21 min read

"Streaming with Sound" with AV Now's Ken Lyon

Nov 3, 2021 3:22:10 PM

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It's often said, because it's true, that, while people might tolerate less-than-optimal video quality when the content is engaging enough, they'll quickly click away if the sound isn't clear. Sound quality became a lot more important, and a lot more complicated for independent fitness pros when the whole world started live-streaming. Now, not only do you need to ensure that your participants hear you clearly, you need to hear them, too. And if you use music, streaming the sound so that you and the music can be heard, and that it all syncs up, can get a lot more complicated if you aren't sure what to do or where to turn.

Well, fortunately for all of use, we found the man with all the answers. He's Ken Lyon, Director of Commercial Integration & Technology at AV Now, and we got him to sit down and talk us through some simple solutions to what seemed very daunting, but in talking with him found how it can be very doable.

Episode Transcript:

Ken Lyon (01:19):
My name is Ken Lyon and I am in California.

James Brown (01:23):
Welcome to the podcast, Ken. Thank you so much for being here today. Tell us about AV Now and what you do there.

Ken Lyon (01:31):
So, uh, AV Now is a company that's been around since 1994. Um, it actually started with our owner, Rob. He was a, he owned a mobile DJ company, uh, but his wife was a group exercise instructor and she was always having issues with microphones and sound. And he's like, okay, I have a solution for that. And started a company that focused on improving the sound experience for group exercise instructors and, you know, ended up selling the mobile DJ business. And here we still are. And I've been with the company for 15 years now. And, um, so for the most part, our focus is definitely on, you know, uh, group exercise facilities, wireless microphones, all the accessories, that group fitness instructors need. Um, but we've also moved to, you know, full-scale AV and lighting integrations for fitness facilities. And we're really focused on finding things that work for fitness instructors and facilities.

James Brown (02:33):
So everything about the world of presenting content online has been changing at a breakneck speed since the beginning of the pandemic. And you've really been there at the heart of those changes. Where do you find that people who present online need the most education and help?

Ken Lyon (02:48):
Well, yeah, I mean, we obviously had to pivot pretty quickly, uh, to helping people figure out how to do that. Um, and we did a lot of research and learning real quick at the beginning of the pandemic. And so it's been mostly about how they can, you know, push the content out there at similar quality that people are used to, um, you know, in person and, uh, obviously, you know, group fitness instructors need, you know, good picture, good sound, um, and good lighting. Um, but the biggest thing that's, uh, sort of been a holdup for people to get that same kind of experience is, is the sound quality. Uh, because I feel like, uh, people on the other end, the receiving end of these classes, they can, you know, as long as they can see the instructor, generally they, you know, they get what's going on, but when the sound is inferior or glitching or things like that, that really disrupts what's going on a lot more than, you know, the lighting's not great or they don't have the best camera. Um, the sound quality really disrupts things if it's not.

James Brown (04:05):
Yeah, it's funny what I remember when I first started presenting content online that, um, somebody advised me that people might tolerate lower quality video, but if the sound is fuzzy or inaudible or doesn't sound good or is noisy, they'll just move away and not engage with that content. So yeah, when it comes to audio, if you had one thing that you want any online presenter to know about, what is it

Ken Lyon (04:33):
Probably the biggest thing is that if your content includes music of any kind that you don't want to be playing music off the same computer or device that's doing the streaming or recording, which, you know, it sounds simple, but that's been the biggest topic that we've had to tackle. Um, so for instance, a lot of people are using zoom, um, which is a conferencing software. It's not really made for high quality AV broadcasts, but, you know, it's there, it's available. It's very, very popular and it does have a feature in it where you can directly be playing music, say from Spotify on that computer and you can share sound, uh, they've called it a few different things, but in our experience, and we've done a whole lot of setups like this, a whole lot of text for it. Um, when you're playing music back off the same computer, that's running that zoom software or whatever, uh, you know, recording or streaming software, the audio quality really, really suffers.

Ken Lyon (05:40):
And that's the biggest thing. Uh, that's gonna help people if they're using music is to take, uh, take the music playback out of the computer and I can go into details on, on how that's done. Um, but you know, a lot of people just, you know, that's, that's simple. And if you read the instructions for zoom and says to do that well, it doesn't work great. Um, if you're trying to do voice over music and have it all be high quality on the other end, um, in a lot of research and development, we've found that the best way to do that is to mix the voice and music outside of the computer. Um, and we usually do that with a little USB mixer. So it's, uh, you know, regular audio mixer where you can plug in a microphone and plug in your music player, whether that's an, you know, on an iPad or a phone or something else running Spotify or playing back prerecorded tracks and actually mix the voice in the music on that mixer, and then connect that mixer, be a USB into the computer, and we've tried 150 different ways to do it.

