Should you buy a headset or studio mic for your recording needs?

Keep it simple


Opting to invest in a quality headset with a quality microphone is a great way to keep everything simple. There's no need for extra hardware to get everything working. Simply plug in the 3.5mm connector or USB plug, and you're good to go. Another positive of headsets is that they do not require space on the desk aside from when you're not wearing them. It's less hassle for those who just want to enjoy music and media, and also play some games while talking to others.

One reason many still rely on the trusty headset is due to the accessory not picking up keyboard noise as much as a studio or desk-mounted microphone, which can pick up keystrokes and send them across to whoever may be listening on a VoIP platform. They also do a solid job of cutting out background noise and are normally positioned adjacent to the mouth to better hone in on and pick up your voice.

It's also not required that it remain in place for a microphone to pick up input, because the headset is attached to your body and follows your movement. Finally, headsets are generally cheaper to purchase. You only need to spend up to $150 for a quality product that will last a number of years before its cups need replacing. It's also possible to pick up a bargain or a more affordable option that works just as well.


Become a professional


Microphone (Image credit: Windows Central)

Headset microphones are great for communication and gaming, but if you want to take your voice to new levels, it's worth looking into studio microphones. These expensive alternatives to headsets are simply recording devices that are installed onto a mount or desktop stand and are positioned and configured in such a way to pick up voice and ignore background noise. Once you have everything up and running, they're incredible tools for a variety of applications.

An issue with these types of microphones is not only the added price, but some also require extra components and time to adjust various levels to achieve a great experience. For a condenser microphone, you'll need to pick up a pre-amp, phantom power supply, and necessary cabling. This can set you back $200 or more. Fortunately, you get a far better experience by investing more.

How to connect a non-USB microphone to a PC

Pair up a dedicated microphone with quality headphones, and you have great sound input and output. That's perfect for gaming, recording and media playback. There are USB-friendly microphones that are manufactured for plug-n-play with a PC, though these can be a hit or miss depending on what you require. Here are some examples of noteworhty USB microphones:

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • Astro A40s and Audio Technica AT2020 here. The pair is amazing.
  • Yeah, that Audio Technica condenser mic is excellent. I use the dynamic ATR2100 with an XLR connection to the little Xenyx 302 as my main recording system. I also have a Blue Yeti USB I use for some things where the full range of a condenser mic is helpful, but with the tuning I can do on the Xenyx, I actually like the sound better from the cheaper dynamic AT mic in almost all cases. The ATR2100 can also connect directly via USB and does provide a really good sound that way too, but I think going XLR through the $50 or $60 Xenyx improves things enough to justify the added cost. I know a lot of people swear by the Rode Podcaster too. For the price, definitely no match for the AT, but even when you take price out of the picture, depending on the sound of your room and timbre of your voice, the AT mics may still provide a better sound overall.
  • For audio recording, I don't believe any headset mic is ever remotely acceptable. As far as I know (tested these about a year ago), they all had noise levels way too high for quality recording (very low signal to noise ratio) . You could improve the signal to noise ratio some by practically putting the mic right ino your mouth, but then most people, unless you have the voice of Saruman (or James Earle Jones) will end up with with plosives and sibilance (those popping 'p's and hissing 's's of breath sounds), and you can't really add a pop filter to a headset mic, espcially one that's effectively inside your mouth. A decent Audio Technica $60 USB mic plus a cheap pair of flat headphones will do VASTLY BETTER than the mic in a $300+ pair of gaming headphones with a mic. Like even a cheap motorcycle can beat a fast car going 0-60. Of course, if you're not recording and just playing games with friends, then the best all-in-one headset may indeed be a better match for your needs. And that same flat headset that is best for checking recoding quality, is not what you want for music or gaming -- those headsets add bass and improve the sound, perfect for games and music, but exactly what you don't want when checking the quality of your own recording. Check out our guide on selecting recording hardware here (good for voice work -- audiobook narration or podcasting, not really intended for music recording):  
  • Also worth mentioning the podcasters choice, the Blue Snowball. These are not expensive and offer a great sound. They need no extra kit as they're USB. They actually save money, because you don't need one set of cans for audio and one for PC gaming, you can just use your audio set for both and the Blue Snowball is known for having an extensive life span. Every time you get a new set of audio cans, you effectively get a free gaming upgrade. The only time a headset may be better is if you need to carry it around with a gaming laptop or if you need to use it with a console. For a desktop gaming PC, a good desk mic seems always the best option to me.
  • I highly recommend the Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB microphone. It's currently going for about $80-$90 on Amazon, but I think it was about $70 when I bought mine, but I'm not sure. My audio recordings with that microphone sound almost identical to my own voice, minus the sound waves that travel through your head and make you think your voice sounds different.
  • Like GraniteStateColin mentioned, the Xenyx-series and many other mixers will have USB (if not, a simple RCA-to-Stereo 1/8" (3.5mm) cable to the line in jack on your computer would do the trick), plus these mixers will also have phantom power, which condenser microphones will need. These mixers can be had for about $50-75 USD, and you can often find pretty decent mics on sale - I bought a Tascam TM-80 condenser for $30, and it records even my upright bass*! (*I can't use it live, it picks up too much of everything for just bass, but would be a great room mic). When shopping for mics, do a little research on the different patterns that the mic will pick up.
  • I have a small studio with a bunch of different microphones from AudioTechnica, Shure, blu, and others. My favorite usb mic is the AT2020 but I have a few of the AT USB/XLR variety so I can go back and forth from a PC to a mixing board... various models. Can't say enough good things about AudioTechnica. The Shure SM58 is a decent mic for the money if you're only running XLR. I don't like the blu at all. My next purchase is going to be multichannel RF lavelier setup.