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Higher quality audio makes people sound smarter (ariyh.com)
920 points by tdmckinlay on April 15, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 502 comments

It's also really easy to have high quality audio! The author recommends a "podcasting" microphone, but a $35 standalone headset mic[1] is almost as good and much easier to use. If you want to hear a comparison, I got kind of obsessed with this problem at one point and took some comparison recordings here[2].

(You need a standalone mic since most headsets, even really nice ones, have really bad mics because most headset buyers don't care about or even know how good their mic sounds. The one I linked is wired because wireless is evil[3] and in particular, Bluetooth will silently degrade your audio quality. If you want a pair of wired headphones, I like these[4] which are "open back" and therefore sound more natural + cool your ears better, although the open back also means they "leak" sound and are only suitable for working without people next to you. But you shouldn't be having calls with people next to you anyway!)

[1]: https://www.amazon.com/V-MODA-BoomPro-Microphone-Gaming-Comm...

[2]: https://www.benkuhn.net/vc/#get-a-better-microphone

[3]: https://www.benkuhn.net/wireless/

[4]: https://www.amazon.com/Philips-SHP9500S-Precision-Over-ear-H...

The ModMic is also excellent, and you can attach it to existing headphones [1]. I use this at home with my prized Sennheisers.

It baffles me that some people don't seem to care about their audio quality on calls. The most obnoxious are those who use speakers and you get echo on all your talking, and despite telling them, they still never bother to get a decent mic.

Another common offender are the Bose QC35s: they have a terrible mic - I wish people would stop using them.

All the Apple things have great mics. I always keep an old pair of 3.5mm earpods in my bag as a good, portable laptop mic.

[1]: https://www.amazon.co.uk/ModMic-GDL-1420-UNI-Mute-Switch/dp/...

> It baffles me that some people don't seem to care about their audio quality on calls. The most obnoxious are those who use speakers and you get echo on all your talking, and despite telling them, they still never bother to get a decent mic.

I see comments along these lines here all the time, and I don't get it. I'm on zoom a majority of my day, and have maybe two colleagues that don't just use the laptop mic/speakers and have a headset. I almost never have trouble hearing or understanding or listening to background garbage. In fact, those with headsets will sometimes be worse because they're making a lot of mouth sounds close to the mic.

Maybe it's just that Zoom is good at this? TBH, when we used to use Webex on dedicated phones I felt like I couldn't ever hear or understand anything. Maybe that's where this microphone feedback comes from?

If they're using external speakers, the only reason you're not hearing echo is because it's being software-cancelled. Different systems are better or worse at this software-cancelling; phones are good, Apple computers are good, otherwise YMMV.

I assume it also depends on if they are using the laptop speakers or some standalone ones. I'm guessing the cancelation tech is tuned for the onboard speakers

This depends. On my (dell) laptop, the mic is basically right between the two speakers, below the lip of the laptop. It’s possibly the worst placement you could come up with for a microphone, because it barely picks up voice, and picks up all the typing, desk noises and speaker echo in the world. But I suppose that’s not surprising from the company that thought that a webcam beneath the laptop display would be a good idea...

I really thought they had some clever software or leasing to make the picture appear as if you were looking into it because of the placement but nope...just a nose cam.

Yeah that would make sense

Teams is good, Slack is good, Zoom is good. Which ones are bad?

Google hangouts is the worst in my experience. Bringing external people in who aren’t used to google meets are always surprised. We buy everyone nice microphones and our meeting protocols are you unmute you talk then remute when done. We have a bunch of parents so this has been a good practice no matter what.

Those are all good until they’re not. I’ve had echo and other room audio problems crop up intermittently in all three of those platforms during calls.

Interesting. I normally use the external speakers on my iMac. I have verified with a number of different people that they're not getting echo.

Yet one sees other people utterly convinced that using external speakers is bad, bad, bad.

That may explain it.

The most common problem I see is not echo, but software audio ducking that happens as a result of using onboard speakers and mic.

Some people have a hard time realizing that they're interrupting someone else because that other person's audio is getting ducked while the laptop prioritizes mic input over speaker output - with the intent to reduce echo.

Almost. The laptop of the person being interrupted is essentially muting its mic temporarily to avoid sending an echo of the interrupter. You could say it's prioritizing its speaker over its mic.

Basically, of all the ostensibly unmuted mics, only the one with the loudest human is truly unmuted.

It's closer to half-duplex than full-duplex. Full-duplex with no artifacts requires no echo cancellation which requires headphones.

What does the term "duck" mean in this context? I'm not sure what you mean.

“Ducking” refers to lowering volume so that other audio can play on top of it. When an announcer speaks over a song in the radio, or when Siri lowers your music so she can talk over it - that kind of thing.

Try talking while they are also talking. You'll see the problem.

It's easy to have conversations with friends on discord where 3-4 people are talking at once all with headphones. However this has never worked on a zoom or hangout with less techy family members or work colleagues using ext. speakers.

That may be part of it. On calls that I'm on people generally don't talk over each other.

After having used both Webex and Zoom extensively for the past year, it seems that Zoom had much more aggressive echo cancellation up until recently. It feels like Webex has tweaked theirs recently so it's not quite as bad for those people who insist on just talking at their laptops with no external mic or headphones. Still, any of them with laptop speakers/mic sound worse than any other of them with a halfway passable headset.

I'd say if you're dealing with difficult people who really don't want to do more than point at an icon on a screen and go, the most bang for the (effort) buck is to ask if they have a set of headphones. Most people still have some earbuds around from when their phones still had headphone jacks. Just getting rid of the speakers makes a huge difference when folks refuse to mute while not speaking.

I was lucky enough to have an old Shure vocal mic and a cheapo XLR-USB interface sitting in a box of electronic stuff, so I typically put on my headphones and speak into the mic (on a desk stand). For camera...I tried the phone thing and while it does look a lot nicer, the phone gets warm and has to run for an hour or two at a time. Eventually just got a Logitech C920 once they dropped back to non-scalper prices.

A couple of clamp lights with parchment paper clipped over the end made more of a difference than buying a mirrorless camera would've (and they were way cheaper). My DSLR doesn't (and wasn't meant to) run for hours as a video cam so I didn't bother with that.

Also, using OBS and its virtual camera plugin means I can tweak and color correct the cam feed without having to dig into the OS webcam configuration. Plus, real chromakey beats crappy Zoom/Webex background removal when I do just want to goof around with cool backgrounds and overlays.

> don't care

Until you spend 1/2 hour talking to a certain family member, the one who calls from Burger King and sits right next to the soft drink machine so you can hear the ice being dispensed, you haven't fully lived.

I live next to a U.S. Marine Air Station. Until you get to share the full force of F/A-18s buzzing your place at full throttle, you haven't lived. Seriously - very loud.....

When Moffet Field was an operational Naval Air Station we would get P-3s, both going out to/returning from patrols, and circling around for touch an go landings for training, also C-5s and C-17s, and some fighters. The fighters were of course the noisiest, so you've got some serious loudness going on.

It's probably just related to crappy laptop hardware. Macbook speakers/mics are great and I never hear any feedback from them. When it happens, and you can hear your voice echoing on everything you say, it gets quite annoying.

> In fact, those with headsets will sometimes be worse because they're making a lot of mouth sounds close to the mic.

Yes this also freaks me out. Also when people use headsets in a room with lots of background noise, it sounds as if they use an open mic.

I'm also quite convinced that the Mac with just the internal mic/speaker is quite good for most cases. But I definitely want to look further into the issue. Also I certainly don't want to use a dedicated external mic, that seems total overkill to me.

Depends strongly on where your colleagues are. If they’re in a dedicated office at home the chances for background chatter are low.

I care, but not enough to ask people to QA my setup.

I don't know of a way to check how I sound without bothering anyone.

I mostly use Zoom and Webex, but both have an option (usually accessed via a little arrow next to the mute button) to open settings. Both give you the option to choose which mic/speakers you want to use and both allow you to do a test record for a few seconds and then have it played back to you.

I know in Webex you get this option before you are connected to the actual meeting, but Zoom may have it somewhere else I haven't bothered to look for. I make a habit of testing my mic every time I connect to a meeting, just in case I mucked something up or there's some other issue I wouldn't have known about. It's a minute of checking to save several minutes of embarrassment and delay later on.

Using the Zoom "record in the cloud" feature should roughly correspond to how people hear you BUT it does not let you know if eg your setup echoes someone else's voice. Bother someone, find a friend, ask your manager, geek out about audio, something.

There's a way to launch a "test meeting" where you can hear yourself as others would: https://zoom.us/test

Just listen to your own audio? In windows there is a checkbox for this, and most call apps have a settings page where you can listen to your own mic.

Not really. Zoom applies lots of noise canceling and other filters, so your raw audio doesn't correspond to what you actually sound like to other people (unless you use "original audio").

