Headphone/Mic combo for teaching middle school e-learning classes on an MacBook Air

Hello-
I am teaching many of my middle school classes via TEAMS on a MacBook Air and would like to purchase a headphone/mic setup for these classes. As it is know I am using the internal mic and that is just not cutting it. Any suggestions. Remember I am a teacher and need to keep the cost down. Something mid-range.
Thanks

I really enjoy the Blue Yeti as a mic, and I plug a pair of analog headphones into the bottom of it. This way you don’t need a boom mic in your face (in your way.) The Yeti makes the mic and headphones appear as devices on the PC (I use Windows, but I imagine it would be identical on the Mac.) The quality of the Yeti is very good and it can pick up your voice with the mic far enough away from you to be out of frame. Cost wise, you’re looking at around $100 for the Yeti depending on sales, and as much or as little for the analog headphones as you feel (depending on comfort and style… and maybe free if you already have an pair around.)

I couldn’t find a good link on Amazon… but here’s a BestBuy link. (Note they come in an array of colours, so find one you like if you decide to get one.)

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I commend you for trying to make your audio better. Going on 6 months into COVID19, I’m pretty disappointed with colleagues and people (professionally) broadcasting events who sound awful. So, I’m already a fan. As a reference point, I’m just an audio amateur, though I’ve done some professional work with a frequent guest of Leo’s.

There are main elements I’d consider to improve your online audio:

  • Your audio equipment
  • Your “studio” environment
  • ISP upload speed

You can do three things in the hardware department, generally in order of quality (of your speaking):

  • Dedicated mic-only
  • Headphone with mic
  • Webcam with mic (that’s better than the built-in hardware)

Dedicated microphones can be a complicated topic. There are directional, omni-directional, lavalieres, USB, etc, etc… Blue’s Yetti is a well respected mic. There’s a pretty good list of options in this article. But you’ll still be listening though the MacBook Air’s smallish speakers.

TL;dr: (wow, this got long for “tl;dr”)

  • I would not spend $100+ on a studio microphone like the Yetti unless you’re going to set up a studio and produce quality audio content. It’s overkill for your use-case.
  • For $20 you can buy a lavalier mic you clip to your clothing, that will make you sound pretty good, but you’ll still be using MacBook Air speakers. (experiment with positioning the mic)
  • For $30 you can get Logitech H390 USB headset. A number of sites like it for webinars. Laptop mag says its comfortable & has good sound quality; the best choice under $35.
  • For $100 you can get Anker’s AirPod Pro alternative that is slightly better on phone calls than the Pros, according to RTINGS.com (very good site).
  • For $250 or less you can get AirPods Pro, which will provide both mic and speaker upgrade. imore says they’re the best overall headphones for zooms. People using Airpods Pro on videos I’ve watched sound pretty good, but “best?” Hmmm. The Lav mic probably has better mic quality than either of Anker or Apple’s wireless pods.
  • The Wirecutter likes two versions of Jabra wireless over-the-ear headphones starting around $250, which might be more comfortable and will sound better than AirPods Pro.

All of these, even AirPods Pro, will be an upgrade from your current sound.

But your mic is only part off the solution. Often overlooked is the sound environment. My office is a room with lots of flat wall space, ceiling and wood floors: an echo chamber. Ideally you want to be in a place with less reflected sound. Curtains, cushions, and carpet are generally your friends. Limiting unwanted noise is another factor. Noise from inside your home, like the AC or ceiling fan running, TV/radios, pets, people, ringing phones, etc, can sometimes be controlled or minimized. Noise outside the home often cannot: construction, lawn equipment, neighbors, traffic and even aircraft are potential sources of interference, outside construction.

My advice is to be aware of your sound environment, and do your best to

  • minimize the interfering inside/outside sound, and
  • select a “studio” location that provides the best mix of low noise, and good sound characteristics.

The last factor is your Internet connection. Having a 1080p camera with quad microphones won’t sound good if you don’t have the bandwidth to send all that data in your web-event software. Most people have more than enough download speed for streaming activities (when you’re not competing with too many other uses). But often upload speeds are much lower. When you’re hosting a Zoom, for example, you are sending audio and your HD camera image (720p in the case of your MacBook Air), plus the event management traffic, and perhaps a shared screen. If you have 5 Mbps upload speed, this is probably enough. That is, until other people or applications start uploading and competing for upload bandwidth. Online backup, iCloud Drive or Dropbox, email synchronization, etc. are all taking place at unpredictable times. And sharing your home bandwidth with other people (streaming, surfing, and doing everything else I just mentioned) complicates the matter, as I mentioned earlier.

I don’t know your circumstances, so I don’t have a specific recommendation; just be aware of the potential problems I mentioned. If your quality seems to be limited, do what you can to increase your upload speed or reduce the competition during class.

Lastly, it’s not just the technical issues. This article has 6 tips for looking good on a webinar, that I wish more people heeded. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/04/11/zoom-meetings-go-better-these-6-tips-look-your-best/5125980002/

Does that help?

I’ve been using this for a while and can’t recommend it enough. Pair it with any headphones and it should be more than enough.