Optimizing Sound and Video for Online Open Mics
Zoom and other similar platforms offer us opportunities to share live music with each other from the comfort of home. But if you want people to be able to appreciate your music in the best quality possible, a little preparation is needed.
There are three key factors to get better audio/video quality for Zoom…
- Hardware (a USB microphone and a decent webcam)
- Zoom audio/video settings (Original sound, etc.)
- Internet connection (a good, strong wireless signal, or a hardwired ethernet connection)
Let’s take a look at each of these in detail…
Hardware Recommendations – Audio
The microphones built into most computers are terrible. A USB microphone (available for around $30 on Amazon) provides vastly improved audio if set up properly.
Here’s one example of a decent USB microphone that won’t break the bank. For other options, just go to Amazon, search for “USB microphone” and look for the products with the highest ratings.
A multi-channel USB audio interface (starting at around $70) is helpful but not required. An interface allows you to control the audio level for your mic(s) separately from your instrument(s). Here’s one example of a fairly affordable unit. For other options, go to Amazon and search for “USB audio interface.” Again, look for the highest ratings.
Performers should use headphones if possible so that Original Sound (explained below) will not cause feedback and echoes. Many options are available for headphones, so choose whatever works best for you. As one example, here’s a fairly good set of over-the-ear headphones from Audio Technica.
Hardware Recommendations – Video
Just like the microphones built into most computers, built-in cameras leave a lot to be desired. Granted, video isn’t as important as audio for an open mic, but if you want everyone to see a clear, crisp image, you may want to consider using a separate USB webcam. The Logitech C920X is a great option at an affordable price. All you need to do is plug it into your USB port and select it as your active camera in Zoom. Nothing to install or configure.
Zoom Audio/Video Settings
The default settings in Zoom use automatic background noise cancellation. This is good for meetings where you want to filter out any background noise in the room. But it’s not so good when you’re playing music because Zoom mistakes certain parts of your audio as background noise (especially something like acoustic guitar playing).
To get the best audio quality, we need to change some settings. These changes ONLY apply to performers. Listeners do not need to change anything.
Go to your Zoom Preferences and go to the Audio tab. On that screen, there are three settings to change:
- Make sure the checkbox for “Automatically adjust microphone volume” is unchecked. This allows you to manually control your input level as needed.
- Under “Music and Professional Audio,” check the box for “Show in-meeting option to enable Original Sound“.
- In the same section, also check the box for “High-fidelity music mode“.
Refer to the screenshot below for a reference, but note that this screen layout may change from time to time as Zoom updates their software.
After changing these settings, performers should record themselves in a Zoom session prior to the open mic so they can check their own audio quality and sound level before performing. Just start your own Zoom meeting and record it to your local computer. Then you can play it back and see how it sounds.
Even if you do everything above, if you don’t have a good Internet connection, the results will be poor. The reason for this is that transmitting audio and video takes a lot of bandwidth. If your Internet connection struggles to keep up, Zoom responds by compressing your incoming data. The result is that both audio and video quality drop significantly. If it gets bad enough, the audio stops entirely and the video freezes.
Therefore, in addition to having the right audio/video hardware, it’s important to make sure your Internet connection is strong. Even if your connection seems fine for normal web browsing, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will perform well for an open mic. If you can plug in an ethernet cable and bypass your wifi, that’s usually preferable. If you use wifi, get as close to your wifi router as possible.
To check the performance of your Internet connection, head over to https://www.speedtest.net/ and run a test (it’s free to use). After the test finishes, you’ll get three values:
- Ping (ms) represents the latency of your connection. You want that to be around 25ms or less.
- Download (Mbps) represents your download speed. It should be at least 5-10 Mbps, but this one is less important than the third setting.
- Upload (Mbps) represents your upload speed, and this is the one that will most impact the quality of the audio and video you send during the open mic. You’ll want this to be at least 2 or 3 Mbps, but higher is better.
Need Some Help?
If you’d like a free consultation to help improve your audio/video setup, just fill out the form below. We’ll reach out and schedule a time to talk.