For about a year now, I’ve been participating on and off in a weekly Zoom social gathering. Folks filter in throughout the day, and most of the time is spent in small, manageable breakout groups of four to five people for 20 minutes. Between those periods, we reconvene in the main room, and aural hell breaks loose. It doesn’t need to be a rowdy crowd for Zoom’s audio to suffer, a collection of low-quality streams overlapping like a dozen-car pileup.
A crop of startups have developed apps to address the painful clamor that can arise in situations like the one I just described. Through the use of what’s known as spatial audio, sounds fade in and out depending on where the user is located in the virtual room, just as they do in real life. The technology has seen an uptick in interest during the pandemic as group video calling—and Zoom fatigue—has skyrocketed.