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August 10, 2023

Spatial Sound in Microsoft Teams: The Future of Video Calls

In 2021, Apple introduced spatial sound for video calls in FaceTime with macOS Monterey. The same innovation is now available on both Macs and PCs in Microsoft Teams, following previous testing. But what exactly does this position entail?

What is spatial sound and why is it revolutionary?

Spatial sound creates the illusion that individuals are physically present in space as they appear on your screen. Their voice seems to come from that particular position. According to Microsoft, this is more than just another new feature; it improves the conversation experience.

The idea is simple: by making the sound spatial, you can more easily keep track of who is speaking, thereby reducing fatigue during meetings.

The challenge of realistic sound in video calls

Realistically simulating audio and video in virtual encounters is no easy task. We rely on binaural hearing (listening with both ears) to identify sound sources in the real world. However, most communication apps offer monophonic audio where speech from different participants is transmitted through a single audio channel. This removes the spatial context we expect.

With Teams Spatial Audio, each participant’s perceived audio position is matched to their video presentation. This makes it easier to follow who is speaking and reduces the mental strain during meetings.

The importance of directional sound: The Cocktail Party Effect

In the 1950s, psychologist Colin Cherry investigated the phenomenon of people being able to focus on one voice in a room full of overlapping conversations. He discovered that directional sound is essential to this ability.

The best example of this is binaural sound: two different voices, one in each ear of headphones. Microsoft therefore recommends using headphones for video calls with spatial sound.

For the optimal experience, you need wired headphones or wireless headphones that support spatial sound. Ironically, Microsoft’s own Surface Earbuds and Surface Headphones 2 do not support this feature.

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