Suggest a mic for remote lessons

April 4, 2020, 10:17 PM · So with the quarantine here to stay for (what I foree to be) a good long while in the US, I have moved to online lessons and will be doing so for a while.

The laptop built-in microphone not so many words, pretty terrible (I use a Macbook Air or "borrow" my work's Dell Precision workstation), from the tests I have run. Sound quality really goes in the trash, and it's harder to vary tone color (plus I'm convinced there is some sort of dynamic range compression going on).

So I'm looking for a decent quality microphone that will at least help somewhat with this. Preferrably USB, let's set a budget at...$100? Maybe $150?

Replies (23)

April 4, 2020, 10:34 PM · I was hoping someone would ask this question at some point. I hear you can't go wrong with the Blue Yeti microphone. It goes for $129.99 on Amazon:

Perhaps someone else has recommendations for under $100 for students of teachers so that the sound quality is good on both ends?

April 5, 2020, 5:23 AM · The Audio-Technica 2020USBi is a very good mic. Amazon has the FiFine USB mic for around $40 and it's not bad. I bought one as a backup for my AT2020USBi mic since I can't afford not to have something for offering my on-line lessons. I compared the AT2020 and the FiFine mic and while it's clear the AT2020 is the better mic, the FiFine is pretty decent, and a whole lot cheaper. Both mics have volume adjustment knobs on them, both plug into USB and work either plugged directly into the computer or plugged into a USB hub.
Edited: April 5, 2020, 5:34 AM · I've got a Shure SM57 and a Shure SM58 plugged into a stereo USB preamp.
Anything that quality and up will be OK. If the person at the other end doesn't have soundcard/speakers to match, then your money is wasted on a studio mic.
But with hindsight, a pair of Shure PGA81s would have been a better idea.
April 5, 2020, 10:49 AM · If you are doing Zoom lessons, get a Zoom brand microphone. They work great. We have a Zoom recorder and use the microphone from that. They come in a variety of levels starting around $100.
Edited: April 5, 2020, 4:02 PM · Just use the built-in mic on your webcam, if you don't have a webcam, get a decent one. Video will always be more important than audio anyway. I have a Logitech C270, one of the best price/quality webcams.
Edited: April 5, 2020, 11:26 AM · So Carrie Salisbury's blog post says she's using a Samson USB condenser mic.

So I've just been using the mic on my laptop, but I only have one student and it's piano lessons where the sound quality is much less critical.

So I think the Zoom company that does the videoconferencing software is maybe not the same Zoom company that does the handheld recorders.

So Gordon it never occurred to me to just use a standard studio microphone and interface that to my laptop with pre-amp box. I'm so going to try that. While I'm at it I can just run my digital keyboard into the box too.

April 5, 2020, 1:49 PM · Paul that's exactly what I do, although it will make your expensive mics sound like inexpensive mics :-). FWIW I've had issues in the Zoom app with higher sampling rates.
Edited: April 5, 2020, 3:46 PM · Stan I'm not talking about a top-of-the-line Telefunken or Neumann microphone and then lamenting the fact that it's not going through a $4000 channel strip. I'm talking about a $100 AT2010 that I happen to keep in my gig bag. By the way the AT2010 was recommended to me by a good singer, a man for whom I have tremendous respect as a musician, who told me he has tried a lot of very expensive mics and that one is outstanding for the price.
April 5, 2020, 4:46 PM · I've been using the Yeti Nano on my desktop and the regular Yeti when I set up with my laptop. Students tell me the sound of my instrument for demonstrations is much better with them.

It's important to make sure that the configuration is correct so that the USB microphone is selected as the Input Device. I've helped a few colleagues so far with their setups and one common error is assuming that the machine will automatically switch to the USB device for input--sometimes it must be done manually, in FaceTime, Zoom, or whatever applications you use.

April 5, 2020, 11:37 PM · I'm using the same Zoom Q4n that I use for performance recording, plugged into my Macbook Air. I tripod-mount the Zoom, allowing me to place the camera at a better distance and at a better angle. I set the microphones to the X/Y position.
Edited: April 6, 2020, 1:09 AM · I've got a Zoom H1n, but it's such a flimsy little toy for the money, that I can't bring myself to spend the bigger bucks on the video version of it.
April 6, 2020, 11:35 AM · I just ordered this:

FIFINE Studio Condenser USB Microphone Computer PC Microphone Kit with Adjustable Scissor Arm Stand Shock Mount for Instruments Voice Overs Recording Podcasting YouTube Karaoke Gaming Streaming-T669.

