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Home Office Audio Conferencing Challenges

Last updated on May 25, 2020

I have been working from home since early March as mandated by the company that I work for, due to the physical distancing guidelines to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus. With everyone in my department working from home, I usually have three or four meetings every day to call in to, via Webex, or other such platforms, adding up to 3 or 4 hours of being on the phone or my computer audio.

Working from your home office on a regular basis and attending meetings frequently brings its own set of challenges. The audio connection could be through the computer or the phone. If you live in a household with your family or roommates, or have pets, then you need to worry about the background noise when you are attending meeting: others having conversations, noise from the TV, dogs barking, kids playing or attending online classes, someone using a hair-dryer or the vacuum cleaner, and so on. If the meetings are with a few people that you regularly work with, then may be you don’t worry as much about the background noise. But if you are attending formal meetings with a large number of people where serious discussions take place, you really don’t want your background noise to be heard through your microphone.

I live with my family and there is a fair amount of buzz during the day at home: my wife attending to her work phone calls, the news on TV, my daughter attending her school meetings online or her singing class, the dogs barking at the Amazon delivery guy or at a squirrel on the fence, to name a few. Any of that can be quite distracting when I am not on mute, and speaking in my meeting. Typically, this isn’t a problem, but it is quite unpredictable when someone turns on the vacuum cleaner, or when someone rings the doorbell and the dogs start barking. Attending meetings for a few hours everyday, praying that it will be quiet when I am on the call can be quite stressful.

I needed to urgently address this problem. How do I cut out the background noise? Clearly, I needed to find a way to block noise from entering my microphone. Locking yourself in a quiet corner room may not be practical if you are going to be working from home for many months: you may not have such a room in your house, and you may still hear noise from outside. It isn’t easy to soundproof the place where you work.

Is there a way to prevent the noise from entering the microphone even though you can hear it? There is, and that is what noise canceling microphones offer. There are headsets that feature passive or active noise canceling features.

Passive noise canceling depends on the directionality of the microphone, or some ways to dampen the noise entering the microphone, while letting the sound from your voice to be amplified. These techniques are moderately effective, and are often not adequate for home video conferencing needs.

Active noise canceling (ANC) uses techniques that combine multiple microphones and electronic circuitry that cancels out ambient noise picked up by some of the microphones, while amplifying your voice that is picked up by one or more microphones placed close to your mouth. These are very effective and can block out much of the background noise and create an impression that you are working in a very quiet office.

There are several headsets that offer good ANC performance that are in the market. I did quite a bit of research and found two that promised the best ANC: the BlueParrott B550-XT (my review) and the Plantronics Voyager 5200 (my review).

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