> they still never bother to get a decent mic.

one more damn thing to get

one more damn thing to research

one more damn thing to fit into your budget

one more damn thing to acquire that you maybe hope to never ever use again after the Year Of Videoconferencing is over and will have cluttering up your life forever after unless you find someone to pass it off to

(if you are really passionate about it: cut the gordian knot of all those problems by convincing whoever holds the purse strings that it would make all these interminable meetings much better if everyone had a nice mic, and get the company to buy a bunch and send them out.)

It baffles me that some people don't seem to care about their audio quality on calls.

Here's the thing about perception: A lot of it happens without your conscious knowledge.

One of the things about using Audacity as one's cheap studio software, is that you have to adjust for recording latency for multitrack. It's really easy to see how a part of perception is unconscious with the delay.

Almost no one is going to notice 5ms or below. At 20ms, many musicians are going to have this definite sense that something is off, but they can still hang. In between, it's a spectrum.

In order to introspect enough to notice things that are below conscious perception, some people require some training. This is also why audio snake oil works.

I use the wireless ModMic myself.

> Almost no one is going to notice 5ms or below. At 20ms, many musicians are going to have this definite sense that something is off, but they can still hang. In between, it's a spectrum.

Reminded me of this article, easily one of the top 20 I've ever read (Brian Eno, Francis Crick, Italo Calvino, roller coasters, trepanation, time, death, drumming)


> “I was working with Larry Mullen, Jr., on one of the U2 albums,” Eno told me. “ ‘All That You Don’t Leave Behind,’ or whatever it’s called.” Mullen was playing drums over a recording of the band and a click track—a computer-generated beat that was meant to keep all the overdubbed parts in synch. In this case, however, Mullen thought that the click track was slightly off: it was a fraction of a beat behind the rest of the band. “I said, ‘No, that can’t be so, Larry,’ ” Eno recalled. “ ‘We’ve all worked to that track, so it must be right.’ But he said, ‘Sorry, I just can’t play to it.’ ”

> Eno eventually adjusted the click to Mullen’s satisfaction, but he was just humoring him. It was only later, after the drummer had left, that Eno checked the original track again and realized that Mullen was right: the click was off by six milliseconds. “The thing is,” Eno told me, “when we were adjusting it I once had it two milliseconds to the wrong side of the beat, and he said, ‘No, you’ve got to come back a bit.’ Which I think is absolutely staggering.”

I also go to a game developer meetup. This developer was actually delaying all of the players, so that 40ms was their typical latency, no matter what. The developer had done some research with his multiplayer game, and concluded that most people didn't notice under 40ms round trip.

Some of the hardcore FPS players in the group could definitely tell!

10ms is 3m, thus e.g. in an orchestra, 20ms latency is normal.

Yup. 30 feet or 10 meters is about the limit for comfortable improvisation. Really large orchestras can require musicians to compensate. I had to do this once when my school's band joined up with a National Guard band to form a huge orchestra for an 1812 Overture. (With actual cannon!)

It baffles me as well. Especially because I do get feedback like wow your voice “carries”, or it is clear, or that it is “calm”. The best comment I received was that it sounded like I was there in the room and that it captured my voice well. Related to the OP my voice also has been called convincing.

This is with a beyer dynamic microphone extension for a studio headphone. And I have the gain fixed.

Everyone else in our comp keys team sessions has keyboard sound, plops, distortions. But in general it pretty well understandable at the cost of having to spent effort to understand. So maybe software is doing a hell of a job here.

The most difficult part is testing how you actually sound for other people. The software can do whatever to the signal coming out of your machine.

You are wondering why people who prioritize something else "don't care about audio quality"? Remember open offices? The likely culprit for them going with noise canceling headphones? Yeah they still have their old gear and are accustomed to it and the form factor.

Philosophically it is also why would you go with something big and cumbersome for a feature you seldom use? You don't carry a glass bed scanner in your laptop bag - you take a photo if you really need to get a digital copy of a printing. Plus not all are equally enthused or know how to filter through the crap without a large /in person show room/ that would be either filthy or a pain in the ass to disinfect before a pandemic.

Not helping matters are audiophiles being infamously placebo connoisseurs and walking proof that it is easier to fool someone than convince them they were fooled. That market is flooded with bullshit and specious claims so the default assumption for people claiming you need new more expensive audio equipment has been "ignore them, they are gullible idiots who think you need gold cables for digital connections to reduce low level noise for digital signals".

> You are wondering why people who prioritize something else "don't care about audio quality"? Remember open offices? The likely culprit for them going with noise canceling headphones?

Exactly that. I've been working for 5 years in more or less noisy open offices. Some of them so noisy that there were regular arguments between the self-proclaimed quiet ones and the noisy phone callers. I followed this with amusement.

So yes, it is quite an exaggeration to now ask for Hifi audio quality during meetings. Apart from that, I think a little noise makes the lockdown in the home office a bit less boring, the majority of people worked on-site before the pandemic.

> It baffles me that some people don't seem to care about their audio quality on calls.

1. It is a bunch of extra work and expense for something I probably do not really want to be on. Easy audio communication is bound to induce more audio communication.

2. I have to maintain a bunch of infrastructure for it, manage configuration, and deal with all the wires. It is far from a free and easy improvement.

3. I rarely speak in meetings anyway.

> Easy audio communication is bound to induce more audio communication.

Alternatively: if you you are going to be hassled with an online meeting, get it over with quickly and with the least stress. It is very slow and stressful to fumble around with “Can you repeat that?” or worse, people not mentioning that they didn’t actually understanding you and then dragging out the meeting with their misunderstanding.

“If you have to eat a shit sandwich, take big bites.”

There are very good USB mics like the Blue Yeti for example. Plug and play with just one cable. You don't have to have a studio recording setup to get your voice to come through nicely.

The Blue Yeti is an okay mic, but is a little pricey for what you get and also buys you into some other stuff you may not want to spend the money on, like a bit of a heavier-weight arm, etc. to be close to one's mouth. It's also a little sensitive for spoken word and while it can sound great in a treated room it's not great for conferences or untrained users due to its habit of picking up a lot of ambient noise through untrained positioning or habits (drumming on a desk, that sort of thing).

Most folks I know recommend the Samson Q2U or the Audio Technica ATR2100 instead as easy mics to deal with for untrained users; shameless plug, but I wrote an article for Mux about this not long ago which explains in some depth why one mic may be preferable to another for untrained users: https://mux.com/blog/zoom-like-you-mean-it-1/

I wouldn't get a Blue Yeti for voice calls. Besides being pricey, it's a condenser mic and a lot more sensitive and prone to picking up other sounds you probably don't want.

Something like the Audio-Technica AT2005 also supports USB plug and play, is half to two-thirds the price, and is a dynamic mic so will reject a lot more of the undesirable sound before it even gets into the computer.

It's easier to not capture undesirable sounds than it is to try and clean it all up after.

And come appraisal time you get marked down, your peers will have possibly negative opinion of you.

> The ModMic is also excellent

I have a ModMic 4 and I am disappointed. I used it for voice calls with my Sennheiser Momentum headphones.

- Accidentally pulling on the wire will cause it to turn on the magnetic handle and create unpleasant noise for others. - It picks up signal from the phone trying to connect and transmits it to the listeners as buzzing sound. So I had to put my phone far away to avoid that. - The mute switch does not really mute, it’s more like turning the volume to 10%. Learned that the hard/awkward way. - Sound quality is mediocre, to me it always sounded like any generic mid-range headphones+mic combo.

If I could test ModMic before buying it, I would pass. I’d rather put the money towards a standalone mic (e.g. yeti) + boom arm. It’s expensive, but the quality is way better. I now use Røde PodMic with Scarlett Solo. It’s whole other price tier, but I do not regret spending that money, which I cannot say for the ModMic.

> It baffles me that some people don't seem to care about their audio quality on calls.

They might care but have no idea it is bad. You can’t hear yourself on a call.

I absolutely love my Bose QC35s. With the modmic that I attached to them. When using the mic built into the Bose QC35s it switches to mono audio, and the mic itself is indeed also terrible. Very unfortunate.

Which mod mic do you use? The QC35s have the extra small plug so I thought most mod mics would not fit.

The modmic has their own little sticker that is stuck to the outside of the mic. That's what the modmic attaches to. If you have the wireless one, that's that. If you have the wired one, the 3.5mm jack goes into your PC, not into the QC35s. So it doesn't matter what kind of plug the QC35s have.

I actually have both a wired (very old, wire kind of broken because I treated it poorly) and a wireless modmic, and both work fine with my QC35s.

Has the modmic gotten better? I've had one for years and it has always sounded like garbage.

There are a bunch of different versions with different capsules. For example, the Modmic Uni doesn't sound very good, but since it's unidirectional (it's a 6mm cardioid electret I think) it is rather more resistant to ambient noise. The Omni has your usual run-of-the-mill 6mm capsule, these are all very similar in terms of sound and noise performance. The Uni is kinda good enough for pure communication, but you'd really wouldn't want to use it for content production.

Also, being electret capsules directly wired up to your soundcard, the soundcard has quite an influence on the quality of the audio (mostly in terms of noise and hiss). Meanwhile the digital versions don't suffer from bad microphone inputs.

