Information about Computer Microphones and Speakers

When you are considering what type of microphone to use to record audio narration, the two major choices are the common, and generally inexpensive microphones that plug into a computer's sound card and the somewhat more expensive USB microphones that provide better audio quality.

Microphones can play an important role in the use of audio, by allowing you to record your own sound clips. Different microphones have different characteristics and some of the most important are described below.

Types of Microphones

There are many different types of microphones to choose from. The following information from How Do Microphones WorK? (, describes the major categories of microphones, including:

Sound Pick-Up Patterns or Directionality

How a microphone picks up sound is another important quality. The following information about sound pick-up patterns comes from A Primer on Microphones, written by Peter Elsea, and online at:

         cardioid      cardioid pattern


Styles of Microphones

There are many different styles of microphones and they come in many shapes and sizes.

The sound quality of your recorded audio is fair when using this type of microphone, however, the quality of your computer's sound card will also affect the quality of the recording at least as much as the model of microphone you are using.


The cable shown here has a metal tip called a mini-plug on one end. The other end is wired directly into the base of the microphone. The plug end is called the male end, and is one eighth inch in diameter, so sometimes you may hear this type of connector called a 1/8th inch connector. This type of connector is often used for audio and is frequently found on older, less expensive microphones (like the one shown above) as well as on headphones that can be plugged into a computer, smartphone or portable audio player. A single stripe seen near the end of the metal plug indicates that this is a monaural cable, while two stripes indicates that this cable supports stereo sound.

USB Microphones

USB microphones utilize a USB cable that connects directly to a computer, bypassing an internal sound card.

These USB microphones generally better sound quality than the older microphones that use a mini-plug to connect to computers, as described above. This is because USB microphones usually include an internal analog to digital coverter that modifies the signal from your voice being recorded by first amplifying it and then conveting it into a digital format, and finally sedning it over a USB cable to the software you are using, such as PowerPoint, Audacity, etc.

Approximately $32

Logitech USB Headset Microphone

Another popular computer microphone does not plug into the computer's sound card, although it looks very similar to a microphone that does; but instead this microphone has a USB connection at the end of its cable, which plugs into a USB port on your laptop or desktop computer.

Headsets that provide a microphone and headphones in one unit are also a popular choice for recording audio when connected to a desktop or laptop computer. This hands-free approach is often a good one since it allows you to work on the computer while you are recording. Headsets may also be a good choice of you are working in an office with others around you. Although you should always try to record your audio in a quiet location, if possible.

Available from Amazon:

Available from Amazon:

Approximately $55

USB Laptop/Desktop Microphone

The picture at left is a USB microphone that can be used with a desktop computer or laptop. It can be placed on a desk or attached to a laptop, as shown in the picture. It sells for about $55 and should provide good quality regardless of the type of sound card the computer has, since it bypasses the sound card. It does not require any additional software or drivers and should work well on any Windows or Mac computer that has a USB port available.

Available from Amazon:

If you plan to do a lot of audio recording and/or you are interested in very high quality audio, the following more expensive desktop USB microphones offer significantly better sound quality than the less expensive models.

Approximately $70

Samson C01U Microphone

Available from Amazon:

audio technica AT2020

Approximately $130


Audio Technica AT2020

Available from Amazon:


Approximately $80


Samson GM1U G-Track


Approximately $130


Blue Yeti

Rod Podcaster

Approximately $230


Rode Podcaster


USB Microphone Settings
for Windows Users

When you first plug a USB microphone into a PC, you may need to change some audio settings to make sure the computer recognizes the microphone. In the Windows 7 operating system, you should first go to the Start menu and click on Control Panel.

Win 7 control panel


Depending on how your Control Panel is configured, you should follow these steps.

Option 1: If the Control Panel is in the Large icon view, click on the Sound icon.


The Sound dialog box should now be displayed, as shown here. If it is, skip Option 2 and continue reading after that (where it says Continue Reading Here).

Win 7 Sound dialog box


Option 2: If you are in the Category view, click on the Hardware and Sound link.



This will bring up several Sound options. Click on the Sound link OR the Manage audio devices link.



Click on the Recording tab at the top left of the window.

Recording tab

Continue Reading Here:

If your microphone is connected properly, it should appear in the list. In this example, you can see that an Audio Technica AT2020 microphone is properly installed. You should try speaking into it to see if the volume is set properly. The more green bars you see as you talk, the higher the volume.



Unfortunately with the Windows operating system, when microphones are first connected, the recording volume may be set to a very low level.

You can check this by clicking one time on the microphone in the Sound dialog box to select it and then clicking on the Properties button.



The Microphone Properties dialog box should now be displayed. Make sure that this device is enabled and use the pull-down menu at the bottom of the box to enable it, if needed.



Click on the Levels tab and you should now be able to see a numerical value that the microphone's recording volume is set to, such as "17" in the example below.



You should move the slider bar to a higher recording volume level and I suggest a setting of 75 or 80. You may need to try a few test recordings at different volume levels to find out the best setting for your microphone and computer.


You should also click on the Advanced tab to increase the audio recording quality. I recommend that you try any of the CD or DVD quality settings and make a test recording. Then listen to the results to determine which sounds best. Please note that 1 channel usually refers to a monophonic recording and 2 channel refers to stereo recording. When you record your voice for use in a PowerPoint presentation, you will not usually be able to tell any difference in the sound of the narration regardless of whether you select 1 channel or 2 channel recording.

advanced tb for qulaity settings


USB Microphone Settings for Mac Users

When you first plug a USB microphone into a Mac, you may need to change some audio settings to make sure the computer recognizes the microphone. In the Macintosh OSX operating system, you should first go to the dock and click on the System Preferences icon.

Mac System Preferences


If you do not see this icon, you can use the built-in Spotlight search tool on your Mac. Look for the magnifying glass icon and type in the term: "system preferences" and it should be found.

Mac Spotlight


You should now be able to launch the System Preferences which will open a dialogue box, as shown below.

Mac Sound Icon

Locate the Sound icon and click on it. This will open the Sound preferences dialogue box.

Mac Audio Settings

Follow these steps:

1. Click on the Input tab. If your USB microphone is connected to your Mac and has been installed properly, it should show up in the list of devices.

2. Click on the microphone's name to select it and begin talking.

3. If the microphone is working, you should see the Input volume level indicator moving to the right as you speak. You can drag the white slider bar to the right or to the left to increase or decrease the recording volume level of your microphone, as needed. A good rule of thumb is to set the level so that the it is somewhere between 50 and 75%, although you should always make a test recording so that you can determine the best level for your particular microphone.

4. You may also need to adjust the Output volume level of your speakers, headphones, or headset to a comfortable listening level.

A Few Words about Computer Speakers

Since creating, editing and viewing digital media projects generally involve audio, you may need to consider adding external speakers to the computer where you are doing your work. Most computers come with a sound card already installed and at least one small internal speaker, which allows audio to be played. However, you may need to add a separate set of speakers or a pair of headphones so that narration, music and special audio effects can played at a volume level loud enough for you to make recording and editing decisions. Almost all speaker systems that can be added to a computer require some power source, which may be from batteries, plugging the speakers into an electrical outlet, or in some cases, getting power from the computer via either a USB or Firewire cable.

There are many different options when it comes to adding external speakers to a computer and three popular choices are shown below:

basic computer speakers spekers plus subwoofer 5.1 speaker system
A simple pair of powered stereo computer speakers. A pair of stereo speakers with an added subwoofer for increased bass response. A 5.1 channel surround sound system includes speakers for the front (left & right) rear (left & right), center channel (for dialogue) and a subwoofer.


This page was last updated on July 18, 2017.