How to Fix Poor Audio or Video Quality for VOIP

Authored by: Tech Pro Team

1. Introduction

VOIP (Voice/Video over IP) software has gotten you connected with your co-workers, classmates, or family members. The technology itself is amazing and everything seems great, until you and the person you're speaking to begin running into major quality issues. Others may point out that your picture is very choppy and/or blurry, or your voice sounds like a cellphone call that's about to be dropped. This isn't what you're used to.

When everything is functioning properly, others should be able to see you as if you were sitting in the same room, and your voice should be coming through crystal clear.

If you're looking to improve your experience with VOIP software and learn why performace can suffer, we're here to help. First, we'll check on your home network to see what kind of connection you're using, how to optize that connection, and how traffic can have an impact. Next, we'll take a look at your computer to see how its performace and the hardware connected to it can play a role. Lastly, we'll take a look at how the environment you're in can impact quality for better or for worse.

What's Covered:

This guide will help you look at the following parts of your connection:

  • Network Connection
    Wired or Wi-Fi, and how to make the best of what you have available.
  • Network Load
    Other devices using your home network, and what to look for when it comes to reducing so your conference performs better.
  • Computer Load
    Other programs using resources on your computer, and what to look for to make your conference work better.
  • USB Bus Load
    How USB data routing on your computer may affect quality.
  • Webcam and Microphone Quality
    Checking the camera and mic you're using.
  • Battery
    A quick check of the battery on your computer, if it has one, and how that can affect quality.
  • Echo Reduction
    Specific to audio, methods to make your audio clearer and easier to understand.


VOIP Checks

2. Assess the Quality of your Internet Connection

The speed and reliability of your connection to your router is extremely important when it comes to sending and receiving audio and video. While browsing websites and streaming video may work just fine on WiFi, video conferencing with multiple audio and video streams being sent and received every second requires a far greater amount of bandwidth. This may require that you take steps to improve your wireless connection, or even hardwire your device if possible.

Hardwire your devices whenever possible

Whenever possible, it's always recommended to use a wired Ethernet connection when video conferencing. While WiFi is convenient, WiFi is also designed to decrease quite substantially in quality to a point where it just provides a tiny connection. Waiting an extra second for a web page to load or seeing a few dropped frames on a single video won't be noticed over such a connection. When it comes to video conferencing, though, it's incredibly noticeable as voices become robotic and video becomes a mess of pixels in an attempt to compensate.

Wired Ethernet connections don't have these problems. It provides a massive amount of bandwidth to your computer, with little-to-no interference, and no change in quality. That reliability and bandwidth are taken advantage of by video conferencing programs, to give you a great, consistent, high-quality picture and sound, both from and to you.

How do I hardwire my computer?

Plug one end of your Ethernet cable into your laptop or desktop, the other end into your router. Your computer will automatically connect, and prioritize using the faster wired connection.

Plug in Ethernet Connection

Some laptop computers do not have a built-in Ethernet port, and will only allow for connecting via WiFi by default. Third-party adapters can be purchased to allow for this type of connection.

Check wireless connection signal strength

If a wired connection is not possible, either because you cannot get close enough to your router or you're using a laptop without an Ethernet port, you'll want to give your WiFi connection the best chance to provide as much bandwidth as possible.

The built-in meter on your computer is a good first step to determine if your WiFi connection is strong enough to support video conferencing.

Check WiFi connection on Windows

Windows shows its WiFi connectivity in the System Tray, next to the clock, usually in the bottom-right corner of your screen.

Strong Signal:

Windows Wi-Fi connection full

Weak Signal:

Windows Wi-Fi connection weak signal

Check WiFi connection on a Mac

macOS shows its WiFi connectivity on the right-hand side of the menu bar at the top of your screen.

Strong Signal:

macOS showing strong Wi-Fi signal

Weak Signal:

macOS showing weak Wi-Fi signal

If your WiFi connection isn't great

Generally speaking, to achieve the best WiFi performance:

  • Make sure you're between three feet and 30 feet from your router.Every router is different, but most have a small 'overpowered' area right near the router, and reach between 20 and 30 feet.
  • If possible, leave doors open so there's a clear path to your router from your device.While WiFi does penetrate some wall material, it tends to reflect off surfaces more. It's helpful to think of it more like light than radio.
  • If you're using a WiFi range extender, make sure it's between you and your router, rather than right next to you.Range extenders work more like 'bucket brigades' rather than a 'booster', carrying signal further through hops, rather than making it stronger.

