Shure Stem Ecosystem
With hybrid work and education looking set to be part of the ‘new normal’, a conferencing system to complement the work process is required, writes Chris Downer.
To continue providing quality education at Beaconhills College throughout the past two years, we have relied heavily on the now ubiquitous Zoom web conferencing software. Our community was motivated to adopt new technologies throughout the lockdowns to continue providing a service to others and to continue progressing the organisation.
As staff and students returned to their classrooms, not all students were fortunate enough to be physically present with their cohort, so a blended approach of teacher and students at one end, and many students connected from their homes was standard.
The same blended conferencing requirements now apply at the commencement of 2022 for our general staff. Some staff may be on-campus and can gather, whilst others are only available at our other campus, or they are having to work from home. We focus our IT delivery on exceeding user expectations, so to compliment web conferencing software, we need to consider quality hardware solutions like the Shure Stem Ecosystem to support a quality user experience.
Pre-pandemic, conferencing meeting room systems were available to our staff however their reliance on these systems and skillsets were much lower than they are today. The expectation today is that any conference will be seamless and of high quality. It must be easy to use, look good and sound great to derive value from the service. We understand from our research in learning spaces the importance of quality acoustics to assist learning and communication. User demand for quality conferencing is increasing and our investment into supporting this must be reflected.
The Shure Stem Ecosystem platform provides a cost-effective solution for users to customise their rooms and ultimately improve user experiences.
About the product
The Stem Ecosystem is a contemporary solution that allows you to mix and match various products within the range to satisfy conferencing audio requirements. The Ecosystem consists of these devices:
- Stem Table: A tabletop option equipped with nine microphones that perform real beamforming and an inbuilt downward-facing speaker for great audio playback.
- Stem Wall: A wall mounted option equipped with 15 microphones that perform beamforming, plus full-range speakers and subwoofers
- Stem Ceiling: A 100 microphone ceiling array option that comes with two mounting options (low profile or chandelier mode) and three-beam options to improve room coverage.
- Stem Speaker: A PoE+ powered external speaker option with three mounting options and a powerful driver to enhance sound.
- Stem Hub: This ‘brains of the operation’ device allows for more than one Stem device to communicate and function as one Ecosystem within any space with network connectivity.
- Stem Control: This Ethernet connected touch controller option will assist the user experience by providing control of the Stem Ecosystem and in-meeting controls.
The devices tested were the Stem Table, Hub & Control devices.
Set up and testing
The first step in testing was to simply connect all three units to our network and, considering it is a PoE+ (provides power to each device), DHCP server and on the same VLAN, all units fired up immediately – an easy start!
The Stem table unit provides a USB output so I connected this to my laptop as I would for any web conferencing periphery device. My laptop immediately recognised the speaker and microphone option and the quality of the speakerphone for both microphone and speaker was excellent. The audio quality was noticeably better than our existing conferencing devices and I would expect this would improve the human connection during conversations.
To my surprise, a blue LED light was lighting up in a ring in the direction I was speaking. What a fun and functional feature! By talking on the other side of the Stem table unit, the LED light followed me as expected. This feature is an excellent way to discreetly communicate to users that they are being heard and to others in the session that they are not currently the focus of attention. This may even encourage better meeting protocols and decorum as users may be less inclined to “steal the lime light” … or the blue light in this instance.
The Stem table has nine available microphones and the proprietary beamforming technology locates a legitimate voice source and steers an array towards it while simultaneously cancelling out all other noise. The playback is excellent given the downward-facing speaker design and any end user adjustments for volume or muting during a call are made easy using the buttons on the top of the unit. When muted, the user again receives LED visual confirmation with a slow red pulse and these appealing LED indicators can be turned off if desired.
Users will certainly benefit from this standalone Stem table device to vastly improve their microphone capture and speaker capabilities however it may be excessive for a one-participant scenario given the 360° functionally from the nine beamforming microphones. A Kensington lock is also provided to stop the device from growing legs and wandering off…
The Stem Hub is required when multiple devices, such as an additional Stem Table unit for our larger boardroom table, are required. A multi-device setup using the hub opens up possibilities like adding a Stem wall mount unit, ceiling mics or even the POE+ speaker (max output is 102 dB SPL @ 1 meter).
The hub enables communication with up to ten Stem devices in one room to function as one Ecosystem – without the need for programming! This may assist in-house IT teams to deliver custom solutions without the need to engage with third-party AV integrators. The Stem Ecosystem provides flexibility not only in the component design, but also in the service delivery. The hub can be wall or table mounted and is required if administrators want to connect to a Dante network.
Being a contemporary solution, there is no analogue input and instead focuses on USB connection to a PC or a single Dante channel in and out. Note that USB functionality and Dante are not intended for use simultaneously, it’s one or the other. The Stem Hub will integrate with existing speaker systems via the on-board terminal blocks for audio output.
To date I have not experienced a touch controller purposed for conferencing other than our traditional AMX / Crestron style AV system controllers. Instead, we have always relied on the user laptop to perform the duties of driving a conference. The Stem control provides a few important roles in a multi-device Stem Ecosystem:
- Video conferencing integration. Stem Control is an easy to use 10” LED touchscreen for end users to operate without relying on their own laptop; instead they would use a dedicated NUC (small PC) in the space. The controller can be mounted upright or can lay down and the current native integrations with web conferencing providers include Zoom, Ring Central, TrueConf and Lifesize. Other platforms appear planned for future integrations. Sorry to the Microsoft Teams users, at least at this stage… Other Stem devices can still be used for Microsoft Teams as a USB peripheral (via Stem Hub or any standalone setup) on a computer.
- SIP dialling. A SIP-enabled dial pad integrates with major video conferencing applications allowing audio or video calls directly from the controller.
- Options include the ability to test microphones, create and calibrate rooms and join rooms together. Other configuration features include:
RoomDesign – helps you design the audio devices required in your space with visibility of the expected coverage prior to purchasing.
RoomAdapt – Triggers the Stem devices to listen in and adjust device settings based on the acoustics of the space to optimise voice pickup.
RoomCheck – This feature will listen to voices, noise and measure the reverberation within the space to produce a heat map highlighting the expected audio quality.
Remote Management – Administrators will enjoy the control and visibility on their network using statistics on usage and performance and easily updating devices. This is important given that if things change at say Zoom’s end, we don’t want things to stop working in all of our meeting rooms! Lock and unlock features will restrict end user access to back-end controls.
The Stem Control is a great surface tool to assist with configuration and management of the Ecosystem however almost all functions that can be done from the Stem Control touch screen panel can also be done via a HTML web browser or via the Stem Control iOS or Android app.
All Stem Ecosystem audio traffic uses AES-128 encryption.
Online meetings are now a daily activity for most of us. To satisfy users and provide an outstanding experience, shifting beyond basic cameras, microphones and speakers used with web conferencing software is required. The Shure Stem Ecosystem ticks all the boxes for a quality audio experience and easy deployment.