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Higher quality audio makes people sound smarter (ariyh.com)
920 points by tdmckinlay 9 months ago | 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)

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/04/25/the-possibilia...

> “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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nCYWhYagqk

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AecAXinars


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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D85HmR825wM


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:

https://auralex.com/

Get a pop filter:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pop_filter

Control sibilance:

https://urm.academy/death-to-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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzGPyekZE7w

https://www.amazon.com/Sony-ECMCS3-Omnidirectional-Stereo-Mi...


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.

OR

- 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.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07QVNXBDL

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!


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