AV Police Squad

AV MacGyver: Ghost Talkers

When you’re setting up a conference system, it’s ideal to have at least two people: one at the system being commissioned and one at a known, good far end. You can test for echo. You can perform double-talk or good duplex tests. It makes things go quicker.

Inevitably, however, there will come a time when you are setting up a conference system for a big meeting the next day, well after business hours, and there is no one around to help with testing. People have left for the day. They’re not picking up their cell phones. It’s just you and the DSP. Many of us have been in this unfortunate situation. All hope is not lost, however. I submit to you: the Lonesome Standard Talker.

You have heard me talk about “the standard talker.” NTI makes a beautiful TalkBox for this exact reason. It plays back wave files at standard talker levels. This and a tripod would be an easy, albeit bulky, solution. You set the TalkBox up on a tripod at a talker mouth level in any far end. You go back to the room being commissioned and continue to tweak. However, I understand not all of us have access to a TalkBox, nor a tripod, nor the young back we once had that can lug all this test equipment around by our lonesome. I also understand that even if you did, the gods of AV would have caused you to leave it at the shop for some reason when you really needed it. No, my friends, the Lonesome Standard Talker is something you can put together from pieces of kit you probably already have with you.

First, we’ll need an amplified loudspeaker that is able to produce 60dB-SPL at 1m (a standard talker). This could be a small audio tester. It could be Bluetooth loudspeaker you had in your bag. It could be a boombox with an Aux In that the GC left on the floor when she went home.

Second, we will need an SPL meter to confirm this level. I know we are in MacGyver mode, but we need to continue to do our jobs well. Just placing it next to a microphone would be akin to an IT guy crawling on the table and yelling into the microphone. That is below us, as seasoned AV professionals. We need some way to confirm that our lonesome talker is an actual Lonesome Standard Talker.

Lastly, we’ll need some way to set it at a mouth position. This is where the MacGyver-ing comes into play.

If you have gaffer’s tape, you’re all set. Just adhere the loudspeaker to something that weighs roughly the same (another piece of gear or even a shoe) and hang it over a chair so the loudspeaker points in the direction of a mouth and the counterweight keeps it in place.

If you don’t have gaffer’s tape, you can get the same effect with a piece of cable, a belt, or even a sock. I know of one genius engineer who carries around small Bluetooth loudspeakers and a bunch of pantyhose for this exact reason. (Thanks, Jay!) And, if we were really desperate, we could take a piece of chewed-up bubble gum and the wrapper, and stick the wrapper between the alarm contacts…no…sorry…never mind about that. That’s regular MacGyver. I’m talking about AV MacGyver.

The goal of the Lonesome Standard Talker is to float an amplified loudspeaker at a mouth position (most easily accomplished on a chair) while it is producing standard talker levels. Once we have that, we have a standard far end talker that can help us test into the wee hours of the morning.

That thing will continue to talk all night. It just never shuts up!

We can set levels. We can test duplex. Oddly enough, it’s tough to test for echo with this set up unless you are absurdly comfortable with the DSP meters, but, nine times out of 10, if you have good duplex performance you probably also have acceptable echo performance. I would still insist on testing with an actual talker at the far end that can give you subjective feedback, especially before a large client meeting, but this setup can let you continue working the bugs out before that becomes available.

So, the next time you are stuck on a job site all by your lonesome and think that you are dead in the water, I encourage you to think: WWAVMD?

What Would AV MacGyver Do?

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