In the last couple of weeks Katie and I have been testing some options for capturing better quality visitor conversation for the camera system using external mics.

As Katie mentioned last month, each camera’s built-in microphones are proving to be a little unfruitful in capturing good quality audio for the eventual voice recognition system in “hot-spot” areas such as the touch tanks and front desk. As a result, we purchased some pre-amplified omni-directional microphones and set about testing their placement and audio quality in these areas. This has been no easy process, as the temporary wiring we put in place to hook the mics to the cameras is  not as aesthetically pleasing in a public setting as one might hope, and we discovered that the fake touch tank rocks are duct-tape’s arch enemy. Plus the mics have been put through their paces through various visitor kicks, bumps and water splashes.

As well as the issue of keeping the mics in place, testing has also meant a steep learning curve about mic level adjustment. When we initially wired them up, I adjusted each mic (via a mixer) one by one to reduce “crackly” noises and distortion during loud conversations. However, I later realized the adjustment overlooked necessary camera audio setup changes, and gain adjustments, affecting just how close a visitor has to get to one of the mics to actually hear them, particularly over the constant noise of running water around tanks.

So today I am embarking on a technical adventure. Wearing wireless headphones and brandishing a flathead screwdriver, I am going to reset all the relevant cameras’ audio settings to a zero gain, adjust the mic levels for mic balance (there are multiple mics per camera) rather than crackly noises, and adjust the gain until the sample audio I pull from the camera system comes out cleaner. I’m not expecting to output audio with the clarity of a seastar squeak, but I will attempt to get output that allows us to capture focal areas of clear conversation, even with the quietest of visitors. Avast me hearties, I be a sound buccaneer!

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