Settings: Getting Best Quality Sound

This post is part of a series intended to become a Mermaid’s Tavern Guide to Zoom Singing publication for folk arts organizations, feature artists, session singers, and online audiences for folk music. We welcome comments below.

This post is lightly edited from the excellent webpage on Using Zoom on a Desktop or Laptop from the Golden Link Folksinging Society of Rochester, NY. We thank them for their commitment to best quality sound.

Getting the Best Quality Sound

Since we are playing music and singing songs rather than just speaking, we’d all like to be heard at our best. There are a number of factors that will affect your audio quality on Zoom. The more of them you can apply, the better your sound will be.

Microphone - The vast majority of participants, including session singers, just use their built-in microphone on their computer or mobile device and that will work fine. Feature Artists take note: if you have a good quality USB microphone or an audio interface and stage mic, those will give you better sound. See Gear: Studio Gear.

Position - Try to get as close to your microphone as you reasonably can. Most built-in microphones are not all that sensitive and you will sound worse, and softer, the farther away you are. Be aware of the location of your microphone on your device. If it is sitting on a table and the microphone is low, it may pick up your instrument much louder than your voice. If possible, try to position your microphone closer to your mouth, or at least aim it up and above your instrument so you don’t drown out your voice.

Wifi Connection - When you are far away from your wifi router, the wifi signal will be weaker and the bandwidth will decrease. This means that Zoom will have to compress your audio much more than usual and degrade the quality. If you can move your laptop or mobile device closer to your router, you can reduce or eliminate this problem.

Wired Connection - You will always get the best results from a desktop or laptop using a wired Ethernet cable connection to your router. If you are a Feature Artist, MC, Zoom Host or Co-host, consider how best to run an Ethernet cable to your machine.

Audio Setup in the Zoom Application
IMPORTANT - You should check these settings EVERY time you join a Zoom meeting. Some of them get reset each time.

These settings will have a big effect on your sound quality. Zoom is normally expecting a meeting where people are just speaking. So it optimizes the sound for the voice but not for musical instruments. The following settings will give you the best quality sound with any instrument and with singing.

To start with, go to the audio settings in Zoom. The easiest way to do this is to click on the up arrow ^ next to the Microphone icon in the lower left, and select Audio Settings from the popup menu as shown at left.

Automatic Volume - Start by making sure the “Automatically adjust microphone volume” checkbox is NOT checked. You don’t want zoom to be changing your volume while you’re playing your song.

Manual Volume - Adjust your microphone volume manually by using the “Input Level” slider. Check your microphone volume by playing and singing, and watching the “Input Level” indicator. If the volume is set too loud, your audio will be “clipped” and sound distorted. If it is too soft it will be hard for people to hear. Adjust the slider till the volume shown in the Input Level meter is somewhere in the middle, and never reaches the top.

Enable Original Sound - Now, click on the Advanced button at the bottom of the settings window. In the next window, check the checkbox to Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone.

This is the option that tells zoom NOT to optimize the audio for speaking, but instead to try to conserve the full spectrum original sound that the microphone picks up. Note that setting this option does NOT turn on the option. It just makes the option show up during the meeting. When you return to the meeting screen, there will be a new control in the upper left that you can now click to turn Original Sound on or off:

If the control says "Turn off Original Sound,” then the setting is already turned on and you’re good to go! If it says “Turn on Original Sound” then you should click it to turn it on.

When you click on the Enable Original Sound checkbox, more options appear underneath it. To get full quality original sound, check the High Fidelity music mode checkbox as well:

Echo Cancellation Options - The sound you hear during a zoom session can also be picked up by your microphone. Because of the transmission delays, this will cause an annoying echo that everyone will hear. Use the following options depending on how you hear your sound.

Headphones - If you’re using headphones to hear the zoom session there can be no echo, so you can disable echo cancellation. This will give you the best possible audio because zoom does not have to try to eliminate echoes. However, zoom does not play your own voice through your headphones so it can feel a bit weird to use headphones because your own voice can sound muffled.

Speakers - whether you use external speakers or your device’s built in speakers, there can be a potential for annoying echoes. If you keep your speaker volume low, and your microphone is far enough away from your speakers, you may not need echo cancellation. But in most cases, it’s better to leave it on and set to Auto.