It depends a lot on your sound card I guess. Pro streamers use them on twitch as portable options (like Seagull) and they sound great to me.

The only real downside to it is the cable is sort of flimsy and the 3.5mm termination is not great quality. That's how my last ModMic perished, although it lasted a few years.

It also depends on positioning and configuration; having it directly in front of your mouth and/or having the gain too high are common problems I've run into.

As an aside, it's been interesting as someone who knows things about audio to realize how much I've unconsciously internalized that most people apparently don't know. Like more gain != more better or what a plosive is.

I got their wireless one recently and everyone I regularly use it to talk to immediately noticed the quality and commented on it. Can't speak to the wired ones.

In my experience AirPods have excellent mics for what they are. They're definitely a million times better than the built in mic on the various (high-end) phones and laptops I've used in recent years. I wonder how they compare to a standalone mic or a decent headset mic (or that ModMic you mentioned.)

AirPods have a worse mic than pretty much anything you can get. Macbook Pro's built-in microphone or Apple's $20 wired earbuds both have much better mics than AirPods.

I would suggest recording yourself using different microphones and comparing them to see how bad Airpods mic is.

Just did this. My AirPods Pro sounded a lot worse (very soft, muffled and way less resonant) than the pair of analog 3.5mm wired earbuds that came with an older iPhone.

I suspect it's because the wired earbuds had a mic near my throat whereas the Airpods' mic were up near my ears. The difference is very noticeable.

Looks like I'll be keeping my wired earbuds around for future conference calls.

Airpods can't compete with a decently priced boom microphone that actually comes close to your mouth. The distance from your mouth to your ear (where the mic resides) is quite long especially considering how little space they have to throw in a capsule into.

So, either you'll get a lot of ambient noise, the signal is quiet or Apple will do some algorithmic trickery that tries to approximate some kind of echo cancelation on the audio signal, but compared to a simple dynamic microphone that just has a more favorable position and form factor, it'll always lose.

Hmm. I just measured the distance between my Airpods and the corner of my mouth at 3" or around 7.5cm. Very approximate measurement, but it seems to be not far off of recommendations for where to place headset boom mics (google says 1-3 inches from the mouth.)

Also, it's worth noting what the goal is here. The aim is not to capture the most accurate sound period. I've had calls with people who clearly have very expensive setups, but I end up hearing pen clicks, keyboard sounds, breathing, swallowing etc. The Airpods seem to do a great job of making my voice sound good in general. I've gotten compliments on my audio (so it can't be that bad) and the Airpods don't seem to pick up my breathing, typing, etc so I'm happy.

ModMic(tm) is quite expensive.

I have found that many of the people who didn't shower in hot weather are the same people who don't care about their audio quality; I think it requires a certain amount of empathy for other people to realize how jarring and annoying bad audio is for the listener.

It's also similar to the anti-mask problem, frankly. Even if you don't care, you should realize that others do and not abuse them for your own convenience.

The booming, echoy audio you get in most zoom calls from people sitting 4 feet from their microphone is a little aggravating. If you'd like to help your colleagues hear you better and want something subtler than a large microphone on a big boom arm then go for a lavalier microphone. See https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/ME4--sennheiser-me-4... for one example, but even a $10 microphone from Microcenter, Amazon or Ali{baba,express} will do. What do you don't want is a microphone hanging off earphone adapters because you end up having to eat those to be heard. A lav mic in Zoom with both auto level adjustment and background noise suppression enabled gives a pretty pleasant experience.

If you don't have a dedicated microphone port then you may have to purchase an adapter because some input ports are wired tip ring ring sleeve (TRRS) and a microphone will just be tip ring sleeve (TRS).

I had this exact problem with a client I was working with a couple years ago. For meetings, they would all gather in one cramped room with nothing on the walls and plop a conference mic in the middle, and the audio was so bad that most of the time they were incomprehensible to me. I even told them this, but I pretty much got ignored. Glad I stopped working with them.

It amazes me how, even now with so many people working remote, how few of us take audio without even a modicum of seriousness.

What would you recommend for someone who specifically would want a large mic on an arm? Would that pick up keyboard noise?

That depends on the pickup pattern of the microphone, the gain on the mic and the distance between the mic and the keyboard.

The pickup pattern dictates which direction(s) the microphone is sensitive to: see https://ehomerecordingstudio.com/microphone-polar-patterns/ as one example. You'd want a cardiod mic turned so that the least sensitive part of the mic faces your keyboard.

Secondly you'll need to get the microphone close to you so you don't need a ton of gain to be heard well. You can put the mic 10 feet from you and with enough amplification people will hear you, but they'll hear every chair squeak and you shuffling your feet and the ac coming on as well. Get it close and you don't have to increase gain nearly as much.

Finally the greater the distance between the mic and keyboard the less likely your tapping will be heard. But again if gain has to be used to pick you up, you're more likely to hear the keyboard even with a cardiod mic because sound still reflects and echoes. Consider something like the Blue snowball as an intro microphone or call up a supplier and have a conversation with a real audio tech, which I am not.

The issue is once you get off into mics then you have to ask yourself which input type(s) do you want, what sort of pre-processing you may want, etc.

Good luck.

I think I may have to send this link to our thursday night GM :-) his cheap headset mic keeps popping and has terrible quality.

I use a chaepo Plantronics £40 for work but for my steaming I use a Focusrite claret and a separate cheap dynamic mic (plus an exciter).

I do need to upgrade that mic to a sm58b or a AT 3035.

I have thought about buying a focusrite scarlet and use a separate dynamic mic for work as well.

>AT 3035

In my previous life I was a recording engineer, and this microphone was what I used in just about every session. It is one of the most versatile and best bang-for-the-buck condensers on the market, and has been for a lot of years. Very highly recommend to anyone wanting a microphone that can do just about anything.

I have a similar setup, but use a Sennheiser e935. Sounds incredible. After 25 years in both live audio and recording, I would highly recommend it over the Beta 58. I might even use the e835 before the beta; certainly before the standard 58.

Also, regarding the AT3035, I've recently purchased an AT2020 on a park since the price was insane (like $90 US), and it sounds great! I used it on a remote recording session as the second mic on a guitar can and it was the perfect complement to the other mic (sm57).

I’m using the ATR2100x-USB. It’s great. I can use it with USB for zoom meetings or XLR for recording. My RE320 sounds better, but in a listening test with friends, not by much. Other factors come into play.

Ty for that.

I just used some 15 year old entry level Shure's I had from 15 years ago - massive self noise.

I think I was tending to the 30 as its a slightly hotter mic

> his cheap headset mic keeps popping and has terrible quality.

That might have nothing to do with the microphone. For a headset mic it is important that it's placed completely outside the airstream of mouth and nose, otherwise all mics will sound atrocious and full of wind and popping noises. Look at how headset mics are rigged by pros on talent, they're quite a bit back from the mouth.

Physical mute button with red LED mute status is a killer feature.

Got a wired Plantronics headset with USB-C that I'm happy with. Not sure if the above products have this feature, but I recommend checking for it.

> Physical mute button with red LED mute status is a killer feature.

I had a headset with that feature, and sure enough, it failed me on a sales call. I groaned at something our salesperson said, and despite the button having been pressed and the light being on, everyone heard me.

As someone who recently forgot they were still sharing their screen while simultaneously starting to chat with a colleague about how incompetent the person currently talking is... I feel your particular kind of pain.

ouch! how did you handle it? apologize and move on as if nothing happened??

Physical mute switches can be worse for other listeners as it creates an audible pop every time you mute and unmute on a 3.5mm connection. Digital (USB) mute switches are better.

Why is this? It certainly doesn’t need to be so I suppose?

Analog microphone audio is one wire (and ground) having the AC signal of the audio, superimposed on a DC signal powering microphone capsula. The simplest way of making a killswitch is to either 1) short the signal to ground or 2) cut the signal between mic capsula and the soundcard input. Done with just a switch, both of these will impact the AC component as well as the DC component, and the DC offset change that causes the pop.

And yes, there are many ways to avoid this problem. I think adding a resistor and capacitor to form a high-pass filter for the shorting option would work fine. If there is already a PCB for the switch, adding these two components would cost practically nothing.

The "pop-less" microphone switch is generally a series R-C pair, where the R is, say, 1 MOhm, and the C a few µF. The switch shorts the R out; the R charges the capacitor to the bias level when unmuted, and so shorting the R produces very little pop. The capacitor then shorts the AC audio component.

XLR switches are easier, just short hot and cold, done. Works with all microphones and doesn't produce a pop, because XLR uses phantom power instead of T-power.

The best system for me is the one on the Sennheisser Game One I have and probably many others.

There is a microswitch in the mic boom, so that it is disconnected when you lift it away. I mean, you can't get more simple: when it is in front of your mouth, it is on, when it isn't, it is off. No need for a LED. Also, the headset is passive, with a good old jack connector, I consider it a plus.

My Sennheiser PC37X (their conservative/stealth-looking gaming headset) has the lift-to-mute. I was excited about this feature but struggled to remember to unmute myself and gave up using it. I would like an LED indicator somewhere.

