Inexpensive microphone for Zoom lessons?

May 26, 2020, 7:51 AM · My teacher is probably moving to a 3 Zoom + 1 in-person lesson monthly structure moving forward. He is waiting on a test microphone to see if it fits the need. Are there any USB microphones good for both Zoom and instruments that are <$100?

Replies (34)

May 26, 2020, 9:36 AM · You already know the name. For Zoom meetings I use a Zoom H1 recorder (no relation) in place of my laptop's microphone which is defective. However the H1 is now superseded by the H1n and I'm surprised that the technical details on Amazon don't mention whether it can function as a USB microphone or is strictly stand-alone so I'd advise checking that
May 26, 2020, 9:57 AM · I posted about this a few weeks ago, the H1n works well for stereo mics with a built-in USB interface. Manufacturer info notes this as well at https://www.zoom-na.com/products/field-video-recording/field-recording/zoom-h1n-handy-recorder. Regular price is $119 but if you shop around you can find it in the $80s. At that price, add a 32GB memory card and you're still under $100. It sounds good but is a little flimsy; if you think you might use this a lot also check out the H4n which has inputs for 2 more mics and can be had for $179 now.
May 26, 2020, 10:37 AM · I use a blue yeti but I know many people like the snowball which is a a little cheaper.
May 26, 2020, 11:57 AM · I am using the Fifine T-669, and I really like it. I bought it for $60 (Amazon) and now it's $75. Better get yours before it goes up to $90. My unit came with a scissor stand and some other accessories, it's got good sound. (It won't replace your Telefunken U47.)
Edited: May 26, 2020, 2:13 PM · Thanks everyone! I've asked my teacher what he has ordered so I can check it out as well.
Edited: May 26, 2020, 3:45 PM · I would tell you to get a good webcam if you don't have one, the microphone will be good enough (some better than others, check reviews). I think at the end of the day it will matter most how you will be able to SEE everything you need to show each other. Especially for the teachers, we need to show our fingers, more detailed, etc. There's not much point in having a very good mic if the video will be lagging half a second behind the audio. I'm using a Logitech C270, if all my students had one too it would be great.
May 26, 2020, 8:31 PM · A better microphone is good. However, check you have Zoom settings such that it doesn't hear music as background noise and try to suppress it. There are Youtube videos around that tell you how to set up Zoom for music lessons. Headphones help too.
May 26, 2020, 8:34 PM · https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoXM5wcpVNU
May 26, 2020, 10:17 PM · The cameras built into laptops these days are pretty good. The microphones are generally pretty lousy. If you're doing music lessons via Zoom or Skype, upgrading your microphone is a higher priority than a webcam unless you've got "disposable income" to spend on gear.
May 27, 2020, 7:13 AM · My camera is fine, the mic...and speaker....very different story and we have optimized Zoom settings. My teacher found a USB mic that sounds reasonably priced and is designed more for instruments than voice. He's testing it himself before he sends out info on the model. Apparently many microphones are designed more for voice than music - guess I've never thought about it.

I stream sound to my old bluetooth Bose speaker as my laptop speaker is so bad that I can barely hear him. This does give him a bit of feedback sometimes so I will find my old noise canceling headphones and see how irritating it might be to play with them on. For some reason my earbuds don't play well with my laptop.

My current setup was fine for temporary use and we never dreamed it would still be needed 3 months later. As this will become a "new normal" it's time to have a better setup without breaking the bank.

I appreciate the 2 microphone recommendations and I've them bookmarked as I wait for my teachers recommendation.

May 27, 2020, 7:36 AM · If your speaker is crap too, I recommend this item:

AmazonBasics Portable Wireless, 2.1 Bluetooth Speaker, Black ($24). Just remember this is a low-end item, it's not going to sound like your Hi-Fi. But it'll be better than your laptop.

