When choosing a computer microphone, the most important factor to consider is how it will be used. There are many different possible tasks for a microphone, including speech recognition, internet-based phone calls, and online gaming. Each has specific needs which should affect your choice of model and budget.
The main decision you face in choosing a computer microphone is whether to use a wired or wireless model. A wired microphone, usually in the form of a standalone desktop model, will nearly always be the cheapest option, and often comes included with a new computer. A wireless microphone can be a model that clips on to your clothes or comes as an earpiece, similar to a Bluetooth device for a cellphone. However, the most common form is a headset, similar to that used by telephone operators, that includes earphones and a microphone. A wireless model will usually be more expensive but offers much more flexibility.
You also need to consider the type of connection available for your microphone. Many work with the dedicated microphone socket that is in your PC’s soundcard, but others work through a USB connection. There isn’t a major difference in use, but you may find the USB connection is more practical because most computers have multiple USB sockets available, giving you more options for locating your microphone in a convenient place. The design of dedicated microphone plugs and sockets can also be more vulnerable to cracking or breaking, which can be a lot more troublesome to fix than simply switching to a different USB port.
If you are planning to use a computer microphone for an internet-based telephone service such as Skype, a headset will likely be the best option. This is particularly important if you are planning to take part in conference calls or create podcasts with online colleagues. A standard desktop microphone will likely produce too poor sound quality, and may even cause a feedback loop by picking up the sounds you hear from the person at the other end of the call.
A headset is also a good option for online gaming, such as World of Warcraft. The headset leaves your hands free for typing more comfortably and avoids you having to lean into the microphone. Because users often spend extended periods playing online games, it’s particularly important to be able to get good posture and avoid neck strain.
If you are using a computer microphone for speech recognition, it is worth paying extra to get a good quality model. Look out for microphones with built-in noise cancellation, as this will reduce the risk of background noise affecting the accuracy of the speech recognition. Some software packages recommend that you keep the microphone the same distance from your mouth at all times, so a headset model which lets you adjust the microphone to the most comfortable position would be the best option.