Improve Your Audio to Boost Remote Team Efficiency

Woman on conference call with microphone and headset to improve audio.
Ben Titcomb


Ben Titcomb

During my first remote gig, I attended daily meetings with the client team over WebEx. On the other side, 6 or so team members would gather in a tiny room with empty walls and plop an old conference mic on the center of the table. Rarely could I ever understand what anyone was saying; I had to constantly strain to decipher something sensible out of their low-fi, reverberated voices. I swear, my ears would be sore at the end of each call.

This struggle convinced me that I would do whatever I could to make sure that I would never unintentionally put others through that. From now on, my remote teammates would always hear me loud and clear. Sure, people certainly get away with suboptimal audio, but maybe they just can’t appreciate the benefits of quality audio until they’ve heard how good their voice could sound through a better setup.

Now that it’s clear that most of us aren’t going back to the office right away, it’s time to talk about optimizing how we work together remotely, and improving audio is an easy first step!

Great audio makes for better remote work

While my poor experience with a remote client might something of an exception, I think we’ve all been through occasions where background noise and similar issues caused disruptions during remote meetings. These experiences made me realize just how much work the human brain performs when speech isn’t clear.

When speech is muffled, echoey, distant, or dominated by background noise, the brain does extra work to clean up that signal and turn it into patterns of language. Even if an audio signal is comprehensible, the human brain must do extra work to correct for ambiguity between phonemes caused by low-fidelity. This is one area where meeting in-person has an advantage over remote meetings; when you are speaking face-to-face, you can always hear the other person clearly (unless they’re a low-talker!).

If we can stop our brains from doing unnecessary work in the background, that leaves us more capacity to think and be creative.

Perhaps more important than giving our heads a break is the benefit of feeling like our coworkers in the same room with us, even if they aren’t. It may be just me but, when someone’s voice sounds really clear over the internet, they feel more “real” to me than if they sound like they’re speaking through an old telephone. A clear voice sounds more alive. In a time when many of us are have no choice but to work from home, the rich harmonics of a fellow human voice can make your day. I’m confident that a team with quality audio will work better together than those with lousy audio.

How to sound awesome

I’m not an audio engineer or much of an audiophile in general, but there are many things I’ve learned about what it takes to have above-average digital audio. There’s a lot of existing advice out there on what hardware and software to use, but much of it tends to be heavily opinionated or not applicable to remote workers.

In this blog post, I’ll distill down for you my research and tell you what I think will be most useful for you, the WFH person. Since everyone has their own unique home office situation and preferences, take the following more like a set of ideas you can pick and choose from rather than treating these things as rules.


The best first step for the average person to take is to get the right microphone. A basic mic upgrade doesn’t need to break the bank, either.

Although this isn’t a complete overview of microphone technology, the information here should instill a general sense that will help you make the right choice.

Condenser vs Dynamic

There are two primary technologies used in any variation of microphones: condenser technology and dynamic technology. They both have benefits that will depend on the recording environment and the kind of sound the user wants to achieve.

Condenser microphones are extremely sensitive because they use what’s called a capacitor to detect sound waves. Every time a sound wave hits that capacitor, it vibrates the thin electrically-charged conductors, altering the electromagnetic field of the capacitor, thereby turning the sound into an electrical signal. Condenser microphones are advantageous in that they are very sensitive while requiring little power, which is why most general-purpose mics are condenser mics. They don’t require very much skill to use and are pretty much guaranteed to capture your voice loud and clear. The downside to condenser microphones is they are not very selective in what sound they detect, so they may pick up more subtle noises than you want in your recording.

While a condenser microphone uses a capacitor, dynamic mics use a powered induction coil suspended in an electromagnetic field to pick up sound; this allows them to only pick up as much sound as is permitted by the electric current, thereby giving them a greater affinity for sources of sound that are close by. Their design tends to make them very directional, which is why they are often used by singers.

Dynamic microphones have some caveats. Since they select for sound from close sources, the person using the mic needs to be closer than they might need to be if they were using a condenser mic. This is good if the user had good microphone skills and needs to filter out background noise, but it would be bad if the user wanted to capture far-away sounds or another person in the same room.

Dynamic mics are extremely directional, so you have to be extra aware of the direction that you’re projecting your voice to. A dynamic microphone will still pick up your voice if you speak away from it, but it will be fainter and less crisp. In professional content creation, it’s common to monitor one’s voice through headphones to make sure that they’re being heard properly through the mic.

The vast majority of dynamic mics use what is called an XLR interface, which provides power to the microphone components used to translate the output of the mic to an electrical signal. In other words, most off-the-shelf dynamic mics are not plug-n-play; you need to own extra equipment and learn how to use it. However, there are benefits to XLR mics.

