Sennheiser has partnered with TED to build a one-of-a-kind headset microphone for TED Talks. The new headsets debuted alongside the Sennheiser Digital 9000 Wireless Microphone System at TEDMonterey 2021 in August, the first in-person TED conference since 2019.
Sennheiser was first approached by TED in 2018, explained Mina Sabet, director of production and video operations. “We ran into many issues from both an audio and aesthetic perspective.” she said. “The previous microphones were clunky and obtrusive. I wanted to work with Sennheiser to create the perfect microphone for us that is beautiful, modern and sounds great, without taking away from the performance visually – and I wouldn’t take no for an answer because I knew they were the best in the business.” Mina collaborated with the team at Sennheiser, spearheaded by Volker Schmitt, technical application engineering manager for pro audio, to bring her vision to life.
Following various prototypes, the final design took elements from a few of Sennheiser’s top products, melding them together in a “stylishly streamlined” package. The short boom arm and tiny microphone leveraged the transducer from the MKE 1 to give it the same clarity and frequency response found in musical and broadcast applications. The thin neckband allows comfort for long wears, and the silver colour gives it a “modern yet subtle edge”. While the design is unique to TED, it takes inspiration from Sennheiser’s popular headset microphones that can be found all over Broadway productions and broadcast news studios.
“The project with TED was outstanding and refreshing because Mina came in with a clear vision for the microphone,” said Schmitt. “During the development phase, it was fantastic to have a partner so involved in the creative process. Both Sennheiser and TED are all about pushing boundaries and delivering the best possible performance, so there was a lot of synergy in this partnership. We both maintain equally high standards for ourselves, so I am very proud of what we created together.”
While the microphones’ debut was delayed due to the pandemic, they finally graced the TED stage for TEDMonterey 2021 in early August. The four-day conference featured 63 performers and speakers (including Chris Anderson, Head of TED, pictured), with hundreds of attendees joining in-person and remotely. “From a production standpoint, it was extremely smooth,” said Sabet. “The Sennheiser mics sounded crisp, sharp and looked perfect on all of the speakers. A few times, I even thought that the tech teams had forgotten to mic up the presenters because the headsets are so sleek and low-impact!”
TED used the Digital 9000 Wireless System to bring the custom headsets to life throughout the sessions. The system featured 4 channels of wireless, 15 belt packs and was paired to all 50 headsets and 50 handheld microphones used throughout the event. “The Digital 9000 was an advantageous choice for TED thanks to its analog and digital outputs for audio, its Wireless Systems Manager software that enables the AV team to access live performance data, as well as its equidistant channel spacing allowing for easy set-up and frequency coordination without calculations,” said Schmitt.
After a successful first in-person event with TEDMonterey 2021, the organisation will continue the momentum with important flagship conferences in the coming months. The TED calendar for the remainder of the year will feature “The Countdown Summit” on climate change in Edinburgh, Scotland from October 12-15, and “TEDWomen: What Now?” taking place in Palm Springs, California from December 1-3. “Those Sennheiser mics will go with us everywhere,” says Mina.