Has something like this ever happened to you?
You dial into a meeting. You’re connected quickly and everything seems okay. You’re not really here to do anything of import, just listen to the conversation, only contributing if it’s absolutely necessary. At some point it becomes necessary so you un-mute the mic in your webcam, say your piece and mute the mic again.
Someone asks you to repeat yourself. They heard you speaking but your voice was broken and overwhelmed by the fan on your desk. You repeat yourself. Same problem. You have no idea what’s going on, and your very unhappy about it. But don’t worry, there’s a simple and inexpensive solution to your problem.
Your webcam was never built to provide high quality audio. The microphone was added as a selling point, not a dedicated tool. It’s small, positioned too far away from your mouth, and is by necessity an omni-directional microphone. That means it’s not just listening to the words from your mouth, it’s listening to every little sound in the room. The same goes for the mic built in to your laptop.
So a webcam mic is out, but that’s not a problem because you’ve already come up with a solution. Aren’t you clever. Your smartphone came with a pair earbuds that have a little microphone attached to the cable. Perfect, you think, This should solves all of those little problems. If only things were that simple.
Those earbuds solve problems like ambient noise and poor mic placement, but you’re still facing the biggest problem of all: your computer’s sound card.
Like the microphone in your webcam, your sound card wasn’t built to be anything special. It handles audio playback well enough but the mic components are often thrown in as an after-though. They exist so a user can do the most basic sort of sound recording; talking into a microphone and playing it back at a different time. Conferencing demands simultaneous audio recording and playback, which your stock sound card wasn’t designed to handle. Speakers and microphones generate sound through an analog process while your computer only understands digital signals, so the sound card has to translate these signals. To save the manufacturer money the playback and recording conversions are handled by the same circuitry. The sound card’s primary function is audio playback, so when it’s required to deal with playback and input at the same time the input quality tends to suffer.
So how do we solve this? It’s simple: don’t use the sound card.
USB headsets are designed for real time communication. The headset contains its own very tiny sound card, which uses separate circuitry for encoding input and decoding playback. You computer won’t have to do any of the processing internally, which frees up power for heavier tasks like a video conference or desktop share. Most importantly, a USB headset puts the microphone right next to your mouth. It doesn’t have to be omni-directional or boost the gain to hear your voice. You talk, the headset listens, and sends sends impeccable audio into your conference call.
A USB headset is a simple and inexpensive tool to improve your web conferencing experience. You could stomach the poor audio from your laptop’s microphone, or wonder with increasing anger why your white earbuds don’t do the job any better. Or you could spend a little money on a headset and not have to complain again. Trust me. Go with the third option. It’ll be the best fifty bucks you’ve ever spent.