This was an excellent writeup. There's only one thing I would add: put the camera closer to where people's faces are. It feels like you're looking directly at them, and it makes a big difference. I made a habit of looking directly into the camera now.

the camera thing is really an issue in my company, we mostly work on software development so we share our screen constantly in our meetings... no one cares on turning on the camera and this has become regular behavior

the problem is that you dont know if the other people are actually paying attention and human interactions need that feedback

Honestly though, seeing people's faces/active backgrounds is super distracting. If I'm actually paying attention on a call I'm usually looking down off to the side of the screen so I can focus.

I recently setup a camera pointing down at my keyboard/mouse instead of my face for demonstrating a keyboard that I built (analog hall effect--from scratch!) and I think that's good enough to let people know, "I'm here" without being super distracting (assuming I turn off the LEDs and the gigantic LED matrix display haha).

Then they see you writing emails instead of listening?

> the problem is that you dont know if the other people are actually paying attention and human interactions need that feedback

This is going into the realm of the kind of monitoring software that tracks your eye movement to make sure you're concentrating.

If people are not paying attention to whatever you're presenting in your meeting, maybe the meeting is not relevant for those people. Consider cancelling it.

There are devices you can buy for a few hundred that place the image of the person you're talking to directly in front of the camera. That way you can look at who you're talking to while also looking directly into the camera.


There are also a lot of homebrew DIY versions of the same device:


Or, even better, position the camera far away and zoom in if the camera has an optical zoom. This gets rid of a ton of distortion in your face.

Related to your open back headphones comment: I hate using closed back/ noise canceling headphones while talking in calls. Fortunately, I don't have anyone around me so I don't need them but I can't imagine having to use them and listening to my own voice through my skull.

I'm currently using the HD58X but I might look into getting the SHPs as a "beater" pair with the VModa mic.

Sony noise canceling headphones deliberately start passing some ambient sound through (including your own voice) when you are in a call of any kind.

Not really easy to be honest. Depending on the day, I am getting horrible static in my desktop microphone(s). This might be caused by no grounding in the outlet.

I'm living in a really old house with no ground for most rooms (yes, I know), with only a bootleg ground to prevent _really_ bad noise and occasional static zaps. Though I've read of many people having the same issues with properly grounded machines (as far as it goes for domestic use. I'm not talking about studio-grade grounding).

My Macbook, on the other hand, doesn't have any static, even though its charger doesn't even have a ground pin, nor does my Steelseries Arctis 1 wireless (which uses a non-bluetooth dongle. Might be because it's wireless, or just because it's an external device.

In any case, I don't feel comfortable shelling out upwards of 400$ for an audio setup.

I don't recommend the following but in our old house I used to tie my outlet ground (that was free floating) to the radiator which was grounded. It worked until my mother reported the shower water was feeling "very harsh".

Sounds like the radiator was not actually grounded and the device plugged in had a ground fault.

If the radiator was actually grounded, why would there be any effect on the water?

Yeah, I could theoretically tie my outlet ground to the gas pipe. Doesn't sound like a good idea.

This shouldn't be a problem from what I understand: "real" ground is just tied off to a rod buried in your backyard, but it's also bonded to neutral at the switchboard anyway.

>but it's also bonded to neutral at the switchboard anyway

Depends on the country. Over here protective earth is entirely separate from neutral, and there's a separate earth stake for each consumer. This is the TT system.

Yes, but with a certain resistance meaning there will always be a voltage difference between neutral and ground.

You can also try the best kept secret in radio: https://youtu.be/gPbQYmkyqaE

The video is excellent and I would encourage anyone reading this to watch it, but for the benefit of those who don't like clickbait the answer is: surround yourself with a quilt, jacket, pillow fort, or similar, because although it looks ridiculous it gets rid of background noise and muffles reflected sound.

(I haven't "saved you a click" because you should watch the video anyway. It's not just about how to get better sound when recording or broadcasting. About ten minutes.)

This is my problem. In order to get a decent sound in my untreated office (reverberant bare walls, hardwood floor, etc) I need to have my dynamic mic with a low gain setting and I have to be right up on it, which makes me look like I'm on Joe Rogan's podcast or something. For Zoom I'd prefer if you couldn't see the mic.

A lavalier hidden in your collar (or tie knot, if you're that kind of guy) might work for you. Because they're surrounded by clothes and your body it's less susceptible to room noise.


I'm sure this will get lost because I caught this thread late, but there's one more thing you can do with a "real" DSLR-type camera for better image quality: zoom in.

Ideally, the camera is as far from you as possible, and zoomed in on your face. "Zooming in" is really just increasing the focal length, and zooming out is decreasing the focal length, producing an effect best known as "fish eye".

This is one of the first things people will tell you about photographing a human being for a portrait (which is essentially the same problem as a video conference). Get rid of distortion on the face. Use a focal length of at least 50mm (zoomed all the way in on the lenses mentioned in your article). Otherwise, the nose gets blown up and everyone looks worse.

Yep, this is correct. Others in the thread have recommended getting the camera as close as possible to compensate for the wide angle lenses of webcams, but this is suboptimal. It creates the unmistakable visual impression of being right in someone's personal space while you talk to them. You can create the same effect where someone is easy to see just by using a camera with a narrower field of view and a longer focal length, without the distorting effect caused by being too close.

For those who are not looking to spend a fortune, a simple Apple earpod (wired) is still better than most headsets out there. And it costs 20 bucks. I think my yeti actually sounds worse at it cost 3 times as much.

Curse anyone that uses an inline microphone on some earbuds. They sound awful and people frequently bump against them causing even more terrible experience for the listener.

Earbud microphones rubbing against clothing is like nails on a chalkboard for me.

I agree, but between that and most of my co-workers currently using their laptops built-in mics, I'd rather deal with the noise from the earbuds.

The worse is laptop mic + speakers. If you noticed the people speaking to you stop mid-sentence, it's because hearing themselves with some timelag tends to make them stop speaking.

Thanks to some people, everyone can experience speech jamming for free! https://arxiv.org/vc/arxiv/papers/1202/1202.6106v1.pdf

You just have to do the TikTok hold

> For those who are not looking to spend a fortune, a simple Apple earpod (wired) is still better than most headsets out there.

I don't disagree, but the results are widely variable with different TRRS I/O across different soundcards. E.g. on a MacBook, the EarPods probably sound great, with a good level of gain and plenty of headroom. On a Lenovo Thinkpad, they sound hissy and terrible because you have to turn the gain all the way up.

> I think my yeti actually sounds worse at it cost 3 times as much.

Something is probably wrong if this is the case. Which is understandable; a USB microphone that's not attached to your person requires some positioning and mic technique that you don't have to think about with the inline mic on the EarPods.

The scuffing sounds coming from my coworkers (wired) earpod mic as they rub it against their clothes says otherwise. I'll take my Blue Yeti over airpods any day.

Also as someone at a company almost exclusively MacBooks, I’ve never noticed and issue with sound or video quality

Totally agree. I've been using my old Apple EarPods and I'm always told that I sound great.

The most important thing is to have the microphone close to your mouth. There is nothing more annoying than listening to echo-y voice.

The mic even have to be that expensive. I use a cheap dynamic mic from ebay with a windscreen and a mic arm and it sounds fine.

> I use a cheap dynamic mic from ebay with a windscreen and a mic arm and it sounds fine.

How do you know what it sounds like?

How do you know how good you sound to other people compared to if you were speaking through a good condenser mic?

Open voice recorder, record, say things, listen.

Plus multiple services now offer test calls/contacts where you can open a voice call, say things, and then listen back to how the other side hears it.

Put on headphones, linked to your phone, mute the phone mic (do not skip this step), and hold a video call with yourself between your computer and your phone.

Make your own zoom call and record it...

Quality supercardioid microphone will reject echo well enough for most rooms and a meter or two distance. That is usually enough distance to not typically require a pop filter, this giving improved clarity.

Hypercardioid "shotgun" works too as long as its back is placed far enough off a wall, however these tend to have sound coloration.

It just so happens that most microphones are the less directional cardioid. Or worse, omnidirectional.

Step 1. Get a quality mic. Step 2. Control the sound in your environment. The best mic in the world won’t help if you sound like you’re recording in the middle of your kitchen.

One of the worst aspects of listening to a great interview is when the guest is in a space with tons of audio reflections. You want the sound of your voice, not the room.

Many podcast hosts climbed into closets with sound dampening clothes on hangers during the pandemic. It worked out reasonably well.

If you’re doing audio professionally, consider treating the recording space. If you don’t want to put panels on the walls, get free-standing panels that can be stored when not in use:


Get a pop filter:


Control sibilance:


No use having a great mic if you don’t control the things you don’t want it to capture.

This video from Electroboom has a lot of similar comparisions, examples, tips and tricks for high quality audio. With all the science behind to back it up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7CtnR47w20 (Fantastic channel btw)

Oh hey, I use that mic from your first link. Works quite well for the price. For anyone wondering, I do have V-MODA headphone, so I knew it would fit but it does fit in a couple other headphones as well.. it just won't fit in everything, so be aware of that.