I just tried to use my AT2010 mic through a PreSonus interface. Camtasia shows mic level, but nothing actually recorded. I wasn't able to troubleshoot that, and I can't bring anyone into my home to show me, so I'm buying something that will hopefully be more plug-and-play.

April 6, 2020, 12:09 PM · I got a Rode usb condenser mic recently for like $200. It seems pretty good, but I haven't done a comparison. Hopefully I can upgrade to a Dont or a Wieniawski soon.
April 6, 2020, 1:01 PM · I saw that on Amazon and had the same basic thought, Christian. LOL Great minds run in the same gutter.
April 6, 2020, 2:59 PM · A dad is not the guy who created the child. A dad is the guy who created the joke.
April 6, 2020, 7:33 PM · I'm guessing the reason all those USB condenser mics get such great reviews is that they're mostly purchased by folks who are accustomed to the sound they're getting with their built-in laptop mic. I don't even know where the mic is on my laptop, but presently that's what I'm using to teach.
Edited: April 7, 2020, 5:26 AM · When USB turntables were new I read a review that said the worst analogue kit was better than the best USB kit. But those days are probably gone.

Video cameras are annoying. I was watching a Fiddlerman video and thinking, OK, that camera and sound combo are good enough for me. Then I discovered that the camera he was using only had external mic facilities on the model sold in the USA, and that model was not available in the UK. I wouldn't like to use a camera with built-in mics for music recording.

After a long while, I decided videoing myself would just be vanity and I should save my money.

Edited: April 7, 2020, 8:02 PM · "When USB turntables were new I read a review that said the worst analogue kit was better than the best USB kit."

Solid state vs. tubes.

Incandescent vs. fluorescent vs. LED

Pernambuco vs. carbon fiber.

Friction pegs vs. gear pegs.

Takes a while for technology to catch on sometimes.

But I think when USB turntables first appeared, the target audience was not audiophiles anyway. It was folks who wanted to rip their 45 singles and raunchy old Foghat and Deep Purple albums to MP3. I'm thinking that, at the time, it was not imagined by some (including me) that streaming technology would become so convenient and inexpensive. I ripped a bunch of albums to CD (and then CDs to MP3) and now I wonder why. I hardly listen to CDs any more. I just stream everything. If I'm at a concert or if there is a spectacular new release then I'll buy a CD.

April 8, 2020, 3:23 PM · @Lydia

Hmmm a Zoom Q4n seems interesting, and the place where I will be working at in about 5 days deals in that kind of stuff.

Do you find the 4k resolution to be important at all or are there other improvements that I'm not seeing on their spec page? The Zoom Q4 is the 1080p version and I can get one for $150 through work.

April 8, 2020, 3:28 PM · The Q4n has the best audio capture of any of the Zoom devices, as far as I know. The video is perfectly adequate for student or amateur needs. Resolution is plenty sharp for YouTube.

Personally, I prefer an all-in-one device to having to deal with separate camera and mike, even if it's not as good as doing both separately (and spending money on both). I own a Logitech webcam for work, which has sharper video but not as good of a microphone, and the Zoom is definitely a better choice for music.

Edited: April 8, 2020, 10:01 PM · I use a Shure MV88 mic. with my iOS devices for recording. The sound quality is quite impressive - it might work for virtual lessons. The connection is the Apple "lightening" connecter however, not USB, so it would be used with an iPhone or iPad. It is ~$150 USD on Amazon. The Shure webpage is:
April 17, 2020, 1:29 AM · I use a Yeti. Sounds fantastic. My teacher notices the difference.
April 17, 2020, 4:54 AM · Paul, the microphone on your laptop is most likely the two little holes, one on either side of the laptop's camera.

One factor that is often overlooked in using built-in mics is how it actually sounds on the receiving end of an on-line lesson. Any device which has automatic level adjustment turned on (either by default but can be disabled, or is built-in and can't be changed) is horrible for online music because as soon as a student plays a very quiet note the volume level gets raised and then when a student plays a very loud sound it's distorted while the mic clamps the volume down so that if that loud sound is a random accent or high note in the middle of very quiet or lower notes, the notes immediately following that distorted high note can't be heard at all. That's something we can't control for people on the other end who probably don't have a clue where to look to see if such a thing can be disabled so that the true original sound comes through, with all the volume variations.

Using an external microphone or an external device which is intended to record things faithfully like the Zoom Q4n is a much better choice for people who really care about the sounds the people on the other end hear.

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