2020 is the year of Zoom Audio Meetings. There is nothing worse than a group meeting with 20 people that sounds absolutely horrendous. My goal is to help you dial in your Zoom Audio Settings for your meetings so people can hear you clearly. This will help you put your best foot forward with everyone you talk with.
We will also give you some solutions for external microphones, dial in your software settings for ultimate results and even talk about a couple of high-end options to really set yourself apart from everyone at the meeting. One thing is for certain: at the end of this blog you will have a bunch of tips for getting better sound quality for your Zoom calls and video meetings.
It’s all about Location
I swear, it sounds like most people try to conduct their interviews from a bathroom or grand hall somewhere. Listen. Reverb is awesome in our music recordings and for when Sam Wise Gamgee is screaming for Frodo inside of Mount Doom. It is NOT ok in our meetings because it makes the listener have to focus harder in order to hear us intelligibly.
Why? Because there are so many sources of voices coming straight at the listener. The direct voice coming right out of the mouth going into the microphone. Then, all the reflections bouncing off the floor, table, walls and ceiling that hit the microphone after the initial source. The result? A very muddy track that is swimming in reverb.
Don’t Fix It In Post!
We have a famous saying in production which is, “Fix it in Post.” The fact of the matter is in production, a lot of money is spent very fast. When you watch an episode television show like Bones or Ozark, you are looking at about 5 Million Dollars an episode. What that means is sometimes while working, the director and producers may ask to move on rather than shooting an additional take for audio-only because it is literally cheaper (SOMETIMES) to fix things in post-production or even re-record it in post-production, rather than go again and have to pay the whole crew and everyone that is working at the same time.
Why do I bring this up? Because there are some Zoom Audio Settings inside the program that can fix things and help you if you are forced to film in an area that is huge and reverberant. BUT! I implore you to try and fix it naturally first and to not necessarily rely on your Zoom and an algorithm to fix a problem that can be handled with a few pillows and a blanket.
It doesn’t matter what your Zoom Audio Settings are; if your location sounds bad, your meeting’s audio will sound bad. My first bit of advice is to pick the best location in your house. Ideally, you need a well-lit area (but not even so because it is simple enough to get a Right Light or even a basic light fixture and some white bulbs to brighten up and make your setting pretty. The goal is to make your “office” look clean, presentable, and be lacking in the reverb department.
Take care in finding a great location that sounds “dry”. It is custom to sit back and straight as to present yourself without slouching. Doing this causes more physical distance between you and the microphone and will make the room sound bigger. It will also make you sound farther away from the source (because you are). When you double your distance by leaning back it will cause a noticeable drop in the audio.
How do you take care of this? By sucking up the reverb. No, there is no Dyson vacuum that can help you here. There are however there magical things called throw pillows and blankets that can be used to stop reflections dead in their tracks.
Blanket on a Table
The first and easiest reflections to get rid of are on the table. A simple throw blanket over the table before you put your laptop down will help to capture and hold onto the reflections that would normally bounce off the table. I do however recommend having a separate table (or even a TV tray) standing by that is perfect for your drinks and other items that could spill since you know have a softer table surface.
Walls and Ceilings
The biggest culprit of reverberation is the walls and the ceiling. To help get rid of them, try not to sit directly in the center of the room (where all sound waves eventually bounce around and find). Instead, try to split the room into thirds, or even stay to one side. A corkboard is a perfect addition to suck up some of the sounds from slapping back off the walls. It also works as a great board for your thoughts during your meetings and videos and keeps you looking up all the time.
What if you aren’t Facing a Wall? Great! If your wall is to the left or right of you, use the areas of the room that are NOT being seen to enclose yourself and make a smaller entrapment. For example, take a C Stand (or a Ladder or Chair if you aren’t in production) and throw a big quilt over the top. This will act as a makeshift wall and help make the room smaller. That is literally the secret. What can you do to make the room smaller?
Facing to World (and your Microphone)…
I don’t care how much you try. There is only so much good and “quality” you can get out of your internal microphone on your computer. It is susceptible to so much noise, and the distance away from the source it is trying to record makes it not a great sounding choice. You need an external microphone in order to make yourself sound incredible. And no, I am not talking about the internal microphones inside of your webcams. They are susceptible to the same type of problems as the internal microphone of your recorder.
Which microphone is the best option? Something in your price range that you can get close to your mouth. You cannot simply get a “Snowball” and leave it to the side of the frame and expect high-quality sound. These microphones need to be in the sweet spot, which is right in front of your mouth. All these people that put the microphone 2 feet away are defeating the purpose of even buying a microphone. BTW this is a great microphone for this option because it is easy to interface with pretty much any computer AND it looks good. It is usually a conversation starter as well. “Have you seen my snowball?”
If you are going to purchase a snowball or other condenser microphone, show it proudly! You don’t have to have it dead center in your frame. Have it up to the side coming down from a corner. This way, the microphone is where its supposed to be! You will sound ten times cleaner if you just have no shame and show your inner engineer! If you order a bundle, you will be able to easily position it in a place that sounds good and looks great too).
