Why audio is important for remote speakers


Audio is critical for remote speakers and presenting online, most audiences can cope with a poor picture and dropouts, but if they can’t hear the speaker, they’ll switch off.

Getting your audio clear and crisp isn’t that difficult to achieve; it might simply be the case of investing in a good headset or some headphones with an in-line mic. There are other potential problems with the audio that need more detailed fixes. We advise how to remediate these, but some issues require re-testing to resolve completely.

Here we list the top ten audio problems we’ve encountered with remote speakers during virtual and hybrid events.

Remote speaker audio issues

There is no audio coming in
Usually a simple one and often, this occurs when something is accidentally muted; this could be on the conferencing software, computer, or headset. Determine which bit of tech is muted, and you should be able to remedy the situation quickly. Remember that Bluetooth connections can sometimes be tricky, so turning on and off Bluetooth should resync your audio.

The audio is cutting in and out
A little less common than no audio, but does occasionally occur. Usually, it’s down to a damaged cable or mic capsule. Give the cable a wiggle; if it reconnects, then that’s the culprit, and you will need to swap cables or change out earphones/headsets. If the cable isn’t the reason, it could be the connection that’s the problem. If you see video and audio dropouts, you will need to get onto a more robust network connection to improve both.

Distorted audio
If the audio sounds scratchy or the speaker sounds distorted it can be for a number of reasons. One is that they might have the mic too close to their mouth. In particular, with headsets, the mic shouldn’t be pressed close to the mouth as it can over gain the microphone capsule resulting in distorted sound. Also, register how loudly the speaker is talking; people often feel they need to up their voice volume to be heard on remote calls, which can have a negative effect. If the distorted audio isn’t solved by headset and voice adjustments, it could be a problem with gain – how loud the input of the channel or amp is from the call software or system controls. Usually this works automatically, but check the computer’s settings and turn down the input volume or gain a little, if the system has audio meters; these all should be registering in the green and not red.



The audio levels are too low
The ‘gain’ can also be set too far low, so the input volume isn’t high enough. Again, often the system will automatically adjust so that the call is at the correct volume. But if it becomes necessary to fix this manually, the simple option is to move the mic closer to the mouth, in general a headset mic should be a few centimetres away, or increasing the audio input volume/gain on the system settings or call software.

Poor EQ (i.e too much bass or treble)
Various factors can cause this, so it’s sometimes hard to pin down! The first thing to check is the hardware; it could be that the microphone is damaged or covered by something. If it’s too bassy, ensure nothing is covering it, it can be easy to place your hand on the laptop and accidentally cover the mic for example, and too much treble might mean a faulty or damaged mic. Try testing with an external mic which will indicate if it’s a hardware issue or caused by another factor.

Connection speeds can also impact EQ; if you’ve been on a call and someone on the other side has a very bassy/middle sound, which lacks definition and so it’s hard to hear or make out many of the words – the problem could be due to their connection. To compensate for low bandwidth, video conferencing systems tend to cut out parts of the frequency range, focusing on the ‘middle’ where the voice generally sits. Connecting to another network, closing programmes, or turning off your video might all help to improve your EQ by improving the network speeds.

Intermittent crackles, pops and other unwanted noises
Something like this will likely be a local issue with the machine or device. Whether it is the cables on the headset, the connection to the microphone or maybe the computer is underpowered and overworked so the soundcard is causing these pops.

Ambient background noise
Different mics pick up all sorts of ambient noise, so regardless of which its first best to ensure that the speaker is in a quiet environment. A headset will perform the best overall, as its designed and positioned to focus on the voice, however in-built laptop or webcam mics and often wireless in-ears such as earpods are more likely to also pickup the background. If there’s consistent background noise, e.g., an aircon unit, choose a video conferencing system with good built-in noise reduction software to manage interruptions. Close windows, turn off coffee machines nearby and ensure they won’t be disturbed. For more intermittent sounds this doesn’t always work, so we always suggest using a headset for the best results.

In most video conference apps such as Zoom or Teams, you can adjust background noise reduction, but if it’s set too high, you run the risk of making the audio too compressed – only use this setting if there’s a significant noise problem. If there’s a loud environment and you can’t do anything about it, we’d suggest using an AI tool called Krisp.ai – it can remove noises, from babies crying and dogs barking to loud machines – best of all, you get 120 minutes free each month.

Buzzing, hissing and humming
If this isn’t an external noise, check the hardware first – is it perhaps coming from a broken cable or an unreliable mic? If these are both working well, then investigate the power supply. Laptops can sometimes induce a power loop with a hum at a particular frequency when plugged in. Unplug the power, and check if the sound stops. The microphone might also pick up fans if they are overworking to the cool-down computer so worth considering. The software or machine can also introduce many other noises; however, it can be hard to pinpoint where the problem is coming from without listening to the exact sound. The classic, turn it off and on again is often a good middle step here, but in general with these types of issues you want to take a methodical approach to identifying the problem. Try to test parts of the system, so you can either confirm or rule out where the sound is coming from.  

Echoes and double audio
Your own audio should be cancelled out when on a call, so it doesn’t feedback. However, if there is a delay on the line, sometimes the software gets confused and it can be sent back around in a circle. This in tern often means echo or double audio. It will only happen when using an inbuilt mic and speakers as this reenforces the feedback loop. Turning the volume down a little can help, but a pair of headphones is a quick fix to stop the audio from making this loop.

Other strange noises
As anyone who works on these types of events knows, you will find new issues all the time to try and fix. These can be hard to define, so we’ve just added this final section. We found that the noise reduction software itself could be causing issues. It works by listening to the sound, identifying the problem sound, and then playing back an inverted version of the wave, cancelling the noise. This isn’t perfect and can introduce new sounds, artefacts, and other strange noises. You can sometimes adjust the noise reduction levels, but swapping to an external microphone will improve things. You can get other digitisation effects on the voice, which may be due to the connection or computer itself.   

Ways to improve audio quality for speakers

We’d always try to advise to be in a quiet room and to use a headset with an external microphone (some options here); this one choice will have the most impact on the sound quality. Not only does it mean you have a higher-quality microphone close to your mouth (so it reduces background noise and improves overall EQ), but the headphones mean you can hear better and won’t get any echo or reverb on the line. 

A tip regarding headset mic positioning, don’t have it directly in front of your mouth, as it may pick up breath sounds and unwanted noises. Position the mic just below your bottom lip, so it only picks up speech.  

If you don’t like headsets, headphones with in-line mics are a more subtle alternative. Make sure the mic is facing your mouth and not picking up sounds in the room. EarPods and Bluetooth headsets can also do a good job, however key is to ensure they are fully charged before you start! 

Finally investing in a podcast-style mic is a great option if you have a quiet space and don’t want to see any mics or cables. There are loads of options; I have the Blue Yeti, which sits on a stand above my desk and has a high-quality microphone capsule and a very crisp sound. One of these mics will be a good investment if you plan to present a great deal. 

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