external computer microphone

My computer has a built-in microphone. So does my laptop. Yours probably do, too. The microphones that PC makers build into their products are are convenient, but they tend to be on the rudimentary side. They’re also fixed in position. If you regularly use your computer for anything where people hearing your voice is important—voice or video calls, podcasting, recording music or online gaming, for example—then you should seriously consider investing in an add-on computer microphone.

external computer microphoneYour computer’s built-in microphone probably isn’t great

PC manufacturers (especially laptop makers) usually include a microphone because it’s expected. What’s the point of that webcam built into a laptop’s lid if you can use it to Skype with someone, but they have to read your lips? But they aren’t spending a lot on those microphones. They’re fixed in one position, and that location doesn’t alway put the microphone in the optimal place for you as the user. Integrated into the body of the PC, they can also pick up interference like the vibration from a spinning hard drive or cooling fan. 

As a result, built-in microphones tend to generate complaints like low volume, thin sound, too much background noise, and a background hum. They’re fine for occasional use, but when you rely on consistently decent audio quality, most built-in PC microphones are lacking.

external computer microphoneThe advantages of a standalone computer microphone

When you choose a standalone computer microphone, you’re almost immediately getting an upgrade in component quality compared to what’s in your PC, with a higher frequency response. It’s in an isolated housing, unaffected by mechanical noise or vibration from your computer. And just as importantly as the capabilities of the microphone itself, because it is free of the computer or laptop, you can position it perfectly so your voice is optimized and background noise minimized. No more shouting to ensure the microphone picks up your voice …

I relied on the built-in microphone in my computers for years, but when Plug-in began featuring videos, I quickly learned that I needed something better for recording voiceovers. I chose the SnowBall iCE USB from Blue Microphones. It’s an affordable, plug-and-play option with a versatile stand, and switching to it made a huge difference. This one is also popular with Best Buy customers, earning 4.6 stars with a whopping 760 reviews.

external computer microphoneIf you don’t want to worry about positioning, a computer headset with an integrated microphone is another option. It might mess up your hair and not everyone likes the look of wearing a headset when video chatting, but it does keep your desk clear and the microphone is always in the optimal position.

The downside

The only real downside to investing in a standalone computer microphone is that it’s another accessory to keep track of. That’s what desk drawers are made for, right? In my book, if you need better audio quality, it’s a pretty reasonable tradeoff.

If people are complaining your voice isn’t reaching its potential on your PC, check out  the wide range of computer microphones, and microphone-equipped computer headsets at Best Buy.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. After 13 years as a product manager with a leading Canadian tech company, I transitioned into a full-time career of writing about technology. I’ve contributed to a range of publications and websites including Forbes, Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, About.com, MSN Money, the Winnipeg Free Press, InvestorPlace Media, Shaw Media and—combining technology and my three kids—I’ve been a Core Contributor to the award winning GeekDad blog since its launch in 2007.