simultaneous channels available with great flexibility. This means using the lower end of the UHF spectrum and so to make this spectrum less populated we have moved some of our wireless microphones that aren’t as critical in this regard to the higher end of the UHF spectrum, such as 1.9GHz and 2.4GHz.

“Consequently, this has seen us transition from analogue audio being sent wirelessly over radio frequencies to analogue audio being converted to digital data, which is much more spectrum efficient. And with that change we have been able to include features that weren’t necessarily possible with standard analogue audio transmission,” he explained.

This transition to digital audio has also in part been responsible for the convergence of AV and IT, as audio is now sent as data and therefore can employ the same protocols and infrastructure as those already used in IT. It means that audio components are no longer standalone devices but instead are often networked together and to the internet, therefore enabling digital workflows.

“This brings many advantages, such as the possibility of bi-directional communication for advanced features such as automatic frequency management and automated audio level management, features that are included in our SpeechLine Digital Wireless series, which is a key offering for education. It also allows the use of software-based remote monitoring and control, something that we offer for free with Control Cockpit, our central software that allows for a global overview of all of our network-enabled devices and which is a powerful monitoring and control tool,” Cardamone added.

The Middle East remains one of the most dynamic markets in the world and as such remains a key priority for Sennheiser.

“Our Professional Audio segment can be broadly split into two; the traditional “pro audio” that encompasses our product offerings for the music industry, content creators and broadcasters, and the solutions which would be considered as our “system integration” portfolio but which we define as Business Communications, that are used in corporate, education, hospitality and government sectors and indeed any other application that requires the capture and transmission of high quality, intelligible audio, explained Cardamone.

“The products we offer in our pro audio portfolio spans the wired and wireless microphones used by aspiring musicians playing smaller, intimate venues and recording at home, through to international artists performing in stadiums and recording in world-renowned studios.

Sennheiser’s wireless microphones are used extensively in the world of theatre and have been for many years, whilst most of the major broadcasters around the world use Sennheiser microphones in their studios and in the field, including key regional players such as Abu Dhabi Media, Dubai TV, Al Jazeera, BeIn Sports, Kuwait TV and many more across the Middle East.

“It is in these segments that you can see our traditional pro audio heritage, and indeed broadcast and content creation are the main drivers of our business in the Middle East, but it is in the field of Business Communication that we are seeing the greatest growth, and we have a clear focus both on the corporate sector with our comprehensive meeting room solutions, and the education sector where we have a unique, dedicated portfolio for higher education in which we offer a campus-wide audio solution that is tailored to lecturers, students and IT managers,” he added.

High quality audio solutions remain the bedrock upon which the classroom of tomorrow will be built. When we talk about seamless communication, audio is perhaps the most integral element. Sennheiser has developed a portfolio of products to facilitate the evolution of the education sector.

The Education Week roundtable is held in association with audio visual pioneers, Shure, and data storage champions, Western Digital.

The ability to communicate clearly with high-quality audio is vital to achieving educational experiences for students that allow them to learn and thrive. Audio quality has a significant impact on the effectiveness of teaching and learning; when audio fails, teaching is disrupted, and learners lose out. Clear, reliable audio is not only crucial for comprehension in lectures, it also allows universities to embrace more advanced, innovative learning experiences, such as video conferencing, remote or blended learning, livestreaming and virtual collaboration. To attract the best student talent, universities should look to embrace new technologies that enhance the experience for all learners.

“Unfortunately, many universities are getting by with sub-par audio systems. These systems are often difficult and costly to maintain and don’t offer the best audio experiences for students or lecturers, leading to frustration for the lecturers and lost learning time for students. Furthermore, often overstretched IT teams must spend time and resources fixing problems; with no platform to manage systems effectively, they are often operating reactively, fighting fires. Ultimately all this affects the University’s reputation and bottom line, Cardamone said.

“We have developed our portfolio to specifically address these issues; we offer high-quality, reliable and accessible audio solutions that are intuitive, easy to set up and even easier to manage. Our campus-wide audio is inclusive and facilitates optimised teaching and learning experiences for all staff and students whilst also relieving the pressure on IT teams, delivering greater value over time and a much lower total cost of ownership.

“We’ve conducted extensive research to develop a unified suite of solutions, specifically designed to optimise teaching and learning for inclusive, forward-thinking universities:

SpeechLine Digital Wireless – Our most advanced suite of microphones that provide perfect, natural audio quality and reliability. They’re intuitive, always ready and can be monitored and managed remotely.

TeamConnect Ceiling 2 – The most advanced ceiling microphone on the market provides optimised audio quality, voice tracking, presenter flexibility and improved access to innovative learning solutions.

MobileConnect – This unique and revolutionary campus-wide assistive listening technology provides high-quality audio for hearing-impaired students through their smart phones – it’s easy, inclusive and discreet.

Control Cockpit – This free software brings our campus-wide audio solutions together, enabling intuitive, remote monitoring and maintenance of all microphone systems. With full visibility into how systems are operating, IT teams are back in control.”

While traditional audiophiles may claim that wired connections provide better audio quality than wireless, but sound quality in wireless applications has come on leaps and bounds particularly over the passed 12-18 months.  

“Sending audio wirelessly almost always entails some form of audio and/or data compression, which will have some effect on the audio, but not all transmissions and codecs are the same; at Sennheiser we have developed our own proprietary codecs for our wireless microphones that lead the industry.

“Our Digital 9000 Series remains the only wireless microphone system available today that can send uncompressed audio over digital RF some 10 years after it was launched, and our other professional wireless microphone series feature proprietary codecs that offer extremely low compression in comparison to the competition, delivering class-leading audio.

“Naturally the current situation has accelerated the trend for no-touch equipment, and our TeamConnect Ceiling 2 microphone provides the perfect solution both for touchless audio and to maintain social distancing protocols.

“As it is ceiling mounted, the system does not require constant cleaning as table microphones would, and the fact that it reliably covers the entire room without the need for any re-adjustment or re-programming allows for participants to sit at the recommended distance from each other, whilst the presenter or tutor need not worry about operating the equipment – it just works,” he explained.

Education week runs 13-17 September – tune in to be a part of this content intensive week.

Click here to register…

While the education sector has not been very forthcoming in adopting digital technologies in the past, it is now welcoming the application of emerging technologies to enhance learning outcomes. Augmented reality and VR are now viable segments within the remit of the “classroom of tomorrow”, something Sennheiser is keen to expand upon.

“Like everything in the world of AV, what you see in augmented reality is only part of the experience; to create a truly immersive and compelling experience, we believe in augmenting what you hear in addition to what you see.

“Last year, Sennheiser took a majority shareholding in Dear Reality GmbH, an expert in spatial audio algorithms and VR/AR audio software, strengthening our position as a leading provider of immersive audio solutions. Under the Sennheiser AMBEO umbrella, we have developed unique expertise and tools for the creation and rendering of immersive audio in object-based and scene-based formats.

“Leaning into our earlier point about universities needing to embrace more advanced, innovative learning experiences, I think it is reasonable to assume that leading institutions will leverage the latest available technologies to enhance the learning experience and VR/AR certainly lends itself to stimulating advanced learning and will, I’m sure, be embraced by students both as a means to learn in itself and as a means to understand and utilise the many possibilities available with this technology,” he said.

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