If your call participants report hearing echo or reverb during a call, suggest these simple but effective fixes:
- Use earbuds
- Lower the volume
This page runs through a few key issues about echo. If your call participants report hearing echo, below you will find some guidance or details to share with them.
A really important one: If you are the one hearing echo or reverb, you are not the one causing it. Someone else in the call will have to change something on their end to eliminate the issue.
Echo vs reverb
Echo and reverb are closely related audio issues but there are some key differences. Figuring out if you are experiencing echo or reverb is important in helping solve the problem.
- Echo is when the sound comes out from the speaker, adn then goes back into the microphone. Often this happens because the microphone and speaker are too close together.
- Reverb is when sound comes out of the speaker, bounces around the room, and then comes back in to the microphone. This often happens in rooms with lots of hard surfaces. It’s more delayed than an echo and you might describe it as sounding “cavernous”.
Solving audio problems
To solve an echo problem, you will need to figure out which participant is causing the echo.
- 2 participants. If there is only one other participant in your video call, you know who the culprit is.
- 3+ participants. If there is more than one other participant in your call, identifying where the echo is coming from is a little more difficult. Start by asking everyone to mute their microphones. Then you can start to have people unmute their microphone one at a time. Have each person speak a little after they unmute. When someone unmutes and you hear the echo come back, that would indicate that they are the one causing it.
Once you know who is causing the echo, you can work to solve it.
- Headphones. A really simple fix is ask the person to put on headphones. This reduces the likelihood of a microphone picking up unwanted audio since the speakers are now essentially located in the person's ears.
- Turn down the volume. If the person causing the echo doesn't have headphones, another thing they can try is simply turning down the volume on their speakers. Turning the volume down may be enough to stop the microphone from picking up that audio.
- Move the microphone. Along with turning down the volume, they can try moving their microphone further away from their speakers. This has a similar effect as turning the volume of their speakers down. These two actions combined may stop the echo or reduce the severity of it.
Solving reverb problems is a little more involved. Reverb generally stems from the room environment. Hard, flat surfaces are the biggest cause of reverb. As the person talks into the microphone, the sound of the person's voice bounces off these surfaces and arrives at the microphone slightly delayed from their voice traveling directly into the microphone. This effect can also happen from the sound coming out of their speakers bouncing around the room and then being picked up by their microphone. Most microphones have technology to reduce echo, but the delay caused by reverb may get picked up.
- Move the microphone. A quick fix to reverb is to move the microphone closer to whomever is speaking. Headphones with a built-in microphone work really well to reduce the severity of reverb.
- Add acoustical treatments. The best way to solve reverb is to address the actual room environment. Simply speaking, you want to diffuse, or break up, the sound so that it doesn’t bounce back into the microphone. A simple fix to add more “stuff” in your conference room. A bookshelf with different width books is a great way to stop reverb. This causes the sound to bounce in different directions and not right into the microphone. The “stuff” in the room also helps to absorb some of the sound — which helps reduce reverb. Hanging soft fabric on the wall works well. Consult an acoustic design professional if you need further help.
Related to echo and reverb is feedback. If two participants are in near physical proximity, you may experience feedback. Feedback generally turns into a continuous ringing sound. For example, imagine two people are working in an open office floorplan and are both part of the same video call. Let's call these people Jim and Li. Sound from Jim's speakers is picked up by Li's microphone. This then gets sent back to Jim's computer via the video call. Jim's speaker then plays this same sound again. Li's microphone picks up this sound and transmits it again. This keeps happening over and over until this repeated sound turns into a ring. This is called a feedback loop.
You want to break the feedback loop.
- Mute. Have both participants mute their microphones. To be extra safe, have both participants turn down their speaker volume. This stops the feedback from being re-transmitted.
Once you break the feedback loop and get the ringing to stop, you can look at how to continue the call without creating another feedback loop.
- Headphones. A really simple fix is for both people to put on headphones. This reduces the likelihood of a microphone picking up unwanted audio since the speakers are now essentially located in the person's ears. However, you may still hear the other person talking in the background. This will basically create an echo effect. For example, if Jim and Li both put on headphones, Li's voice may be picked up on Jim's microphone. This would create an echo effect for other participants on the call. Either Jim and Li need to make sure their microphone is always muted when they aren't talking, or they can try our next solution ...
- Move. The best solution is for the two people to separate. Have one person move to a different room. This will stop their microphones from picking up each other in the background.
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