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In the midst of massive Black Friday sales and Cyber Monday deals, you might be reconsidering the nature of your work-from-home setup. The face-to-face nature of video calls is a marked improvement over traditional phone calls — but a video call is worthless if your coworkers don't understand what you're saying. Good audio is still the backbone of any conference call: If your webcam's or laptop’s built-in microphone isn't up to the task, an external USB microphone can make a huge difference. And as with most things tech, you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. If you want to upgrade your audio for ever better (but not necessarily more interesting) conference calls, here are some tips to figure out the right microphone for you and some great options to consider right now.
LEARN MORE A simple guide to microphone features
Best USB Microphones in 2020
Again, keeping it simple and affordable is easy for the basics of a microphone. To give you an idea of the top microphones at your disposal, we put together the best options you have to elevate your videoconferences.
Best microphone overall: Blue
The Blue Yeti is widely regarded as the best microphone for normal people looking for great sounding audio. Voices come through loud and clear, and it has a number of options for you to adjust its performance — like a gain knob, a mute button and even the ability to select your polar pattern. It may be a bit overkill if you're just using it for video calls but if you're looking for a mic that can do it all, it's hard to go too wrong with the Yeti.
Best high quality, affordable microphone: Samson
If you want something that sounds great and that’ll run you under $100, this Samson C01U Pro is one of the next best options. It has a similar shape and style to the Yeti but is a bit smaller, has a cheaper stand and doesn't have the extra features of more expensive microphones.
Best stylish and portable microphone: Shure
Shure is one of the most trusted names in microphones, and their MV5 makes a great desktop mic for those wanting something a bit more portable. It sounds great, offers three modes for voices and instruments, and looks snazzy to boot.
Best dynamic microphone: Samson
The above options are condenser microphones. If you're working from a noisy household, a dynamic microphone like the Samson Q2U might be a better choice. Your voice won't sound quite as full and natural as it would with a condenser model, but it'll keep the cacophony out of your meeting, while still sounding better than your laptop's built-in microphone.
Best basic microphone at a great price: Blue
If all you need is a decent-sounding microphone for video calls, I'm of the opinion you can spend a little less for something like Blue's Snowball ICE without sacrificing much. It may not have a mute button (or any options to speak of, really) but it sounds great and costs less than half the price of the brand’s Yeti. In fact, this is the microphone I still use to this day — and I regularly get compliments on how I sound over Zoom.
Best bargain and budget-friendly microphone: AmazonBasics
When I first tried the AmazonBasics Mic, I didn't have high expectations, but I was shocked to find how good it sounded for the cost. At list price, it's a tad more than the Blue Snowball but offers a gain knob and a mute button, which can be handy — and it can go on sale for hard-to-beat prices if you're willing to wait.
Best USB microphone features, put simply
If you're looking for a microphone to record music, host podcasts or make YouTube videos, there's a lot to consider. But if you’re like most people joining typical video calls, you shouldn't have to worry too much. Just buy the best sounding microphone in your price range. If you want to dig into the nitty-gritty of it, there are definitely a few features that help certain models stand out.
Condenser or dynamic
There are two main types of microphones you'll come across.
- Condenser microphones offer better, more natural sounding audio for your voice, but are sensitive to background noise, like the click-clack of your keyboard or kids yelling in the background.
- Dynamic microphones don't sound quite as good but might be a better choice if you aren't working in a dedicated office.
For the purposes of this guide, we're focusing only on microphones that connect to your computer via USB — it's easy, universal, and anything else is overkill for video calls. But if you're looking to do more serious recording, analog XLR microphones give you more flexibility, though they also require a more complex and expensive setup.
Without getting too technical, a microphone's polar pattern designates where on the mouthpiece a microphone is more sensitive. Some microphones pick up sound equally from all directions, while others may pick up more sound from the front and less sound from the back, helping the device ignore some of that ambient noise.
While your video calling software will let you adjust the volume of your microphone with a slider, having a gain knob on the microphone itself can be helpful for fine-tuning the level of your voice — and might be easier to use during a call.
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