The face-to-face listening experience is a subjective benchmark for optimal speech clarity and intelligibility. When the sound traveling has a very short and direct flight path, the listener has ample time to understand the message. As the distance between the source and listener increases, the strength and clarity of the message begins to degrade. As we experience difficulty being heard, our first inclination is to raise our voice and/or turn up the volume. If we are outside, making it louder is usually all that is needed, but in an enclosed and reverberant space, increasing the volume will also increase the loudness of reflected sound. That sound follows a longer flight path and arrives later than the directed stream-of-words the listener is trying to receive.
If the difference in arrival times is too great, the listener is forced to take extra time to sort out competing versions of the message. When the listener runs out of time, a guess is the only option available before part or all of the message is lost. Extending the face-to-face listening experience to a distant listener requires that the message be distinct, loud enough and arrive at the correct time.
Speakers should to be placed in the correct location for listeners to most easily identify and track a specific speech stream in a chaotic sound field.
The Science Behind Co-Location
The evolution of human hearing has placed our species in a great position to monitor the world around us without having to actually turn or adjust our heads. Our hearing has adapted to absorb sound waves not just from the sound origination point, but also the reflections of those waves off of other surfaces. Our brain then interprets these waves to aid us in locating the origin and turn our attention to it. We have this skill because without it, our ancestors would likely have fallen prey to whatever predator may have been looming nearby.
While this skill has kept the species safe throughout our collective history, it now serves a whole new purpose in modern communications. In face-to-face interactions we look at the person speaking. Not only is it polite, but by giving our attention to the sight and sound source our ability to focus and retain information drastically improves because our brain isn’t attempting to watch one thing while listening to another.
Technology system designs should be incorporating this same co-location principle to improve the experience and the retention of information by the audience. Doing so will ease the processing effect on people’s brains, allowing them to focus more intently on the speaker.
Keeping the listener focused on the point-of-origin by co-locating the sound and the visual improves the retention rate by taxing the listeners less. Ultimately, that is the goal – to have the technology in the space support a better meeting experience and co-location is a base principal to aid in that result.
What About the Aesthetics?
Placing loudspeakers at the point-of-origin can often conflict with an architect or interior designer’s aesthetic preferences. Innovox designs loudspeakers to not only deliver articulate speech and musical detail, but to recede into the visual background. Our speakers are designed to be heard and not seen. In fact, no speaker reproduces both speech and music with greater clarity in such a small and architecturally pleasing form factor. Now you can provide optimal performance without compromising on the aesthetics.