Don't let "wireless/bluetooth" dissuade you. Well, sure, you can use it that way with your laptop. But I find Bluetooth be a hassle (I know: "okay, boomer."). The AmazonBasics speaker has an auxiliary 3.5-mm input, so I decided to just connect mine using a 3.5-mm stereo cable:

AmazonBasics 3.5 mm Male to Male Stereo Audio Aux Cable, 4 Feet, 1.2 Meters, 2-Pack

Edited: May 27, 2020, 12:46 PM · Most laptops this days, maybe the better ones, but I notice that everyone seems to have old laptops. All my students have old laptops or only a smartphone.
In both cases, there's a slight delay, when playing detaché moderately fast the bow will appear as going the wrong way, when they're actually playing right. My Logitech C270 is better than what they all have, 720p resolution with 30fps, there is no delay and the microphone is good, it's possible to hear the difference between piano and forte. Most laptops and phones have built-in sound equalizer that makes everything the same volume and sometimes it's not possible to turn it off. This webcam is also cheap, cheaper than the microphones that will only do audio...
Then, having video and audio separately from different devices can only increase the delay, not reduce.
Edited: May 27, 2020, 3:31 PM · Steve, I have a Zoom H2 (a successor to the H1 series, and again no relation!). On pp73-77 of the 92 page Operation Manual (very professional, in English and printed) there is a discussion on using the H2 as an audio interface for a computer by connecting the H2 and the computer with a USB cable. There is a choice of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz sampling frequencies in 2-channel stereo, which is more than adequate for most purposes.

Although it is a fairly expensive piece of kit new it is worth while looking around for 2nd-hand ones at maybe 1/4 of the retail price.

May 28, 2020, 5:41 AM · I have three possible microphones that plug directly into the computer via USB (I have several others which require a separate audio interface):
1) a $40 FiFine USB mic
2) a $150 Audio-Technica 2020USBi (current model 2020USB+)
3) the mic built into my Logitech C922 1080p webcam

I was recently helping a fellow music teacher decide what equipment to purchase for an online masterclass with a pianist, so we had a Zoom meeting where I demonstrated all three mics for him and a co-worker who was helping with the technology.

The both agreed that being on the receiving end, the Audio-Technica was by far the best sound with the other two sounding like they would distort if I had played any louder. I was playing the trumpet, not directly into the mic, but away from the mic. They both said the Audio-Technica gave the most realistic sound and the clearest sound.

So if you want to teach online, don't go for "cheap" or "inexpensive" -- be willing to spend a bit more to be able to present your best professional image.

Having listened to over two months of online lessons where only one student had invested in a proper mic (he's going into sound recording and production technology in college next year) while all the rest use whatever mic is built into their phone or tablet or computer, I can say that almost all of them are crap for music.

They're all fine for talk, which is what they are designed for. And online business meetings where it's all talk are where they shine, but for accurate music reproduction they are horrible.

But no matter what mic you end up with, if you're using Zoom be sure to enable "Use Original Sound." Once that is enabled you will see in the upper right (at least on a Windows PC) the option "Turn Off Original Sound" or "Turn On Original Sound." If that shows up as "Turn Off Original Sound" that means that the original sound, not processed by Zoom for compression and other factors, is what the other people hear.

Again in my demonstration to my friends looking to put on a masterclass, I let them hear with Original Sound turned on and with it turned off and they both agreed that with Original Sound turned on (thus showing "Turn Off Original Sound" onscreen) the music came through the best.

Edited: May 28, 2020, 2:50 PM · David, thank you for your careful, and needed, explanation of potentially confusing instructions such as "Turn Off Original Sound", which at a quick screen glance could easily be misinterpreted as "Original Sound Turned Off". I feel fairly sure that in industry and elsewhere accidents or malfunctions have been caused by similar potential ambiguities in wording.
May 31, 2020, 4:14 PM · I've narrowed my choices down to two - I still haven't heard from my teacher which one he has ordered (he probably wants to give it a good test before he says). One breaks my $100 budget but not by much:

Blue Yeti USB mic (it also allows the use of headphones to listen to computer audio which avoids having to use another speaker to hear my teacher) - $130 on Amazon

FIFINE T-669 bundle $80 on Amazon.

The Blue Yeti specifically mentions it's good for solo instruments as well as voice while the FIFINE does not. My teacher has stressed that there is a difference in how microphones handle instruments and voice.

