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The Podcast Headset Microphone Shoot-Out: Quick, Easy Podcasting Quality

When it comes to starting out in Podcasting, I'm a big fan of the ‘start small' approach. Too many people dive in headfirst, spending a whole lot of money on digital recorders, XLR mics and mixers, creating a home studio of their own to boost their podcasting efforts.

While this can result in really excellent audio quality, it also introduces a whole load of complexity. And, to me, complexity gets in the way of ‘just doing it' as our tick based sporting friends would say.

To a beginner it puts up barriers, lengthens the recording process and makes it pretty likely you'll never get into the swing of releasing regular content.

To this end, I think one of the best ways into Podcasting is to get yourself a decent quality headset microphone. They're super easy to use, they're generally pretty inexpensive, and they serve double duty by also helping you out with better quality when you're using Skype or Google Hangouts day to day.

Best of all, because they're always connected, always easy, and you can record new episodes in no time, with no barriers. This means you'll be putting out your weekly episode with ease and regularity. Achieving that aim will put you far ahead of those with much better kit, but less regular content.

The Showdown: 7 of the Top Headset Microphones for Podcasting

In this article I'm aiming to review some of the most popular headsets on the market. I want to provide a bit of my own input into what I think of them, and I'll provide an audio sample from each so that you can judge for yourself. In the audio sample I'll read a little extract from one of my articles as a comparison, so each mic will go through the same test, and then I'll go through a few of the features as I've found them.

If you have any feedback on these mics, or you know of another that's good enough to be included, then please do let me know. Just drop a comment on the bottom of the article letting me know what you think and I'll keep this article updated with new microphones over the months and years.

What are we looking for in a Good Headset Microphone?

headset podcasting microphoneIn this showdown I'm looking primarily at audio quality. That's the main yardstick by which each headset will be judged, as that's what we're looking to deliver in the final product: our podcast.

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Having said that, there are other things that matter. Build quality, for one. There's little point in having a great sounding mic if it falls apart after 3 recording sessions. I'll be commenting on how well they're made and the quality of their components, hoping to refine the list down to long-lasting headsets.

I'll also be looking at comfort. I've used some pretty uncomfortable headsets over the past few years, and it does have an effect on your Podcast quality. When your head's hurting due to badly made earpieces or a hard little headband, then you'll fidget and lose concentration. Neither is great for your Podcast.

Apart from that, I'll mention anything that's unique about the headsets, but rest assured, audio quality in first and foremost.

Why are these Primarily USB Headsets?

I'm mostly looking at USB headsets in this comparison, and that's because they're far more reliable in terms of sound quality. 3.5mm headsets can sound great, but the quality is somewhat dependent on the soundcard within your computer. If you have a great, expensive soundcard then you could find a 3.5mm microphone that will give you great quality. But on a computer with a cheap soundcard, that microphone could sound a lot worse. With USB headsets, however, this doesn't come into play – they simply use their own internal hardware to generate the signal which ends up transmitting through your USB port. So, in all, it's more reliable to review USB headsets.

Saying that, I will include some 3.5mm headsets on this page if they've been highly recommended. You'll have to bear in mind that final quality will depend a little on your hardware, though.

The Candidates: Podcasting Headsets for 2017

Here are the headsets I've covered – click the links if you want to jump straight to the review.

Sennheiser PC 7 USB Headset

£23 or $36 | Click here for product page

Build

  • Small unit and light
  • One-ear only design, leaving an ear free to monitor your own voice
  • Not quite as solid as the larger Senheiser but this feels like it's designed to be a light, quick on-and-off headset for taking calls easily
  • Very light and comfortable

Audio

  • Very nice quality, quite balanced to my ear
  • Very steady levels and safe from plosives, etc.