Slow Internet
We have a separate guide available to help troubleshoot a slow Internet connection generally.

3. How Network Traffic Can Make a Difference

Video conferencing takes a lot of bandwidth, more so than playing games, or even streaming video from a site like Netflix. This is because it needs to send video and audio, as well as receive multiple video and audio sources. All of that needs to be done instantly and in sync, putting a large demand on your home network and Internet connection.

When you have multiple devices and programs all accessing the Internet all at once, you could saturate, or use up, all the bandwidth available from your home network or even your Internet provider for the services you purchased.

Reduce traffic on your home network

Home Network Considerations

Your home network is your computer's connection to your router, as well as any other devices you have in your home, such as Smart TVs, smartphones, tablets, game consoles, etc.

In this case, this also involves the various things you're doing on that connection, such as transferring files, watching videos, or streaming music.

On Your Computer

On the computer you are video conferencing with, it's best to close other, unnecessary sources of bandwidth use, such as:

  • Streaming Music
  • Streaming Videos
  • Unnecessary Websites (especially social media, such as Facebook)

Other Devices In Your Home

Other devices on your home network using a lot of bandwidth can cause problems for video conferencing. It's best to ask others in your household to keep the following to a minimum if you find it affecting your video conferencing ability:

  • Streaming Video
  • Large Downloads

It's often believed that video games take a lot of bandwidth; this is not the case. Most online games use the same, or less, bandwidth than browsing social media such as Facebook.

Consider Internet provider limitations

Internet Connection Considerations

The Internet connection coming from your router is managed by your Internet Service Provider. While you don't have a lot of control over this aspect of things, you do influence it by the service package you've purchased, and that can impact your experience with video conferencing.

Primarily, you'll need to make sure you have enough bandwidth, at minimum, for your video conference in the first place. It's also best to have a little extra, so you won't notice when other stuff on your computer or other people on your network use some, too.

Generally speaking, in most cases, you'll need about 6Mbps up and 10Mbps down just for video conferencing. Meaning, around 10Mbps up and 20Mbps down should allow enough 'headroom' to video conference while someone else is doing things at the same time.

If the bandwidth level you've purchased isn't enough for all the services you want to use at the same time, you will need to contact your Internet Service Provider and purchase a higher-tier of service.

How much bandwidth do you really need?

If you're trying to plan for video conferencing, and want to try to figure out how much bandwidth you'd need, you can use the following chart to help you plan.

These are estimates; because every person uses such services differently, and the activity itself may fluctuate based on the exact things you are doing.

Bandwidth Usage Examples

Downloads will consume all available bandwidth in most cases, but once they are done, they don't need it any longer. If a download is small, you'd not notice it being used in most cases.

Here's an example of bandwidth planning

Generally, you can total up what you expect your household to use at once, then add a little bit for 'overhead' to figure out what bandwidth you need. For example:

  • If you need to be on a conference (about 10Mbps), while your child plays games (1-2Mbps), while someone else is watching Netflix or YouTube (about 5 Mbps), you'd want 10+2+5 =17 Mbps + 3 Mbps 'overhead', or about 20Mbps down service.
  • If you expect 2 or 3 Netflix streams at the same time, you'd want 20Mbps to 30Mbps.
  • If it's common to have 2 family members on Social media sites, another playing online games with voice chat, another watching 4k Netflix and you need to be on a video conference, a 75Mbps connection or above may be necessary.

4. Prepare Your Computer Before Any Conference

On your computer, each frame of video has to be turned into a stream of 1s and 0s using extremely complex models and formula. This requires a good deal of processing power to do well. While most software will adjust based on how powerful your computer is, freeing up available resources can help to give you a better video conference experience.

Reduce processing load by closing other programs

Just like you would clear space from your desk to begin an important project, if you need a certain program on your computer to perform at its best, closing other programs to reduce the processing load on your computer can help.

Programs to look for:

  • Games
    Most games require a lot of resources on your computer. Closing any games on the computer will allow more resources for your video conference.
  • Other Video Streaming
    Decoding video from other programs or tools takes a lot more resources that could go toward encoding and decoding the video from your video conference.
  • Music Streaming
    While much lesser than video, audio decoding can cause issue on some computers.
  • Office Suite Programs
    While the programs themselves tend not to be too resource intensive, large or complex spreadsheets, documents, databases, and mail programs with lots of functions and entries can take a lot of memory to function. If you aren't actively using these programs, it's best to save and close the work so it doesn't take up resources.

