Working from home? Here’s how to improve your audio quality
You’re giving pointers on the report due tomorrow when someone says ‘excuse me.’ You don’t hear her, so you keep talking and she stops—then the lag catches up and you wait for her to go on. But she’s assumed you didn’t hear her earlier; by the time she repeats her question, you’ve started talking again. Go through this a few times a day, and you’ll have a group of frustrated colleagues whose last wish is to get on a call together.
If this sounds familiar to you, you’ve probably been teleconferencing a lot over the last few months. This is one of the biggest problems with group meetings, and it’s not because we’re all bad at communication.
It’s not you: a technical reason why people can’t hear you over video calls
A seemingly small thing like noise cancellation can have a huge impact on the remote work experience, and that’s because most video conferencing solutions only play audio from one or two participants at a time to keep background noise from becoming overwhelming.
Although it cuts out distractions, this also makes it very hard for you to say something because, for all intents and purposes, people can literally not hear you. It’s very much at odds with the instant feedback of face to face interaction. And that means video conferencing still sometimes feels as detached and tenuous as two cans connected by a piece of string.
Collaboration tools like co-browsing, video conferencing, and screen sharing have made it much easier (and possible, for that matter) for entire industries to transition to working from home and stay productive, but back-and-forth like this makes teleconferencing both annoying and time-consuming. At Surfly, we’ve been using our built-in microphone muting to keep background noise to a minimum in calls. We also updated our interface to make it possible for the session organizer to mute others on the call, which cuts out the awkward ‘can you mute yourself?’ exchange that we found ourselves going through several times a day.
What about noise canceling headphones?
Noise canceling headphones can fix some of these issues because they reduce background noise, but many of them don’t improve audio latency (the delay between when you say something and the other person hears it). In fact, with Bluetooth and true wireless headphones, you’re likely to experience more of a delay than usual.
The obvious answer is to use wired headphones, but those only work if everyone on the call is using them; most people find wireless headphones far more convenient. And with everyone working from home this year, there’s an increased demand for features that are designed to make video conferences easier.
Here are three other solutions you could use to improve your WFH calls:
Turn on new in-app noise cancellation features, like Google Meet’s ‘denoiser’
You might not know about this yet, but Google Meet introduced noise canceling for G Suite Enterprise users this June. The ‘denoiser’, as it’s called colloquially, is a helpful tool to silence babies, dogs, or annoying keyboard noises on those long calls.
Google’s denoiser has been a work in progress since 2017, when Google acquired Limes Audio. Originally a way to make calls across different time zones less annoying, it was rolled out to Google employees around December 2019 with usage skyrocketing as people started working from home in March 2020. Here’s what Google said about it in April: “To help limit interruptions to your meeting, Meet can now intelligently filter out background distractions — like your dog barking or keystrokes as you take meeting notes.”
If it continues to work as well as Google says it does, the feature is poised to be a game changer that brings the remote meeting experience much closer to real life.
How to get it: If you use G Suite, you can turn the denoiser on in Google Meet’s settings. It’s still in beta, with plans to bring it to a larger group of users in the coming months.
Pricing: currently only available for G Suite users.
Use a plugin like NVIDIA RTX Voice to remove noise
You can also use a plugin like NVIDIA RTX to remove ‘distracting background noise from your broadcasts, voice chats, and remote video conferencing meetings.’ When you join a call, the plugin blocks out background noise on your end so that other people don’t hear your keyboard or other ambient noise. It also suppresses noise from other participants, which makes it much easier to speak up and be heard in the middle of a crowded video conference.
How to get it: you can download the NVIDIA RTX Voice plugin here; there are different configuration options available for apps like Slack, Zoom, Teams, and more.
Pricing: free. You will need Windows 10 and an NVIDIA graphics card.
Get a special noise canceling app like Krisp
Marketed as the ‘world’s best innovative noise cancellation technology’, Krisp.ai works with conferencing apps like Slack, Skype, Teams, etc. by adding an extra virtual layer between your microphone and the conferencing app you’re using. Effectively, this keeps any unwanted noises from passing through, making work calls a lot less chaotic. This review goes into detail about pros, cons, alternatives, and pricing.
How to get it: you can download Krisp.ai here. It’s available on Mac, Windows, and iPhone. There was a Chrome extension, but they’re discontinuing that to focus on the apps.
Pricing: Krisp uses a freemium model. The free plan gives you 120 minutes per week of free usage. Paid plans start from $3.33 per user per month.
Although it’s a relatively new focus for video conferencing tools, noise canceling and filtering can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of remote meetings, as well as on employee morale and productivity. What new tools has your company started using to make working from home easier?