Updated: Sep 19, 2020
There’s one thing you probably haven't considered in your work from home setup.
When you're speaking, you can only hear your natural voice.
But what your audience hears is the version that's been processed by the microphone, then subsequently compressed by the video conferencing software to reduce bandwidth. Depending on the microphone you're using, the sound of your voice may come across as tinny, metallic with noise interference.
Poor audio quality can affect your audience's ability to process what you’re saying & cause listening fatigue. Investing in crystal clear audio isn’t just a matter of convenience — it’s essential for building connection, credibility and establishing your personal brand.
You’ll be posting loads of engaging content, so be sure to keep your blog organized with Categories that also allow visitors to explore more of what interests them.
"Hold completely natural conversations via speakerphone as both sides of the conversation are transmitted at the same time, allowing conversations to flow just as they do in person." - Jabra website
Pros: Ideal for those who don't like to appear and feel "plugged in". Crystal clear audio that surpasses the built-in mic in your laptop. No audio feedback loop. Mic is omni-directional
accommodating up to 6 people. Avoids the issues with built-in mics where input audio can be muffled by objects obstructing the mic (eg. cup, phone, stationery). Mute button integrated.
Cons: More expensive. People around you can hear what's being said on the call. The sound of typing might be audible depending on where the mic is placed.
Recommendation: Jabra Speak Series 750 (noise cancelling) or Jabra Speak Series 710 . Detailed spec comparison of these two models here. The main difference between the two is that Jabra Speak Series 750 has "Full Duplex Audio" technology that accommodates 2 people talking over each other. Both work well on Teams & Zoom with minimal compression in audio quality.
Price range: Jabra Speak Series 750 ($460-$500), Jabra Speak Series 710 ($350-$399 AUD) excluding shipping.
Podcast Microphone (Public speaking)
In this category, I'm featuring products only from RØDE Microphones to support this Australian owned and operated audio company based in Sydney.
Pros: Dynamic XLR gives you broadcast quality with great separation between your voice and background noises. The interface allows you to control input audio gain with ease. Requires separate stand & pop shield to diffuse plosives (t, k and p sounds).
Cons: Most expensive option. Potential compatibility issues with certain Windows operating systems, so it may not be compatible with your work laptop. Therefore you will still need a separate audio setup for work.
Sound test: Procaster - Soundcloud
Price range: Rode Procaster ($220-240 AUD) + Rode A-1 Audio Interface ($200) + Rode Table Top Stand ($30) + Rode Pop Windshield ($20) = Total $470 AUD excluding shipping. Monitoring earphones required. Available only in Black.
2) Rode Podcaster (Dynamic USB)
Pros: Dynamic USB gives you near-broadcast quality with great separation between your voice and background noises, and the convenience of a USB connection (however see compatibility issues below). Requires separate stand & pop shield to diffuse plosives (t, k and p sounds).
Cons: More expensive than option 3 below. Compatibility issues with older laptops / certain Windows operating systems. I can confirm this doesn't work with my current Dell work laptop (Windows 10). Therefore you will still need a separate audio setup for work.
Sound test: Podcaster - Soundcloud
I use this mic for my podcast (episode 50 onwards) and external speaking opportunities. If you are softly spoken, bear in mind that audio input gain is weaker than option 3 with limited range to increase this in post-production.
Podcast Microphone (Facilitation, Training & Public speaking)
Pros: High quality studio microphone with the convenience of USB connectivity. Ready to plug and play straight out of the box (with built-in stand and pop filter). This works with my work laptop with no issues.
Cons: Being a condenser mic, there is limited "proximity effect" meaning both your voice and background noises (eg. typing, household) will be audible with minimal separation. Broadcast quality is possible, but requires sound-proofing to minimise sound bouncing off hard surfaces (eg. table top, walls, floorboards).
Sound test: Scroll further down to listen to my audio sample. If you like comparison videos, this YouTube video has the least waffle & goes straight into a sound test comparison across the Logitech C920 webcam, Rode NT-USB and Blue Yeti.
Price range: $210 AUD excluding shipping. Monitoring earphones required.
Upon discovering after COVID that option 2 isn't compatible with my work laptop, I've repurposed the Rode NT-USB (my very first podcast mic) to use for work when recording voice-overs for training, when I'm MC for a virtual event, or delivering a webinar that's livestreamed/recorded with minimal input from participants.
More affordable options
I haven't yet found a USB headset that comes close to the sound quality of a conference speakerphone or podcast mic. I'm hoping Rode will create one, leveraging the technology they used to create the Rode NT Mini.
At my workplace, many of us use the Jabra Evolve 40 headset ($100-$140 AUD) which has good noise cancelling, and I find the call control console incredibly convenient for situations where you need to mute/unmute quickly. However the audio quality is average (very tinny) but on par with other USB headsets at this price point.
The best performing affordable option I've come across so far are the wired in-ear headphones with 3.5mm plug such as the Apple Earpods ($45 AUD). They deliver better performance on Zoom video calls than Bluetooth earphones.
Listen to the audio sample below (recorded in Zoom) where I'm using the Rode NT-USB in my wardrobe, and my guest René Michele is using the white wired earphones that came complimentary with her iPhone.
In summary, choose a mic based on features that you value
Conference speakerphone - for those that don't like to be "plugged in", and want the flexibility to use this for other purposes (eg. participating in group classes, family video calls). The crystal clear audio makes this suitable for webinars, the occasional guest speaking opportunity or panel discussion.
Podcast microphones - for facilitation, voice-overs and regular speaking opportunities. Requires monitoring earphones. Due to compatibility issues, an alternative solution may be required for work.
Wired USB headset - all in one solution for collaboration, and those who value the convenience of having noise-cancelling and a mute/unmute button that is synchronised with Teams/Zoom. Expect innovation in this category, so don't rush to buy a new one just yet.
Wired earphones with 3.5mm plug - for all purposes, including the occasional guest interview. A great fallback option if you want to invest in another microphone for a specific purpose.
I hope you have found this post useful!