Peter Holst co-authored this article.
Zoom fatigue is real. Those of us who spend large portions of our day meeting with clients and colleagues via video conferences often feel drained after long meetings, as if our mental energy has been rapidly sapped away. A day of in-person meetings can be tiring too, but people seem to agree that there is something particularly taxing about long video calls. What is it? Why do these calls seem to sap our energy faster than the real-life equivalent?
There are numerous theories for the causes of Zoom fatigue, from reduced non-verbal communication cues, to constant analysis of our own onscreen appearance. One less-discussed possibility: sound. Specifically, monophonic audio, which means sound coming from a single source.
Typical video conference audio mixes together all of the talkers on a call into a single stream that the human hearing system has to decipher. The voices of all of these talkers come from the same location, without the directional cues that would be present in a real-life conversation. Some research supports the idea that sound coming from different locations results in reduced listening effort in deciphering conversations.
Testing It Out
The acoustics team at TEECOM hypothesized that the increased effort needed to decipher mono sound from multi-person conversations could be a contributing factor to Zoom fatigue. We wanted to test this theory for ourselves and see if a spatialized videoconference would sound better. Could it help reduce our Zoom fatigue?
Alas, current videoconferencing systems (Zoom included) do not provide a software-based means of spatializing participant speech. However, we found that Zoom provides a means of recording individual participant audio streams. To satisfy our curiosity, we recorded a brief meeting and remixed the individual participant recordings to create a spatialized-audio Zoom meeting.
We think the results are worth hearing. The top video below demonstrates typical monophonic audio. The bottom video demonstrates spatialized audio. Have a listen (headphones required) and tell us if you notice the difference, think there is an improvement, or believe this could help provide more clarity to your meetings and more energy to your workday. It may be worth listening several times to better experience the spatialization.
TEECOM Can Help
TEECOM’s Acoustics team is developing auralization modeling tools to help clients experience acoustical simulations of their spaces and designs before they are built. This article, which grew from that effort, is the first in a series that will explore the subject. To let us know your thoughts on our experiment, or to discuss how auralization modeling could benefit your project, use the Contact TEECOM form at the bottom of the page.