Yeah, in particular you need headphones whose 3.5mm cable is detachable. Thanks for flagging, I should have included a warning!

For other headphones you can use the various flavors of Antlion ModMic, but it’s more expensive and less convenient because you have two cables.

question - do you use this on video zoom calls? I can see the benefits on a non-video zoom call. But having a microphone on your face during a video zoom meeting makes me feel like a radio DJ trying to have a call.

The V-Moda is great, but if you don't have headphones where it can be attached I recommend the $20 Sony ECMCS3 mic. It sounds fantastic for the price.



I've seen in some places that this might need some power (as a Rodes VideoMicro needs from the camera) so it wouldn't work in a laptop. Where did you connect it?

It has worked on anything I've used it on (MBP, iMac, PC desktop, iPad, etc).

You do need one of those TRRS splitters though.

Great article! Is there any inherent audio quality difference between USB and XLR in your experience?

You’re always gonna connect XLR over USB anyway, so not really. It’s just that XLR gives you a lot more flexibility to change microphones, use your interface to control gain or add padding, or if you’re a musician record instruments. But a USB AT2020 or similar is gonna be excellent for calls no matter what.

This is not true. USB microphones do not have as high quality as XLR microphones connected to a usb interface. In general, USB mics have a lower signal to noise ratio (SNR) and a higher noise floor.

Does this matter for gaming or calls? Not really, as it will definitely sound better than crappy laptop or headphone mics. But there is a marked difference. The AT2020 usb mic doesn't even go up to 20khz. Not to mention the A-D conversion from a dedicated unit and the mic preamp are going to be better than the onboard electronics of a usb mic.

Err no an xlr mic into a sound card is going to be better.

What sound cards support direct XLR input?

In nearly every case, a dedicated usb interface is going to have better quality ADC and mic preamps. High-quality sound cards are not prioritized by consumers, so they remain rather poor quality in most laptops and pcs. Even something like a focusrite scarlett is going to improve the signal chain immensely (plus you get the added bonus of a decent DAC as well).

Focusrite for one :-) and external sound card worth its name with have them

I did of course mean a real external sound card.

And a usb mic is not going to have as good a mic capsule at the same price point which was my point.

Probably less static, lower noise floor, more tonal and full sound. I've used both and I obviously prefer XLR but it probably doesn't make any difference for casual use.

I think one of the things people often overlook is the distance between the mic and your mouth. The closer the mic is to the source, the higher the signal-to-noise ratio will be, so the less echo and background noise you'll get. Many smartphone mics will sound very impressive if you hold them around 6-12 inches from your mouth. But you don't really want to do this with your hand, so it's important to get a mic with a nice stand or a form factor that allows you to comfortably place it where you'll get good audio.

Another thing people forget about is the noise canceling and other filters that are applied to your audio by default. If you're in a reasonably quiet place, it's probably reasonable to put "noise canceling" in Zoom on low. This will make your audio less garbled. If you have a really solid audio setup with headphones, you should try turning on "use original sound," which can make your audio really nice (unfortunately not available in Linux).

I highly recommend Fifine's mics. They have a USB condenser mic with a boom arm for $60 (~$35 for just the mic) [1], and a lavalier (lapel) mic for $20 [2]. The audio quality is really quite impressive.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/FIFINE-Microphone-Adjustable-Instrume...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Lavalier-Microphone-Cardioid-Condense...

The recommendation above: V-MODA-BoomPro and Philips-SPH9500S is pure gold and will save you hundreds of hours of research. After trying more than 20 to 25 different products and solutions I arrived to the same conclusion. I work on Linux but sometimes need to use Windows. I work regularly delivering sessions, workshops etc... Very high quality sound is critical for me.

I have multiple professional level microphones SM57, Neumann(s), BlueYeti and also tried some of the cheaper USB mics. I spent well over 60 to 80 hours doing research on how to get good audio quality online and would like to offer the following recommendations:

DO NOT rely at all on YouTube recommendations from specialized channels, even the ones with high reputation. They have a business running, and a bad review for a product will make sure they will not get another “sample” from the same vendor. I had instances where I ordered professional level headphones in the 300 to 400 US dollars price range, reviewed by several of the high reputation channels as the best out there. Within minutes of receiving the product would realize how uncomfortable they feel, or how bad sound they offer. When I would return to re-watch some of these YouTube “reviews” I would quickly realize the reviewer had skillfully omitted to mention any of these failures within the product. If there is an issue, these reviews just “omit” any comments around problematic areas of a product. On a second though … Maybe there is a business opportunity here.

Recommendation: Choose a reliable online vendor that can offer returns on the product. Be ready to order several products and do your research.

You also have to take into account a couple of things:

- What OS are you using ? If you are using a USB mic some vendors have great mics but terrible drivers ( ex BlueYeti Windows drivers ) and they do not seem willing to put the effort in. Windows is particularly terrible out of the box, with energy-saving OS plans that pause USB ports configurations. It took me hours to get Windows 10 to sound good and reliably for online meetings. This is a good starting point: https://support.focusrite.com/hc/en-gb/articles/207355205-Op...

- Do you want to sound good while doing Podcasts, creating YouTube videos OR during via WebMeeting platforms like Webex, GotoMeeting, Zoom, Jitsi? From my experience, due to internal audio processing done by many of the online conference platforms you are going to need different solutions for each use case. Some of the Studio level Condenser mics used for podcasts do not sound very good during online conferences. Its also the case they are too sensitive and your conference participants can hear you with great audio quality but they will also hear you neighbor dog barking.

Warning: I am not associated with any of these companies in any way but I would suggest the following:

- Do you want to sound good for Web Meetings ? Get two V-MODA-BoomPro and Philips-SPH9500S . One set to use and one as backup. It will be relatively cheap compared to other solutions and the price/quality ratio of this recommendation is exceptional. The mic has good quality and the headphones are high quality. You won’t feel them if you use these for 8 hours. You can spend more if you are willing to put the research effort. Just do not settle for any first choice.


- Do you want to sound good while creating YouTube Videos ? Always get a Pop Filter and a Mic Stand with isolation from vibrations. Get a BlueYeti ( but use the XLR port not USB ). The BlueYeti USB drivers on Windows will randomly cause distortion and I given up on the Company putting the effort to fix the issues.

You can also

Get an SM57. Sounds great for voice and its not by accident it’s the official mic of the US President. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shure_SM57

Be careful where your order, the SM57 and the SM58 are some of the most frequently counterfeited mics by Chinese or Taiwanese vendors. Then get one of the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces and you will be sorted.

If you don’t use Mac or Linux but Windows be ready to spend some effort troubleshooting driver issues. This solution will not be cheap but still manageable and save you hours. You welcome !

[Edit] Spelling

As a comment. I got the v-moda. I like it a lot. It sounds great. BUT it's a very omnidirectional mic, it picks up everything going on in the room in clear detail.

If your environment is noisy, you would likely be better off getting a shotgun or cardioid style microphone with some directionality to it.

I use a home studio so its easier. If you participate in conferences from an open floor office I would agree.

Also important and already mentioned in the original post. Avoid any Bluetooth based mics or headphones. Avoid Wifi connections and go for cable based connections.

I use that v moda mic with sennhesier hd598 open back. Had to mod them to connect them, but they’ve worked quite well for many years now. I might need to get a new mic because the volume control is starting to cut in and out if I move it too much. Great recommendation through!

I recently bought a new dynamic mic. And it has absolutely changed the way I do WFH. No more crappy noises. No more background sounds. In fact, I believe that having a good microphone is a good initiative to seriously start a better workflow for WFH.

I love the modularity of the boom mike attaching to existing headphones. I have been using a Bluetooth adapter which keeps things modular. You can plugin a wired headset to it. Of course, keep things wired when talking with someone else. But you can reuse that wired headset as Bluetooth when you just want to listen and want to roam around. https://www.amazon.com/Mpow-Bluetooth-Receiver-Connection-Ha...

I have one of these and have been very impressed with the output.


It was ~$50.

I got a decent headset w/mic, use it for Zoom, use it for cell phone as well when I am at home. Great improvement in what I hear, and what others hear as well.

On Zoom I look a little goofy with the phones on but better that than missing what people say and getting echoes.

I use the Philips-SHP9500S headphones. I found they were very uncomfortable with the ear pads they came with. I replaced the ear pads with some thinker ones (Shure HPAEC940) and it really helped a lot.

Wow, I actually did a bunch of research on upgrading from my current "gaming" headset a while ago and those are the exact items I landed on. Maybe it's time to finally pull the trigger.

> The author recommends a "podcasting" microphone, but a $35 standalone headset mic[1] is almost as good and much easier to use.

so if it's almost as good how smart does each one make you sound?

It couldn't have come at a better time for me. I have just started looking for a better mic to sound better to my colleagues. Thanks for the wonderful write-ups and suggestions

Thank you. Do you also happen to have recommendations for those of us happy to spend a little more on a "podcasting" or any similar higher quality microphone?

