Configuring your audio setup for Skype

Skype is great for calls over the Internet if you have a broadband connection.

If your audio hardware is decent and your configuration of such is optimal, you should be able to enjoy excellent sound reception and transmission for all your Skype calls. Of course, both parties in a call need to have a decent setup in order for the conversation to be as effortless and as smooth as regular phone service.

I’m often asked and help out with getting an audio setup configured right for Skype. The two main sources of audio problems are:

  1. Low end audio hardware (i.e. cheap sound card)
  2. Feedback in non-headset mode

Audio Hardware

If you’ve got a Mac, you have less to worry about here. Your audio hardware is very good.

If you have a PC, you may have an issue here. Low-end sound cards that sound decent for basic sounds and some music often have much worse audio in (mic input) sub-systems. Furthermore, if the sound card is really cheap, the driver software and utilities that come with it usually are too. Not being able to properly configure mic input volume levels and basic things of this sort can make it frustrating.

In my Dad’s computer, we had a basic sound card that used to do the job well before we pushed it with two-way voice over IP telephony. Frustrated with the confusing driver software and performance, I picked up an external, brand name sound “card”. The beauty with these, is that they can move with you to the next computer, much like your keyboard, mouse and monitor.

For about $70 CDN, you can get an entry-level SoundBlaster external sound device from Creative Labs. These guys are a mainstream brand name. Therefore, decent software and driver support (as well as above average sound hardware) is something you no longer have to worry about.

As for mics, I’m a big fan of the Logitech USB microphone and for headsets, I like anything Plantronics makes. In both cases, there’s an above average quality you can trust in that makes the configuration/troubleshooting phase that much simpler.

Audio Feedback

This is where the bulk of the problems come. We often have our speakers so close to our computers for every day applications, that we don’t realize this is just way too close for using Skype, in most cases.

If you are using a computer headset (more common with PCs), you pretty much eliminate the feedback issue. If you are using a microphone and your speakers, then you have to be careful that the sound from your speakers doesn’t feed back into your microphone. If you’re not sure this is the problem, replace your speakers with regular audio headphones, but continue to use your microphone. With no other sound except that going to your ears, you eliminate the possibility of feedback. Does this sound better? If so, then as far as you think your speakers are, they are still too loud and/or too close. Only experimentation will tell you what works.

If all else fails, use a headset or headphones to kill feedback.

I have found that placing the speakers on the ground created more feedback and rumblings, but that placing speakers behind me and pointing sideways (instead of having the sound come directly at me from behind) worked very well.

In my own setup, I keep a couple of speaker sets around the room. If I’m doing a Skype call, I’ll kill the power on the nearby speakers to eliminate the feedback. Now I can walk around the room and have a Skype call, hands free.