Even before the coronavirus lockdown there was a need for video conferencing, both for work and for personal use. But the one thing that is usually overlooked is the audio.
We are usually sure to get a larger monitor to see people better or a webcam to be seen at higher quality, but what about your computer’s built in microphone? Chances are it’s letting you down.
If your video calling colleagues or friends sounds great, it doesn’t mean you do (and if they don’t sound great, send them the link to this article!) A USB-powered computer microphone is a sensible purchase if you’re working from home due to lockdown and are finding yourself on a lot more Zoom calls or simply if you want to upgrade your desktop set up to be better prepared for all audio needs.
Not only useful for video and internet calling, USB microphones are also perfect for recording audio for podcasts, voice-overs and music production. You might not achieve studio quality results, but rest assured that any of the microphones on this list are better than the small one built into your laptop
If you’re using a desktop, your computer might not even have a microphone anyway. If that’s the case, then a microphone is a fine alternative if you don’t want to wear a headset. Just remember that it also depends on the room you’re using a mic in – if the room is large and echoey with reflective surfaces, then that will still come across via a better mic.
But pairing one of these mics with a acoustically well set up room will result in much better audio whatever your needs.
Blue Snowball iCE
Blue makes a couple of very popular USB microphones and the Snowball iCE is the cheaper of the two. That’s not to say it isn’t a great option, with plug and play functionality that means you won’t have to download any additional software to use it.
It’ll work seamlessly with platforms like Skype and FaceTime on laptop and desktop for audio on video calls but will also work for Twitch streaming or recording audio for music or podcast production.
For under $100 it’s our pick of the bunch for its simplicity and relatively huge upgrade to the audio your computer’s microphone could capture in comparison.
Where to buy: Amazon
The pricier option from Blue is the Yeti, made famous for its extensive use by thousands of podcast makers worldwide. It has three condensers compared to the Snowball’s two, so overall sound quality is more detailed. It’s the ideal design for podcast audio capture conversations live between two people across from each other, great if you don’t want to fork out for two mics.
It can also record in four polar patterns, meaning it’s a better option if you want to record anything approaching studio-quality audio. It might be overkill if you just want to sound a little better on Zoom.
It adds a mute button and headphone volume control right on the mic, whereas the Snowball lacks either. The Yeti made its name for a reason, and if you will be using a mic to record any kind of content as well as video calling then it could be the better pick.
Audio Technica ATR2100X
Where to buy: Amazon
Of course, you’re not limited to Blue products! If you want a handheld mic (the previous two are stand-only) then this traditionally designed Audio Technica is a good choice. It comes with a small tripod for hands-free desk recording but gives you the option of handheld if you are presenting, for example.
It’s a good choice if you’ll be needing a mic away from the computer, as it has XLR input for sound mixers and audio interfaces as well as USB. It is also a dynamic mic, meaning it is very good at cutting out background noise, unlike the two Blue mics that are designed for a wider field of audio capture.
It means the Audio Technica is best for one-person recordings, whereas the Blue mics can capture podcast or call audio of two people.
Shure MOTIV MV5
Where to buy: Apple
This option from Shure is comparable to the Blue Snowball but is a little more versatile. It’s designed specifically for Mac and iOS so is the best mic on this list if you live in Apple’s world.
It has three preset modes (vocal, instrument and flat) to allow you to easily capture different types of audio depending on the activity and comes with USB-A and Lightning cables as well as a stand. It also works with Shure’s free iOS app to record uncompressed audio, allowing you to use your phone as a controller for different settings.
Like the Blue Yeti, this one is geared more towards podcasters and musicians with a headphone output hjack on the mic, but it’ll do nicely for your work video calls too. Just steer clear if you have a Windows PC.