The loudspeaker has been around for over a century, but it wasn't until the 1970s that someone thought to install one in a ceiling. Who gets credit for that depends on whose corporate histories you read — but the idea caught on as high-end conference rooms became both aesthetic and technological showplaces for corporations and companies as well as their meeting spaces. Today, a mounted ceiling loudspeaker has secured a place for itself in the office loudspeaker system and in meeting-room design, serving to keep spaces uncluttered and helping distribute sound evenly without being obtrusive.
They are ceiling-mounted and pendant — or hanging — loudspeakers. Early versions were basically generic loudspeakers that required tile holes cut specifically for them. Today, they often come as a complete package, with the loudspeaker integrated into a standard ceiling-tile-sized unit and ready for installation.
The most advanced are more than simply a loudspeaker: they're complete systems, including digital signal processing (DSP) for directional, volume, and other control aspects of the sound, and an integrated amplifier. Their purpose is to evenly distribute sound throughout a space, whether it's a meeting space such as a conference room or boardroom, or across larger areas and used as part of a public-address system for announcements, paging, or background music. For this discussion, we'll focus on meeting-space applications for ceiling loudspeakers.
Depending upon the size of the meeting space, the power of a voice alone might not be enough to reach every seat in the room. Similarly, loudspeakers that are part of a presentation system and placed at the front of a meeting space may also be less than optimal, as the volume necessary to reach the farthest participant may be increasingly loud for those closest to the front of the room.
In-ceiling loudspeakers address this by being able to more evenly distribute sound throughout a space from above. That positioning also means there are usually no acoustical obstacles that impede the propagation of the sound. For example, high-backed chairs — and the people sitting in them — can absorb or deflect a surprising amount of sonic energy in a room. For meeting rooms accommodating a dozen or more participants, ceiling-mounted loudspeakers are an ideal solution. In addition, they're useful when there are aesthetic considerations, thanks to their low-profile form factor and their locations away from the usual lines of sight for typical meeting spaces.
There are a lot of choices in this category today, ranging from basic, passive loudspeakers to entire ceiling-speaker systems that have integrated DSP and power, such as the aptly named Bose Professional ES1 Ceiling Audio Solution. It encompasses several key components: Bose Professional's ControlSpace conferencing signal processor, the PowerSpace amplifier, and the EdgeMax EM180 in-ceiling loudspeaker itself. In addition to managing the signal routing and tonality of the ceiling loudspeakers, its DSP includes critical features such as acoustic echo cancellation (AEC) technology, which automatically prevents conference-call audio from being regenerated by table microphones and played back through the speakers. DSP can also be used to determine the boundaries of audio coverage in a room. This is useful for keeping sound energy away from reflective surfaces such as walls and windows that can diminish speech intelligibility. Other key considerations include:
- Choosing loudspeakers with closed backsides, which will prevent dust and moisture from getting into the speaker assembly and diminishing performance.
- The loudspeaker's dispersion pattern on some will allow sound to disperse 360 degrees from the speaker; others have aimable waveguides that channel sound in preset or selectable slices of a room as measured in degrees. A typical waveguide preset will be 90 or 120 degrees. Dispersion patterns are important for keeping sonic energy away from reflective surfaces and on meeting participants.
In the ceiling, of course. But humor aside, there are basic metrics for ceiling loudspeaker placement including room length and width, ceiling height, and listener height — and formulas exist for this. It's also good to know that multiple loudspeakers increase coverage without requiring greater loudspeaker loudness. There are various configurations that will provide such coverage, and the installer/integrator will be able to determine which is best for each space.
While your meeting rooms may require in-ceiling audio solutions like the ES1 or DS4 solutions, other areas in your building may also require ceiling-mounted speakers. Specifically, your corporate lobby, open workspaces, and hallways. Be sure to keep in mind how you plan to use them. Are they being used for background music or announcements or both?
The key thing to understand is that ceiling-mounted loudspeakers are intended to be part of a distributed sound system, which as the term implies means speakers are distributed around a space, bringing them closer to listeners and thus lowering the overall volume (and power) levels each one needs. This speaker-placement design is in contrast to having the speaker at one end of a room, which is known as a point-source design. In rooms with high or open ceilings, another type of over-the-head speaker should be considered. With these, they are suspended from the ceiling to a height closer to approximating a more typical ceiling height.
In-ceiling loudspeakers improve meeting experiences simply by making their sound better. When people can hear clearly and easily, ideas can percolate and communication is amplified. In addition, the technology behind ceiling speakers has evolved substantially, further enhancing collaboration. For instance, Bose Professional's ES1 Ceiling Audio Solution is certified for Microsoft Teams, making it a fully integrated meeting room solution for unified communication experiences. They also help ensure a clean look for meeting spaces. So, a few good moves above can keep your meetings a few steps ahead.