We have some teachers who need to teach from home even though we are teaching in person. So I worked with them and worked out a solution with the devices we currently have on hand. The teachers will want to Zoom in to do their instruction so the students need to see and hear them and the teacher also needs to see and hear the students. Seeing isn’t too difficult with built in webcams but hearing the students is a different problem, so I tested a few mic options. In this test I test the following mics:
- MacBook Pro 2017 built-in mic
- Blue Snowball Ice USB mic
- Audio Technica U851R boundary (I call it a floor mic since it usually rests on the floor) mic
You can check out the results in the video below. I read the same description of a book around the room in a normal speaking voice to make sure the test is pretty fair. You can also check out Tony’s post about his Hi-Flex iPad option.
What does the teacher need?
Even though the majority of the setup is at school the teacher needs to do their part as well. The only gear I encouraged them to use are headphones. They don’t need to be super expensive headphones, but headphones are helpful of keeping out general background noises in the teacher’s home work environment and it will also sound a little better, sharper and clearer.
MacBook Pro Built-in mic
The internal mic is, not surprisingly, the worst.
It does a fine job when you’re sitting right in front of it, but get six feet or more away and the quality starts to fall off. You can still hear students from the far reaches of the room but the sound is not clear. Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, Teams, etc will all compress audio even more.
The big problem with this mic is not only are student voices a little faint from the far parts of the room, the voices are not very clear. In my test it is just me speaking. In a classroom this is rarely the case. There are often times students working with one another, students arranging their work on their desks, flipping through textbooks/notes and more. All of this makes noise that competes with a student asking a question or making a comment.
Blue Snowball Ice mic – $50-$70 *Update: I typed the wrong Snowball model*
Probably the most popular USB mic on the planet. Blue makes great products and priced quite fairly. This mic has been around for nearly a decade. It is durable, reliable, works with just about anything it can plug into and sounds good.
It does a pretty good job of capturing sounds from far away. They are still a little quiet, but the voices are much clearer and not as distorted. All you have to do to set this up is literally plug it into your computer via a USB cable and then from your video conference service, select it from the audio menu.
That’s it – simple!
Audio Technica U851R0 boundary mic – $200-$250
A boundary mic usually sits on the floor of the stage and captures any audio in its area. There are much cheaper boundary mics out (in fact Audio Technica makes one for $100 called the PRO44). Boundary mics typically use XLR cables (mic cables) to connect. There are XLR to USB adapters but I’ve never tested one so I can’t attest to how reliable these are.