A Comparison of Video Conferencing Platforms for String Teaching

March 26, 2020, 7:36 PM ·

video conferencing illustration

My friend and I got together to make a comparison of various video conference platforms with various technology. The results were interesting to say the least, with definite pro and cons to each platform. What we compared was video quality/responsiveness to lag, audio quality, reactiveness to various frequency ranges and double-stopping, voice/vocal quality, ability to interrupt, and wifi vs LTE via phone companies. Here is the scoop:

ZOOM

It's a web-based video conferencing platform that allows you to create a 1-on-1 or group meeting room with online invites via a shareable link copy/pasted to various media. Getting the link and setting up a conference call took a bit more time than usual, and is probably better for a larger group lecture class vs a 1-on-1 lesson.

SKYPE

One of the original video conferencing and web based phone services, has over time improved their quality of service in various aspects. Has a nice 30-day viewable punch-in video record feature for both pc or mobile phones in the app for demonstration. A nice feature is the chatroom history so that one can type in notes or comments and have a record of that.

FACEBOOK MESSENGER

This platform seems to have taken over AOL AIM (instant messenger) as a chatroom service, and its 1-on-1 video conferencing is integrated with the chat experience, so it can be a convenient way to make a call. It has a chatroom history so that one can type in notes or comments and have a record of that just like in Skype. There is no recording of calls here.

APPLE FACETIME

An exclusive Apple-to-Apple product integrated platform that emphasizes a simple and effective video conference only. No chat or recording capabilities.

GOOGLE HANGOUTS

A platform very similar to ZOOM, which is google account based tied to an email address and accessible via email web applications. No recording capabilities.

WHATSAPP

A video conferencing and chat platform similar to Skype with chat history. It is great for pre-video recording demos and uploading it for better video/audio quality, as it doesn't seem to compress the file too much. I sometimes use this app for uploading higher quality sounding demo videos if needed.

* * *

Take-aways: All of the platforms seem to have checks and balances to each, which makes each platform unique for the user. Overall all of these platforms have not been able to have a high fidelity audio option, which would be great so one can plug in and use a great mic and speaker set-up. Audio compression is an issue, and I think these companies will see a rise in their stock and users if they can make record features easier and improve the sound response or allow options to prioritize sound quality and cut-out over video.

I found that using a combination of clear spoken explanation along with singing has been a very effective way to get points across. Also describing bowing while singing or notes to get a point across seems to be better. Conferencing takes vocals better so singing and phrasing vocally is an asset to video conference teaching, as well as using the camera to get close-ups of angles for positioning and technique, etc.

For my personal use over time, I found that using Skype had the best combination of features and tools available to get my messages in learning across in the most efficient way, whether its punching in a video demo, typing in notes using two devices on the same account (one phone camera, pc typing), the ability to hear notes and adjust volume if its gets too bright as well as easily get the attention of the student. Your own experience may vary with these platforms, but I hope this guide will allow you to "be in the room" as much with your community during this time and afterwards. Please comment or share your thoughts here, or send a PM on my avatar if you have any questions. I would be happy to share additional thoughts on these platforms with you!

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Replies

March 27, 2020 at 03:12 AM · Thomas, thank you for this wonderful comparison!

I find there is a lot you can do in Zoom to adjust the sound, and it really helps. Among those things: "original sound" should be ON. Also if you go to "audio settings," then to "Advanced settings," you need to use the setting "disable" for both "Suppress Persistent Background Noise" and "Suppress Intermittent Background Noise." (It thinks the violin is background noise!) Echo Cancellation should be on "Auto." Hope this helps!

March 27, 2020 at 03:21 AM · Yes, we found doing what Laurie describes above, using original sound and disabling all the noise factors (as well as the auto volume adjustment) turns Zoom from bad sound to pretty amazing sound. Of course, using a good microphone and set of speakers or headphones helps too!

March 27, 2020 at 03:24 AM · Susan, every time I use my nice microphone, it somehow turns off the audio for my student on the other side. Any idea what that's about?

March 27, 2020 at 03:36 AM · Hi Laurie, the input for microphones are generally one way, for example minijack mic plug-ins for laptops will mute outgoing sound, or into an ipad or phone as the phone or tablet may think its headphones. Unless you can use a type of usb mic into an interface or mic (zoom mic) that has outgoing sound that you can plug headphones in into the mic or interface, or a plug-in headset with good mic, you won't be able to hear the other side.

March 27, 2020 at 04:36 AM · Thomas, did you test the Jitsi Meet platform?

I’m having trouble with zoom canceling the sound and compressing the audio, and I’m wondering if it’s because the program wasn’t meant to balloon their capacity like this in one week. I’d be curious to see how Jitsi meet does against the others for audio fidelity.

And I think you’re absolutely right: where is the developer who prizes audio fidelity for their program?!?

-Carrie Salisbury

March 27, 2020 at 06:02 AM · Hi Carrie! Laurie Niles made a good point about Zoom, however I want to add that the audio change features are disabled for phone and tablet which I didn't mention in the article. I do tend to be believe the lag could be due to overworked networks for sure.

I didn't test jitsi, I'll look into it!

The first video conference developer to prioritize sound and to provide good tablet tools in a good way will definitely get a huge influx of business right now!

March 27, 2020 at 06:48 AM · Great blog Thomas, I started to use zoom and really like the ability to share screen to show scores and comment in real time using Zoom's writing tools. Sound isn't great, but I will try to disable suppress. I wonder if students should do the same. I also taught a lesson in which the student (and I) used a usb mic, both with Webcam and using ethernet cable. That lesson was very smooth, sharing screen responded quick and sound decent enough, but I guess guitar would have less issues than violin. Jose

March 27, 2020 at 07:25 AM · I have tried Facetime, Zoom and Skye and they all work better or worse at different times which I suspect probably depends more on the combination of the two devices being used and the internet connection at the time. Trail and error folks!