Because an XLR interface contains all of the digital components required to use the mic, XLR compatible mics(and incidentally dynamic mics) tend to be more robust since they contain fewer parts that can break. XLR interfaces also make it more practical to capture multiple high-quality sound sources at once and go beyond the limits of what can be done with USB cables, like recording from several mics at once.

Personal Preference

Whether you should choose a condenser mic or a dynamic mic is mostly up to preference. In a perfect setting, they can both sound equivalent to each other. For people who don’t know which one to go with, I would suggest a condenser mic as a default option, in part because condenser mics tend to be less expensive and more portable. If you are stuck in an echoey room, or an office setting, a dynamic mic may perform better but might cost you more.

Headsets (The biggest bang for your buck)

We’re all familiar with headsets, and they’ve been becoming increasingly popular with the proliferation of online multiplayer gaming. If you have been using your laptop’s built-in mic or that lousy little mic on your cheap-o earbuds, an investment in a proper headset would be a good consideration.

Your wallet doesn’t need to go on a diet? No problem! For a tight budget, I recommend the Mpow 071 headset, which is available for $35. Both the earpiece and microphone quality are surprisingly good for hardware of that price, sounding comparable to more expensive options. My sister uses this headset and gets compliments for how crisp it sounds. Although I will be discussing other microphone options, this is the best deal and is good enough for most people.

A team member of mine uses the Sennheiser Game One headset, and I can verify that he always sounds crystal clear through it during our remote meetings. It’s much more expensive than the Mpow 071, but it might be worth the money to someone who is into gaming since that is what it’s designed for. I cannot verify whether the Mpow 071 would also be compatible with gaming consoles like the Sennheiser Game One.

The benefit of a headset is clear in that the mic is conveniently attached to the headphones, and you don’t have to worry about keeping your mouth positioned near the mic once it’s been adjusted. However, some people don’t prefer the “sportscaster” look and feel of a headset.

A Word About AirPods and other Bluetooth devices

I love wireless headphones as much as the next person, and I do own a pair of Apple AirPods, yet I don’t recommend them for their microphones. That’s because Bluetooth technology inherently limits the amount of audio data that can be sent between devices simultaneously, so while you can hear full quality audio through them at 44,100 Hz, mic input is limited to 8,000 Hz. Many people use AirPods to voice chat, and they work okay, but your voice won’t sound as good through them as it would through the Mpow 071.

You can certainly do worse than AirPods, but just because they’re expensive or have the Apple logo doesn’t mean they’re going to do your voice justice. I’m sure there’s probably a standalone Bluetooth mic that exists, but I’m not familiar with them; perhaps they have better sound quality. Because I like the freedom of being cordless, I do use my AirPods as an audio output device, but I use a separate microphone.

Lavalier Mics

A lavalier(or lapel) microphone is a little mic that you clip on to your suit or jacket under your chin. They’re often used for interviews outside of a studio setting because they don’t require a fixed stand or boom. These are for people who want a good sounding hands-free mic but don’t want a headset and are primarily used in public speaking and interviews. There isn’t much else to be said about lavalier mics other than that they’re just small microphones; although they have reasonably good quality, they won’t beat a larger microphone in terms of having a natural sound and directionality.

Average lavalier mics tend to pick up a little less treble than other mics. There are some very expensive lavalier mics that more closely approach the quality of larger mics, but I’d question whether someone should be spending over $80 on a shrimpy little device like that. I don’t have much experience with lavalier mics, but the EIVOTOR appears to be popular and has good sound in reviews.

Studio/Broadcast Microphones

These are what you picture in your head when you hear the word “microphone”. A studio-style mic is intended to be fixed to a stand or boom of some kind, and generally capture the best sound in contrast to smaller counterparts.

To those familiar with independent content creation(i.e. podcasts and YouTube), the Blue Yeti is an obvious choice. It’s popular with amateur content creators because it provides excellent sound, giving you that “radio voice”, has different modes such as cardioid and bi-directional, requires no external audio interfaces, and is fairly affordable compared to competing microphones. Plus, its design has an appealing “broadcast” look to it.

There are smaller variations of the Yeti such as the Yeti Nano and the Snowball, which are less expensive than the Yeti and have fewer features but, in reality, their sound quality is comparable. I recommend the Blue Yeti if you have an established home office with modestly good acoustics, especially if you ever plan on recording yourself for other purposes like presentations or making a podcast. It’s a great multi-purpose mic that is as plug-in-and-go as you can get.

Here is a sample recording I’ve made using the Yeti mic:


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