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

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.

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 trasmitting 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 2014

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

Microsoft Lifechat USB Headset (Coming soon…)

Coming soon…

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.

Podcaster job opening

23 Comments

  1. Very helpful article. Thank you!

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

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
  3. 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?

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  4. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  5. 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!

    Reply
    • 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

      Reply
  6. 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)

    Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
  8. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

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

          Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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.

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

    Reply
  12. 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!

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

      Reply
  13. 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!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

About the author: 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!