Drastically Improve Your Video-Calling Experience With One Simple Tip

I am on video-calls every day, collaborating with colleagues on the other side of the planet. ⚡️

It’s pretty cool living in the future, but there are many different things that can go wrong to make this a frustrating experience: software issues, hardware issues, network issues…

Consistently I’ve found there’s one tip that always improves video-calling: use a headset with a microphone.

It’s really simple advice, but the reasoning might not be clear.

From an audio engineering perspective, video-calls typically suffer from two hard problems: feedback (which can sound like a faint echo or a howling scream) and poor signal-to-noise ratio (where it’s difficult to pick out the speaker’s voice over the background noise).

Using a headset solves both these problems.

📢 You experience feedback when your microphone picks up the sound coming from your speakers. The same sound gets amplified and repeated over and over. I don’t know about you, but hearing my voice repeated back to me half a second after I’ve spoken puts my brain into a kind of spasm.

Replacing speakers with headphones prevents the sound from leaking out into your microphone. Hey presto, no more feedback!

That solves the first issue.

🎙 The most reliable way to solve the signal-to-noise issue is to have a microphone close to your mouth.

Simple right? But many people expect that the microphone built into their laptop should be sufficient.

The first problem with your built-in mic is that it picks up sounds you don’t mean to transmit: the sound of your laptop fan, or your hands brushing against the mic as you shift position, or the sound of your computer case dragging against the table. Tiny sounds for you in the room, deafening for someone on the other end of the call. Try putting your ear next to your keyboard as you type — that’s what your microphone is dealing with.

The other problem with the built-in mic is that it doesn’t do a great job of picking up the sounds you want to transmit!

If you’re on a newish Apple laptop, the microphone is on the lefthand side of the computer case, pointing 90° away from your mouth. If you’re sitting at a desk, your mouth and your mic can easily be 18 inches apart. As it frantically searches for your voice, the computer will turn the amplification way up, and will pick up the neighbourhood kids, coffee machine, or traffic noise in the background along with it.

Having a microphone within a few inches of your mouth will make a drastic improvement to the signal-to-noise ratio.

So please, for your sanity and mine, get a headset and use it on every call.

It doesn’t have to be fancy, just headphones plus a microphone close to your mouth. If you’ve bought a smartphone in the last few years, you’ve already got one.

If you need to buy one, here's a basic set on Amazon for about ten bucks.

If you’ve found this article helpful, please share it with a colleague who needs to read it 🐝