Audio Technica USB Multimedia Headset

£65 | Audio Technica USB Multimedia Headset

Build

  • Very good build quality – feels expensive
  • Not the most pretty of designs
  • Folding headsets have more moving parts, more tendency to break
  • Quite large headphones – muffles your own voice when speaking

Audio

  • A little bit of background noise is present
  • Decent enough quality, but no better than the much less expensive headsets on test

Jabra UC MS Voice 550 Noise Cancelling USB Duo Headset

£38 or $50 | Click here for product page

Build

  • A mixed build – nice add-ons, such as padding, but other parts feel flimsy, such as the mic arm
  • Mic is not very easily adjusted – too springy and unresponsive

Audio

  • After a few tests I was still getting a lot of plosive effects – I perhaps could have spent more time on position, but the recording shows the results I received after far more fiddling than any of the others

Logitech H540 USB Headset

£30 or $32 | Click here for product page

Build

  • Very high build quality of the group – big and chunky
  • Padded headphones and headband
  • The microphone arm is solid, easily adjusted and kept to the side of your mouth
  • Volume/mute buttons on the headset itself – causes noise in use and hard to find

Audio

  • Feels a little bassy or muffled to me
  • Despite the reliable mic arm, I found the volume increased/decreased a fair bit

Sennheiser PC 8 USB Internet Telephony On-Ear Headset

£23 or $42 | Click here for product page

Build

  • Good, solid build quality
  • Mic arm is very simple, very nice – easy to adjust
  • No padding on the head-band, but a wide area to keep it comfortable
  • Feels quite secure on the head

Audio

  • Good quality, very low noise, and conveys a decent richness of voice.
  • By far the most reliable recording with regards plosives & sibbilants

Plantronics .Audio 995 Wireless USB

£46 or $60 | Click here for product page (OR here for the UK)

Build

  • Fully wireless unit so a great deal of freedom
  • Feels very expensive, robust
  • Very comfortable and well padded
  • Very big unit, though, perhaps a little heavy
  • Solid mic arm, just up and down, kept off to the side
  • Some controls on the side of the unit

Audio

  • Disappointing quality compared to the other headsets – possibly due to the wireless trasmission and bit-rate restrictions
  • Low noise, however, and very steady volume
  • Not prone to plosives at all

MXL 990 Condenser Microphone

£65 or $99 | Click here to view the product page.

Now, this is obviously pretty unfair, given the disparity of kit required, but I wanted to include the comparison with my normal day-to-day microphone. This is a condenser microphone through a Berhinger 1204 mixer. This may sound better, although it does depend on your tastes. It's certainly more rich and bassy, but in a way some of the headset microphones are actually a little clearer. Let me know what you think.

Conclusions

I have to admit, for the most part the quality of the headsets on test were amazingly high considering how much they cost.

There are only two that I'd recommend you avoid – that's the Plantronics 995 and the Jabra 550. Both are on the higher price end for this test and both had disappointing audio quality, particularly the Plantronics headset. I suspect that's simply because of the wireless connection, but I suspect most would happily be tethered to their PC if it meant a much higher audio quality.

The rest of the headsets are all very serviceable, but I think, to my ear I'd pick out the Sennheiser headsets as the winner.

Sennheiser PC 8 USB Internet Telephony On-Ear HeadsetTest Winner:  Sennheiser PC 8 USB Headset

2nd Place: Logitech 540 USB Headset

Both Sennheiser headsets performed nearly identically in terms of audio quality. The PC 7 is pretty useful if you prefer to have one ear free to monitor your own voice, which is a definite plus to many.  The PC8 is my winner, though, because I prefer the comfort of listening to my interviewees with both ears and the steadiness that comes with being planted well on both sides of my head.

I also really like the build style which is a mix between good quality and minimalist. The mic arm is nice and easy to adjust, while the earphones are very comfortable and don't block out too much sound.

If you're looking to get started in podcasting in a quick and easy way, but still pump out great audio quality episode after episode, then I'd heartily recommend the Sennheiser PC 8 headset.

If You Need a 3.5mm Plug

As a short addendum, I've had some questions about 3.5mm alternatives. This is mainly so that the headset can be used with devices other than computers, such as a digital recorder. For that purpose I'd recommend the Sennheiser PC131 – it's essentially, to my ear, the same mic as the PC8, but it has a 3.5mm plug, so well worth a go. Hope that helps.

Looking for Other Options?

There are many great non-headset USB options on the market too. Here's a roundup of some of the most popular.

And there's also the option of transforming your current headphones into a high quality headset mic with the Antlion Modmic 5.