Headphones are Just as Important
One of the best ways to improve your Zoom Audio Settings is by using headphones. Zoom is incredible when it comes to the software created to mute and unmute people as they talk without causing crazy amounts of feedback.
Depending on who you work for or who you are having a meeting with, a normal set of over the ear headphones or even a pair of Apple AirPod Pro earbuds works incredibly well. Not only do they stop the speaker from causing unnecessary noise that your microphone will eventually pick up, but it also has a microphone that will allow you to avoid getting a separate microphone for your computer altogether.
Finally Time For Zoom
Now it is time to adjust the Zoom Audio Settings inside for high-quality sound. Go ahead and open up Zoom and go into Settings.
There aren’t many settings for audio inside the General Tab, except for one security measure that I would like to point out. You should activate (enable) “Stop My Video and Audio When My Display is Off or My Screen Saver Begins“.
This prohibits people from watching your if you forget to leave a meeting and your screen save goes on. You could still be in a meeting if your monitor goes dark, as well as your microphone. Be careful and always sign out of meetings.
Going down the line, let’s select the VIDEO TAB for a moment. I love the “Touch Up My Appearance Button” and what it does to our antenna. What to you think?
There are two different pages inside the audio tab: basic settings and an advanced tab. The Basics Settings tab is where you select your sources and outputs. For example, if you are using one of the headphones we suggested above, you would select them instead of the Built-In Output of your computer.
The same thing goes for the microphone. Select the source you plan on using. Remember to disable “Automatically Adjust Microphone Volume”. This is an algorithm inside Zoom that will dynamically turn the volume up and down in between your speeches. It can work well in some instances, but most of the time can make it more difficult to hear because people miss the first few words.
The goal with calibrating (adjusting the audio levels) is to watch the bars as you speak. If your bars are slamming the edges, you need to turn the input volume down until they are in the middle of the meters (or at most 3/4s). You never want to slam your inputs because there arent special limiters and processors that can handle that compression in real time without causing noticeable latency in your meetings.
Simply put, turn this off and turn the gain of your microphone up or down accordingly. You should also do the same thing to your headphone volume while you are at it.
Advanced Audio Tab
The advanced Audio Tab is the most important tab inside the Zoom Audio Settings. It allows a couple of key components that make your audio more pristine and less of a load on your system.
The goal with this section is to disable all the background noise algorithms. If you do not have “noise” in the background (because your windows are shut and you have contained as much reverb as you can) then you should disable these two options. You simply do not need them.
These two options deal with helping to sample the “noise” that is NOT your voice and then digitally try to remove it. It helps, but can sometimes do more harm than good. Again, finding a quiet location with less reverb and switching these two options off will do a lot to your audio.
Echo Cancellation is again dealing with the reverb and reflections that the microphone will pick up in the room. Leave this to auto (only because they won’t let you disable it. Don’t use aggressive as it will start pulling artifacts out of your voice.
Original sound allows you to preserve the sound from your microphone without using Zoom’s echo cancellation and audio-enhancing features. This is ideal if your microphone or sound equipment has these features built-in and you do not need the additional enhancement.
You will first need to enable the setting for yourself, a group of users, or your account in the Zoom web portal. Once enabled, you can turn this setting on and off in your meetings as needed.
That is about it when it comes to audio settings. There are only a few other things we want to point out:
Play sound when I receive a message. This is a great feature unless you are recording your voice and need the audio to be clean. You may want to turn this off unless you want to hear the notifications.
This tab is great if you are recording your lectures or classes for later archival purposes on your website. We recommend always recording to an external hard drive as to keep the taxing of your internal drive low during the meeting. Your computer will be working hard to record solid video while streaming. Just do not record to the desktop or somewhere that will auto-start uploading to a cloud either, as this will steal bandwidth from the meeting.
If you are recording with multiple students, a good idea is to record a separate audio file for each participant. This gives you much more flexibility in post to isolate sound issues from people that haven’t read this blog post yet. Good time to ask you to share this with anyone that is currently doing zoom meetings around the world. Let’s work together to make us all sound better!
The next options I usually enable on this screen are optimizing for 3rd party video editors and record video during screen sharing. This will give you all of the assets available for editing if that is your objective.
The Statistics Tab is more for knowing the latency of your system. The easiest way to explain this to anyone is if your numbers are super high, that means you have bandwidth problems. Maybe there are too many people using the internet it the house and you need to kick a couple of people off of Netflix or Disney Plus while you are in your meetings!
Keyboard Shortcuts Tab
Finally, the Keyboard Shortcuts Tab gives a few quick keys to help make your meetings less clicky. I recommend writing these down or printing them out and having them next to you so you get used to using them. They help get rid of the unnecessary mouse clicks from the meetings that get annoying to hear after a while.
I highly recommend keeping yourself muted (after your tests that is) and then only unmuting yourself when needed. If you are the host this is simple, but if not, remember the quick keys that will temporarily unmute your microphone and allow you to talk if necessary. Always talk with a smile and let the radiance of who you flow through you and into the microphone.
I wish you the best meetings! I am honored to help you set up your system so that others may hear your voice better.