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A Zoom elementary-school class can be heard in my home every weekday. The teacher and most kids sound fine. But one or two kids either have poor-quality/faulty hardware, or their microphone preference setting has been slid all the way up to 11. The relative difference, when those kids speak, is startling, staggering, has to be heard to be believed. For me it is markedly more distracting than having a kid in the house in the first place—which is saying something—or having a normal class/meeting/TV going in the background.

The loud kids are not to blame—they're just ordinary kids innocently saying ordinary things (sometimes, sure, with a certain amount of 6-year-old gusto), unaware that they're causing a noise tsunami of compressed/overdriven shouting in 25 other homes around the district. This does a great disservice to those particular kids themselves (the rest of the class must cringe when that one kid is called on to speak) as well as to the rest of us trying to keep our jobs going in the same house (when the rest of the class speaks, there's no problem, but when that one loud kid talks, there is literally no room in my house in which he doesn't rattle the windows and cause my focus to evaporate).

Can anybody offer a quick solution to this? I'm imagining maybe some kind of external speaker (or, if necessary, headphone) that implements dynamic volume normalization. Unfortunately, as far as I've found so far, that's only implemented in high-end home-theater equipment—but maybe I have missed whatever cheaper solutions are out there? Or maybe there's a software system extension, for one or other operating system, that will do this job? This would be a rare example of software I would gladly pay for, but my search has drawn a blank so far.


Here are some approaches that I've thought about, which I think won't work:

  1. I can't give my kid ordinary earphones. He'll have to turn up the volume to hear the teacher, and then the loud kid will blow his eardrums and/or jangle his nerves.

  2. I could try, and am looking into, improving the soundproofing of my office. But a truly effective solution will likely be very expensive, and I'd prefer to be able to protect more than one area of the house from the noise tsunami. Also, I want to be able to hear my kid shout if/when he needs help (for this reason I can't simply shut him in a sound-proof room: we need to be able to monitor what's going on, at non-nerve-jangling volume).

  3. It won't work to ask the teacher to reach out to the parents concerned, via their IT support people, to coach the families to fix the problem. I did ask this once, and they actually did end up replacing one or two kids' school-issued hardware: the problem went away for a week or two and then, for whatever reason, eventually came back. Some other family member probably got the idea stuck in their head that the mic gain needs to be turned up, for whatever reason. Dedicating that amount of time/energy/manpower to each volume adjustment is obviously not going to work.

  4. It won't work to have the teacher ask the kids to turn their setting down manually as-needed. Even assuming they can be trained to find the right preference setting (and it is amazing what tasks the families actually have been successfully guided to do, with enough patience) it would be too disruptive. Various kids randomly switch from computer to computer and room to room on different days, and once you add in the influence of those extra family members meddling with settings in the meantime, I imagine the adjustment would have to be made once or twice per class per day—it would simply be too disruptive to stop the class and talk kids/parents through it that often. It's also unfair to continually call the same kids out in front of the rest, for something that's probably not their fault.

  5. It probably won't work to beg Zoom to implement per-user volume attenuation in their software, either automatically (it'll take a while to iron the bugs out of that) or under the teacher's control. The latter is the best solution in my opinion: she can already reach out and mute individual children who can't be persuaded to wait their turn to speak; so why not implement a small per-child slider that will let her reach out and discreetly adjust each class member's mic level as-needed? The settings could even be reverted automatically to the family's preference when the meeting ends, but saved on a per-class basis to be re-established automatically at the start of the next day's class. I see no problem with taking this tiny bit of autonomy away from the kids—after all, changes in your mic gain are not something that you even notice; only other people are directly affected by it. Plenty of users have asked Zoom for something like this; the company probably simply has other priorities. Until they get around to it (some time between whenever and never) and then the school district can be persuaded/coordinated into updating to the new version (which will also take a while) my work will suffer.

(Note that approaches 3–5 are all along the lines of attempting to control what other people do, rather than what I do, so their mileage is going to vary widely even under the best of circumstances. In particular, among her own million pressures and concerns, the teacher is not affected by this problem in the same way I am—the loud kid is part of the channel she's tuned into anyway, and she is not struggling to pay attention to something else.)

