Mike's Mics - A Simple Test of Common Microphones in Virtual Meetings
08 Nov 2021
Reading time ~11 minutes
Like most of you, I have attended countless online virtual meetings over the past couple of years. In every one of those meetings, there is always someone who sounds truly awful. Most people, I presume, do not give much thought to how they sound when they buy a new headset. They are more concerned with the quality of their speakers. I wondered, “If others sound horrible, what do I sound like? Am I using the best microphone to make it easy for others to understand me?” These meetings are bad enough as it is; I hate to complicate them by not being understood when I speak. That is when I decided to find out.
I tend to collect computer hardware and peripherals the way some people collect travel souvenirs. One day I realized I had more than ten different microphones and headsets sitting around my house. Some are cheap ear buds that came with a mobile phone years ago. Others I have purchased when making video courses. A few were purchased for me. The point is that I have a bunch, and I felt it was time to find out which one I should use for my virtual meetings going forward.
My Testing Criteria
What I’m looking for in a microphone is simple:
- First, it has to sound good in a normal room. I don’t want to have to build a recording studio to sound decent.
- It can’t cost too much money. Though one of the headsets I tested is around $300, most cost less than $100. One of them was free.
- It shouldn’t be distracting to other people in the meeting. In other words, I don’t want anything that calls attention to itself. This rules out most full headsets, though I did test a few for completeness.
I created a brief video for each microphone I tested. Each one is embedded below, and I have included links to the individual videos at the end of this article.
As I said, I did not want to run my tests in a recording studio, or even a room with any acoustic panels, as some recommend. Most people I see on these calls are sitting in a normal room in their homes. Therefore, I would replicate that environment as best I could. The room where I conducted my tests is a carpeted bedroom with painted walls, a bookshelf, a dresser, a desk, and a twin bed. The room has no sound deadening, and my tests have no post-processing. What you will hear is what I recorded.
Here are the tests and mini-reviews, in alphabetical order by product name.
Alvoxcon USB Wireless
If you are a regular reader of my blog posts, you may have seen my months-long struggle to host the webinar for our weekly church services. I bought this microphone as the solution to my audio problems in a large open chapel. I was looking for something wireless, and the UHF transmitter and receiver seemed perfect. The little lapel mic can be connected to the speaker’s clothing, clipped to something in front of the speaker, or even plugged in directly to the transmitter. The receiver is then connected to a computer or phone. The kit comes with everything you need to connect it to a computer’s USB port, and includes adapters for Apple Lightning and USB-C ports. Most importantly, the sound quality for vocals is amazing, especially given its sub-$100 price point.
Amazon EchoBuds 2
I got these during an Amazon sale for the sole purpose of having a headset on virtual meetings. I got them in black, hoping that would make them stand out less. For some reason, I find the white Air Pods people use to be very distracting. Ultimately, I was a little disappointed. Though the Echo Buds sound pretty good (once you fit them properly), they are simply mediocre for meetings. They still tend to fall out of my ear, battery life is only a few hours, and the microphone quality seems more designed for Alexa than for making you sound your best.
I couldn’t do a complete test without including the Apple wired EarPods that came with my iPhone 7 years ago. I like these so much I own four or five sets of them. At about $20 each, their sound quality is second-to-none in the budget space. My only complaint about them is the very white wire is visible to everyone. If you don’t mind such things, you can’t go wrong with them.
Apple iPhone 11
Some people attend virtual meetings on their phones. If you are in a listen-only meeting, this might be acceptable. Please don’t do this if you need to participate, especially if you are presenting anything. The camera angle is almost never flattering, and the microphone, while passable, works best when held close to your mouth. Using your phone without a headset should be a last resort.
Apple MacBook Air (2020 M1)
I started with the hardware I have on hand. Most people, myself included at times, will simply fire up the virtual meeting software and connect. They don’t even stop to consider that they should use a different microphone. That is why I wanted to use my daily laptop as the baseline. Overall, it doesn’t sound bad, about what you’d expect. You can definitely tell I’m in an open room.
Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
I was on a call recently with someone who did not appear to be using a headset of any kind. I asked him later what he was using because he sounded fantastic. He told me he was simply using his MacBook Pro. I have already tested the mic on my MacBook Air and was not impressed. Maybe the MacBook Pro has better audio? I have a MacBook Pro available to me, so I decided to test it also. My results were not as good as what I heard from my colleague. My conclusion is that the Macs are very sensitive to their environment. If you’re in a quite room without a lot of hard surfaces, it might be fine. In my room, it sounded no better to me than the MacBook Air.
Apple Thunderbolt Display
I tested the Thunderbolt Display for the same reason I tested the MacBook Air: it’s here and I know some people will default to their monitor’s built-in microphone. Though “free” (not including the cost of the monitor), unless you have no other choice, you probably want to skip this one.
This was my primary microphone when I made my early video courses for Pluralsight. The price seems to have come down quite a bit since then, making it an excellent choice for someone who wants better sound quality on a budget. Probably my biggest complaint about the Snowball is that it’s too sensitive. It picks up everything. I remember once having to re-record a segment of a course because the cat came into the room and curled up in a wicker basket. The microphone picked up every creak. This one works best when mounted on a swing arm, with a pop filter and shock mount. Because of that, it may be too high maintenance for some.
Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle
I bought this inexpensive little Bluetooth speaker to have something better than my phone for music playback when working around the house. It happens to have a mic, and it’s pretty small. I thought it might be decent option if I place it on my desk right in front of me, just below the camera’s field of view. As you will see in the video, it’s pretty terrible.
When I presented at a developer conference in the summer of 2021, I was told I needed a high-quality webcam for those attending virtually. I bought the DepsTech WebCam, which features a high-quality 4k camera and a tripod mount. These were the features I wanted for the conference. I didn’t concern myself with its microphone quality because I knew I wouldn’t be using it. Now that I’m back in my home office, I keep it mounted above my desk so that it’s at eye-level when I stand. This makes it perfect for me to do remote presentations. I learned while performing this test that its audio isn’t up to the same standards as its video.
Plantronics Voyager 8200
A few years ago, we moved to an “open office” concept at my day job. We quickly discovered just how loud such places can be. To mitigate this somewhat, our director bought us each this bluetooth noise cancelling headset. I used it for months to isolate myself from the noisy office. However, I remember being on a call one day when I noticed someone using the same headset. He was almost unintelligible. After that, I stopped using it as a microphone. I still use it as headphones in noisy environments, and take it with me whenever I fly. This is the most expensive headset I tested. I only included it because I already happened to have one.
Rode Video Me
My wife often makes audio recordings of our daughter’s high school band concerts, and wanted something that would sound better than her Galaxy phone’s built-in mic. The Rode Video Me seemed perfect for that task. It is an inexpensive and wonderful little directional mic that clips right onto the phone. It includes a big puffy wind filter, which I did not use for the test. I also didn’t use a mobile phone. Instead, I connected it directly to the microphone jack of my laptop. Its sound quality was near the top end of all the microphones I tested.
My other video course mic is this Senheiser headset. I bought it to replace the Blue Snowball, not because I didn’t like it, but because my house is simply too noisy. The sound quality is superb, and it picks up almost nothing that’s going on behind you. I once recorded a video while a loud light and music show was taking place just outside my window. My recording contained none of those sounds. The Senheiser has two issues that keep me from choosing it as the overall winner. Fist, it has to be positioned really close to your mouth, so it tends to pick up your breathing if you aren’t careful. The second is that I don’t like seeing headsets on video conferences.
There are a few more mics I want to test, but I simply haven’t gotten hold of them yet. I was on a call with someone the other day who was using Samsung Galaxy Buds, and from what I could tell, they were phenomenal. I have also heard good things about the Beats Flex. I may want to do my own test on them some time.
In case you’re wondering, I have no plans to test the Apple AirPods. I have been on too many calls with people using them, and quite frankly they don’t sound that good.
That said, I’m open to reviewing any microphone that someone wants to send me (and no, I don’t expect you to let me keep them).
I wanted to break down the results into something manageable. It wasn’t as simple as picking one winner. Most of the microphones I tested had something going for and against them.
Best Overall: Blue Snowball
This was a hard decision to make. I used the Senheiser for all my recent video courses. I really like its sound quality, and I have never found anything better when it comes to eliminating background noise. That said, for virtual meetings, I have to go with the Blue Snowball.
Runner Up: The Senheiser SC700
If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t want to wear a headset during meetings, this one might have been my top pick.
Best Budget: Apple EarPods
Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with the original Apple EarPods. For around $20, you get excellent sound quality, no fit hassles for most people, and you never have to worry about batteries. Even better, you probably have one sitting in a drawer somewhere, maybe even unopened!
Runner Up: Rode Video Me
I want to try testing this one again, but mounted on an arm and using its wind filter. I get the feeling it can be a contender for the top spot.
Best Wireless: Alvoxcon USB Wiress
The quality of this system’s lapel mic surprised me. It is a very directional microphone, which leads to excellent background noise reduction. Plus, it comes with everything you need to connect to a computer or any mobile device.
Runner Up: Amazon EchoBuds 2
Let’s face it. I didn’t test too many wireless headsets. I expect this will change once I test others.
Avoid at All Costs: Plantronics Voyager 8200
The worst headset I tested was also the most expensive. Though it sounds great and has amazing noise cancellation features, its microphone is almost useless.
Runner Up: DepsTech WebCam
I don’t think microphone quality it a top priority for webcam manufacturers. At least it isn’t in this case.
Direct Links to Videos
For convenience, I am including links to each of the above videos, all in one place.
- Alvoxcon USB Wireless
- Amazon EchoBuds 2
- Apple EarPods
- Apple iPhone 11
- Apple MacBook Air (2020 M1)
- Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
- Apple Thunderbolt Display
- Blue Snowball
- Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle
- DepsTech WebCam
- Plantronics Voyager 8200
- Rode Video Me
- Senheiser SC60
Follow Me on Twitter
If you want to know when I test more microphones, my Twitter followers will be the first people I tell. You can find me there at @WalkingRiver.
Do you have any comments, questions, or just want to see more? Please follow me on Twitter and let me know.
Did I make any mistakes in this post? Feel free to suggest an edit.