The correct equipment makes PCs all ears

If you aren't already talking to your computer, you probably will be soon. Whether you're making low-cost phone calls over the Internet, dictating e-mail via the latest voice recognition software, or chatting with fellow online gamers, you need to make sure your PC hears you loud and clear.

Accurately converting your voice into the zeroes and ones that move through your computer requires a good microphone, which translates the vibrations of your voice into analog electrical signals; and a good sound card, which turns the analog signals into digital form.

Stand-alone Voice-over-IP phones often cost US$100 or more. For less than half that price, you can buy a headset that combines a microphone with earphones. Such headsets are required for making PC-to-PC and PC-to-phone calls via most popular VOIP services.

Cancel the background

Devices with built-in noise canceling position one microphone to capture voice, and point another in the opposite direction to capture background noise. This allows the device to remove some background noise, improving sound quality.

I've had good results with Logitech's Premium USB Headset 350 (about $45 online). And when traveling, I like the collapsible DSP-400 from Plantronics (about $40 online). Both products connect to the PC via USB.

You can also use a stand-alone microphone and your PC's speakers for sound. The Superbeam SoundMax Array Microphone from Andrea Electronics has two microphones mounted about 4 inches apart that do a pretty good job of capturing your voice from a few feet away, such as while the device is set atop your PC's monitor.

Speaking in digital

The sound equipment in nearly any PC that's less than three years old can do this, but older and budget computers may not be up to the task. Here are two features to look for.

Full duplex: A full-duplex sound card can process inbound and outbound signals at once, which is very important when you're carrying on a live conversation. Half-duplex cards process only one signal at a time, like a walkie-talkie. This often clips the beginning and ending of spoken sentences.

To check for full-duplex sound, simultaneously play and record a .wav file using the Windows Sound Recorder utility: In Windows XP, click Start, All Programs, Accessories, Entertainment, Sound Recorder (the steps are similar in older Windows versions). Repeat the steps to open a second Sound Recorder window. In the first window, play a .wav file that's at least 30 seconds in length. While it is playing, go over to the second window and record the file. If the file records, your card is full duplex.

Noise reduction: Electromagnetic fields in your PC can distort analog voice signals before they're digitized. To reduce this static, get a USB microphone, which digitizes the signal before it enters the PC. If your mike plugs into the sound card, Andrea Electronics has a USB adapter for $50.

Power on a tether

Today's power strips and surge protectors suffer from overcrowding: They just don't provide enough room between outlets to accommodate the bulky adapters that power most electronic devices. Power Sentry's PowerSquid brilliantly solves this space problem by placing each outlet at the end of a separate tentacle-like cord. The PowerSquid isn't a surge protector, but you can easily plug it into one.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Kirk Steers

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Stocking Stuffer

SmartLens - Clip on Phone Camera Lens Set of 3

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Cathy Giles

Brother MFC-L8900CDW

The Brother MFC-L8900CDW is an absolute stand out. I struggle to fault it.

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?