Computing

How to Make Your Outdoor Zoom Meetings Sound Better

Changing this one audio setting made everyone else in my Zoom meetings much happier.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Two years of pandemic living has shifted my default workspace from an office to the now-common sidewalk seating outside almost every cafe or coffee shop in New York. Weather permitting, it's also my favorite place to join Zoom or other web meetings. And don't worry, I always use a headset, usually a set of AirPods Pro, to avoid bothering those around me. 

But it's not a perfect system. Sitting outside, even in a semi-enclosed wooden sidewalk shed, there's a lot of noise around me. Besides other human beings, I've got to contend with cars, trucks and buses driving by a few feet away, as well as occasional police, ambulance and fire engine sirens. The result is that my outgoing audio -- what the other people in the meetings hear through my mic -- is often noisy or unintelligible, and I would get a lot of complaints about it. 

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In this particular case, using a MacBook and AirPods, I used a quick tweak to greatly improve my audio, which was greatly appreciated by the other people in my meetings. 

The problem is that the microphone built into the AirPods is merely OK at best, even with a directional mic on each earbud and behind-the-scenes audio cleanup. However, the MacBook Pro I was using has a high-quality three-mic array. In addition to the better mics -- and the fact that my voice is actually projecting in the direction of those mics -- the Apple-silicon-powered MacBook Pro has a ton of computational power to do all that behind-the-scenes AI sweetening and noise filtering. (The Zoom app tries to help with that as well.)

Read more: MacBook Pro 14-inch Review 

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Here's what you want your Zoom settings to look like. Except your AirPods probably aren't named after me. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

So after you pop in your AirPods or other earbuds, navigate to Zoom > Preferences > Audio. There you'll see separate pulldown menus labeled Speaker and Microphone. Under Speaker, select your AirPods. Under Microphone, select your laptop's built-in mic. In my case, it was labeled MacBook Pro Microphone. That's it. You're done. 

In the middle of a Zoom meeting, I made this voice input switch, as I was having trouble competing with a busy street corner and a nearby subway entrance. Everyone on the call immediately noticed the difference and said I sounded much clearer. 

Many Windows laptops have excellent built-in mics as well, so this isn't a Mac-only tip. Similarly, I was using AirPods, but this goes for other earbuds, too. 

Or, you could always just wear a giant gaming headset with a microphone boom arm, which is always a good look for your local coffee shop.