Is the Blue Yeti better than the FIFINE? From what I've read it is - but who can tell with marketing talk and I look at reviews with a cynical eye sometimes. I know many here have experience with both - thoughts on the Blue Yeti over the FIFINE or am I just spending $45 extra?

May 31, 2020, 6:00 PM · Some years ago, I bought the Blue Yeti for $80 via an Amazon lightning deal, then resold it when it became apparent I was never actually going to use it...little did I expect.

A couple weeks into quarantine, I considered the Yeti because it was popular and the T669 because my sister recommended it. She does some vocal and instrumental recording, and I knew she'd already done the research, so when she thought it would be fine for my purposes (live video teaching and making some recordings for students), I jumped on it for $57 plus shipping (direct from FIFINE because I think Amazon was at the time widely known or perceived to be delaying shipping of non-essential types of goods). She said she chose the Yeti for the versatility of having the multiple sound/directional patterns. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see her to test and compare our mics.

From what I understand, microphones might be "better" for vocal vs. instrumental depending on the frequencies that they are designed to enhance or not enhance? I'm not really sure, better find a more credible source, but at half the price, for someone who isn't terribly knowledgeable and probably couldn't tell the difference (me), it was easy to choose. T669's scissor arm stand seems like it could be handy but not for my setup - nowhere to attach it so I just have the tripod sitting on the table.

A few students have asked me, and generally I assume they personally don't know anyone who could advise them, so I just tell them my experience with these two and add that pretty much anything would be an upgrade from their laptop's built-in mic, which someone said here in one of the past mic threads.

May 31, 2020, 6:09 PM · Good points and I appreciate your input

One nice thing about the Yeti (and Amazon is currently out of stock until June 9) is it also has a headset jack designed to allow you to also listen to computer audio at the same time as you're transmitting. This is one of the reasons I'm considering it - my laptop speaker is awful and when I stream the audio to my Bose speaker it's causing some feedback for my teacher.

I've no idea which one he is testing - I just know it costs $35 and is apparently designed more for instruments than voice. So far I've not found anything at the price point that also references instruments - but I will speak with him tomorrow.

Edited: May 31, 2020, 6:51 PM · "From what I understand, microphones might be 'better' for vocal vs. instrumental depending on the frequencies that they are designed to enhance or not enhance?"

Ideally the frequency response of a microphone will be totally flat. If any "enhancing" of frequencies is to be done, you would rather do that with an equalizer. Another consideration is microphone directionality. Cardioid pattern is more directional and that's good if the thing you're miking is small and does not move, like a singer holding the microphone in front of his or her mouth. After that your choice is typically between dynamic and condenser mics (a choice that is unrelated to directionality). A whole lot has been written on dynamic vs. condenser, but the general vibe is that dynamic mics are more often used in settings where there are really loud sounds like drums and guitar amps and screaming singers getting miked, whereas condensers tend to be used more in studio settings where there are more controlled and delicate sounds. From what I have read, it doesn't have to be that way, but it's nevertheless fairly typical of how they're used. There are also ribbon microphones but these tend to be very high-end and they're usually more fragile. The FIFINE and Blue Yeti microphones are both condensers. Remember that these mics have USB interface which provides power to the condenser AND a convenient interface to your computer. Note that Nathan Cole uses condenser microphones in his home studio. If you go and buy Nathan's microphone, then you still need an interface that will power the mic and send signal into your laptop or other recording device, such as a channel strip.

Edited: May 31, 2020, 9:12 PM · I forgot about the speaker component. My sister said she plugs headphones into her laptop, not the Yeti (I don't know if laptop is better or she just never bothered to try it).

