Microsoft has added an audio feature it hopes will lower the fatigue rate of Teams video calls.
The Spatial Audio feature will project sound from various participants as coming from their respective locations on the user's screen, giving the user a better sense of who is speaking at the moment.
According to Microsoft Teams audio manager Hong Sodoma, Spatial Audio is part of an attempt to provide a more natural conversation between groups and cut down on the fatigue that can occur when a user feels they are simply conversing with a flat wall of voices.
"Creating realistic and engaging audio and video experiences that simulate dynamic real-world scenarios comes with challenges. For example, we rely on binaural hearing (that is, we use both ears) to help identify and distinguish the sources of sounds in the physical world," Sodoma explained.
"However, most audio and video communication applications today provide monophonic audio where speech signals from different participants are transmitted in a single audio channel, thus stripping away valuable spatial context our minds may be anticipating."
As you might imagine, to make use of the feature users will need a stereo-capable device and Microsoft recommends a pair of headphones.
The feature does have some limitations; currently Spatial Audio only runs on desktop and Bluetooth headsets are not yet supported due to what Microsoft terms "protocol limitations," which is a nice way of saying current-gen Bluetooth can't support stereo calls. Microsoft hopes to add Bluetooth support as the next-gen LE Audio devices begin to hit the market.
Those who are on extremely large calls (more than 100 people) may also not be able to use Spatial Audio as the feature is not compatible with the Satellite Server protocol Teams use to manage bandwidth.
For those who do check all the necessary boxes, Spatial Audio can be turned on via the settings -> Devices menu.
The rollout is part of a larger effort by Microsoft to overhaul Teams. In March, Microsoft attempted to dramatically improve the collaboration tool's performance by releasing a client update which sought to dramatically slash the memory and CPU footprint of teams, albeit at the expense of a number of features.
With Spatial Audio, it appears Microsoft is trying to put at least some of that headroom to use.