“Is this thing on?”… and other Audio Troubleshooting for Video Conferencing

“Is this thing on?”… and other Audio Troubleshooting for Video Conferencing

By Ola Refseth
Videonor Solutions Engineer

When setting up a video system, it’s easy to focus on the visual component – but what about the audio? I’m using this spotlight as a chance to remind everyone of the importance of putting equal effort into audio equipment and setup as they do in big screens and control systems. I bet most of you have participated in a conference where audio has been an issue so let’s go through some common scenarios:

  1. You can’t hear the far end (one participant)
  2. You can’t hear any of the participants (all participants)
  3. Echo: You hear your own voice half a second after you speak
  4. Reverberation: the scrambled echo that muddles the conversation

The three first cases above are most often caused by desktop software. The two first are usually easy to fix: Either the far end has not configured their microphone(s) correctly or, you have selected the wrong speakers yourself (or forgot to turn the volume up?).

The third common error – “echo”, can cause any meeting to revert to a really bad version of a Jarle Bernhoft song and is caused by someone unknowingly creating an audio loop. In such

Ola Refseth, Videonor Solutions Engineer
Ola Refseth, Videonor Solutions Engineer

cases, someone’s microphone is picking up your audio and sending it straight back to you, hence the echo. This echo is more common with computer set ups than in appliance video endpoints.  Professional video endpoints usually have echo cancellation features built in, but these can be very expensive. If you are on a budget, you can still video conference with computer based conferencing setups with microphone and speakers built in. These can work very well but are generally more difficult to use.  

And last, #4 – Reverberation. Too much of this and the far end participants may have a hard time interpreting what you are saying. There are a few ways to reduce the effects of too much reverberation. First, look at your physical layout. Things like carpeting, wall art, and other objects can help decrease reverb and improve overall acoustics. Second, consider – where are your microphones?  While ceiling mics are out of the way, they are more prone to challenges with reverberation effects. Table microphones will in most cases give the far end a better experience, especially if the room you are using have challenging acoustic characteristics.

For those of you who are interested in reading a bit more about this, or if you’re planning a new conference room, I recommend you take a look at the Cisco video conferencing room primer guide.

Takeaways for best video conferencing audio:

  • If budget allows, invest in proper systems with built-in hardware to combat the elements, but, if budget doesn’t allow…
  • Double check your system’s microphone and speaker presetting before jumping on a call
  • If you’re using a laptop, always bring a decent headset
  • Use table microphones – not ceiling microphones
  • Sound absorbing decor:
    • Carpeted floors
    • Upholstered chairs
    • Irregular shaped objects in room (vases, wall art, shelving, etc)
  • Are you plugged in? Maybe a cable was bumped out and your system is simply just not plugged in

One comment

Derek Dewitt
over a year ago

I feel like the audio feed for all my conferences always has trouble during meetings. I like your point about reducing reverb by changing the physical layout. I’ll have to try rearrange my pictures and furniture to see if it helps.

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