With the advent of smartphones and ever-increasing options for videoconferencing, our expectations for audio and video are decreasing. Pixelated video streams and echoey audio have become de riguer. The cost entry points for many of these services, if not outright free, are so low that anyone can afford to use them.
The lines between B2C and B2B expectations are beginning to blur too, as BYOD becomes more prevalent in the workplace and many consumer-centric streaming services seek to penetrate new business markets. Even without taking any of those market conditions into consideration, audio will always be constrained by the output capabilities of the speakers they drive and the acoustic conditions of the environment. Do you need to create products with a dynamic range of 105dB if a typical speaker only has a sensitivity of 90dB? Or, if the audio source itself is limited to a range of 96dB, how much headroom is adequate? Is the room acoustically reflective enough (and not properly tuned) that the end user increases the volume to the point of overdriving the speakers hoping to hear the announcement more clearly?
It’s difficult for a manufacturer like Biamp, whose products can be interconnected with a multitude of endpoints, to determine what the product capabilities can, or should be. Even being an end-to-end solutions provider does not guarantee that other manufacturer’s equipment will not be part of the overall system. Many integrators will continually specify products or vendors that they have a track record of success with, so one vendor’s ceiling microphone may be unexpectedly swapped out for a different vendor’s product. Audio manufacturers (and their equipment) need to accommodate those types of changes if they want to continue being viable in the marketplace.
Budget: The Elephant in the Room
There’s a “good enough” tipping point to almost everything in life, and it’s often dictated by cost. Will an office chair that costs $200 be “good enough”? Sure. You may not be very comfortable, and after years you will almost certainly develop back problems, but it will meet your basic needs. Would a $500 chair be “better”? Probably – the quality of the chair is most likely higher, will last longer, and the user won’t suffer as much from fatigue and sore muscles. “But you can get 2.5 chairs of ‘good enough’ for the same cost,” you might say. True, but you’re not considering total cost of ownership (TCO), because you’re trading short-term financial gain for higher health expenses in the long run. How many chiropractic visits will eat up the $300 difference in chair costs? Two, three?
Audio can be given similar consideration. Can you have a conference call on a smartphone? Yes. Would you want to do it on a regular basis? Probably not.
When a decision maker is presented with several solutions to a technology problem, it’s doubtful they will choose the most expensive option due to our innate “good enough” threshold, meaning “how can we get just what we need while spending the least amount of money?” The threshold changes depending on what we’re considering (office chairs vs. which brand of bread to buy), but it’s still there. Often people not intimately involved in the selection process (or supporting the product after it’s installed) will put too much emphasis on the upfront cost because 1) it’s an easy measuring stick and 2) it’s hard to quantify on-going support costs. Products break, room acoustics change, microphones aren’t installed in the correct locations, etc. The decision maker just cares that it works well, and reliably, whenever they use the system. But if they sit in that “good enough” chair fairly often, they’ll hopefully come to realize that business decisions shouldn’t always be dictated by budget alone.
The Biamp Difference
We’re not immune to the fact that, for now, the bar for acceptable audio is lowering. Having been in business for over 35 years gives us significant perspective on the ebb and flow of market conditions, though.
Every product we sell comes with the full backing of a five-year warranty and a small army of highly experienced applications engineers because we want every installation to be successful. That’s what we think it takes to be “good enough”. What’s your “good enough” threshold?