Science & Tech

From Wok to Talk: Design Ingenuity and the Dolby Conference Phone

“Are you at an airport?”

“Wait — can you hear me now?”

“Sorry, I was on mute.”

If you use conventional video, web, and audio conferencing solutions, you know that poor audio clarity, distracting background noise, and confusion over who’s talking are major issues.

So what would it take to transform the conferencing experience? The Dolby team believed they could improve meetings by creating a breakthrough audio technology that would set a new standard for conferencing sound. They knew it wouldn’t be enough, however, to simply create breakthrough audio technology—they’d need to build a conference phone that could support the technology as well.

And so began a journey of innovation—one that would eventually be inspired by a trip to a traditional wok shop.

Creating the Ideal Conference Phone

The team first had to develop Dolby Voice, a revolutionary audio conferencing system. Then they needed a phone that could deliver all the exceptionally clear audio of Dolby Voice, and they wanted to create one that was seamless, elegant, and easy to use.

And so they got to work on the Dolby Conference Phone.

The team included large volume buttons, an intuitive touchscreen, and an easily visible light ring at the top of the phone that changes color when the phone is put on mute. They also included multiple microphones as well as spatial audio technology, so that remote participants could hear voices in distinct locations making the conversation easier to follow and understand.

Design Inspiration

But what about the wok? Where does that come in? Dolby engineers envisioned a dome-shaped, perforated grille—a visual element to mirror the dimensionality of the phone’s audio technology.

But when the team took this idea to the manufacturers, they said the dome-shaped grille couldn’t be fabricated. It was impossible. The Dolby team took this as a challenge. Noticing the similarities of the grille to the dome shape of a traditional Chinese wok, the team set out to find an artisan wok maker who could turn the dome-shaped grille into reality.

The search for a wok maker landed the Dolby team in Oakland, California, in a shop that makes woks in the traditional style. Combining traditional fabrication techniques with the functional materials the team had selected, the wok maker created a dome-shaped prototype just in time for a presentation of the phone design.

The result is audio and design that leapfrogs conventional conferencing phones. Hear the stunning audio quality of Dolby Voice and the Dolby Conference Phone for yourself!

For design stories behind some of Dolby’s other products, check out the Dolby Designs page.