If you still need help with your podcasting setup (or anything else podcast related) then we’d love to work with you too.

Check out The Podcast Host Academy, where we hold regular live Q&A sessions, run a community forum, and offer access to every video course, checklist, and ebook we’ve ever made!

Discussion:

37 Comments

  1. Jeff Brunson on 26th November 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Very helpful article. Thank you!

  2. Mormo on 31st December 2014 at 12:35 am

    I am wondering if I will look unprofessional wearing a head set for videos?

    • Colin Gray on 6th January 2015 at 10:35 pm

      Not at all Mormo, many a good video has been created that way. Create great content and noone will care what’s on your head!

      If you’re very concious about it, though, then get yourself a lapel mic and it’ll be well out of shot.

  3. Leesa on 12th January 2015 at 3:12 pm

    Hi! I’m doing a podcast club with 3rd-4th graders. You think these would be best? No video involved, just using Audacity.

    Our IT rep gave us a stand-alone microphone, but we are going to have to use others to get the podcasts complete.

    What do you think?

    • Colin Gray on 14th January 2015 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Leesa, yes, as I mentioned on my reply to your other message, I think headsets would be a good solution in this context. Much easier to use than a stand-mounted microphone and a bit less easy to damage!

      Thanks,
      Colin

  4. Max on 23rd January 2015 at 4:13 pm

    Thanks for the interesting article.

    I do screen-share podcasts, and I’m looking for a headset. I don’t have a recording studio. Just a fairly quiet room and a computer. Sometimes I may need to broadcast from a hotel room. In other words, the environment is quiet, but there might still occasionally be car noise or other unwanted sounds. Therefore, I was thinking that a cardioid microphone would be best because it would be more directional. And noise canceling too, perhaps.

    Have you come across that kind of headset microphone in your research?

    Thanks!

    • Colin Gray on 26th January 2015 at 9:19 pm

      Hey Max, good question.

      Yes, there are a few more pro-level headset microphones out there, but I’m afraid I haven’t tried any of them out. The reason being that as soon as you’re up to spending £100 or so on a microphone I’d always prefer a ‘proper’ mic. Saying that, there’s always context, and if you do a lot of on-the-road recording, then it could well be worth it. This is the one I’ve been tempted by in the past: http://www.amazon.co.uk/SHURE-WH20XLR-Wired-microphones-Headsets/dp/B0001DBZNM/

      Shure always do good kit, and it’s not a ridiculous price at £100/$150, so I think it’d be worth a bet…

      Hope that helps!
      Colin

  5. Clara on 24th February 2015 at 9:05 am

    Thank you for this interesting article.
    I wonder though, how does it work with USB-headsets if I want to use two of them in my podcast (doing interviews and such). Will I need a mixer? Is there a mixer for USB-ports?
    I plan on using Audacity, since most podcasters seem to recommend it.
    Thanks!

    • Colin Gray on 23rd March 2015 at 6:23 pm

      Hi Clara,

      I’m afraid you can’t tend to connect two USB headsets without a bit of hacking, so it’s not something you can plan for. If you want to record someone else, in person, then you really need a more traditional mic which can be plugged into a mixer. Or, the simple version, get a digital recorder that can take two inputs, such as a Zoom H4n. That’s not a small budget though. The really budget version is a digital recorder, a splitter, and two low-cost lac microphones, which I’ve covered here: Recording Face to face interviews.

      Hope that helps!
      Colin

  6. Megan on 2nd March 2015 at 10:52 pm

    Great reviews on the headsets! Do you have experience running multiple headsets into a mixer? (I’m trying to figure out how to mic 4 or 5 people at the same time)

  7. Ben on 3rd March 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Hi Colin,

    This might be out of your remit in terms of help, but I take part in a fortnightly podcast, using an Android tablet and up to now have been using in-ear headphones and in-line mic, although I sound a bit distant and not at all bassy.

    I’ve bought an audio splitter which opens me up to the entire 3.5mm PC headset market, but my budget is $30 and under. Is there one you would recommend above the rest?

    Thanks!