And we found that that's the best way to get really clean voice and music when you're broadcasting or recording or streaming.

James Brown (07:03):
Okay. So let's take into that a little bit more deeply. If a presenter that you're working with has the ideal setup. Uh, you said that they have a mixer. Can you tell us what is going to feed into that mixer and what feeds out of the mixer? What else is it that they need?

Ken Lyon (07:20):
Yeah, so, uh, ideally they would use a wireless microphone system, um, just like the wireless microphone systems that are used in group fitness studios, um, every day. So typically a microphone that you wear on your head, um, that goes right in front of your face. And then, um, so if you've got a wireless mic system, then you're picking up the voice, you know, really cleanly, right. Uh, right at the mouth. And then you, you connect the wireless mic system into that mixer. Um, so there's the voice component. Um, and then you would be playing music back again off of a different music player than the computer. Um, a lot of people can just do that with their phone tablet and old iPod. It doesn't matter where it's coming from as long as it's not the computer itself. Um, and then you plugged that into the mixer.

Um, and then from there, you, you know, we've found a number of setups where, um, that's all there is to it. And then you just have the USB cable going from the mixer into the computer. Um, that way you have knobs that control the voice level and the music level. Um, and to take it one step further, a lot of folks then, uh, take a feed out of that mixer with a cable, to, um, a little speaker or a sound system so that they can be hearing music back in the room, um, or on headphones. But that's a little tricky when you're trying to, uh, teach a fitness class. So, um, that's, you know, and, and the mixers that talking about are not super expensive or super fancy, they're almost all of them are, you know, under 200 bucks, something like that. Um, and it makes a huge difference and, you know, a lot of group exercise instructors already own a wireless mic system.

So they just plug that right in. Um, if not, you know, we have different kits that we put together where you get a microphone system and a mixer and all the cables you need. Um, and then if you need a little speaker, we have a kit that has that too, but most people have, you know, some kind of little, uh, speaker system just so that they can hear the music being played back. Um, but the, the big thing is that then you're getting the voice and the music in time with each other. Um, and then that mixture is what's going into their stream or recording. And, you know, that's huge because a lot of people, um, have AirPods or, uh, Bluetooth microphones. And those are really, really problematic when we're doing this kind of work. Um, they're typically, you know, they're designed for phone call level quality, so they're not going to be really clean and clear sounding.

There's also a lot of hiccups delays, glitches that happen when you involve Bluetooth. So I typically even go so far as to tell people that when you're recording or streaming to actually turn off Bluetooth, not only on the computer itself, but on any devices around, because there's a lot of interference issues that can happen. Um, but the big thing that we find is, you know, when people are using AirPods and then they're sharing music, uh, in the computer, that things tend to not sync up, which is really confusing when you're, uh, you know, taking the class and the beat is way off from what the instructor is doing, or it speeds up and slows down. All of that, um, can be avoided by not using Bluetooth and again, not playing music back off of the computer, that's running the software to stream or record.

James Brown (10:59):
Okay. That was a lot to unpack of really useful information. So I just want to play it back for you and make sure I'm getting it right. When you say the computer, you're talking about the thing that you control the zoom conversation on, and then whatever it is that we're playing the music on that needs to be a separate device. And it could be a different computer, but it needs to be a separate device. And then the microphone receiver and that whatever device it is, that's playing music, those two plug into your mixer. Correct? And then that mixers output goes to your computer. Right. Okay. So I have a question about using a speaker because a lot of the independent fitness pros that we work with a live stream with music, but they're also presenting to live participants that are in the room with them. And so they use a speaker in the room or one or more speakers. And so how do they use a speaker in the room without that sound going through the microphone and causing echo or feedback or some disturbance like that? 

Ken Lyon (12:04):
There's a couple of ways, um, you know, to start the feedback, you know, is typically the sound of a microphone picking its own sound up through speakers, right? So it makes a loop and it starts squealing or wishing. Um, so, you know, always in, in live sound or a recorded sound, if you've got a live speaker, you want to position the microphone out of the direct path of the speakers, if the microphone is being fed to it. Um, so that's the biggest thing is to get the microphone out of the way of the speaker. And then there's less chance. And, you know, you picture, you go to a concert, the speakers that you're listening to as an audience member are out in front of the stage. So they're not pointed at the microphones on the stage and the reason is to avoid feedback. So that's one thing.

