A good usb headset microphone is the simplest, easiest way to start recording your voice. From online calls to recording a podcast, a headset can get you up and running in minutes, and requires no stand and little mic technique. Here we look at some of the best headset microphones on the market for podcasting, youtube or call recording, so you can find the one most suited to you!
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 good usb headset microphone. To be clear, that means a headset with mic attached via a little arm, so the microphone sits to the side of your mouth. This combined form means they're super easy to use, they're generally pretty inexpensive, and they serve double duty by being great tools for recording a call on Skype or Zoom.us day to day.
Even better, usb headset mics generally require little to no extra gear, like a mic stand or extra cables. They even take care of your mic technique for you, since the mic follows your head, no matter where you move.
Overall, they're always connected, always easy, so 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.
Seven of the Best Headset Microphones for Podcasting
In this article I'm aiming to review some of the best usb 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 headset 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?
In this showdown I'm looking primarily at audio quality. That's the main yardstick by which each podcast 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 we look for in good headsets. Build quality, for one. There's little point in having a great sounding headset 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 usb headsets.
I'll also be looking at comfort. I've used some pretty uncomfortable headset microphones 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 usb headsets, but rest assured, audio quality is first and foremost.
In saying that, there we get a lot of requests for advice on cheap headsets, for folks on a budget. So I'll point out which ones might be a little lower on the quality scale, but are particularly good value.
Why are these Primarily USB Headsets?
I'm almost exclusively looking at USB headsets in this comparison, and that's because they're far more reliable in terms of sound quality. 3.5mm headset microphones 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 headset microphone that will give you great quality.
But on a computer with a cheap soundcard, that same 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 one 3.5mm headset in the roundup, just incase you're in a situation that requires one. You'll have to bear in mind that final quality will depend a little on your hardware, though.
The Candidates: Podcasting Headsets for 2020
Here are the headset microphones I've covered. Click the links if you want to jump straight to the review.
- Sennheiser PC 7 USB Headset
- Jabra UC MS Voice 550 Noise Cancelling USB Duo Headset
- Logitech H540 USB Headset
- Sennheiser PC 8 USB Internet Telephony On-Ear Headset
- Plantronics .Audio 995 Wireless USB
- Microsoft Lifechat USB Headset (Coming soon…)
Around £25/$30 | Click here to buy
- 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
- Very nice quality, quite balanced to my ear, as you'd expect from top brand Sennheiser
- Very steady levels and safe from plosives, etc.
- Best option as a budget headset microphone, in my opinion.
Around £35/$50 | Click here to buy
- 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
- 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
Around £30/$35 | Click here to buy
- 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
- Sounds a little bassy, and just a touch muffled to me, but decent quality. Again, good brand, Logitech, so reliable quality.
- Despite the reliable mic arm, I found the volume increased/decreased a fair bit with movement
Around £30/$40 | Click here to buy
- 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
- A great quality podcast headset microphone, very low noise, and conveys a decent richness of voice.
- By far the most reliable recording with regards plosives & sibbilants
Around £46/$60 | Click here to buy
- 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
- 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 buy
Now, this is obviously pretty unfair, given the disparity of kit required, but I wanted to include the comparison with one normal, day-to-day microphone. This is one of my favourite XLR condenser mics, connected through a Berhinger 1204 mixer. It 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.
What's the Best Headset on the Test?
I have to admit, for the most part the quality of the headsets on test were amazingly high considering how much they cost. It's not entirely surprising, though, since I did a bit of research around good headsets before ordering in the competitors above.
There are only two that I'd recommend you avoid as a podcast headset microphone: that's the Plantronics 995 and the Jabra 550. Both are certainly not cheap headsets and I found they each showed disappointing audio quality, particularly the Plantronics headset. I suspect that's simply because of the wireless connection, but I also know most of us would happily be tethered to our computer if it meant a much higher audio quality.
The rest of the podcast headsets here are all very serviceable, but I think, to my ear I'd pick out the Sennheiser headset microphone as the winner.
Each of the 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. It's also a good example of the best cheap headsets around, coming in at a lower price than the PC8.
But, the PC8 is my pick for the best headset microphone here, 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 Headset
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.
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Looking for Other Options?
There are whole lot of great microphone options if you're looking to upgrade from a headset. Check out our flagship mic article here, for the best podcast microphones of every type.
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