  8. Chris Hinton on 25th March 2015 at 11:18 am

    Thanks for writing this Colin – it’s put my mind at ease with some of the equipment I have for audio recording (and stopped me dropping a heap of cash on stuff I don’t really need).

    And it was a nice surprise to hear a Scottish accent!

    All the best.

    • Colin Gray on 25th March 2015 at 12:02 pm

      No worries Chris, glad to help! Are you a fellow Scot? There aren’t enough up here Podcasting, so if you’re looking to start, let me know. Would love to make contact.

      • Chris Hinton on 19th June 2015 at 4:38 pm

        Hi Colin – sorry for the late reply! I am indeed a fellow Scot, based in Fife so not far from you.

        I’m not looking to podcast per se, but was looking for decent microphones for doing video voiceovers. I used to podcast a looong time ago but kind of fell out of the habit. Maybe I should get back into it.

        • Colin Gray on 28th June 2015 at 1:21 pm

          Always good to get back into it Chris – do it 🙂

  9. Bob on 12th August 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Thanks for this article. Even though a year old now, it is still my “go to” article when students and faculty ask about using a headset for lecture capture and podcasting. Headsets help ease the microphone equivalent of “stage fright” when looking a large microphone for the first time.

    For the question about multiple USB microphones, it is possible with any Mac computer and a USB hub using Applications->Utilities->Audio Midi Setup. Windows requires serious hacking and it’s best to just go with a mixer and XLR microphones.

  10. Mark Samples on 13th August 2015 at 12:49 am

    Thanks for this article–the audio samples were a great touch and really help me evaluate these options. I’m a university professor looking to generate videos quickly for my students (video assignments, lectures, etc.), and a headset looks to be the way to go.

  11. Arlene on 15th October 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Great article. Very thorough and loved the audio comparisons. Thank you so much!

  12. hannah on 19th February 2016 at 7:45 pm

    THANK YOU for doing this. I’ve just spent over an hour searching for a podcasting headset microphone review smackdown. I know I want a headset microphone, and I know I want it to sound good. Everybody in the world is suggesting the blue yeti or the audio technica 2100. And all of the video reviews of headset mics on youtube have…no actual audio recordings!

    And finally I find this. Thanks again!

    • Matthew McLean on 22nd February 2016 at 9:35 am

      Cheers Hannah, let us know what one you go for. Is it a new podcast series you’re planning?

  13. Terry on 26th June 2016 at 1:17 am

    Hi and thanks for the article.
    Question: I have a voice-over recording setup in my home studio with a Shure mic, Focusrite preamp and Audition. I want to start podcasting and most of my planned shows feature a guest for an interview sequence. I am trying to figure out how to best mic the guest in my studio so I can use my mic and each of us has our own audio track. Would a headphone mic be best or a small mic with a desktop stand such as a Blue Yeti? For remote interviews, I was thinking of using two headset mics with an audio recorder rather than going back and forth with a handheld for 20 minutes. Any opinion on this as well?
    Thanks for any help!

  14. Paul Naude on 2nd July 2017 at 10:29 am

    Based on some reviews, I don’t think it included yours though, I also bought the Logitech that you gave a second place. But I am not really happy with it, mainly because of the noise which in my opinion is quite high. I appreciated your test audio sample that was the same for all the models although you could have left a little more silent portions in it to compare the mic noise. In your recordings I can barely hear the noise and was wondering if I am just being too critical about it?

  15. Paul Naude on 2nd July 2017 at 1:12 pm

    So this is my second comment and it comes with a decent amount of meat about why the Logitech is not a good choice after all!
    I did a frequency analysis in Audacity on these same recordings and it became clear that the Logitech records no sound above around 9500Hz, while the Sennheisers go to almost double that. You can view the plots in this quick blog I put together based on these tests: http://www.paulnaude.com/2017/07/02/evaluating-headsets-with-microphones-for-speech-recording/

    • Colin Gray on 3rd July 2017 at 5:09 pm

      Paul, thanks for the feedback, really appreciate it!

