I have always cared a lot about audio quality in general, but I have been doing a lot of PC Gaming lately, which has led me down the path of streaming. I also do a lot of online meetings for work, as well as recorded training sessions, and most recenetly, a Podcast for my work.
All of these things benefit from better quality microphones, which are frequently lacking by default.
One of the easiest things you can do to improve overall quality is go use ANY headphones or headset so that the audio output does not feedback into the microphones you are using and cause echo that must be either processed out, or worse yet, heard by everyone else.
Where to go next on the path of higher quality microphones is a question of what trade offs you are willing to make in terms of ease of use vs overall quality.
In the following I’ll go over various options and their benefits or drawbacks, starting with the easiest and lowest quality options, working up to the higher quality but generally more complicated options.
All of these recommendations should be valid for Windows, Mac, Linux, or Playstation. (Xbox does not support direct USB Audio)
Not Recommended - Especially on Windows PCs
Usually better than nothing, easy to use, but DO NOT recommend for almost all cases. Bluetooth can be glitchy, and especially when being used for both microphone and headphone in headset mode, the quality is very bad due to compression. This is true even on the top of the line Bose 700 and the Sony WH-1000XM4, both of which I have tried. You can use either of these as wired headphones in combination with another microphone, but over bluetooth, the microphone quailty due to the Bluetooth compression is not great, though in my experience, the Bose 700 or Apple Airpods Pro will give you the best results when you are primarily concerned about microphone quality and how you sound on the other end.
All of the above also assumes you have some of the best quality Bluetooth options available, which are generally $200+, but lower end Bluetooth options are generally much worse.
If you are going to get a bluetooth headset primarily for calls, I have heard good things about the Sennheiser MB 660 but I haven’t had a chance to try them myself. One advantage of the Sennheiser MB 660 is that it comes with a dedicated USB wireless adapter which can solve some of the problems with bluetooth on Windows.
Not Recommended, but better than Bluetooth or Analog headsets
A lot of the same ease of use of Bluetooth, but USB Audio has much much higher bandwidth than Bluetooth, though generally the wireless versions will have much more audio compression than the wired USB Audio options.
There is a lot of variablility in wireless USB headsets, and the most expensive ones are sometimes worse than some of the cheaper options, so it is kind of confusing to figure out a good option or make a specific recommendation. Something for me to work on for the future.
Overall this is a decent option, but not one I would recommend over other better options listed below. It will cost more than a wired USB headset and have worse quality in most cases.
NOTE: Some wireless USB headsets can double as wired USB headsets, which generally results in somewhat increased quality.
These are wired headsets that have a headphone jack and a microphone jack or a combo mini jack.
These kinds of headsets are prone to audio interference and don’t generally have any kind of noise cancelling microphones.
There are some of these that don’t suck, but overall it is a category I would recommend against.
Recommended for most people, but becareful about which one you pick
Wired USB Audio is generally going to be high quality, high bandwidth and not prone to glitches like any kind of wireless tech, but also not prone to interference like Analog Headsets are.
If you are looking to maximize quality, minimize cost, and have a pretty good ease of use, this is the right choice. Wireless options can be easier to use, but I think their possible glitches and problems can negate this ease of use.
Wirecutter recommends 2 models, and I just ordered the Microsoft LX-6000 to try: https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-usb-office-headset/
Equally helpful is to read the “competition” section of Wirecutter to see why they DO NOT recommend certain models.
There is also the interesting option called ModMic which is a microphone that can be added to any headphones. It comes in USB Wired, USB Wireless, and Analog options. I am very curious to try this option with my Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Monitor Headphones I got for podcast recording and editing, but now use all the time because of the quality.
This is where you want to look if you are going to be serious about audio quality. XLR is an analog audio interface, but one that is not prone to interference like others due to it’s “balanced” nature. Even so, you are going to want to convert it to digital USB Audio as early as possible in the chain because interferance is still possible. This means you will need some sort of XLR to USB audio interface, which could be as simple as a $15 XLR to USB cable, or it could be a more complicated but also more flexible XLR to USB Audio Interface, which is generally going to be $100 give or take.
These are rare, but do exist. The Audio-Technica BPHS1 is a good example, but I have not tried it personally. It has both the complexity of an XLR microphone, but with slightly added ease of use of a headset, though definitely on the bulky side.
I use the $15 Pyle PDMIC58 XLR Microphone. I would highly recommend it, and because of it’s price, it is a really good place to start even if you decide to try other XLR microphones in the future.
There are many of these out there. I have only ever tried one of them, and it was satisfactory. It let me get by when my first audio interface died. The specific one I tried doesn’t seem like anything special, but it is the “TISINO USB Microphone Cable, XLR to USB Mic Link Converter Cord” from: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B083XNN1FR
Highly recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Solo or 2i2
I have tried 3 different models, all of which came highly recommended by other podcasters and reviewers. I love the one I ended up with, and kind of hate the other 2 due to problems and flaws.