The other thing is the USB mixers that we've sourced and chosen for these kinds of projects have a way to control, um, voice going into the speaker, separate from voice going into the zoom or recording. And then they, you know, so basically you're talking about four knobs music in the room, music to zoom voice in the room, voice to zoom. And if you've got that, then you can just send way less of the microphone, the voice into those speakers. And that's a huge way to avoid feedback is to just send mostly the music to those speakers just for queuing. And so you can feel the beat and know where you are, uh, but you don't have to send a lot of the microphone into the, into the speaker in the room unless you've got a full class of participants. And if you do then, then again, most, um, installed, you know, group exercise, sound systems, hopefully have the speakers pointed at the participants and not pointed out where the presenters standing, which, you know, that's a whole other can of worms, but just, I gotta put it out there cause it comes up almost every day.

Uh, in, in our line of work is, do not put the speakers in the four corners of the room. Um, if you have a group exercise studio and really try not to have speakers on that back wall pointed at the instructor, cause that's all just, uh, not helping.

James Brown (14:25):
So if an instructor has the speakers at the front of what we'll call the stage and the speakers are pointing out into the participant area, then that will prevent feedback. But then if the participant or if the instructor was to walk into the participant area, uh, with their microphone, that might start causing feedback.

Ken Lyon (14:45):
Yeah. It depends on how loud the speakers are turned up and how sensitive the microphone is. There's a lot of factors there. Um, but yeah, ideally walking out in front of the speakers with a live microphone, um, you know, that's when you get that hot mic feedback. And so the quick way to avoid that is don't go there.

James Brown (15:05):
Okay. So now I've got this nightmare scenario in my head and I just want to check with you on it. So if you are, um, presenting something online and live at the same time and you do something that causes ear splitting feedback, is there any way that your participants at home might hear that, but you don't hear it, you don't know what's happening,

Ken Lyon (15:24):
You would hear it. Uh, you would hear it in the room. Yeah. There, there would be no way to have that kind of squealing feedback, um, remotely without having it in person because yeah. Okay. Yeah, because I mean really? Yeah. Cause it's happening. It's happening through the air in the room, the, the speaker sound is going into the microphone, which is going into the speakers back out into the microphone, into the speakers and it makes a loop really fast. So, um, that won't happen if, uh, you know, they won't happen for remote participants.

James Brown (16:00):
Let's dig into what the investment might be for somebody that has the camera and the lights. And they've got something to plug into and to, to, um, do their zoom, to control their zoom call from, but that they really just need the, the mixer and the headset Mike, um, and the cables of course, that, that go with that. What's that going to run them in terms of an investment sort of high end and low end for that?

Ken Lyon (17:06):
Yeah. Uh, so, you know, we have some USB mixer kits that we came up with, obviously just for this reason. Um, so, so if you ha, if you say you already had a wireless mic system and you already had a little speaker, you could just get the, the USB mixer kit with a bundle of different cables that kind of cover all the basis, um, for like 180 bucks, something like that. Um, oh, and then the wireless mic system say you needed a wireless mic system. I would say the general range, uh, for Mike systems that we've sort of signed off on as being fitness proof, um, would be somewhere between 250. And, you know, you can get really good stuff for between two 50 and three 50. Uh, if you want to get really fancy, they can get up into the six, $700 range. But, um, you know, what we have found is if, if it's, especially if it's just a single instructor using it, um, those three to $350 range wireless mic systems work great.

Um, and we rate them on a, on a sort of sweat rating, uh, because obviously we've been dealing with group a group exercise studios for so long. We kind of know about how much sweat and wear and tear. So say you had like 20 instructors using it. You know, you might need a little bit more robust mic system. Um, but the general, you know, 250 to $400 range will get you a really nice wireless mic system. That'll put up with what you're doing to it. Um, and again, uh, a USB mixer. And then, um, if you don't already have a little speaker, we've got some, you know, for a hundred bucks, it can go all the way up to a really big speaker if you're trying to use it for, you know, pumping music for a group. Um, but I, I think those are safe numbers to use in 2021. So I know this might be out there for quite a while.

James Brown (19:09):
Okay. So let's look at a slightly different scenario if you're, if you're going really low budget and you, you, you go online and you find the cheapest microphone headset that you can find and, and a cheap mixer. What are some of the drawbacks that, that you might find? What are the things that you've found in devices that aren't vetted by a company like you for quality in this application?