I went through the following experiments:
- Laptop built-in speaker: not loud enough, quality
- Bluetooth speaker that I already have: bad quality, lag
- TV (had to buy HDMI cable): didn't like the sound being 4 feet away
- Wired earbuds that I already have (also bought an audio extension cable): the weight bothered me and the wire kept getting in the way anyway
- $20 wireless earbuds/mic: audio was fine, but I also have meetings that are voice only and thought, wouldn't it be nice if I could walk around/away and still be able to hear and talk, only the mic would NOT play nicely at all with Zoom and Google Hangouts. I use it with my phone now.
- $60 wireless earbuds/mic: winner! The mic is at least usable (if I need it), it really helps to have the sound in my ear, earpiece design is good, 12-hour play time lasts at least two days of teaching. (With cello, I just have to take care not to let the peg box touch.)

Come to think of it, at the time that I bought the T669, I knew that I was also buying other stuff, not only tech items but for example, blackout curtains for my west-facing windows (prevent sun glare on screens and keep out heat, meaning I can delay running the A/C, which will be loud). All told, I probably spent comparable to one student's tuition for one month, which is completely reasonable for the benefits and the amount of time this stuff is going to be used. Another $70 (for the Yeti at the time) wouldn't have broken the bank although I dislike overbuying as much as the next person so it was just fine not to spend it. At $45 price difference, if the features are worth it, just think of it as benefits over a period of time.

May 31, 2020, 8:21 PM · Thanks, I figured I was making it up. Is there a basis to mics being for voice vs. non loud types of instruments then, if you can do the audio processing later? (Average users aren't likely to get into the equalizer, so makers specify what the presets are?)

(This reminds me of sometimes when I tell students/parents about different types and options of strings, there is silence, followed by, "...so what should I get?"!)

Edited: June 1, 2020, 7:11 AM · I'm seriously overthinking this, obviously. I will pull the trigger on something after my lesson - probably the Yeti because of the ability to plug into my computer audio if needed but time will tell. I looked for online and YouTube reviews but couldn't find any that didn't focus on voice/podcast/singing applications - nothing on a solo instrument.
Edited: June 1, 2020, 7:38 AM · The USB condenser microphone is overwhelmingly used for podcasting -- college professors like me who were redirected to online teaching were consuming them like popcorn over the past couple of months. (My laptop mike just wasn't getting the job done.) That's why the reviews tend to focus on that application.

I googled "best mic for recording violin" and got one of those total-BS "review" sites that recommended the Beyerdynamic M160 ($700) and the Neumann TLM-103 ($1100) and then you're spending just as much on a channel strip anyway (although you can get a reasonable interface box like a PreSonus Audiobox 96 with phantom power for $100). Also when most people talk about miking a violin, they're talking about a mike that clips onto the instrument.

If you're doing violin lessons by Zoom or Skype, none of that is necessary. The Blue Yeti will be fine. One advantage of the Blue Yeti over the FIFINE T669 is that the Blue Yeti offers different directionality patterns including cardioid, omni, and bidirectional, that you can experiment with just by turning a knob. The FIFINE is strictly a cardioid-pattern mike.

June 1, 2020, 9:12 AM · Thanks Paul, that is the same point I've reached, more or less. Unless my teacher has a compelling reason to choose something else other than cost I will order it tonight!
June 2, 2020, 1:05 AM · My wife and I are both using Yeti microphones to teach and do play-in sessions. For the price, they are excellent, and having the headset on the device itself eliminates any monitoring latency that one would get by plugging it into the computer.

We're also using Rogue Amoeba's Loopback application to route past Zoom's built-in mic settings, and sending all audio directly to the ZoomAudioDevice and sharing computer audio so that the unprocessed sound from the Yeti is what the person on the other end hears. The only rough patch is switching who is sharing audio so that it can be bi-directional.

June 2, 2020, 4:46 AM · In Zoom be sure to enable the option to "Turn On Original Sound" -- It's in the Settings dialog, on the Audio page, click the Advanced button at the bottom and the next screen has a check-box to enable that. Make sure that is checked.
Then on the main Zoom video screen in a meeting there should be something in the upper left corner which says either "Turn ON Original Sound" or "Turn OFF Original Sound" -- if it is displaying "Turn OFF original sound" that means that the original sound from your microphone, with no processing by Zoom, is being sent to the others in the video meeting. If that message says "Turn ON original sound" that means that your sound is being compressed by Zoom.

