Bad audio is a surefire way to bring a would-be productive meeting to a grinding halt. And unfortunately, it happens all too often.
One survey shows 87 percent of office workers face issues at work due to poor audio quality. Because of this, tasks often take longer to complete — or, they go unfinished. In some cases, office workers lose up to almost 30 minutes a day with bad audio to blame.
But what causes bad audio? And what can be done about it?
Let’s start with the first question. Bad audio can be the result of many factors, including:
Bandwidth or network connectivity issues
Distance from inputs
Hard, reflective surfaces
Latency and delays
Too much compression or distortion
Competing, ambient sounds
This isn’t a comprehensive list. Bad audio is the result of numerous factors, and at this stage of the pandemic, remote workers have likely experienced several.
As many continue to work from home, poor audio could play a major role in slumping productivity, burnt out employees, and Zoom fatigue. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to dramatically improve audio quality and breathe new life into video calls.
Follow this list to improve audio on your video calls:
Maintain a Reliable Internet Connection
If you’ve ever been on a call with somebody who joins from their porch or the car, it becomes immediately apparent when their internet connection is unstable.
Their speech sounds like this:
“H...aye, c... you he...r me?”
“Wha... ...bout now?”
Cue awkward frozen video screen.
With many joining conference calls via web-based platforms, like Zoom or Microsoft Teams, it’s important to maintain a stable connection to the internet or else suffer intermittent disruptions and incoherent speech.
It’s ideal to choose a location where you’re close to or connected to your WiFi router to maintain a more stable connection.
What’s more, if your computer is running slow, close out of any apps you’re not using and disconnect from your virtual private network (VPN) if possible. Running too many apps at once could affect your audio quality by overwhelming your computer.
Take Your Calls in an Audio-Friendly Environment
What goes into making an audio-friendly environment? Think of the everyday distractions during video calls: chatty co-workers, the humming HVAC, shifting chairs, or outside traffic.
Perhaps even greater than in the office, the persistent ambient noises that invade video calls derail concentration and distract meeting participants. The first step to creating an audio-friendly environment is to pick somewhere quiet. This seemingly small step creates a far better experience for all meeting participants by eliminating the subtle, but annoying, noises that disrupt calls.
But, there are more active steps to take to build out an audio-friendly environment, including acoustic treatments and sound masking.
For instance, take steps to introduce acoustic treatments into your home or office. Hard surfaces, like wood floors, glass and bare walls, reflect sound to create a harsh environment filled with echos. Softer surfaces, like carpet or curtains, help dampen harsh sounds and improve audio quality.
Use a Headset or a USB Microphone During Video Calls
One option to instantly improve audio quality during video calls is to use a headset or a microphone. And luckily, this option doesn’t require a heavy up-front investment in equipment.
Even an inexpensive pair of earbuds with a built-in microphone can go a long way to improve audio quality. Here are some of the reasons why using a headset or microphone improves audio quality:
Headsets bring the speaker closer to the microphone. When relying solely on the computer’s audio input, the distance from the device combined with an non-audio-friendly environment can result in a poor audio experience. A headset provides greater consistency and better proximity to the input.
External microphones, like a headset or lavalier, help isolate sound. Working from home comes with many challenges. Among them are barking dogs, crying babies, even noisy air conditioners that interrupt video calls. Using a headset, lavalier, or USB microphone can help isolate the sound to only the speaker’s voice, cutting out some of the background noise.
Microphones feature ways to enhance audio. Some USB microphones include features, like a high pass filter or gain settings, that allow people to fine tune their settings beyond what may be available within the respective video conferencing platform.
If you’re committed to improving your audio experience during calls, some companies, including Poly, make headsets specifically designed for video conferencing. Headsets like these can range from affordable to expensive, with features to match. It’s a similar story for USB microphones, which are a good alternative to headsets and a sound investment for aspiring audiophiles.
USB microphones connect directly to most laptops, using a USB or USB-C port. Once connected, make sure to adjust the input and output settings as needed.
Adopt Proper Audio Etiquette
Among the foundational principles of proper audio etiquette is to mute your microphone when not speaking.
Video calls with numerous participants become unruly quickly when this rule isn’t followed. Every participants’ speech and ambient noise multiply to create a chaotic virtual meeting room that’s more akin to a bustling restaurant than a corporate conference room.
Naturally, staying on task and remaining productive in an environment like this proves difficult. Following basic rules like muting yourself when not speaking can go a long way to improve the audio and overall meeting experience for all participants involved.
During your video calls, start by setting ground rules like these to help progress the meeting in a more efficient way and limit ambient noise.
Understand the Settings of Your Video Conferencing Platform
Platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, BlueJeans and many others continue to introduce new features that improve both the audio and video of conference calls. Zoom, for example, features a background noise suppression setting that helps filter out ambient noises — like the clattering of a keyboard — and improve audio quality during video calls.
The more you spend on any given platform, set aside time to thoroughly understand the ins and outs of the software and stay up to date on new feature releases. System requirements change over time as well, which could also affect how audio comes across during meetings.
Need to Improve Productivity? Start with Your Audio
Video calls prove incredibly effective for group collaboration, helping to defy time zones and distances. However, the Achilles’ heel of these platforms is audio. When the audio quality is bad, work simply cannot get done. You can sacrifice video — but not audio.
If your meetings stall because of poor audio, it’s critical to address the problem right away. If you still need help after following this list of ways to improve your audio, please reach out to our audiovisual experts. Hillman AV offers scalable solutions for video conferencing, acoustic treatment, and sound masking.