March 27, 2020 at 12:03 PM · I don't understand why the writer thinks getting the link and setting up a conference call took a bit more time than usual with Zoom

It's a snap to do. Possiblt as a first time user unfamiliar with such a platform he confused this with "difficulty."

March 27, 2020 at 04:11 PM · These are all nice points. I can understand that each platform requires a different way of logging in. Personally for zoom I think it takes a bit more clicks to get started for sure, vs the chat oriented platforms, however if it works better for your connection between users and works for your use, its worth taking under a minute to setup once familiar with the login platform.

For commenter 92.1, you're right, I've found trial and error does work well because the quality degrades at the weakest link; you may have the top of the line setup, but if the other side has dated technology with slow internet everything caps there.

March 27, 2020 at 05:10 PM · Thanks. I'm not technology-minded, and have just started using Face time this week for lessons. Mostly it is working very well, but depends on the connection at either end. I haven't tried Zoom yet, or Skype, but have them both downloaded in case. Will have to use one of them for a student who doesn't have an apple device. I am managing the beginners okay, and the more advanced ones are fine. But I have to teach the Kabalevsky concerto and a couple of Beethoven sonata movements, and I don't think any amount of technology can help me there. I have asked her to record herself and send it as an email attachment,and I will send her feedback. Not immediate, but probably better quality sound. Plus, I can stop and start her!! Should be okay - she's a good girl and we've been working on these pieces for quite a while. I'm hoping to get enough detail as we are at the polishing stage. Anyway, thanks for your help. Cheers, Diane (Australia)

March 27, 2020 at 07:26 PM · There is an application for remote jamming called JamKazam. I have not

used it myself, but people seem to like it for live group musical collaboration. My jazz standards group is going to try it in a few days. It seems to be kind of high touch, in the sense that it requires some tech knowledge. It only runs on Windows and Mac.

March 27, 2020 at 11:53 PM · I don't think that JamKazam exists any more. Shame, because it was very good for two people playing at once.

March 28, 2020 at 03:12 AM · I'm using Ding Ding and Wechat in China now ...

and itis seems Better Quality allover together that Skype!

Best,

VM

March 28, 2020 at 04:22 AM · I was optimistic about using Zoom for teaching cello lessons, but found that (even with "Preserve original sound" on) it tends to garble/dampen the lower register of the cello. Skype seems to preserve better audio quality for cellists.

Another important point to make is that using an ethernet cable directly into your desktop/laptop will decrease lag time on all platforms over wifi or mobile data.

MK

March 28, 2020 at 06:50 AM · @Bill White that's what I need. I have two students that want to play duets together. Wish there was something that makes that possible, and also let me be in the same "room" to coach.

March 28, 2020 at 07:35 AM · Thanks Thomas. Its very helpful!! Hope you are doing well!

March 28, 2020 at 05:46 PM · Perhaps the network in China works better for your platform. I'm sure its dependent on both sides of the connection. My experience is based on what works best where I am located where perhaps different platforms have more or less servers to handle the communications load, so that may be true for you. Experimentation is key.

March 29, 2020 at 07:08 AM · Thanks so much for this article, Thomas! This is great! I had a question - I've tried plugging in my Zoom mic to use as a usb external mic, but the sound quality doesn't change much on the other person's side. Any ideas why? I have an H4n and I think I'm doing it right (micro USB cable, Audio I/F)...

March 29, 2020 at 01:00 PM · We're using Hangouts Meet, supplied by a college many of our students attend. It's working well and does have the record facility, helpful for safeguarding purposes.

March 29, 2020 at 09:00 PM · @Bill White @148 @24

I installed and used Jamkazam this last week, it was developed in 2014 and seems to have been pretty much left since then. Although contacts for the developers are known, they don’t seem to answer any emails,

It has issues with lag/latency which I believe is better if the players are geographically close to each other. You can also share files eg sheet music and record.

Shame no one takes it on to improve it, as it’s a potential goldmine in these time.

Sonia

March 30, 2020 at 06:47 AM · In response to 67.173, which are further observations from my friend and some of my own experiences via using external mics:

1) After plugging in mic, in your Mac / Windows System Settings: Set the input level so when you play a loud double stop, it doesn't peak.

2) Make sure input selected is the external mic.

3) Set output device to your computer's speakers (so it doesn't play out mic)

4) In Skype, turn off automatic microphone adjustment. If in Zoom turn off all background noise reduction, echo cancelation, etc and enable "original audio". Also check settings to see if the external mic is also set as the output.

5) In video conference adjust microphone level to not peak (this is different than system settings input level)

March 30, 2020 at 04:20 PM · So Sonia - you installed Jamkazam and got it to work? I could not sign on at all. It got stuck at the Captcha window when I tried to register. Do you have to register or is there some other path to getting it functional? I would use it with people very close by so the lag might be OK for me.

Thanks for any hints!!

Ed

March 31, 2020 at 09:52 PM · My teacher and I tried Jitsi last week, but had some delay problems which I never had before with Jitsi (might be because the service is used by so many people right now). We then switched to Google Meet which was better. I used my normal Sennheiser headset while playing and that improved the sound quality.

I used Jitsi and other platforms for my own teaching (not music) and discovered that sound quality depends not so much on the platform but mostly on the equipment used (notebook mics are awful) and on the internet connection.

I wouldn't use Zoom as it has data protection problems and it hands over data to Facebook (which I boycott). For that is just not a trustworthy platform.

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