For your best sound to get to the others in the meeting, you can also "Share" your computer's audio with them, so that whatever sound is coming out of your computer speakers will come out of theirs. so if you're playing an mp3 file for them to hear, they won't have to hear it through your microphone, but they will hear it full quality. If you want to share just your computer's audio but not the screen, you have to click on the "Share Screen" button and then click on the Advanced tab and there is an option to share just your computer's audio.

But as with everything about online lessons and meetings, the actual sound quality the others hear from you depends on your internet connection speed and quality, and their internet speed and quality, and the quality of the device they are using and whatever speakers or headphones they are listening through.

So it's pointless for a teacher to use a $1000 microphone which produces incredible commercial musical recording sound quality if a person is listening only through the tiny speakers of their smart phone.

Edited: June 2, 2020, 8:23 AM · I ordered the Blue Yeti - the challenge was to find it in stock (even from Blue.com)! It seems that pretty much all lower priced decent USB microphones are out of stock most places and that isn't a surprise.

Thankfully I found it at Best Buy - ordinarily I would have cared about the color but was just happy to find one currently in stock. It will arrive Friday so will have it for next Monday's lesson. I do have the "original sound" turned on.

My teacher is experimenting with a bluetooth headset/mic combination as he likes the idea of being able to get up/move and have the microphone stay with him - he isn't sure it will fill the need or even be tolerable. I am his "test student". I did observe yesterday that when he played his sound was more clear - but I suspect pretty much anything is better than a laptop microphone.

I also have a bluetooth Behringer BB 560M headset/mic coming but that's for work rather than for my violin lessons. It's only $35 at Adorama.

Edited: June 2, 2020, 8:32 AM · Why is "monitoring latency" an issue when you're doing a Zoom violin lesson? Surely you can hear your own violin in real time. It's right there under your ear. I've got to be missing something here ...
Edited: June 2, 2020, 9:02 AM · The headset jack allows you to hear your computer audio (incoming) rather than what I'm transmitting. At least that's what I've read and is one of the reasons I chose the Yeti.
Edited: June 2, 2020, 10:07 AM · When you are in a Zoom or Skype meeting you don't hear what you're transmitting. You just hear your own voice or your own violin as you ordinarily would. Your teacher hears what you're transmitting. I'm sure the Yeti will be fine, though, and doubtless there is some use for the little headset jack. :)
Edited: June 2, 2020, 12:39 PM · I've read different things regarding the headset jack, time will tell. That wasn't the main reason I chose this microphone.
Edited: June 5, 2020, 6:52 AM · The Blue Yeti has landed, and while my next lesson isn't until Monday I am impressed so far with the ease of use and quality of materials.

The headset jack WILL pick up computer audio, not just what you put through the microphone. The only issue with that is that it's not an actual speaker. Because of that I only hear my actual laptop audio...which is pretty awful (a bit of a mystery for a gaming machine but it IS entry level). So there is a use for that headset jack if your computer has a decent sound card. (It does have a fantastic graphics card for the price point - which I need for work).

So I'm exploring other audio options so I can actually hear my teacher properly and he doesn't get echos. Am currently streaming his audio to my Bose speaker which is placed as physically close to my laptop as possible. It helps, but he still gets an echo. Bluetooth earbuds are probably my best option to solve this affordably and prevent him getting that feedback.

Edited: June 5, 2020, 7:22 AM · @Mark Kliesen "I use a blue yeti but I know many people like the snowball which is a a little cheaper."

My teacher has a Snowball. In the UK the Yeti is about twice the price of the Snowball (£120 vs £55-60). If I ever want a USB mic, I'll probably get one of those two, as I am convinced they are both nice for the price, but at the moment I want to buy a pair of Shure PGA81's to go in my Scarlett preamp. The only thing stopping me is that my favourite online supplier is out of stock.

Of course the teacher's mic doesn't need to be as good as the student's, so if the teacher has a Snowball and the student has a Yeti, that might be a good balance (semi-lol)

June 5, 2020, 11:46 AM · Not sure how to a semi-lol with ASCII-character emojis.

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