Identify open programs on Windows

Windows shows your running programs on the Task Bar, usually at the bottom of your screen. You can tell a program is open and running by the blue bar at the bottom.

Windows task bar showing many open programs, then showing few open programs.

Identify open programs on a Mac

macOS shows your running programs in the Dock, usually at the bottom of your screen. You can tell a program is open and running by the small dot beneath the program icon.

macOS Dock first showing many programs open, then showing very few running.

Eliminate excessive browser tabs

You can have multiple tabs open in your browser. While this is a great way to be able to jump back and forth between multiple websites as necessary, having an excessive number of browser tabs open takes up a lot of your system's resources. Five to 10 tabs is usually fine for most computers. Utilizing favorites or bookmarks instead of simply keeping tabs open all the time can help.

Example of multiple browser tabs open.

Restart your computer

Multiple problems can be solved by restarting your computer, for example:

  • Pending Updates
    If you have updates pending for your computer that won't apply till reboot, this can seriously impact the performance of your computer in general. Usually a quick reboot of your computer is all it takes to resolve this.
  • Memory Leaks
    While much less frequent, some programs can end up grabbing resources such as memory that they don't need, and continue to occupy them long, long after you've closed them. While the Windows or macOS operating system do their best to clean up after this, it's difficult to identify. Restarting your computer can help clean up these problems.

To restart a Windows computer

Select the Start menu, select Power, then Restart.

Start menu with Power and Restart highlighted.

To restart a Mac

Select the Apple menu, then select Restart.

Apple Menu with Restart highlighted.

5. Space out USB Devices If They're Having Problems

USB works a lot like wired connections, sending data over a central channel back to the rest of your computer. On top of that, it shares power with any devices next to it. This is called a "Bus". Short for "Omnibus" or "for all", it's a common connection between components.

USB web cameras, and sometimes microphones, can require a lot of power to run, sometimes everything the USB power bus can provide; and anything else plugged in will cause problems.

On a laptop, the webcam is just another USB device, sometimes sharing the same bus as the USB ports on one side or the other, which can result in too little power going to the device.

There's no easy way to diagnose this directly without specialized tools. Instead, you can use a few indirect methods to determine if this is the problem you're experiencing.

How to identify USB 'buses' and space accordingly

The fastest and easiest way to check if this is the problem you're encountering is to temporarily remove some USB devices. Try just having your webcam plugged in, or just your webcam, keyboard, and mouse. If you stop having problems, then the USB Bus you were using is overloaded.

On a desktop computer

Most desktops have a different USB Bus for the USB ports on the front and on the back of the computer. Try switching the webcam to the front USB ports with nothing else on them. Some desktops have the USB ports grouped together or in different colors to show which bus they are on; try a different set of USB ports for your webcam.

USB Ports on the front and back of a computer

On a laptop computer

Again, your built-in webcam is a USB device, and some are hooked into the same Bus as the ports on the side of your laptop. If you have USB ports on both sides, try plugging anything else into the other side, or unplugging all your USB devices and just using the built-in keyboard and trackpad to see if the problems stop.

Side of laptop with USB ports highlighted

Use an external powered USB hub

If you determine that there is indeed an issue with having too many USB devices plugged in on your machine, a clever way around this is to create another Bus for power by using a powered USB hub instead. While you'd still be limited to whatever data rates are involved with the original USB ports on your machine, you'd be adding another source of power for the devices plugged into the USB hub, such as your webcam. This may be what is required, especially for higher-end webcams.

Powered USB Hub

6. Check your Webcam and Microphone Quality

The quality of your microphone mattersWhile inexpensive, the simple stick microphones that you can purchase for a few dollars to connect to your computer will not provide a great experience to listen to for others. They are often very targeted, meaning you have to speak directly into them, at very close range. As well, they seem to pick up every little background noise and amplify them.

Microphones included on laptops can be incredibly hit-or-miss, as well. Some have a focus on quality components, others add it on to tick a box and they are the lowest quality at the cheapest price.

