Free audio troubleshooting checklist

Bronwyn Lapham

Bronwyn Lapham works within E-standards for Training, an activity eWorks manages for the Commonwealth Department of Education and Training. This project includes the annual research, development, review and ratification of the E‑standards for Training – the technical standards for the vocational education and training (VET) sector. As promised in the recently published blog post: Web conferencing audio issues? Get sorted!, Bronwyn now shares the perfect way to avoid web conferencing panic attacks – an easy audio troubleshooting checklist.

Now where did we leave it last time?

Okay, so we have already looked at:

  • The causes of audio issues in web conferences and webinars
  • The use of computer built-in audio alone
  • Best practice when it comes to headsets and microphones
  • Making sure that your speakers are set up properly
  • Consideration of your internet bandwidth
  • Screen sharing and making sure you have the right software in order to do this
  • Flash Players and associated plug-ins.

That’s all fine and well, but how will you go thinking through these factors in a time of stress, when your audio isn’t working at the start of a webinar for example? This troubleshooting checklist will help to get your audio sorted and you enjoying your web conference. We talk about BigBlueButton here, but the fundamentals are the same for most web conference applications.

Tick if OK Issue to Test

1. You have a decent-quality headset with speakers and microphone built in.

At the very least make sure all presenters and other listeners are wearing a set of headphones. Even cheap earbud/iPod headphones are better than nothing. It’s particularly important for the person speaking (whether presenter or attendee) otherwise, when using built-in mic and speakers, their voice going into the microphone is sent back to them via their speaker, then the microphone picks it up again and retransmits, creating a loop, which you hear as an echo. The software doesn’t know which is the important sound “stream”, and attempts to transmit it all.

You can use a conference speakerphone if your users are in one room watching the session on a large single screen. Make sure presenters are speaking close to their microphones.

2. All participants mute their microphones when not speaking.

If you are having audio issues with participants and their local hardware/equipment, one option is to mute everyone (except the presenter, of course!) and ask for questions and answers to be typed via the chat window.

Attendees can use the “Raise Hand” feature to get attention. They could then be un-muted to ask a question or make a comment.

3. Your Internet speed is adequate.

BBB users can check their speed at the time they have the audio issues using http://www.speedtest.net. Download speed should be 1.0Mbps or greater and their upload speed should be 0.5Mbps or greater. If you are using a webcam, you’ll need greater bandwidth – around 1.0Mbps upload as a minimum. (Speedtest step-by-step instructions below)

4. You don’t have ‘competition’ for Internet access.

Is anyone else on the network/at your house doing anything that uses lots of bandwidth (eg: downloading video from iTunes, YouTube, online gaming, VOIP based telephone calls)? Also make sure you only have the minimum number of browser tabs or windows open.

5. Your network is reliable.

Check network reliability by following the ping and tracert/traceroute instructions below.

6. The microphone on the headset is the one that BBB is actually using.

BBB uses the speakers and microphone selected in your operating system settings. To check what these are:

  • On Windows: Start menu > Control panel > Hardware and sound > Sound
  • On Mac: Apple menu > System preferences > Sound

Make sure the microphone’s record volume is set to high in the computer’s ‘sound’ settings. It is very easy to find speaker volumes on most computers but can be harder to find microphone input volumes.

If you need to change those settings, you may need to exit the BBB session and re-enter to for the software to pick up on the change.

To check that both you and BBB agree which headset and mic are being used from within a session:

  • Right mouse button click inside the BBB window during a conference.
  • Choose ‘Settings’ from the menu that appears.
  • Click in the microphone icon along the bottom of the Settings pop up window.
  • Make sure the microphone listed is your headset microphone.

Slide the record volume slider to 80% (NB if you choose 100% it may cause distortion and audio quality issues).

Tick the ‘Reduce Echo’ box.

7. You have the latest Flash Player version on your computer.

To check:

In a browser go to:   http://helpx.adobe.com/flash-player/kb/find-version-flash-player.html

Check your version shown against the current version listed. If they don’t match, follow the “download” and “update” instructions on the same page.

8. You have installed the latest version of Java.

If you can enter the room but you are unable to screen share it’s possibly Java related. Update or install Java – https://java.com/en/

9. You don’t have pop-ups blocked

If screen sharing won’t start check for any pop-up blockers (particularly Firefox where it is small, unobtrusive and at the top of the browser). Java won’t start until you’ve seen and clicked the acceptance message.

Test your connection

You can check the quality of your Internet access by “pinging”. Pinging sends small amounts of data (packets) to the server to measure response times to your computer (in milliseconds).

You can also check the route over which your data gets transmitted. The route taken is dependent upon your Internet Service Provider (ISP) and can highlight why you might be getting slow responses. An Internet outage somewhere might mean that your data has to be routed via somewhere out of the ordinary, or your ISP might be routing it in a way cheaper for them, but also slower for you.

The third test is the speed of actual data upload and download. The website speedtest.net will measure the amount of time it takes to upload and download 100Mb of data and report back to you.

Windows: ping and trace data route

The following tests are specific to BigBlueButton running on eWorks’ TVC. You would change the server to suit your specific situation.

Click on the ‘Start’ button.

Type cmd in the “Search programs and files” input field and select cmd.exe when it is located.

Ping – In the console window that appears, type ping bbb.trainingvc.com and press Enter. (Your window will have slightly different information unique to you.)

You will see any problems with loss of data described as packet loss, and round trip average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms.

Route taken – In the same console window, type tracert trainingvc.com and press Enter.

This will show you the path that the data is taking to get to the BBB server (you may be surprised!) Somewhere between 10 and 15 ‘hops’ is pretty standard. Of course the more hops and the greater the distance between hops, the longer the data will take to get to and from you and your users, and consequently the more chance of your sound degrading.

This information can be very helpful when troubleshooting. To share this data with support:

  • right-click in the Console window and choose “Select all” from the menu.
  • Press Enter to copy the info to your clipboard. (Ctrl-C doesn’t work here).
  • Paste the info into Notepad or another text editor so you can then forward it on.

Mac: ping and trace data route

Launch Network Utility. (Use Spotlight to search for it.)

Ping – Select the Ping tab. Enter bbb.trainingvc.com in the network address input field and select the Ping button. You will see any problems with loss of data here (described as packet loss). Ping average speed ideally needs to be less than 50ms. If you want to share this information with support:

  • click into the information pane where the ping data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it, then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Route taken – Next, choose the Traceroute tab. Type trainingvc.com into the network address input field, then select the Trace button. As with the ping data, if you want to share this information with Support:

  • click into the information pane where the traceroute data is
  • Command-A to select All
  • Command-C to copy it to the clipboard then
  • paste into a TextEdit or similar text editor window as a location to save it.

Speedtest.net – Windows and Mac

In a browser window, navigate to http://www.speedtest.net/ and select Begin Test.

The software will select the appropriate server, and download 100Mb then upload 100Mb to get an average bandwidth measurement in both directions. It will also provide an average ping round trip.

(This reading is unusual in that upload speed is generally a good deal slower than download.)

The early bird and all that

Of course the best thing to do is log on early for a web conference or webinar, so that you have time to troubleshoot when there isn’t so much pressure. But even if you find yourself in a bit of a panic, this checklist should make life easier.

Good luck!

And of course let us know if you’re still stuck, or if you need a hand delivering or accessing online training in general.