The thing about webinars produced from your desk is that they seem to invite you to use poor quality gear. Yeah, you could setup an external microphone, but that mic on your webcam is just sooo convenient. Or, you think that a $15 lavaliere mic from Amazon will provide the absolute quality boost that you need.
Whenever you consider what audio gear to buy or use, keep the above image in mind. Specifically, your goal should be to maximize the signal and minimize the noise. When you use low-quality gear, you often have trouble producing sufficient volume, which usually means that you have to boost the gain on your computer. This amplifies the entire signal, including the noise, which makes the audio less clear and harder to understand. In addition, when you use low-quality gear, voice quality is noticeably degraded compared to a higher-quality recording setup.
To demonstrate this, I tested the internal microphone of my HP Elitebook 8760w notebook, two external Electret microphones, the microphone from a Logitech headset and my preferred setup, a Shure headset mic powered by a PreSonus AudioBox 44VSL. The AudioBox is a pre-amp, which both powers the Shure condenser microphone and boosts the signal before sending it to the computer. It’s AC powered, so it has more than sufficient power to create a strong signal with minimal noise.
In terms of workflow, as you’ll hear in the audio, I recorded directly in Adobe Audition on the HP notebook so I could monitor levels, using Windows controls to boost gain when necessary to achieve my targets. Then I output the files as 128 kbps MP3 files for your listening pleasure.
You’ll get the most out of these comparisons using headphones. Note that it might take a few seconds for all the audio files to load.
Note that I test microphone alternatives for iPhones here.
This is the internal microphone on the HP Notebook. I’m located the normal distance away from the notebook, about three feet. The volume is good, but the audio sounds a bit hollow and echo-y.
This is the first Electret microphone, which is powered by the microphone input on the notebook. It cost about $15.00. The microphone is fixed to my collar in the traditional lavaliere location.
Even though the microphone is closer to my mouth, the audio sounds more faint than the microphone on my notebook.
This is the second Electret microphone; it cost about $5.00. Different than the first Electret mic, but not really better.
This is a no-name analog headset that produced very good levels and decent audio quality, much better than either electrec-powered lavaliere micophone. This is a Logitech Bluetooth headset H800, about $60. The audio is clearer than the previous microphones, but also fainter. This is the Plantronics 478 (~$28) a USB powered headset that produced very crisp, noise-free quality, but a slightly synthetic sound. This is the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavaliere Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone that was recently re-released with an iPhone adopter.
The audio sounds noticeably better than that produced by the other mics. There are some plosives (pops at Ps and Ss) which I need to watch, but there’s a night and day difference in quality.
This is the AKG-C444 condenser headset microphone, which costs around $170 when new but is no longer sold. I’m driving it via the PreSonus AudioBox 44 VSL, which costs about $300.
LIke the Shure, the audio sounds more natural than the USB and analog microphones. You can draw your own conclusion about whet
This is the Shure SM93 (about $150), a condenser lavaliere microphone also powered by the PreSonus AudioBox 44 VSL unit. This is my current go-to setup for screencams, webinars and video conferences. It’s not perfect, but it’s unobtrusive when I’m on camera and the quality is fairly good.
Please ignore pricing information in the sample audio file. As you can hear, I had a cold, and it must have affected my memory.
This is the Shure KSM-27, which is no longer sold, but cost around $300 or more when new. It’s coupled with the AudioBox 44 VSL.
I bought and used this microphone for screencam production, but later shifted to headset microphones because they were easier to use and produced almost as good quality. This is not a practical microphone for webinar or video conferencing, but wanted to try it out to guage the quality.
Have a listen. The microphones on top are the most noisy, and the least clear. The USB headsets create a very crisp, clear, and precise sound, though it’s a touch synthetic. The high end microphones powered by the PreSonus unit create the most natural sound, though there is a touch of noise that you don’t get with the USB microphones.
For me, chasing sound quality is like chasing the perfect wave. Sometimes I can get close, but perfection has always eluded me.