Ken Lyon (19:34):
Well, with the wireless mic systems, um, we quite often have people just, you know, typing in wireless mic system on Google or, and, you know, buying the cheapest one. Um, the biggest thing is that they just break really fast. Uh, they tend to have pretty low build quality. Um, and a lot of them, you know, don't have, um, clear signal in an area and I can just, I'm just barely touch on this cause it's a huge topic, but, um, you know, wireless mic systems broadcast and, um, digital TV stations broadcast in that same range a lot of the time. And so what we do, if somebody orders a wireless mic system from us is we do a scan on the area that they're going to be using it in and make sure that that frequency is clear. They're clear of interference from outside sources.

Um, so if you just, you know, buy a wireless mic system randomly off the internet, uh, you may not be dealing with a company that does that sort of service, um, and you might get something and then it turns out as soon as you turn it on, it's just static, um, because it's picking up interference. So we go out of our way to make sure that doesn't happen to our people. Um, so that's a, that's a big thing as far as the wireless mic systems go is, um, you know, durability, um, just build quality. I mean, frankly, sound quality too. Um, not to say that you can't get a, an inexpensive wireless mic system. That sounds good. You can. Um, but you know, there's a certain level of quality that we kind of try to keep our selection within. Um, as far as, uh, low budget mixers, um, the ones we're carrying are, you know, on the affordable side, definitely have, uh, mixers that can plug into a computer.

Um, but the biggest thing that we're seeing, um, you know, when people come to us for support after, you know, being sort of disappointed in the stuff they've bought elsewhere is that, uh, the USB mixers that they have, don't give them that separate control of, um, what, what level goes to the stream versus what level goes to their speaker in the room, um, because there's hundreds and hundreds of USB mixers out there in that price range. Um, very few have that feature. And again, we sort of did that research and figured out that that feature is actually really important. So we only offer ones that can do that.

James Brown (22:09):
Okay. So, so a little bit more on, on that scanning for interference. Um, I am recalling that I used to have a lavalier mic, uh, that was wireless made by Sennheiser and, and it could scan for interference and then it would find the channel that would work the best in that area. Um, is there, are there wireless mics that do this, or does it depend on your budget?

Ken Lyon (22:34):
Uh, yeah, it depends a lot on the budget. Uh, but I will say even, even mic systems that have that scan feature, um, typically are available in different frequency groups, like different bandwidth, right? So if you get one that has that scanning feature, but all of the channels that it can, uh, work on are all interfered with in your area. The scan feature is not going to help because it'll just scan for whatever one has the lowest interference, but that doesn't mean it's totally clear. So that's why when we're, before we ship out a wireless mic system, we make sure that, um, that the bandwidth of the system that we're sending out has at least some clear channels in the area we're shipping it to, um, because even the highest end wireless mic systems, that's still something that you have to account for and, um, make sure that there's some clear channel in that area.

James Brown (23:39):
Wow. That's really interesting that you can, that you can, uh, scan from, from AV Now to know, uh, which mics will work in a particular area,

Ken Lyon (23:48):
You know, there's tools that we use for doing that. And they're all based around, I mean, as far as in the US the FCC has a pretty rigid database and they know exactly who's broadcasting where, and at what strength, so we can use that information, uh, to make sure that it's clear. Um, and yeah, it's a, it's a lot of information, but once, once we find out where you are, we can figure out exactly which channels are going to work best there.

James Brown (24:19):
Well, that's a really valuable service that you provide. You'd hate to spend money on, on a microphone headset and then get it and find out that you can't use it in your location because of interference. So let's talk a little bit more about something we touched on earlier, which is Bluetooth microphones and headsets. And, um, you've mentioned that, that this is not recommended that you recommend wireless. Can you talk about what the difference between Bluetooth and wireless is? Because a lot of people seem to be confused about that. And why is it that you recommend wireless over Bluetooth?

Ken Lyon (24:51):
Yeah. Uh, that's a big one. Uh, obviously Bluetooth has kind of come into the, you know, vernacular as that means wireless well, there's different types of wireless. So Bluetooth is, uh, the best way to put it. Bluetooth is a, is a one-to-one handshake connection, right? So if you have air pods, air pods are connected to the phone, and it's a two way communication system, um, designed for really short range, um, physically, you know, distance wise, but also a pretty limited audio quality bandwidth when you're talking about the microphone part of it. Um, the wireless mic systems that are used, um, not only for group exercise, but for, you know, uh, performances, concerts, you know, TV broadcast, things like that. That's a UHF broadcast typically, or, but it's, um, it's designed specifically for, you know, maximum audio, bandwidth, quality and distance. Um, so what, what it is is it's, it's, it's more stable than Bluetooth. Um, it has higher audio quality than Bluetooth, almost all of the time. Um, and it doesn't have interference issues the way Bluetooth does with wifi typically. Um, and a lot of those, a lot of the audio glitching, crunchy sounding and stretching sounds that, that you get on Bluetooth just don't happen with a UHF wireless mic system. So the biggest thing is, you know, when you're hearing those kinds of horrible noises are cutting in and out, um, on Bluetooth, you're, you're avoiding that by not using Bluetooth and using this, uh, standard wireless mic system.

