Many leisure-time music groups are now using Zoom for their rehearsals, performances and other activities, and are finding that some of their members are having issues with the audio – either they can’t hear, or they can’t be heard, or both!
These issues are down to a mixture of reasons. Zoom works by picking up sounds at certain frequencies, and cuts out when the frequencies go outside of these limits. As we all continue to work and socialise even more online, our internet connections and devices struggle with the demands being placed on them.
This resource pulls together some of the solutions you and your members could try (you may need to try a few of them to find the answer to your particular situation).
In this resource we'll refer to three different places where you may need to adjust your settings:
Think about your practical set up
- Make sure all participants are using the latest version of Zoom. Many of the issues currently being experienced, particularly with shared sound, are because people are running an older version of Zoom. You need to check your Zoom app to see which version you are running, and you need to do this on each device that you use to run Zoom. This help guide from Zoom explains how to check which version you are using, and how to update your app if necessary. After updating your Zoom app, you may need to check that your app settings have not been changed.
- Join the meeting on an appropriate device. Older devices, particularly those running older software, may find it difficult to support Zoom. The newer your device, the easier it will be for your device to handle the background processes of using Zoom. Joining from a desktop app on a PC or laptop is always better than joining from a mobile device, particularly as some functions and settings are not available to you when you join from a tablet or smartphone. Tablets and smartphones may also cut out sound at a lower frequency than a PC or laptop.
- Make sure your battery is fully charged, or your device is plugged in. Devices with low batteries will sometimes shut down programmes or features, such as your camera, speaker or microphone, in order to preserve battery life.
- Check your internet speed. Your internet provider will have details on their website of what speeds you can expect them to provide. You can use the Ofcom broadband test to check your device’s speed, and complain to your provider if the speeds are below their guarantee.
- Maximise your bandwidth. Having too many devices connected to the internet at once can reduce your internet speed. Disconnect as many other devices as you can, and shut down any programmes on your own device that you are not using. We appreciate this is not always possible in a busy household!
- If using a smartphone, make sure safe driving mode is turned off and check your do not disturb settings. Some people who have tried to access a Zoom meeting via their smartphone have discovered that these settings have sometimes prevented them joining or being able to participate fully. Check whether these settings will affect your ability to use the Zoom app on your smartphone.
- Get close to your router. Your WiFi connection improves the closer you are to its source, so try to be in the same room as your router if at all possible. For extra stability, you could try connecting your device to your router with an ethernet cable.
- Cut down on background noise. Finding a quiet place in your home (which may be difficult!) where you won’t be disturbed will prevent background noise at your end from affecting what others in the meeting may hear. Turn off as many other electrical appliances as you can so that humming/buzzing/beeping noises are eliminated, particularly if you are going to turn on the original sound function. A room with carpet and curtains will be less reverberant than a tiled room, which will help to cut down on background echoes.
- Invest in some kit. Wearing headphones will focus the sound into your ears, and will also mean that other people in the meeting won’t hear feedback or echoes from the event. A plug in USB microphone may pick up sound better than the microphone in your device; you can pick these up for a reasonable price. If you are playing or singing on Zoom, you might want to consider an even better quality microphone to ensure that your music can be heard.
- Join a test meeting to check your audio and sound. Zoom has a testing facility where you can enter a ‘meeting’ and double check your microphone and speakers/headphones are working. Find out more on the testing facility on the Zoom website.
Check your Zoom settings
You will need to go to your Zoom settings to check that they are set up in the right way. Click on the links below to access help guides on Zoom's website.
In your Zoom account/webportal (for the meeting host only, change in your account settings):
- Enable original sound. This setting allows microphones to pick up sound frequencies which are outside of the usual limits applied by Zoom (you will need to enable this in your account settings first, so that participants can turn on the original sound feature on their own devices).
- Enable stereo audio. This allows your participants who are playing or singing to choose stereo audio in their own settings, if they would like to and are able to. This means that their sound is picked up and delivered to the other people listening in stereo, rather than in mono.
In your Zoom desktop client/mobile app (for all users, change on all individual devices):
- Enable original sound. If you are playing or singing during the meeting, having this feature enabled will allow your listeners to hear better what you are doing, as it processes the higher and lower sound frequencies outside the usual limits applied by Zoom. You need to enable this feature in your settings before the meeting starts. You should also disable ‘echo cancellation’ here.
- Enable High Fidelity music mode. A new feature introduced by Zoom specifically for people playing music live over Zoom, this automatically eliminates audio compression and disables echo cancellation, allowing your microphone to pick up more of your sound. For desktop and laptop computer users only, this is part of the original sound option (see the previous bullet point) and is only available to you if you have updated to the latest version of Zoom.
- Set background noise suppression to low. For desktop PC and laptop users only, this is an additional setting that will cancel out more of the background noise. If you are using original sound, you need to make sure this option is set to low.
- Try turning on stereo audio. If your device and equipment supports this, and you are playing or singing to others, turning this setting on may help improve what they hear. Currently you can only turn this on if you are using the desktop app, and you must also have a microphone that can process stereo audio.
- Adjust your speaker output and microphone input levels – these are best set to around 75% to start with, then adjusted up or down as required. Setting them to maximum may cause the sound to distort. Untick the option to automatically adjust your microphone level.
In-meeting settings (which you can change once you are in the event):
- Change your microphone/speaker. Click the up arrow next to your mute button, which will give you the option to select different microphones (for transmitting your sound) and speakers (for hearing the sounds made by others). Try changing these to see if this improves the experience. You can also test your microphone and speakers, and turn off the option for Zoom to automatically adjust your microphone.
- Turn your volume down. If you are not wearing headphones, then other participants may hear an echo from your device. Turning your volume down can help to remove this echo so that other people don’t hear it. Zoom has some more more tips for dealing with audio echo.
- Turn on original sound. Even if original sound is enabled in the host account and in your own app settings, you still need to turn the feature on once you are in the meeting, to be able to use it. If you can’t see this option on your screen, it might be under ‘more’. You should also turn off the option for Zoom to automatically adjust your microphone when using the original sound function (click on the up arrow next to your mute button to find this option).
- Share computer sound when sharing audio via the share screen function. This is a tick box that you need to select at the stage where you select the screen to be shared. Ticking this box allows the sound to be fed directly to listeners without going through your computer first, and will improve the sound quality for them.
The advanced option – stream your audio through a separate feed
It is possible to use another piece of software to stream the audio, and use Zoom for video (seeing each other) and chatting via the chat function only. Some members have reported some success doing this using the Cleanfeed app.
If you do decide to try this, you may need to enable third-party audio conferencing in your Zoom account. For some audio software, participants may need to download an extra app to their device to be able to use it.
If all else fails, reconnect or reboot
If someone is experiencing audio issues, breaking the connection and then re-establishing it in one of the following ways might help:
- Exit the meeting and then rejoin it
- Uninstall the Zoom app from your device, then reinstall it
- Shut down your device completely, then restart it
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.