Can You Hear Me Now? Optimizing Conference Call Audio

Audio quality can make or break the success of a conference call. With dozens of participants using a number of different devices, less-than-perfect audio can be a real problem. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to minimize disturbances the next time you host a conference.

Echos

Conference call participants hear an echo when their microphone picks up their voice as it plays back through their speakers. This interruption can bring productive conversation to a standstill. The culprit here is one of the devices being used to dial into the call—usually a laptop or speakerphone with audio components not specifically designed for conference calling. Ensure you’re not the offender by investing in a high-quality microphone with built in acoustic echo cancellation. This technology recognizes when sound from your microphone is being returned to your speakers and filters it out before it can generate feedback.

 

Ambient Noise

Papers shuffling, HVAC systems turning on and off, the click-clack of callers taking notes on their laptops—these small sounds add up. Many microphones can, and will, pick up unwanted background noise, passing it along to everyone else on the conference line. Your line of defense here is three-fold:

 

First, set up your conference phone in a quiet location where third parties are unlikely to interrupt. You’ll want to place your speakerphone or alternative device away from walls, windows, and other surfaces that can reflect sound and cause residual echo.

 

Second, choose a microphone/speaker setup that employs noise cancellation algorithms to identify and remove the white noise of fluorescent lights, electronics, and other sources of ambient sound. If your conference calls regularly include numerous people in the same room, with participants coming and going throughout the meeting, consider a speakerphone that uses adaptive modeling to predict and adjust for a variety of acoustical events—including changes in seating arrangements and speaker location.

 

Finally, you may want to mute all callers at the beginning of the conference. It’s likely that some participants will be using devices without high-performance audio components and others will be calling in from uncontrolled environments—an open-layout office, for example, or their car. Participants can unmute their lines individually when they’d like to speak or pose a question.

 

Distortion

Conference call setups that use multiple microphones at the same time are prone to acoustic distortion. Speakers may sound as if they are standing in a tunnel. This occurs when a speaker’s voice is picked up by different microphones at different times, due to physical obstructions in the room that affect how sound travels. If you commonly have multiple speakers in the same room, look for a conference phone with a microphone array equipped with voice detection technology that activates only one microphone at a time as determined by the proximity of the speaker.

 

Interference

If you keep your Blackberry in your pocket, a tablet on the table, and you’re sitting in a room of colleagues working on their laptops, you can expect to hear static, crackling, and snaps playing back on the conference line. These electronic devices cause interference that negatively impacts the performance of microphones and speakers. Make sure to keep these electronics away from your conference phone or alternative device. Better yet, leave them behind when it’s time for your call.

 

Connectivity

Sound cutting out and sentences being clipped? Check your internet connection. A slow or intermittent connection can decimate call quality.

 

Technology

When clarity is top priority, USB microphones outperform their more traditional analog counterparts. USB headsets and microphones translate native (analog) sound to digital without any additional hardware. And if low volume is a problem, USB devices usually offer a quick and easy fix.

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