James Brown (26:41):
And as well, there's a delay with Bluetooth a lot of times, isn't there?

Ken Lyon (26:46):
There certainly can be. Yeah. And, and, you know, so again, this comes back to not using, um, the, you know, the computer that's running zoom for doing the music playback is you run into timing issues and sync issues a lot. Um, but you're also taxing the, the computer's resources when you're using Bluetooth and just taking, taking all of that out of the computer and just having it happen on a, on a mixer makes it so that the computer that's trying to, I mean, if you're trying to run zoom, you're doing video, you're doing sound, you're doing an internet connection. There's a lot that has to happen. So I'm not asking your computer to also do a bunch of other stuff at the same time, typically helps a lot.

James Brown (27:32):
Ah, that's so interesting. So, um, earlier you said to turn off Bluetooth, uh, for devices in the area, does this mean all devices that have Bluetooth, even the ones that you're not using, or just the ones that you're actually using, um, for that session?

Ken Lyon (27:48):
Um, I mean the main thing is to turn it off on devices that you're actually using so that they're not trying to search for a connection or make a connection while you're trying to work on something else. Now, there, there are situations where, uh, you know, a lot of people don't experience this cause they don't have a lot of, you know, uh, sound systems around with cables. But if you put a cell phone really close to a speaker cable, you can kind of, you can get noise just from that. Right? So there's, there's, uh, in interference that can come off of devices that are the wifi or Bluetooth. So if it's me, and it's a critical, you know, point of the day where you're trying to do a recording or a broadcast, I'm all for turn off everything that you're not going to be using, uh, so that you don't even have to worry about it. And there's no chance of interference, you know, just for, for example, recording this, I made sure to turn off my cell phone and, uh, turn off any other devices that might, uh, you know, try to download a software update. And, you know, if, if you're using an internet connection to live stream, um, and your iPad decides to download a new iOS update, that's going to be a problem just, just from your network bandwidth standpoint. So, um, again, you don't have to turn, uh, things off if you're not using them, but why not?

James Brown (29:13):
Yeah. That's a good point. They might start taking up some of your, your bandwidth or start looking for a friend to connect with. Yeah. What can you have answered? So many of the questions here today that, that our fitness professionals have had, uh, for, uh, since, since they started streaming online, can you recommend beyond this podcast where a fitness pro might go for other resources or information or help with this?

Ken Lyon (29:38):
Uh, yeah. Uh, our, our website AAV now com um, you know, w we now have a pretty huge section of that website. That's sort of dedicated to this virtual instruction streaming solutions. Um, our blog has a lot of articles that kind of go over a lot of the stuff that I've been talking about, uh, like best practices for using zoom specifically, like what to click and the menus there, make sure that you've got original sound turned on, which we didn't even go into, but if you're using zoom, that's huge. And we do have some guides on how to set that up. Um, so yeah, our website, which has a portals to, you know, not only to, to find equipment, but also, um, just training resources, how to videos, things like that. They're all found there at AVNow.com.

James Brown (30:27):
Yeah. I just want to give a shout out before we go, that AV Now provides support from people like you, um, after the fact, uh, before you purchase something and after you purchase it, and when you, when you go for really low budget things online from, you know, a Google search, you don't usually get that. Yeah. And so in closing, Ken, do you have any, any parting words of wisdom for the independent fitness pros that are listening today?

Ken Lyon:
Yeah. Um, again, I just go back to, if you're, if you've got music involved, don't play it off the computer, that's running your software. Um, if you have questions, just contact us. Uh, we're based out of California, so we're on Pacific time. Um, but we have real people on the phone. We have real people answering emails and we have real people on live chat. So if you've got a question, just ask us, we really don't mind answering.

James Brown:
All right. Well, thank you so much for being here today, Ken, we really, really appreciate it.

Ken Lyon:
Thanks for having me appreciate it.

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