Spatial Audio and Howling Detection Sound Interesting
Updated 13 April 2023
I’m no audiophile but I am interested in the changes in Microsoft Teams meetings to make the sound better for participants. Take the splendidly-named “ultrasound howling detection” feature (MC514081, February 10, Microsoft 365 roadmap item 92391) available for Windows and Mac desktop clients. In a nutshell, if multiple people (each with their own workstation) are in a physical room join a meeting, Teams allows the first person to join as normal and then advises the others that someone using a Teams device is nearby and is already in the meeting with an audio feed. To avoid a feedback loop (echo), Teams mutes the microphones and speakers of those users. If the muted participants want to, they can unmute their microphones and speakers (maybe after connecting headsets) or listen to the existing audio.
It’s a neat feature that is rolling out to commercial and GCC tenants. GCC-High and DoD tenants will see it in May.
Another interesting idea is spatial audio in Teams meetings (Microsoft 365 roadmap item 107783). According to Sonos, spatial audio “is an immersive, three-dimensional listening experience. Using multiple channels projecting outwards from each speaker, it can place individual sounds (or “objects”) with greater precision and variety than traditional stereo sound.” Sounds good.
Although the feature is still a while away (according to MC540153, targeted release clients should see it at the end of April 2023 with roll-out to standard release tenants due to finish by mid-June), Microsoft has published some documentation to put the feature into context. When users enable spatial audio for a Teams meeting, users will “hear their [other meeting participants] voices coming from their relative positions on the meeting screen.”
Conferencing provider Bluejeans figure that spatial audio helps participants minimize meeting fatigue, an assertion backed up by Forbes. The problem with claims like this is that they are highly subjective. I suspect that individuals will find different levels of benefits depending on the type, length, and content of meetings you attend. Plus the ability of people in the meeting to keep it interesting and worthwhile. If things get too boring, it might be possible to turn on an avatar (due to be available in May 2023) and tune out for a while.
To make the magic happen, you enable spatial audio before a meeting through the Devices section of Teams settings (Figure 1). Alternatively, you can enable it for a suitable device during a meeting.
You can opt for spatial audio only if the selected device meets the requirements of being USB-wired stereo headphones or speakers or the workstation’s built-in stereo speakers. Stereo (to highlight audio from individual speakers) and not Bluetooth are the key words here. It’s kind of disappointing that I can’t use my Microsoft Surface 2 headphones.
Meetings must run in gallery view rather than together mode. The reason here is that the feature attempts to figure out the relative position of the speaker from you and that isn’t possible when participants are framed in a special view. Another thing to pay attention to is that spatial audio consumes system resources. Teams will throttle back on spatial audio if it detects that the system comes under strain. Throttling is automatic and you can’t control it. The same is true for other features (like noise suppression) that process video or audio feeds for Teams meetings.
Making Better Meetings
There’s no guarantee that either feature will create better Teams meetings. Even spatial audio won’t improve what people say, but they will sound clearer and more distinct which can’t be a bad thing. That is, unless you do want to drift off to sleep..
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