Why you need top-notch microphones for distance learning

'If you have $1,000 for a camera, I say get a $100 camera and spend the other $900 on the microphone and audio equipment'

Ian Wilkinson has a mantra when it comes to sound quality in distance learning: Spend more money on microphones than on your cameras.

The microphones built into many cameras produce lesser quality audio than standalone units, says Wilkinson, the director of technology support services at Texas Tech University’s College of Media & Communication.

“If you have $1,000 for a camera, I say get a $100 camera and spend the other $900 on the microphone and audio equipment,” says Wilkinson, a long-time speaker at UB Tech®. “People can deal with not-great visuals or a low-res image, but if they can’t hear it, no matter how good it looks, people are going to be irritated and they’re going to turn it off.”

At Kansas State University’s Olathe campus, the only time students complain about distance learning is when there have been audio problems, says IT Manager Nate Scherman.

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At both Olathe and Kansas State’s main Manhattan campus, several rooms are equipped with ceiling mics. While presenters don’t have to worry about attaching lapel mics or using other devices, IT and AV techs must ensure the ceiling mics cover the rooms adequately, Scherman says.

K-State presenters have also had success with built-in camera mics made by Polycom. These cameras track speakers automatically and integrate well with videoconferencing platforms such as Skype, Zoom and Microsoft teams.

This tracking gives distance learners a good view of the face of the presenter, rather than a static, wide-shot of a classroom full of students, Scherman says, which complements the audio for students.

Read the other stories in our “Sound Quality in Distance Learning” series:

  1. 5 steps for making online learning sound great
  2. Instructors must realize it’s a performance.
  3. So, train those presenters!
  4. IT and AV leaders should stay in touch with instructors.
  5. Instructors must learn to multitask.


Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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