USB mic with muscle
Slideshow-creation programs such as Elements and Photo Story 3.0 allow you to record "audio captions" to go with the images in your slideshow. It's difficult to get high-quality audio results though, especially using a cheap microphone to record annotations. A bad recording makes the presentation sound amateurish.
But the barrier has long been the high price of pro-level microphones, typically starting at $250 and rocketing upwards from there. I'm happy to report that's no longer the case.
I recently invested in the Samson C01U (www.samsontech.com), which claims to be the world's first USB-based studio-quality microphone. Unlike other microphones of similar quality, the CO1U is a cinch to set up. Reassuringly heavy, it comes with its own pre-amplifier, so there's no need for any intermediate box to boost the sound. To get the microphone working in Windows XP, simply plug the cable into a spare USB slot and it will be automatically recognised and ready to go. Aside from the 3m USB cable - enough to let you walk around a little, or distance yourself from the whirring of your computer - there are no other trailing wires, it is powered straight from the PC.
The Samson is ideal for recording the spoken word - it already has a big following among those recording podcasts. I've joined the fan club, even though I don't claim to be a microphone expert. The sound it produces is remarkably natural, with virtually no background noise. This level of performance is possible because the C01U is a cardioid microphone, which means it concentrates on sounds directly in front of it to the exclusion of noises from the side or in the background.
Of course, there are cheaper models around that can and will be enough for basic narrative, but the sound quality of the Samson puts it in a different league. You may be able to order from overseas to save yourself some money, but if you'd prefer to go local and avoid the wait for delivery, it's available from www.venuemusic.com.au for $199.