How To Select a Microphone for a Laptop

by Fred Decker

    Laptops often include a microphone -- perhaps even a stereo microphone -- for online chat and other uses. Unfortunately, built-in microphones are often limited in quality and aren't suitable for all uses. If you need a better-quality microphone for your laptop, there are several styles of external microphone available. Choosing between them is largely a question of your usage, since most microphones will attach to most computers.

    Styles and Connection Options

    There are three possible options for connecting microphones to your laptop. Most portable computers have one or more audio inputs for microphones, using a headphone-sized 1/8-inch connector. Other microphones use the USB connections found on every laptop. A third option is a wireless microphone. Some laptops include Bluetooth support, otherwise you'll need a USB dongle that supports Bluetooth or Digital Enhanced Cordless Technology, abbreviated as DECT. Microphones come in various sizes and shapes, as well. Headsets combining earphones and a boom microphone are widely available, as are headsets with only a microphone. Traditional desktop microphones are available with USB and 1/8-inch connectors, and so are some clip-on microphones.

    Online Use

    Gaming, chat and Internet-based VOIP telephone calls are relatively undemanding uses for a microphone, so don't overspend if that's your main purpose. Headset microphones and mic/earphone combinations are a good choice, because they keep the microphone near your mouth and at a steady distance. Most connect through the USB port. Button-style electret microphones that clip to your shirt provide good quality at a low price. Traditional desktop microphones give good sound, but only when you're nearby. Bluetooth headsets also provide adequate sound quality, and avoid a physical connection to your computer. If you use your computer in a noisy environment, choose a microphone with noise-cancelling circuitry to reduce interference.

    Voice Recognition

    There are a variety of programs that use voice recognition for various purposes. Some recognize voice commands for convenience or to compensate for a user's physical challenges. Others convert dictation into text. In either case, a good microphone ensures high-quality results and less frustration. Conventional studio microphones can be used, with a mic stand and suitable adapter. There are also quality desktop microphones at various price ranges, designed for computer use. High-quality headset mics can give good results, especially noise-cancelling models. For users who like to pace as they dictate, wireless microphones are the best option. DECT-compatible mics give longer range and better audio quality than Bluetooth models.

    Evaluation

    Whenever possible, it's best to "test drive" a microphone and see how suitable it is for your intended use. Trying out several models in a retail store is one alternative. Alternatively, buy one and try it in your home or office with your own computer. Most retailers will allow you to return a mic for exchange or full refund, as long as you keep the microphone and its packaging in good condition. Check the store's returns policy before you make your purchase. It's always prudent to check system requirements, as well. Many microphones have features that only work with their companion software, and your computer's hardware and operating system must be compatible with it.

    Resources

    About the Author

    Fred Decker is a trained chef and certified food-safety trainer who has written and blogged on food-related topics since 2007. Previously he sold computers, insurance and mutual funds. Decker was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

    Photo Credits

    • Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images