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  • You are looking for "limiting" rather than "equalization" which tends to increase gain—not what you want. – Stan Jan 31 at 19:47
  • @stan. Thanks, it’s true equalization is often just used to mean old-fashioned static EQ. I think maybe “normalization” is used for what I’m talking about. I’ve edited that into the question. – jez Jan 31 at 20:22
  • As you say in the question, not just you but all the kids in the virtual class as well as the teacher and others near any of them suffer, I feel it is not asking too much to teach the kids how to limit the microphone. Kids can do those things rather young, much easier than most adults think it to be. I could post this as an answer but it does not answer the question you asked, so as a comment. – Willeke Feb 1 at 11:36
  • @Willeke you're not wrong, but this comes under the same heading as the software fix—persuading a third party to attach the same importance as I do to an issue, and to go out of their way to address it, when they are overwhelmed with other priorities. The teacher is not as affected by this issue as I am—she is paying attention to the kids whether quiet or loud, rather than struggling to pay attention to something else. This is possibly worth trying, but it's a long-shot, at best an uphill struggle, and not a life-hack solution. – jez Feb 1 at 14:10
  • Terminology: Normalization does not change the dynamic range. It affects the overall volume/gain/loudness, up or down, to the whole track. – Stan Feb 7 at 17:44
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If you have a Windows computer, you can try to limit the peak level for your output by using SoundLock. There may be an equivalent program for the Scottish computer.

The directions are on the site. You set the maximum volume you wish and the gain is clipped at levels above that setting.

You can find a myriad of other solutions for LIMITING gain, volume, etc. by searching the term "limiting" or "limiters" or "peak-limiting." Also, gear can be "active" or "passive." They work.

EDIT: A similar question about an audio output limiter for Mac was asked on StackExchange "Ask Different" for Apple products. There, the Apple AppStore and other solutions were discussed.

Good luck.

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If you have Windows with a Realtek Audio driver, there is a setting for Loudness Equalization.

enter image description here

Loudness "equalization" was the MS term. Such that increasing the volume above a certain point does not affect the output volume for a given sound source. There are individual volume sliders for each application in the "Mixer" as well as external speaker amplifier options to choose the best " loudness equalization" levels overall.

You may notice a boost when this is enabled, which is normal then you would reduce the speaker level to suit your needs.

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  • I believe this will have the opposite effect to the one the OP desires. The problem is that there are unwanted loud portions of the audio which must be acted upon. As noted in your last statement, dropping the level will further reduce the volume of normal voices to make loud segments bearable. – Stan Feb 7 at 17:59
  • Compression works raising the gain of lower than loudest sounds which have lower gain in order to equalize not the ducking effects of your impression or clipping or AGC pumping effects – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Feb 7 at 19:57
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What you're looking for is a Automatic Level Control (ALC), sometimes also named Automatic Volume Control (AVC). This is a circuit which limits the level of the audio output: it will lower the level of all audio above some threshold to the threshold level.

There are standalone units, here is a radom one , but sometimes amplifiers also have an ALC incorporated (can't find an example online right now). I would maybe also ask at a local hardware shop if they can recommend you something.

You will then route the audio of your PC through the ALC before going to the speakers.

Maybe there's also some software which can accomplish the same (and which might save you some bucks - the above example ALC comes in at $230), but googling around I didn't immediatley find something.

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In the line of Tony and 1NN's answers, an option that offers power without cost is a free DAW or DAW trial, like Reaper.

If you're at all techy, create a virtual audio cable and set Zoom's speakers to its input. Then create a project in Reaper with a single track whose "mic" input is the virtual audio cable's output. Monitor the track, and keep the Reaper project open whenever using Zoom.

Then, crucially, apply FX to the track. This is where the power cones in. There are tons of free and paid FX plugins that allow you to manipulate the sound. You could introduce a compressor/limiter, use an equalizer to lower that house-shaking bass, even de-ess everyone for less noisy sibilants. You could also easily assign a hotkey to lower the volume while held, which your kid could discreetly press when the loud student talks. As much as you want to add is up to you.

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