I received an email asking the following:
What specific advice can you give about the kind of microphone to purchase for making good quality audio narrations to accompany my Captivate training sessions, minimizing echo and other audio problems? It needs to connect to my Dell laptop PC.
I would prefer the versatility of a standalone microphone on a stand that could sit on my desk rather than a microphone built into a headset. I had in mind trying to limit the cost to around $100, but if that isn't reasonable please tell me.
It doesn't matter if you use Adobe Captivate, Articulate Storyline or TechSmith Camtasia Studio as your eLearning tool of choice... each can produce awesome eLearning content that will be enhanced if you include voiceover audio.
When it comes to selecting a headset or microphone, it will often come down to personal preference. Personally, I prefer boom microphones built into the headset since I think the boom keeps your mouth a consistent distance from the microphone. As for brands, I've had good luck using a $50 microphone readily available at Staples and Best Buy. The manufacturer is Micro Innovations. You can see reviews of their headsets here.
If you have some extra cash in your piggy bank, the Sennheiser PC 350 is simply awesome. It's got a built-in sound card (built right into the cord) that does a great job of cancelling out internal computer noises. My main complaints with the Sennheiser are (now don't laugh)... it makes your head sweaty. No foolin! Also, I noticed when I moved my head, the microphone sometimes picked up a sound that reminded me of crumpling paper.
I've discussed two sides of the price spectrum ($50 and over $200). Looking for free? I've had wonderful luck using the microphone built into my MacBook Pro. I was surprised by how good the audio was considering the poor experiences I've had with most built-in microphones in the past. While I'm not saying that the resulting audio is world-class, when it comes to creating "just in time eLearning," it works great. You can hear samples of audio created using the Mac's built-in headset by viewing any of the videos I've created within the past 6 months on our YouTube channel.
I wanted to get some opinions on good microphones from other eLearning developers. I originally asked skills & drills readers their opinion on the best microphones a few years ago. Last week I posed the question again. Here is some of the feedback I received, then and now:
From Alveno Smith, eLearning & Development, University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Information Technology Services
Do you use a microphone or a headset? I use a Microphone.
Do you record your audio in a studio or in the office? I record in my office. It is a small 10x10 and the sound is consistent. What manufacturer do you prefer? Audio-Technica. What model microphone/headset... and why? I use the Audio-Technica USB microphone. It adds great sound to the finished product.
From Bob Cunningham, Training Specialist and Adobe Certified Instructor, Captivate, U.S. Courts
We have a couple of mics we use for our Captivate recordings. We use either the Sennheiser PC 163D headset USB mic or the Rode Podcaster USB mic. My personal preference is the Sennheiser headset. It has great noise cancellation and produces a very nice sound. And the mic placement doesn't vary as I move my head. Others in our group prefer the Rode Podcaster. In both cases, we record our audio narration in one of five recording/editing rooms, with acoustic foam padding on the walls. On occasion I record voiceovers at home on my laptop. I use the Sennheiser headset, and I record in my walk-in closet. The clothes (mostly my wife's ;-)) do a great job of absorbing the sound and reducing the noise.
From Toni Wills, eLearning Developer, The University of Kansas Hospital
We use the Snowball by Blue. It was recommended to us by our vendor, Epic. I got it at Amazon for about $100. It plugs right into my laptop with a USB connector. It has a swivel mount and a tripod, so it's really easy to use just about anywhere. It's probably more than we need but the good news is that if we decide to pursue a singing career, at least we will already have the mic for it. I have a radio background so I do the voice overs. We have no place to record at work because we work in a cube farm; and even if we could reserve a conference room, the air handlers here are so loud that it sounds like you're recording next to a waterfall. I record in my guest room at home and use pillows behind the mic to prevent any reverberation. Not ideal, but it works surprisingly well.
The other nice thing about the Snowball is how cool it looks... check it out at bluemic.com.
From Mike Baker, Information Resource Consultant II
Staff Development & Training
I use an Edirol UA25 to connect my Audio-Technica 3035 cardioid condenser mic to my PC via a USB port. That gives me awesome, studio quality sound. I am also using a sound filter to prevent any echoes, hollow sound, etc. This setup was a little pricey (all items can be found on Amazon). If you are looking for something around $100, we have one laptop setup with a BlueMic Snowball microphone. It is a straight USB microphone and gives us great sound.
From M. Kristin Westrum, Metafile Information Systems, Inc., User Assistance Development
I've had experience with two microphones:
- A simple Altec headset that plugs into my laptop. This produces poor quality sound; it's almost impossible to get enough volume, every "s" sounds like a lisp, and it picks up both breathing and background noises. And if the microphone component moves half an inch further from your mouth, there's an audible difference. For online demos the quality is bad to borderline.
- We recently switched to a handheld JVC microphone; the difference is amazing. While you have to hold it manually, there's no variation in voice. The sound is sharp and clear. What amazed me the most was when my phone rang in the middle of a recording session and the microphone didn't pick it up! This is a hand-held dynamic microphone designed to plug into a computer; cost about $50 5-10 years ago.