3

I have an alcove that I'd like to turn into a home office suitable for high quality audio and video calls. I have a desk & chair, however...

  • There are no windows and stark white walls. What is the best lighting solution?
  • It's echoey. What is the best audio solution?
  • I cannot make permanent changes, since I do not own the apartment.

IKEA hacks, DIY solutions, & creative ideas are much appreciated.

  • Still too echoey? Move the microphone closer to you and compensate by lowering the amplification. Your voice will be proportionately louder than the reflections. Some microphones are directional and better for your application than non-directional ones. Cardioid is one such type that can be aimed at your mouth from off camera so it doesn't show. A Lavallier is a small microphone that you see on news anchor's lapel which is unobtrusive and good for echoey locations too. – Stan Aug 7 '17 at 19:14
3

I'll assume the camera is directly in front of you. Position a floor lamp with a transparent/translucent white lampshade a few feet to the left of it, and a foot or two above it. If the light is too straight-on your face will look flat on camera. Since the light will make the lampshade "glow", the light will be softer (instead of a stark bare bulb that casts crisp shadows). The white walls will also reflect light onto the rest of you, making it look softer but still directional. If you want a little more punchy lighting, you could also place a lamp with a bare bulb directly to your right and even a little bit behind you. (I've been making and lighting videos for 10 years.)

Get a phone headset. That should eliminate most of the room noise, since the mic will be very close to your mouth. DO NOT use speaker phone; that mic would always be too far from your mouth and will pick up way too much room noise and echo.

Behind you, just place a book case that contrasts with the walls (so a darker color) and put a plant on it, off center. For more interest you could place the dark book case with the plant on it off to one side of the video frame, and have a similarly-colored or complimentary-colored chair on the other side of the video frame. Asymmetry with balance is always pleasant to look at, but you don't want your background to be distracting.

  • 1
    Good question. I think the "color temperature" of the bulb might matter. For example, you can get bulbs that are "daylight" (with a color temperature around 5100° K) and bulbs that are more warm (closer to 2500° K). So you may want to buy a few bulbs with different color temperatures, then set up test video conferences with a friend, and see which of the bulbs looks best on your video camera / web cam. (By the way, you can up-vote my answer and mark it as "The Answer" if it sounds like a good solution for you.) – BrettFromLA Apr 11 '16 at 19:42
  • You are welcome! And thanks for the up-vote! :) – BrettFromLA Apr 11 '16 at 22:25
3

When you're thinking about outfitting a home office, making that space suitable for audio and video calls is a multi-step process. You need to make sure that you hear the caller, that you are heard clearly, and that your environment is reasonably well-lit.

How do you sound?

You would prefer if people didn't hear everything in your environment, so investing in an expensive headset or microphone with noise-canceling features will help.

Making yourself sound less echo-ey is surprisingly easy: muffle the ambient noise slightly. For most spaces this involves both carpeting the floor or putting an area rug in place, or using a sound baffle to speak into so that the noise doesn't bounce as much.

You may also experiment with using different input than your laptop microphone, which tends to pick up things like typing and doesn't have much of a filter. Consider using a USB microphone or another plug-in source that is hidden from the screen when you're talking. You may not need a boom mic, but either a headset or a simple plug-in microphone will help. Test this set up by recording a standard script and then playing it back so that you can hear how scratchy (or blissfully quiet) things sound in your environment.

Note: changing how you sound is different than noise-canceling headphones, which do a great job of smoothing out the noise you hear from other people and do not change the sound those people hear at all.

How well do I hear them?

This is the easiest part of the problem - making sure you are able to hear your caller well. A basic headset will help - if you use an Apple device, the stock headphones work surprisingly well, or a headsets from Logitech are a good bet. You don't need super fancy, just comfortable.

If you use a headset intended for headphone and microphone jacks and you only have USB or a USB Hub, buy a USB sound adapter.

Does the environment look ok?

When you are on a video call, you'll need the background to be simple and avoid distraction. A complicated solution might be a video backdrop and a stand; while a simple solution might be a neutral colored bedsheet that you hang on your wall so that you avoid displaying the contents of your alcove on a remote call.

Not every video call is made equal - for example, Zoom will have different results from GoToMeeting or Google Hangouts. You'll need to experiment to find the best combination.

Tune your network

This part might be obvious, and it's worth upgrading your network equipment so you get the most out of the internet connection you have. Apple and eero both have excellent routers that make sure you are not dropping packets.

  • Muffling ambient noise; every little helps. A carpet is good. If you can, hang some cloth over one wall or the door, a big curtain or just a blanket will do. If the echoing is really bad, consider insulating the ceiling. I did this with egg-trays (the kind with 30 holes) attached with drawing pins for my music cellar, it made a huge difference. – RedSonja Apr 12 '16 at 12:55
2

Hang an IKEA light weight carpet on the wall in front of you behind the camera and microphone to help with reflecting sound. For decor sake, frame the rug!

See how you sound with SKYPE call testing service. Dial in, speak, and your voice will be played back as it is received. It the best sound-check for the money (free).

You don't want too much sound deadening as it degrades the sound quality overall.

The new LED lighting is very close to daylight and looks sharp and has excellent colour rendition. They don't pollute so much as the Energy Efficient Compact Fluorescent bulbs.

Then, call your agent and raise your speaking fee.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.