These days, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, people are spending a lot more time on conference calls from home. According to VentureBeat, Zoom raced from 3 million to 200 million users in just one quarter! Not everyone has a dedicated home office setup, since prior to the pandemic, many jobs were 100% on-site.
If you’re new to working from home, it’s easy to accidentally overlook things like your audio setup, since most laptops have built-in microphones. In my experience, the MacBook Pro has an excellent internal microphone, while many other laptops suffer from poor internal mics. Even if you have a great laptop microphone, if you’re using external peripherals, your laptop may not be positioned well to capture your voice.
For that reason, I recommend purchasing an external microphone. Professional studio microphones use a connector called XLR, but this requires extra hardware to connect it to your computer. Instead, you can purchase a high quality USB condenser microphone and connect it directly to your computer, without worrying about purchasing and connecting any extra devices in-line.
If you’re on a computer with only USB-C inputs, such as a MacBook Pro, you’ll need a USB-C to USB-A adapter. You can get these for a few dollars, usually in a pair, since they’re so inexpensive. I’ve had the JSAUX brand adapters for a while, which have high quality connectors and can handle significant usage, not to mention they have a professional braided appearance.
Choose the Right Microphone
There are quite a few factors in selecting the right microphone for your situation: cost, size, weight, audio quality, and for some folks, aesthetic appearance.
I’ve been using the same AudioTechnica AT2020 microphone for nearly 10 years, and it has consistently impressed me with its clarity and low noise floor. This microphone includes a small desktop stand along with a handy travel-size bag, that I’ve taken on occasional trips with me. It easily fits into my laptop, along with my other essential items, such as a USB battery pack and laptop charger.
The AT2020 has a full-size USB-B connector on the bottom, so if you want to avoid using adapters to USB-C, you can just pick up a USB-B to USB-C cable and connect it directly to your MacBook Pro, for example. If you’d like to hear some audio samples from the AT2020, I encourage you to check out the training content on my YouTube channel. The vast majority of my videos are using this microphone, and I am sure you’ll like what you hear!
The Blue Yeti microphone is also a worthy contender, that I’ve used a few times. This is a much more hefty microphone, with a solid, round base weighing several pounds. If aesthetic style is important to you, the Blue Yeti is a great choice, as you can get it in many exotic two-tone colors, such as Lunar Gray, Satin Red, and more! If you’re a frequent traveler, and want a portable microphone, the Blue Yeti isn’t a great option, due to its bulky size and higher weight. Its added weight is useful if you’re prone to accidentally knocking things over on your desk, however! One difference with the Blue Yeti is that is has a mini USB type B connector instead of a full-size USB type B connector. If you want an adapter-free experience on a USB-C laptop, you’ll want to pick up a mini USB-B to USB-C cable.
These two microphones are what I own, and are my recommendations. However, there are many other less expensive options, such as the popular and cool-looking Blue Snowball, which currently hovers around $70 USD.
Always Be Self-Aware
The most important aspect of remote audio/video conferencing is to be self-aware of how you look and sound. You can always start a meeting with yourself in order to test out your webcam and microphone positioning. I’d encourage you to do this, just to get a feel for what you look and sound like to other meeting attendees. Also, follow these key tips:
- Make sure that you know the keyboard shortcuts to navigate your conference software efficiently. The mute/unmute shortcut is the most common one that I use.
- After setting up your microphone, use some software to record your microphone and test it out. You can use Zoom to record meetings for free, or you can download the open source Audacity software to record yourself.
- Make sure your shiny, new microphone is positioned somewhere close to your mouth, so that your voice drowns out any other background noise when you’re speaking.
As we discussed, using an external microphone can really help to improve your professional image in a remote-centric world. There are many different microphone options available, but I strongly recommend the AT2020 and Blue Yeti. Make sure you experiment with your microphone setup to see what works best in your environment, and ask other people how you sound on a periodic basis.
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