That’s the question we’re facing next: what kind of audio systems we need to collect visitor conversations. The mics included on the AXIS cameras that we’re using are built-in to them and just not sensitive enough. Not entirely surprising, given that they’re normally used for video surveillance only (it’s illegal to record audio in security situations), but it does leave us to our own devices to figure something else out. Again.

Of course, we have the same issues as before: limited external power, location – has to be near enough to plug in to a camera to be incorporated into the system, plus now we need at least some of them to be waterproof, which isn’t a common feature of microphones (the cameras are protected by their domes and general housing). We also have to think about directionality; if we come up with something that’s too sensitive, we may have bleed over across several mics, which our software won’t be able to separate. If they’re not sensitive enough if in enough directions, though, we’ll either need a ton of mics (I mean, like 3-4 per camera) or we’ll have a very limited conversation capture area at each exhibit. And any good museum folk know that people don’t stand in one spot and talk, generally!

So we have a couple options that we’re starting with. One is a really messy cheap mic with a lot of wires exposed, which may present an aesthetic issue at the very least, and the other are more expensive models that may or may not be waterproof and more effective. We’re working with collaborators from The Exploratorium on this, but they’ve generally up to now only used audio recording in areas they tucked back from the noisiest parts of the exhibit floor and soundproofed quite a bit besides. They’re looking to expand as they move to their new building in the spring, however, so hopefully by putting our heads together and, as always, testing things boots on the ground, we’ll have some better ideas soon. Especially since we’ve stumped all the more traditional audio specialists we’ve put this problem to so far.

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