This depends a lot on your budget, voice and whether your room is treated or not. My room is not treated. I use a Røde M3 condenser mic just outside the camera range for Zoom calls, it's fine but sensitive to outside noise. A mic with hypercardoid pattern or a lavalier would probably be better for that purpose. In any case, the audio quality is very good. For recording audiobooks, I use a dynamic Røde Procaster.[1] It's outstanding and was the right choice for my voice. It has very good background noise rejection. I'd recommend it.

Generally speaking, there are many good condenser microphones but I'd recommend a dynamic microphone if you can get close to the mic, your room is not treated, or there is outside noise.

[1] I'm in no way affiliated with Røde, just happened to like their mics. There are many other good choices in the same price ranges.

This is the reason why i got some Wired Bose Soundsport, and I had to get the lime green ones because they don't make it anymore. No wireless for me.

The V-MODA BoomPro finally made microphone useful in combination with my 1000XM3s. Cheap and easy upgrade there.

Fantastic article, brb going to spend way too much on gadgets now

Great article!

People vastly undervalue good audio quality. It also often makes the difference (given equal visuals) between great amateur and pro in e.g. the YouTube scene.

I didn't have data to back this up before, but I bought a good microphone specifically for this purpose. People will simply like the audio, and by extension what I am saying and also me as a person, better.

Meanwhile, my ears will continue to bleed from the awful audio people broadcast into this world. I wonder, most people must notice how terrible everyone in e.g. video conferences sounds; why don't they make the connection that they themselves have it in their hand to improve the situation? Maybe it's like wearing masks.

In my discord calls we have effectively resorted to shaming people into accepting a gifted clip-on amazon mic if they have an awful microphone. $10 every couple of months and no ear bleeding.

That said, I really think some people are just immune to it. My mom for instance prefers to use the standard definition channels because the channel numbers are easier to remember and type. She says she can't tell the difference between that and full HD so :shrug:

Pro sound engineer here. There is not that much difference between SD audio and HD audio. SD only allows stereo and not surround, but can deliver perfectly good quality, assuming a clear broadcast signal.

This is random but universal audio (interfaces + plugins) way overrated?

Follow up question, but once you get to a certain point of converter+preamp quality, is focusing on something that improves workflow what really matters?

No and yes. I am not a particular fan of UA and don't own any of their gear but unless something has changed in recent years I think they deserve their good reputation. I think of them as good middle-range rather than fancy or premium.

In general the more something is marketed to musicians, the more it is likely to have a slight bias designed to flatter the source material, and your tastes may vary depending on what sort of music you like, eg British stuff tends to have a gentle double EQ peak, American stuff tends to be a little more punchy in the midrange, Japanese stuff slightly more flat, Swedish and German stuff has a sound of its own, and so on. These are very slight biases, and maybe they're what 'sounds good' to engineers based on linguistic and musical differences.

Stuff marketed to film/broadcast tends to emphasize accuracy and fidelity (in the marketing materials anyway...). These days anything other than bargain basement is neutral and clean enough for that sort of work. Although I owned much more bulky and expensive gear, I've done several feature films with a small portable recorder by Zoom that costs only a few hundred dollars. It sounds great, because I plug great microphones into and use great headphones to monitor (and know how to listen!), plus I work hard to control the dynamics and you generally don't need the same sort of dynamic flexibility for film work that you need for musical performance.

If I was recording music I'd say the same recorder is just adequate because for musical purposes you want some nice color and pleasing dynamics. If you're lookinga t several options in the same price bracket and not really sure which to go for, play around with the external controls. The quality feel of the front panel, knobs, and buttons/switches is a reflection of the internal engineering quality. If you like the physical feel of one unit over another, you'll probably have the same experience with the audio path and the software stack, if it's digital.

you're definitely right, I made a bit of a leap to video as an example of someone being able to tune out the quality of the media.

> My mom for instance prefers to use the standard definition channels because the channel numbers are easier to remember and type. She says she can't tell the difference between that and full HD so :shrug:

Pretty sure our cable box just automagically switches over to the HD channel when you tune into the SD one.

And that's why I move the HD channels to the numbers of the traditional ones.

A lot of broadcast services don't let you do this.

How are you doing that?

Oh, sorry, I was talking about the traditional TV that comes through the old standard antenna cable. In those, the TV itself lets you do it, but I realize that it may not be possible in paid TV services. I wonder why they don't themselves move the HD channels forward, though... I suppose by now, an overwhelming majority of TVs have HD.

I don't understand why those TV services don't have channel translation. Where the HD boxes default to the HD channels and the SD boxes default to the SD channels.

Your television probably lets you remap it, in the settings near retune.

> My mom for instance prefers to use the standard definition channels because the channel numbers are easier to remember and type. She says she can't tell the difference between that and full HD

Is this referring to something on Discord or traditional TV? If the latter, is it referring to audio or video? Your replies have all assumed different answers to those questions, I believe.

(If it's audio, your mother is probably right.)

I was referring to the video. It was a little bit of a leap that I didn't make clear, but it was just an example of someone able to completely tune out the quality of the media they are consuming and I imagine that can carry to voice calls

> gifted clip-on amazon mic if they have an awful microphone

Which one do you buy? I’m in the market for a good clip on mic


You can check the reviews for audio samples if you want to see how it sounds. It's a little bassy imo but perfectly clear.

Which mic?


You can check the reviews for audio samples if you want to see how it sounds. It's a little bassy imo but perfectly clear.

To add to the audio quality discussion, well-meaning people who want to improve their quality often make the mistake of buying the mic with the best spec sheet. That ultra-sensitive microphone will make you sound more natural than your built-in mic, but it will also pick up dogs barking down the street and your neighbor mowing her lawn. If you’re not in a studio-like office, a less-sensitive dynamic microphone is often better than the condenser with better specs. That said, both options will greatly improve your voice.

As someone who knows nothing about audio: wouldn't it make more sense to get a top quality microphone and apply post-processing, rather than deliberately getting inferior hardware?

You have to run that postprocessing somehow, and sometimes videoconferencing software doesn't give you that flexibility. So then you have to set a up a virtual microphone, which might be a hassle in your platform. At that point, and as you said, considering that you may not know enough about audio on how to set that up, you're much better with an easy-to-use, dynamic microphone that does much of what you need on its own.

Well, given that most people still use Windows, VB-Audio software mixer and virtual soundcard plus Cantabile as effect host together work exceedingly well.

And cost nothing or very little. (But do support the authors.)

Hardware has ease of setup and excellent knobs going for it, but if you're going for cheap, you should spend money on a condenser microphone, some mounting hardware (e.g. gooseneck, spider mount, maybe pop filter) and audio interface first.

$200 put there makes for professional quality audio. t.bone SC 400 and an interface that does phantom power, like one of the cheaper Focusrite or Presonus ones. (If you feel extra cheap, you can go lower price on interfaces but it's not worth it.)

Your setup is great for enthusiasts like you and me, but everyday folks don't want to deal with mounting hardware or audio interfaces or learning what a condenser mic is or spending more than $50.

It's a supercardioid (partly directional) microphone. The only difference for user is that it is XLR and needs the 48V button set to on, and a shock mount because this specific one is sensitive to hits. It comes with an ok spider mount, but you need at least a tiny extra tripod.

$50 is about the price of the microphone.

It so happens that there's the $70 USB version of it too, but the interface in it is just acceptable, as opposed to being superb. (This microphone sounds as good as $400 RODE products, using it with bad interface is a disservice when $80 gets you a great one.)

For that case, a couple of years ago I bought a small Blue microphone (their cheapest model I think), and got amazing audio quality from it. My main requirement though was getting a USB mic, since my laptop at the time had the nasty habit of getting noise into the audio-in line.

Sure...if you know what you're doing. Dynamic microphones are not inferior hardware, they are the best tool for a particular sort of job. In film production I would use condenser microphones most of the time, but still made frequent use of dynamic microphones for work in noisy situations and so on. Live music performance typically uses dynamic microphones because if you brought a condenser microphone on stage you'd have a lot of trouble getting a clear signal out of it, plus they're much more likely to distort when a performer lets rip.

No. There is no substitute for capturing the signal you want in the first place. And “inferior” is not the right word. Even at the high end of pro audio where budget is not really a concern, there are lots of different microphones, because there are lots of different situations you might want to capture and lots of different ways you might want them to sound. It’s a “right tool for the job” thing.

Made for purpose is not the same thing as inferior. You can dig with a shovel or a spade. Each was made for a purpose. Buying a mic with the right pickup pattern is buying a tool that is there for your specific purpose.

Dynamic mics are usually directional and less sensitive to background noise. If you talk into them from the right side they'll mostly pick up your voice. A lot of echo will be rejected because it comes from a different direction.

Condenser mics are a lot more sensitive and omnidirectional. They are great in a studio to pick up every detail, but if you use them in a normal room you'll end up with lots of echo/reverb which is really hard to get rid in post.