      You’ve put together a great technical review of the mic there, I enjoyed reading through it. You’re right, there’s a bit of noise on the Logitech, absolutely agree there. We’re never going to get the same audio quality on a headset mic at this price range. You’re right though, saying it’s very noisy might be over-critical at this price range (I don’t think it’s awful), but it’s definitely not top quality, and the Sennheiser, to me, is significantly better. Did you go ahead and get yourself a PC7 or PC8 in the end? Would love to hear whether it suited your setup better!

      Colin

  16. Chris on 30th November 2017 at 11:49 am

    Hi Colin, great article thanks.

    Just wondering if this sort of setup with multiple PC7/8’s would be appropriate for recording 2-4 people, interview style podcasts face to face?

    Most of these podcasts will be recorded in our company office which is a medium sized flat walled room. Experiements with Blue Yeti’s on Omni have resulted in a lot of echo noise. I was wondering if it’s possible to link 2-4 of the headsets through a USB hub & record into Garage Band/similar? Or if you’d have another recording solution you’d suggest?

    Putting up condenser mics with booms etc is problematic as the office gets used by the staff every day and it’ll need to be set up and taken down after each podcast, perhaps the headsets would be a quicker setup process?

    Thanks in advance, love the resource,
    Cheers,
    Chris

    • Peter Johnson on 5th July 2018 at 4:35 pm

      There can be an issue with Macs when plugging multiple USB devices of the same type in at once, as MacOS cannot tell them apart (For instance, you cannot plug in two Blue Yetis without sending one back to the manufacturer to have its USB ID reprogrammed.)

      It would be great to know whether Sennheiser PC8s have this problem?

      Or whether there is a good way to provide the required 5V power to a 3.5mm headset, so multiple headsets can be plugged into a Focusrite interface (which doesn’t provide that power, unlike a PC or Mac)

  17. mee on 28th February 2018 at 6:30 am

    Hi! Do you have any opinion on the RODE SmartLav+ lapel mic? Considering that versus the mic you rated #1 in this article. Also is it possible to just use recorder (have Zoom) or the mic is always the best route to go? I will be recording in my home with the guest on phone call in another country. Thank you.

  18. pj on 6th June 2018 at 8:56 pm

    It is much more expensive than the ones you noted, but have you heard anything about the “Audio-Technica BPHS1 Broadcast Stereo Headset w/ Dynamic Boom Mic” – it is one I have been looking at but I don’t know if the added price adds much value. Thanks

  19. Michael Maardt on 17th July 2018 at 11:30 am

    SENNHEISER PC 7 USB HEADSET audio sample not present

  20. The Telecom Shop on 22nd August 2018 at 11:38 am

    Its very helpful article. Thanks for posting it. I personally like Sennheiser PC 7 USB Headset. This is very good in quality and easy to handle.

  21. Jerry Scher on 24th December 2018 at 5:16 pm

    My main problem with any microphone, is that my breathing is very audible. It may not bother other people, but when I listen to my own recordings, it kind of jumps right out at me.
    I listened to your audio samples, and it seems to me the logitech you reviewed is pretty good at handling this issue.
    What do you suggest?

  22. Donbok Khar on 7th May 2019 at 7:09 am

    Very helpful and covers alot of audio topics related to Headphones

  23. Allison Black on 13th May 2019 at 6:54 pm

    Thank you for your evaluation of these different headset mics. I really appreciated getting to hear what they sounded like. That was a great idea! I am using my headset mic as a dual purpose device. 1) for recording audio for short how-to screen capture videos and 2) talking to corporate clients on Skype. It was more important to me that the mic performed well than anything else. Your article helped me make an informed decision.

    I have a Rode Podcaster that I use for other types of narration projects from technical narration to recording audio books for audible – just didn’t need to change my studio configuration to accommodate using the big rode for these how-tos. I am looking forward to hearing how the Sennheiser 8 performs with my voice.

  24. lylelandrew on 11th July 2019 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for sharing this amazing information

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Written by:

Colin Gray

Colin has been teaching people how to podcast since 2007. He's worked with Universities, businesses and hobbyists alike. He started The Podcast Host to share his experience and to help as many people as possible get into Podcasting. He runs Podcraft, to spread the art of podcasting, and does the Mountain Bikes Apart podcast whenever he can. Who doesn't like to talk bikes, after all!

June 4th 2017