Generally speaking, the higher the price, the better quality the microphone. While it's true professional audio gear can run into the thousands of dollars, there's no reason to go overboard for your needs. A microphone designed for 'streaming' or 'voice communication' in games will usually serve most video conference users as well, and these generally run in the $20-$50 range.

Consider a headset

Computer headset

A headset combines a mic and headphones into one package, giving you a nice, close microphone that tends to deliver good sound quality overall. They tend to be labeled as 'gaming headsets' or the like, and you can benefit from the production at scale for gamers for this.

Again, price goes up with quality; a decent-quality headset and mic for general purpose voice and video conferencing will cost $50-$100.

Not all webcams are created equal


Laptop webcams tend to be serviceable for the purpose of video conferencing, as well as the most popular webcams available for purchase for computers. For some externally-mounted webcams, make sure the focal ring is adjusted properly if it requires manual adjustment. If you find that the quality of your webcam is lackluster on its best day, you may consider upgrading it with an external camera that is capable of capturing and broadcasting a high-definition quality image.

7. Operating on Battery Power Can Make a Difference

While technology these days allow both desktop and laptop computers to do a lot of the same things in the same way, they are not created equal. Most laptops are designed with power efficiency in-mind. This means that they have the ability to greatly decrease their power consumption whenever possible to preserve battery life. Increasing this efficiency is how many manufacturers have extended battery life on the majority of modern laptops.

Unfortunately, this can cause some performance problems in certain situations. Typically, when battery power starts getting low, many laptops will prioritize powering the screen and making sure processing is as efficient as possible, rather than powering extra items such as webcams. While processing power is prioritized, if your battery is low enough, your machine can also slow down greatly to accommodate staying on. Performance takes a huge hit in this case.

Audio & video conferencing via VOIP software requires a lot of processing power from your computer. It has to both encode and upload audio and video to the service you're using in real time. In general, this is not considered to be a light task for your machine. Expect the battery life you usually enjoy to be much, much lower.

If you find yourself approaching lower battery levels, always make sure your laptop is connected to a power source before you begin a video conference. This will ensure that your webcam and your computer's processing power are not hindered in any way throughout the duration of your call. If you must operate on battery power, make sure your laptop has been fully charged, so you will not encounter these sorts of issues on your next video conference.

Battery Meter

Laptop plugged into power.

8. Consider the Impact Your Environment Will Have on Audio Quality

When it comes to audio quality, the environment you're in can make a huge difference in what you sound like. Professional recording takes place in specially constructed recording 'booths' to make sure that a certain sound profile is always achieved. While you're likely not using a professional-grade microphone or camera for video conferencing, one of the most common things that can negatively impact audio quality with any microphone that's being used is echo. Reducing echo is key to being heard clearly during a video conference. There are some simple steps you can take to decrease echo if it's a problem for you.

Try to use a furnished room

Furnished Room

Furnished rooms, with couches, beds, drapes, carpet, etc. absorb sound, rather than reflect it, giving you a better sound.

Furnished Room

Sparse or Unfurnished Room

A sparsely-furnished or unfurnished room with hard surfaces will cause a hollow-sound with an echo. This may be more difficult people to understand on a video conference.

Unfurnished Room

Close window coverings if you're seated near a window

Windows are large, flat, solid panes of glass, perfect for reflecting sound. If possible, close any drapes or blinds to reduce or eliminate echo.

Windows with curtains covering them.

Use temporary acoustic panels

Acoustic panels on stands are available, and allow you to put them up when you are on a conference, and put them away in a closet when done.

Temporary Acoustic panels on stands.

A more do-it-yourself approach would be curtains, a blanket, or comforter hung up on stands or the wall.

Install permanent acoustic padding

Another option is acoustic foam padding that attaches to your walls. This is a great solution for permanent home-office settings where reducing echo is necessary.

Acoustic Panels

Use a headset with a built-in microphone

The microphone on a headset is very close to your mouth, and tends to be directed to only pick up you speaking. This tends to be a quick, easy way to reduce any echo heard by others, simply because the microphone is so close.

Computer headset

Consider a special microphone

A 'shotgun' mic is designed to pick up sound from a very precise location. This can be setup to only pick up you speaking and ignore all echo that may exist.

Shotgun Microphone.

Quality shotgun mics are expensive, and they have to be very precisely aimed. It tends to be better to focus on echo reduction, rather than jumping straight to a much more expensive, hard-to-setup right, and hard-to-use solution.