It's unfortunate that this article recommends a condenser mic at the end. In my opinion, most people who need better audio for video calls are better served with a dynamic mic. Very few people have a bedroom or office room with proper acoustic treatment. A dynamic mic will be better for most consumers trying to get better audio for Zoom, Meet, Teams, etc.

You’re right in the sense that condenser are more sensitive than dynamic (ie better signal to noise ratio) but one isn’t like more directional than the other due to it being condenser vs dynamic.

On the other hand, one that that does matter a lot is that dynamic mics can handle a lot more sound pressure. So, yeah, you often see them recording things like drums and the likes. This on the other hand is actually intrinsic with the mic itself.

Not sure why this was flagged dead, but it seems like a reasonable comment to me.

I think a lot of people get wrapped around the axle of having the "right" $500 microphone whereas there are a ton of decent USB mics under $100 that will make a big difference.

Also consider a good external webcam and doing something about lighting if you can. I realize that not everyone has a great physical environment to work with. But I'm struck by how many people who seemingly haven't made any real effort after a year+.

> I think a lot of people get wrapped around the axle of having the "right" $500 microphone whereas there are a ton of decent USB mics under $100

There are diminishing returns for sure. But something worth considering is anything priced over $200 is likely closer to "pro" than "sumer' and is priced accordingly. You don't need an SM7 if you're not making money with it... and it's priced for those folks.

It's actually remarkable how much better all-in-one USB mics have gotten in the last 5-ish years since everyone began streaming - a Blue Yeti has an integrated ADC/preamp, its own stand, and comes with a cable. A SM58 ($100) will require an XLR cable ($10-15), audio interface ($50-100), and mic stand ($10-20) to have the same experience. Granted, that 58 will outlive you and you can mic anything with it anywhere, the cable will probably last a long time and can be repaired by hand, and the cheapest USB audio interfaces have lower noise and better preamps than any USB mic. So you get what you pay for.

> You don't need an SM7 if you're not making money with it...

Or maybe not at all. Someone actually measured one against an SM57: http://www.3daudioinc.com/3db/showthread.php?17046-SM57-vs-S...

The results are not horribly surprising, the SM7B has the same capsule as the Beta 57 which is awfully similar to the 57/58.But notice there's a 10-15dB boost below 80Hz on the SM7. They also didn't analyze the off axis response or proximity effect - the vents on the enclosure impact both drastically.

Don't look at a frequency response chart like that for insight. Anyone who has recorded a bass cab or kick drum with an SM7B would look at you sideways if you tried to use a 58 as a replacement unless you were really in a pinch.

I have a Shure MV7 USB/XLR microphone, and while pricey, I like it a lot, as it's very easy to tune how you sound using the ShurePlus Motiv software.

It also has a headphone jack that you can use for monitoring.

Unfortunately the USB connection on the microphone is micro-usb, which is pretty sad for a microphone that was released in 2020. It also doesn't come with a stand.

Arguably SM7Bs are prominently placed in videos / video podcasts because "pros use SM7Bs" and therefore displaying that you are using SM7Bs for all speakers shows what a pro you are. Not because a 50 year old dynamic mic design is actually The Literal Best Thing Ever For Human Voices.

I usually use a Blue Snowball although I also have Behringer XLR mics that plug into my mixer for specific purposes (mostly recording podcasts whether remote or in-person).

I know they've made great strides but "Behringer" is a bigger indicator of quality than XLR or USB in that sentence. Blue at least has been making good mics for their entire existence (I use a Snowball too, it's great for my day to day calls). They've managed to stay pretty good since the Logitech acquisition, and prices have come down with scale.

I don't know. I don't exactly have a "radio voice" and my Behringer mics seem to work fine--together with a mixer that is way higher-end than the mics in general. Again, for most people, there's a huge leap from built into laptop to just about anything else.

Why? The audio component, if it's bad, makes you hard to understand and makes its harder to contribute. The visual component is basically just a way for people to know that I'm there and a backup channel to indicate that yes, I am aware meet has once again decided not to recognise my mic and that I'm working on it. If I find a workplace that's ergonomic and works with my home environment, then the fact that there's a window with bright objects visible behind it that screws with the auto balance on the webcam 2 hours a day is a distant concern. I'm not going to compromise on the prior points to fix that.


First of all I agree that if you could only fix one thing, audio should take priority. Fortunately that's pretty easy.

I guess my context is that I'm on video a lot including with large audiences and for external consumption. So, yes, it matters to me whether my video is good. I also know people whose video is routinely terrible that they could likely improve significantly with very little effort.

I don't have data, but I strongly suspect it has an impact in the same way audio does. That person who's office is so dark their webcam gets grainy trying to compensate just looks less professional.

Like it or not, videoconferencing is becoming more and more a professional skill, and part of that skill is being able to get decent audio and video quality.

> there's a window with bright objects visible behind it that screws with the auto balance on the webcam 2 hours a day is a distant concern

On the other hand, those are the only two hours a day where you have anything approximating in-person contact with your coworkers. Those two hours probably have an outsized effect on what your coworkers think of you.

I have noticed with colleagues the insane improvements in video and audio after their amazon shopping sprees.

At the same I haven’t updated my camera because I don’t have a nice room to work from and I feel a bit ashamed to show my tiny box with a high resolution... sounds weird, I know, but that’s how I feel

Use a longer lens and you won’t have to show any of your tiny box! I hooked up my mirrorless camera behind/on top of my monitor and have a 35mm (APS-C so 50mm equivalent) which is perfect to just frame my head and show basically nothing behind me.

I don’t know why webcams are always so insanely wide; we don’t need to see your whole room with your head only taking up 5% of the frame. Just like audio, I wish everyone else would use this camera setup so I can see everyone clearly.

As I said in another comment, I do have my DSLR setup. But for most purposes, I use my external webcam because it's just easier. I do zoom it in a bit (and agree with your general comment on field of view) but for routine video calls I also don't want to be tightly framed as I'm probably moving around a bit.

“Why so wide”

Maybe because the laptop case can only be so thick, which would limit focal length?

I guess that could be improved by reducing sensor size but then it may affect performance in realistic lighting conditions.

There are things you can do with hangings and screens and so forth if you want to. I do have an office but my background includes some ugly file cabinets so I got a fabric print to hang over them. You can also do virtual backgrounds with a lot of software if you rig up a green screen. (That's not absolutely necessary but it tends to look bad otherwise.)

Zoom is quite good in virtual backgrounds even with no green screen (on Win and Mac. Linux is worse)

Probably depends on lighting but I'm not sure I'd call it "good." I find it's often a noticeable distraction when people move around.

Do you have any recommendations for cameras? I've been using a macbook camera all year because all the cheapo logitech webcams on the market are clunky and look awful.

What do you recommend?

I'm using my retired Samsung A5 Android phone's rear facing camera connected via USB to my PC using DroidCam (costs a few bucks). DroidCam also does wifi, but I find USB to be better.

The quality is pretty good from the A5, but if I need even better, I use my current phone's rear camera outputting to HDMI to an El Gato CamLink using Filmic (which outputs clean HDMI on Android or IOS, but isn't cheap as DroidCam). Filmic is definitely a step up from DroidCam, but fussier in terms of getting set up.

I tried using Filmic with iphone and hdmi capture but the latency was terrible. Is it ok with Android?

It's been a while since I used it, but IIRC, it seemed OK to me when I tested it, but you can always try lowering the resolution to reduce the latency.

Not the GP, but I've been using a Razor Kiyo because it was about the only good quality camera available for a reasonable price back at the start of last year. The microphone on it is predictably terrible, but video quality is fantastic, and it has a ring of LEDs around which are suprisingly effective at dealing with the usual unhealthy glow given by sitting in front of a monitor.

If you have an iPhone, you could use that in conjunction with something like Reincubate's Camo. There was an interesting discussion about it on HN recently [1]

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25869460

Probably one of the higher end Logitechs. I have a 920 and would probably buy a Brio today if I needed one. As others have said, you can use digital cameras, phones, etc. But, while I do sometimes use my DSLR when I'm recording video, it's so much easier just to use a regular webcam even if the quality and isolation from the background isn't quite as good.

If you use a real camera with a fixed focus lens, the background will be blurry! You can use most photo cameras as a webcam with a cheap (less than $20) HDMI capture USB cable.

Use background replacement. Most videoconf software like Zoom have them.

Unless you have a green screen and proper lighting, my observation is that background replacement is often obvious and distracting. (Background blurring is somewhat better.) My observation is that, once people got over the novelty, many stopped using it.

Noticeable yes, but you get to display a nice full bookshelf behind you instead of your messy bedroom. You'll look smart.

Fortunately I have an office I was able to more or less stage manage. You're right that in a lot of circumstances virtual backgrounds will still be better than reality.

> I think a lot of people get wrapped around the axle of having the "right" $500 microphone whereas there are a ton of decent USB mics under $100 that will make a big difference.

Yes! Even a Monoprice $20 dynamic mic is probably not going to be the weak point in your audio path.

> Also consider a good external webcam and doing something about lighting if you can.

Another great point. An Elgato Key Light Air is $130, and made a huge difference for me.

