By OZeWAI member Andrew Downie, Accessibility Consultant.
Clear sound is important during any form of public speaking: lectures, tutorials, conference presentations – even group discussions that are broadcast online.
While few would dispute that statement, in both face to face and online situations several factors often militate against this. They include:
- Poor microphone placement
- Background noise
- Poor room acoustics
- Speakers who over-estimate the power of their voices and therefore do not use a microphone.
- While poor sound quality detrimentally affects all listeners, it especially impacts those who have any level of hearing loss
- Good sound quality is essential for speech-to-text technology
- Notetaking assistance products (notably Glean) rely on clear recordings.
A common reason for poor sound quality is poor microphone placement. It is also, at least technically, easy to correct. Especially in an environment with limited sound deadening, the speaker should be as close to the microphone as possible. In this context, laptop computers with inbuilt microphones are not ideal. This has significant implications for online presentations.
A comparison of two samples of recorded speech, one made using a lapel microphone and the other using an inbuilt microphone on a laptop would find the sound quality in clarity, volume, pitch, and tone of the lapel mic recording is considerably better.
If an internal mic must be used for online presentations, it is crucial that the speaker is as close as possible to the computer. This is especially the case in a room that lacks sound deadening and/or has intrusive background sounds such as an air conditioner.
Some microphone options
The major advantage of using an inbuilt mic is that minimal setting up is required. Some configuration using the device settings will also be available. As discussed above, the major potential disadvantage is an echoic, somewhat distant sound. There is also increased risk of background sounds intruding.
Microphone on table or stand
These microphones have become popular among podcasters due to quite good sound quality. They will often, but not necessarily, connect via one of the computer’s USB ports. Especially with a flexible mounting system, proximity to the speaker can be achieved.
There is the risk that the speaker may wander away from the mic. Another consideration is that the correct input source needs to be selected. While not as daunting as in yesteryear, some knowledge of computer sound devices and an aptitude for troubleshooting may be necessary.
The major benefit of these microphones is that, once located correctly, consistency is largely assured. While sound quality may fall a little short of a comparably priced larger mic, their advantage is consistency.
Lapel mics may connect directly to the computer or PA system or may have a wireless connection. In the case of the former, it is important that the presenter does not stray beyond the reach of the cable. Wireless mics offer flexibility. However, batteries need to be charged, and there is often some physical setup involved.
Whether wired or wireless, these allow the speaker to move around the room but require some technique proficiency in how close they are held to the mouth. A common failing is for the speaker to turn their head away from the mic when referring to a presentation slide, for example.
This can be used by some speakers to good effect, though, allowing them to whisper close to the mic or shout for emphasis while holding it further away.
These mics combine a microphone and earphones. They offer the dual benefits of allowing the speaker to hear conversation from others clearly and allowing effective placement of the mic.
They also essentially eliminate the risk of feedback, allow the speaker the full use of both hands, and keep the mic in front of the speaker’s mouth even when they turn their head.
These microphones consist of a single module containing multiple microphones. Connection to the computer may be via USB or Bluetooth. These microphones are especially helpful in meetings where there are multiple speakers, such as when seated around a conference table.
Some microphone examples
The following is by no means an exhaustive list. Nor have most examples been tested. Prices are indicative only. Only relatively inexpensive examples have been selected. As with most areas of electronics, performance improves with price but there is a point of diminishing return. Especially for presenting speech, ultimate acoustic performance is less important than reliability.
Do browse or search the web both to obtain manufacturer recommendations and to compare prices from vendors.
- Shure Motiv MVL Lavalier Mic $110-$130
- Rode Lavalier II $140-$170
Wireless lapel mics
- Wireless Lavalier Microphone for Smartphone and Camera (Jaycar) $65-$90
- Rode Wigo II $270-$300
- Behringer ULM300USB $160-$190
- Rode NT-USB Mini $150-$170
- Behringer C1U $85-$100
- Blue Microphones Yeti – Blackout $150-$170
Wireless handheld mics
- Sennheiser E835 $120-$150
- Behringer ULM300 $180-$200
- Shure SVX24PG58 $450-$500
- 510 (basic, suited to smaller rooms) $160-$190
- 710 (better sound quality & connectivity options) $250-$300
- 750 (suit larger rooms, more speakers) from $300-$400