Avoiding Echo in Zoom Calls

We’ve all experienced it – the ear-piercing screech of feedback on a call. Whether it is everything being said twice or the rapidly increasing volume of a feedback loop, echo can result in a substantial determination of the quality of Zoom calls. This article explores some of the reasons for these feedback loops and ways of avoiding. 

Understanding why feedback loops occur

The key problem of echo on Zoom calls arises from the sound that is coming out of your speakers being picked up by a microphone, causing the sound to be repeated. This can either result in an echo, with everything that is said repeated, or a rapidly increasing sound, caused when the speakers are set relatively loud, and the microphone picks up successively louder noises (in turn causing successively louder noises to be transmitted).

It should be noted that the problem need not be the fault of the current person speaking – a bad setup from other callers can result in echo on the call. 

Common causes of feedback loops on Zoom

Cause 1: A user logged in twice

One of the primary causes of echo on Zoom call is from users logged in twice – potentially on their computer to view the call a second time on their phone to listen to it. The key problem arises if you have the speakers turned on on one device and the microphone on the other. This setup is inherently prone to the microphone of one device capturing what is said from the other device.

This can also happen if you have two different users logged in close to one another (potentially in the same office). One user’s device is prone to picking up and transmitting the sound coming from the other. 

Cause 2: An unusual setup: delayed sound or microphone placement

Echo can also occur within a single device. This is in some ways less common – in general, Zoom is able to recognize the sound that is being played through your speaker and avoid transmitting it back through your microphone.

The problem arises if there is something unusual about the setup that Zoom is not capable of handling: potentially a microphone placed directly next to the speaker or a very slow laptop that causes the sound to be played through the speakers (and captured by the microphone) after Zoom was anticipating.

Determining who is the cause of echo

If you are the host, it is important to be aware of who is responsible for the echo – it is a lot better to directly tell one person they are the source of the issue, than to instruct everyone to investigate their setup.

Determining who the cause of the feedback is fortunately usually quite easy. First, it will be coming from a user who has their microphone on – anyone who is muted will not be the cause. Next, Zoom conveniently places a yellow box around the person that is currently speaking. If you are experiencing feedback and notice the yellow box around a user who is not speaking, they are likely the cause of the echo. 

Avoiding echo in Zoom

After determining the cause of the echo, the next step is preventing it from impacting the call.

Muting the microphone of the affected participant

The most direct way of doing this is simply to mute the participant where the sound is originating from, either by asking them to do so, or directly muting it yourself. 

As a host of the call, just right click on the participant and click to mute their microphone (potentially followed up with a message via chat to explain the reason).

Muting the affected participant is particularly effective if the source of the echo is not actually participating – there is often no need for everyone to have their microphones on continually, if there are background issues it can disrupt the overall flow of the call. 

Discouraging users from logging in twice

In general, having users logged in twice is never a great idea – it makes it harder to manage things like breakout room, and it so frequently leads to the issue of echo on the call. At a minimum, ensuring that the participant knows that they can not have the volume on one and the microphone on the other will help address the issue, but in general, encouraging others not to use this setup can help – there is rarely a good reason for needing to be logged in twice. 

Adjusting your sound setup

The final key way of avoiding the setup is to adjust your sound setup, and using headphones is likely the easiest way of solving the problem.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with a speaker and a microphone, it is much more susceptible to problems. Using headphones essentially makes it impossible for the microphone to be able to capture the sound coming from the speaker.

Beyond using headphones, turning down the sound can be a good way of avoiding (if the volume is low, the rapidly increasing volume problem is much less likely – rather than the feedback increasing it will naturally dissipate out), and moving your microphone further from your speakers can also help. 

Summary

Being aware of the cause of echo on your calls can be an important step in avoiding it disrupting the quality of your calls. Having constant echoes and feedback can quickly degrade the quality of the call, making it very difficult to concentrate or listen to the conversation. Being aware of how to identify the source of the issues can help address issues that will almost inevitably arise at some point during your calls, and help avoid you being the cause of an ear-piercing feedback loop! 

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