I just had a Twitter exchange (@klmonline) with a reader asking me an oft-repeated question. “Which microphone should I use for webinars?” Let me try to run through your options, which are many and varied depending on the specifics of your situation.
If you are using VoIP for your audio, you need a microphone connected to your computer. Get yourself a good quality USB-connected headset. Even the good ones aren’t very expensive. $50 American is more than enough. Go to Amazon.com, search for USB headset and select Customer Reviews of 4 stars and higher. You’ll get 1200 results! I have had good luck with Logitech, but any of the major name brands are likely to serve you well. Don’t be a penny-pincher. The difference between a $10 and $40 model is significant, and while the percentage price differential is large, is $30 more really that big a burden for a long-term asset? Do not use a desk microphone. They restrict your movement and pick up too many extraneous sounds.
If you plan to speak via telephone, things get trickier. Cell phones are forbidden. You cannot hold a constant volume on a mobile device and they are prone to interruptions, power loss, and dropouts. Speaker phones seem convenient, but are a bad idea. They make you sound distant, they pick up surrounding noises you may not even be aware of, and some cut off the first microsecond of each phrase as they switch from receive to send.
If you are on a budget, just use a standard wired desk telephone and pick up the receiver. Yes, just like we all did when dinosaurs roamed the Earth (about 15 years ago). Sound quality is good on telephone handsets. You needed to develop your arm muscles anyway.
Much more convenient and highly recommended is a telephone headset. But these cost more than computer headsets and can be trickier to connect. Different phones use different connections (some modern phones have a headset jack built in, while others force you to connect an external amplifier between the headset and handset). I have had good luck with Plantronics and Jabra (aka GN Netcom) equipment. A good headset might cost around $100 USD and you might need an external amplifier.
My old setup was a Plantronics Vista amplifier and Encore H101 headset. Now I’m using a GN Netcome GN8050 amplifier and GN2100 headset with good results. The advantage is that I can connect it to both my computer and telephone and switch between systems without needing to swap headsets. I reviewed the unit in a previous post.
I prefer binaural headsets (earpieces on both ears). These are less common than one-ear headsets, but I don’t want to hear outside noises when speaking on a webinar. My office is very quiet, with no other people around me. So I use “sound tube” microphones rather than electronic noise cancelling mikes. I like keeping the extra circuitry out of the voice pickup if possible. But modern noise reduction mikes are very good and are worthwhile if you have a noisy office environment.
I am not a fan of wireless headsets. I admit that they are wonderfully convenient. But I don’t want any chance of signal loss, momentary interruptions, radio interference, or power loss during my webinar. I’ll understand if you choose to accept the low risk in favor of getting rid of the cables.
If you create a lot of prerecorded webcasts you may want to invest in a serious vocal recording microphone. This is not cost-effective unless you really do a lot of voice-over work and need to ensure very high quality. I just upgraded my recording gear to an Audio-Technica AT2020 condenser microphone mounted in an AT8458 shock mount on a boom arm and desk stand. The main microphone competition in this category is the Blue Microphones Yeti. Reviews indicate very close performance characteristics between the two mikes. If you go this route, make sure to also purchase a pop filter to go between the mike and your mouth. It’s a necessity for clean sound. I don’t use this higher quality mike setup for live webinars because it restricts my movements and can pick up mouse clicks or typing as I interact with the webinar software.
If you appear on camera, you may elect to forego the use of a headset because it can make you look “geeky.” Unfortunately this leaves you with two options that can be equally problematic. Most webcam mikes are of mediocre quality compared with dedicated microphones or headsets. You may end up sounding distant and you may pick up background noises. You also have to be very careful about arranging your computer speakers so they don’t interfere with your audio pickup. Angle your speakers away from the webcam and turn down your volume so you can just hear it.
I have used a fancier setup in an attempt to get better quality while hiding the equipment. I plugged in an “FBI style” earpiece, with a clear tube going around the back of the ear and then down my back. I wore a tiny lapel mike (called a lavaliere) clipped onto my lapel. It looked great, but I found that some webcast systems had trouble maintaining synchronization between my audio and video because the two signals were coming from different sources and being processed through the computer separately. Even a 1/4 second lag between mouth movements and sound can be distracting to viewers.
I hope this helps give you some direction as you make your decisions on webinar/webcast audio!