Integrated vs USB Microphones: Which is best for you?
| Reuben Howe
Modern headphones tend to have what are called Integrated or Built-In Microphones. These are microphones that are attached to one earpiece and allow you to record, chat, and interact with voice assistants from your desk without needing two devices. The simplicity of being able to flip down a mic and get cracking can be appealing, but there are still standalone microphones out there that deserve some attention. Not only does modular technology tend to be easier to troubleshoot but when all it costs is a single USB 3.0 port, a USB microphone seems a fine choice too! So, which is best for what you need? Make sure you consider the portability, added effects and quality, and your own personal usage habits. Read on to find out more about how both integrated and standalone Microphones vary.
By far the more common Microphone in recent years is the integrated microphone. Headsets and earphones were being used to listen to music, hear phone calls privately, and do work. It made sense that the counterpart, the microphone, should want to be included!
That brings us to our first benefit: Instead of having to hold your phone up to your mouth to receive your voice, while hearing the call through earphones, you could now have an integrated microphone to talk freely. This was the beginning of “Hands-free” calling, and is a popular reason for choosing wireless earbuds. With technology becoming more and more compact and compound, (speakers in microphones in phones inside your ear!) devices like the August EPG500 were pushing that boat out further.
That particular pair of True Wireless earphones have touch controls in addition to microphones, completely skipping the need to ever touch your phone to take a call.
On The Go Or At Your Desk
But what about once you get to your desk and don’t need hand-free calling? A more comfortable option affords itself: A headset. Wireless headphones are substantially easier (And cheaper) to have integrated microphones as they can sit nicely on an earpiece. With auto-mute technology for when the microphone is flicked upwards and auto-reconnection when lowered to your mouth, an integrated headphone mic can make work and conference calls a breeze.
The Gamer's Choice
There is another crowd, of course, who adopted the headset with microphone as their staple. Gaming fans the world over use gaming headsets to experience full 3D audio and project their voice to teammates. Being able to mute and unmute so easily is pivotal in games without Push-To-Talk. These games are “open-mic”, a term which refers to the fact that if you have a microphone connected it is always on, always active, “open”. Gaming headsets have skirted around this issue for years via integrated microphones.
One caveat of all this is that your microphone is dependent on your headset or earphones. Should you run out of charge or have a hardware problem, you lose both devices. Integrated microphones seem simpler, but are as a result much more limited in scope than their standalone counterparts. If you are desperate for one single device that can take you through a commute, a work day, and then a gaming session that evening then a headset with integrated mic is your only one-stop-shop solution, which makes it appealing for some.
However, if your day is more segmented and you want specific tools for the job, then integrated tech might not be your best bet…
Are USB Microphones Worth It?
Standalone technology is robust, reliable, and built-for-purpose. Rather than mixing genres and trying to appeal to everyone, it can be refined and deliver a specific experience in a unique way. In this way, a USB Microphone is a different beast entirely to an integrated mic.
If you have a permanent desk with a laptop or PC set-up, you have everything you need to upgrade to a standalone microphone. With just a USB port and a 3.5mm headphone jack you can have access to high-quality, bespoke microphones.
USB mics have their own stand, sound-gate, noise reduction and other hardware all dedicated purely to the sound quality and reception of your voice. You’ll have seen podcasting mics that seem to swing above the monitor as the creator talks, and this articulating boom arm is one reason a USB mic is as versatile as an integrated one.
Being able to move the Mic not just through rotation (Like an integrated mic) but through 3D space is an incredible advantage. Including moving it out of the way when adjusting your monitor to positioning it away from nearby sound sources, and even rotating the microphone freely so it can make use of directional noise-gating.
Once attached and set-up the mic will carry the highest-quality audio through to games, conferences, calls and even AI assistant commands, making sure you are intelligible and clear whenever you ask a question, give an answer, or make a call-out. Video-calls are crystal clear for you and your colleagues, with no background noise in the way.
Not to mention that video calls have, as expected, video! Instead of sitting in a headset you can look your best and sit naturally, with no microphone in your face or earpads taking up screen space.
A USB mic also has more dedicated recording features. Things like a pop filter. These are special audio adjustments made to your voice to reduce “pop”. The term refers to lip-smacks, air currents and more that are involved in certain speaking patterns. The pop filter leaves the word and your voice intact while removing the articulation tools that aren’t necessary to be heard.
The best USB microphones take advantage of their dedication to recording, and include a host of these features, such as the REC100 which includes an articulated boom arm, directional recording and more all with no drivers and downloads needed.
Once you have the bit of kit, it is compatible with any device that has a USB port and a 3.5mm jack. That’s most things! While not wearable on your head, USB mics are still plenty portable and the higher-fidelity sound means that you could use this mic for work just as well as recording music, if that’s a hobby for you. Recording videos for YouTube is another alternate use to make the most out of the technology.
Choose for your needs
Now you have an idea of what benefits a standalone mic can have, with not as much set-up as it seems! Anyone can have a podcast-worthy mic or a streamer-looking set-up, and it isn’t even hard! If you’re more suited to a “one and done” solution maybe a standalone USB mic isn’t for you, but when you consider the quality, dedicated support, work and leisure uses and portability it might surprise you how appealing a USB mic is.