The Secret to Professional Sound On Video Calls & Live Streams

Written By Kyle Mathias  |  Audio Basics 

The tips I’ll share with you in this post will have you sounding more professional in your next video call or live stream. So if you’re ready to make a good impression to your audience or clients, start doing these things right now. 

Thanks to Sennheiser for sponsoring this post.

Reduce Reverb & Room Noise

The first tips are intended to help you reduce the amount of room noise and reverb that gets picked up by your microphone. 

External Microphone

If you’re using the microphone and speakers built into your laptop, you’re setting yourself up for failure when it comes to audio. If possible, use some kind of external microphone. 

In the video above, I used the Sennheiser Profile USB microphone and HD 280 headphones. For a limited time, you can get the exact setup I used in the video at a discounted price. If you’re looking for a microphone that only requires a simple USB connection to your computer, then check out the link below. Thanks to Sennheiser for sponsoring this post. 

Microphone Polar Pattern

The Sennheiser Profile USB microphone has a cardioid polar pattern, which means it picks up sound best from the front and rejects sound from the rear. Pointing the back of the microphone toward my keyboard and pointing the front toward my mouth will do two things: it will minimize the noise from the keyboard and it will maximize the signal from my voice. This is a good thing – we want to do whatever we can to maximize the signal-to-noise ratio like this. 

Microphone Proximity

Another way to increase the signal-to-noise ratio is to place the microphone closer to you…

I know it’s sometimes undesirable to have a microphone on camera, but the smaller you can make the distance from the sound source to the microphone the better your audio will sound. 

This is because sound gets quieter over distance. Every time you reduce the distance to the microphone by ½, it increases the signal level by 6dB. So, moving the microphone from 12 inches away to only 6 inches away will boost your voice in relation to the noise around you. 

Not only that, but it will increase the level of the direct sound from your voice compared to the indirect sound that reflects off of walls, ceilings, desks, and other surfaces.

So while you might sound echoey and noisy on a video call when using the built-in microphone on my webcam, you can hear a big difference by simply upgrading your mic, and you can hear an even bigger difference by placing that microphone closer to you.

If you get too close to the mic though, you may start to hear some bass buildup due to the proximity effect. For a good balance, I’d recommend a distance of about 4 inches. 

Also be aware of the potential for plosives (or p-pops). In order to avoid this sound, you’ll want to avoid bursts of air from hitting the mic. This can be done by placing a pop filter between your mouth and the microphone or by facing slightly off to the side. 

Microphone Preamp Gain

Of course, getting closer to the mic will mean you won’t need to amplify the electrical signal from the microphone quite as much as before.

Therefore, adjust the preamp gain level knob on your interface (or on your USB microphone) until you see about 75% on the meter within your conferencing software. Then, do an audio test to make sure it sounds good. Too quiet will sound noisy and difficult to hear, while too loud could cause distortion and clipping. 

Eliminate Echo

The second tip is intended to prevent the echo problem that we’ve all experienced when talking to someone remotely. If you’ve ever tried speaking while hearing yourself at a slight delay, you know how difficult it is. We’ve got to fix that…

But if you are hearing yourself echo back, it’s actually a problem in the OTHER person’s setup. By that same logic, if someone hears their own voice echo back to them, it could be your fault. Here’s what’s happening and how you can fix it…

The problem is that person A speaks into their microphone, which gets transmitted across the world over the internet before it reaches person B’s speakers. This takes time – let’s say it takes 150 milliseconds. 

Then the sound of person A’s voice (playing out of person B’s speakers) goes back into person B’s microphone and gets transmitted back over the internet to person A. This also takes time, bringing the round trip to about 300 milliseconds (150 ms there and 150 ms back). And person A hears their voice as an echo every time they start talking, which is extremely distracting. 

This problem is usually solved with a technology called AEC, which stands for Acoustic Echo Cancellation. It’s a really cool technology when it works properly! The AEC processor built into Person B’s video conferencing app will take the signal that gets sent to their speakers and will subtract that signal from Person B’s microphone so it doesn’t make its way back to Person A. 

But sometimes AEC doesn’t work properly. It could be that Person B’s speakers are too loud, or that their microphone is too close or far from the speaker, or that their room has bad acoustics. In any case, the problem is on their side. 

One simple thing that Person B could do to prevent this problem is to wear headphones and mute their speakers. The sound from the headphones won’t be broadcast into the room, so the sound from the far end caller will never even reach the microphone. 

Communicate Confidently

The third tip is intended to help you speak more naturally and avoid talking over others.

It’s helpful to use either open-back headphones so you can hear yourself speak or use the mix knob on your microphone or audio interface to blend in some of your own microphone to your own headphones. This helps you avoid the classic problem of yelling because you can’t hear yourself talk. 

If you’re using a USB mic like the Sennheiser Profile, you can just connect the headphones directly to the back and use this knob to determine the balance between you and the person you’re talking to. 

When you can hear your own voice in your headphones, you will also tend to talk over people less often. If the sound of your voice clashing with your guest’s voice sounds terrible in your headphones, it sounds terrible to everyone else listening too. So wearing headphones will hopefully help you monitor the sound as your audience will hear it and adjust accordingly. 

Disclaimer: This page contains affiliate links, which means that if you click them, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you.