I got one of those lights as well. The lighting in my office is pretty good and I could probably use one of my dual monitors as effectively a lightbox if I had to. But the Key Light makes it really easy to adjust frontal lighting so it's balanced with my track lights and natural light coming into the room. (Both of which I tend to ratchet down when I'm doing video for more even lighting.)

Tomska used to have a video mentioning this (though in the context of making YouTube videos), in which he demonstated that video from a iPhone camera in conjunction with a professional mic was much more watchable than video from a professional camera with an iPhone mic.

Sadly the video seems to have been removed, the only reference I could find was the last paragraph of this Wired Article, https://www.wired.co.uk/article/tomska-wired-2015.

"use any camera, but get a good microphone. 'I started with a camera that's probably about ten times worse than the one in my phone,' he said. 'Bad sound will make anyone close a video in three seconds flat. Get a good microphone before you get a good camera.'"

And that was in 2015, wow. Nowadays a high end smartphone's camera delivers results close to a dedicated camera, assuming good lighting and stock lens. The difference is pretty much unnoticeable if you watch it on a smartphone, tablet or any small screen. If you're just starting out with video, it makes little sense to invest in a dedicated camera.

Audio, on the other hand, a couple hundred dollars on a good mic and preamp/recorder will be worth it 100%. It will make a noticeable difference on both good speakers/headphones and on the small speakers in phones.

Is there some way on the iPhone / iPad to shoot video with a Bluetooth mic? I bought a BT lapel mic and whenever it was connected to the phone, it showed up as headphones and audio wouldn't play from the phone until I disconnected it.

If Bluetooth is the wrong technology, what would you recommend?

IMO the best current solution for wireless audio of decent quality is a Rode Wireless Go. The original version (that I use) requires a receiver and analog adapter cable to get it into the phone, but especially paired with an external lav mic (not required, but helpful if you don't want a square mic visible in a shot), it's better than my ancient and much larger UHF wireless mics.

I believe Bluetooth is still worse than even analog 2.4Ghz transceivers due to compression. Perhaps it's good enough for a lapel mic if it uses aptX or whatever there is now, but uncompressed audio (preferably through a balanced connection) would be best.

I'm not looking for the best audio, just better than the on-camera microphone without introducing more gear or post-processing steps.

Well, it should suffice. Not sure how the iPhone works, can you at least record while it's connected?

Bluetooth is wrong because it is almost always low quality. You need a wired mic.

Is the audio quality recorded from a Bluetooth microphone worse than audio played through Bluetooth headphones? (ie is recording worse than playback?) If not, then that's okay because Bluetooth headphones sound fine.

A wired mic isn't really an option in the environment I want to film in but I want something better than the on-camera mic because I'm occasionally pretty far away from the camera.

I also don't want the hassle of recording audio on a separate audio recorder and then mixing that into my video. I want decent audio from a wireless mic recorded onto the phone video. I didn't think that was a big ask...

> is recording worse than playback?

Yes / kind of. Bluetooth headphones can be in a few modes, but generally they're either "high quality playback" or "crap playback with crap input". As soon as you activate the mic, the playback quality will drop. But for the isolated playback of a recording, you'll get better quality.

Using a separate recorder here has the best price to performance for you, I think.

Sennheiser has several wireless systems designed for your needs: https://en-us.sennheiser.com/wireless-systems

The hassle factor is way too high and it doesn't work easily for live streaming from a phone.

I think your fundamental issue might be expecting a phone to be a decent multimedia capture device (phones == content consumption, not content creation). If it's an iPhone and you just care about speech, air pods will be hard to beat.

The Rode product that somebody else mentioned looks like it's worth a try. It's a wireless mic where the receiver plugs into the phone.

Worse, far worse, just forget Bluetooth.

> People vastly undervalue good audio quality

Providers of conferencing tools undervalue audio quality as well, as evidenced by the fact that they don't provide tools that have been common for audio recording for nearly a century, such as simple vu-meters.

Okay, you are suggesting something (level meters, "you are clipping the shit out of your input"-indicators) that would actively improve things.

Let me suggest instead that they shall start by not actively harming things. Microsoft Teams is an excellent study subject for "how on earth do you make something this bad while owning all of Skype's IP?".

Ye. How about a simple bar indicator to see if your mic works when you speak.

And have the ability to turn of AGC !!!!!!!

For me it’s because we aren’t allowed to have nice audio. I’ve been working from my music desk all pandemic, with several microphones, preamps, sound insulation panels, boom stands and pop filters, and I can’t use any of them with my work computer. I’ve bought and returned several interfaces and can’t get Windows to connect to any of them. I have Airpods Pro as well and Microsoft Teams won’t allow me to join meetings with them connected. I finally found one interface that works with Windows and Teams permits me to join with, and when I speak Teams detects it and pops up a “your microphone doesn’t work with Teams” error. So laptop mic is what I’m stuck with.

Is it possible there are corporate policies affecting accessory compatibility? I've never had an issue with literally any audio device I've tried to use Teams with, and I've tried a decent variety.

Maybe some corpo bullshit fiddling with drivers?

One of the bottom-of-the-barrel-but-actually-still-ok interfaces might be worth a try. E.g. the Behringer UMC22 has a PCM2906 clone in it, which doesn't even have any drivers, it's just straight USB audio class, supported right out of the box in Windows.

"People vastly undervalue good audio quality."

Absodamnlutely. Perhaps I'm over sensitive to video and audio quality issues due to my work life, but I absolutely can't believe how poor audio quality can be in the wild.

Lack of full duplex, latency on phones and conference gizmos are bad enough, but I'm always blown away by the shite quality you run into for recorded university lectures and speeches. It makes you want to shake people like a rag.

Also, people don't appreciate how much more important audio quality is then video. You can get away with a lot in video, it's true to the extent that audio data flow is used as the master clock.

note to self: I wonder how far we are from improving recorded lectures/speeches via speech->text followed by text->speech as opposed to post-processing the audio. By passing through timing information you could even keep the cadence of the talking.

Because in most cases, people can't hear their own audio quality.

They only hear the poor audio quality of other people in the conference.

Agreed. My experience from watching some...challenging films in small film festivals is that bad picture can be tolerated, while bad audio will utterly ruin a film.

Just about every resource (books, websites, videos...) for indie film makers makes a point of stressing the absolute importance of good audio, but it's still often ignored.

As you say, people will forgive bad image quality before they will forgive bad audio.

> It also often makes the difference (given equal visuals) between great amateur and pro in e.g. the YouTube scene.

Good audio and good lighting can really make all the difference. It pains me because it's actually a very cheap problem to solve. Lighting, an audio interface, and a decent mic could cost no more than a few hundred dollars for a starter pack.

I'm on conference calls all the time where people have overhead lighting that makes them look like a sith lord and their mic is trash and picks up way too much room sounds and echos. It makes them look and sound bad. People notice that stuff.

I have always found it fascinating (and strange) that sound reproduction needs to be really bad before people in general complain. Compare this to image and video reproduction where most people are much more aware of the quality. It seems like most people have trained eyes but not ears.

My theory is that people have been conditioned to dirt poor audio quality from telephones, over many decades. Phone quality can still be bad.

I feel the same way about audio quality. There are enough people making informative videos on similar topics that bad audio is a deal breaker, so I'll look around until I find one that doesn't sound like it was recorded on a 5 dollar walmart microphone.

> my ears will continue to bleed from the awful audio people broadcast into this world. I wonder, most people must notice how terrible everyone in e.g. video conferences sounds;

If it is physically hurting your ears or being difficult to follow then it's understandable, but otherwise (as you mention with the masks) this sounds very superficial. Do you also complain about people wearing the wrong kind of clothes (and I don't mean tailored confederate flags)?

I hope to one day see the day when most people realise it's none of their business how others present themselves.

This isn’t an issue of fashion, it’s an issue of cognitive load. Bad audio is distracting, and requires more mental work to process. It’s fatiguing, and as someone who spends an absurd amount of time doing video conferencing, it makes a huge difference.

I’m also a teacher, so I bought a nice microphone and some acoustic panels to help my students focus on the material.

Acoustics & audio quality is important when trying to pay attention. Crappy acoustics can fatigue you and give you headache. Crappy audio can distract you, make you mishear things and overall is tiring to listen to. I've skipped online videos and lectures due to crap audio. I've gotten headaches and sore throat after sitting & talking in echo-y rooms for 30 mins.

Fair, though I meant complaining about understandable (but low-quality) audio or video.

Comprehensibility isn't yes/no. There are a lot of recordings that are possible to understand, but are a lot more work. I have this complaint about phone calls all the time. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills because people on a phone call are so hard to understand. Yet voice memos I record on my own phone are basically fine. I assume it's because phone audio goes through some tortured path with 12 layers of translation and compression or something, but it's irritating to me.

Maybe it's superficial but if you make yourself harder to understand and/or unpleasant to look at on video, I'm far more likely to tune you out, especially on a multi-party conference call that I'm probably only half paying attention to anyway.

So present yourself however you want. And I'll pay attention however much I want.

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