The Case for External Mics

Oct 11, 2021

Mark Murtagh, Forte Co-founder and CEO

Forte

When giving a lesson online, using your computer’s internal microphones and speakers is certainly the most convenient option. However, it’s not necessarily the best option for you or your student. In fact, there is a strong case to be made that you should be using an external microphone when teaching music online.

It’s almost hard to remember now, but before Covid, very few people used their computers to make voice or video calls. Therefore, for most computer manufacturers, microphones were an afterthought. Especially in laptops, the internal microphones were designed to be as small and lightweight as possible.

In our new age of constant Zoom calls for school or work, this is changing. Computer manufacturers are touting improved internal microphones, just as they are improving internal webcams. However, the way the mics are configured still makes them potentially problematic for music lessons.

A typical laptop has stereo speakers flanking the keyboard:

The placement of the internal microphone varies between computers. The mic is often so small that you don’t really notice where it is placed. However, it is often an omni-directional mic, meaning that it “listens” for sound from every direction:

The problem is that the microphone and the speakers are often very close together. As a result, the microphone picks up sound from the speakers, which is then emitted by the speaker, potentially causing a feedback loop and interference:

To eliminate this problem, your computer software often uses audio filtering, including noise suppressors and echo cancellation. For most use cases, this is fine. It makes spoken voices clear on both ends of an audio or video call. However, for an instrument lesson, it’s highly problematic. You can’t hear the attack on a note or the resonance of the instrument in the room. As a note diminishes, it often drops suddenly and prematurely. All nuance is lost.

Forte Pure Audio processes sound differently, allowing you to hear the richness and nuance of the sound that every other video conferencing platform deadens. But for this reason, it can also be particularly susceptible to interference between your computer’s internal microphone and speakers.

The best solution is to use an external, uni-directional microphone, pointing it toward you and away from your computer’s speakers:

Fortunately, even a relatively inexpensive external microphone will be far superior to the microphones built into your computer. And for a modest investment, you can get a truly excellent microphone offering near professional audio quality. Even better, they’re all easy to use. Just plug them into the USB port on your computer, and they are ready to go.  When in your Forte studio, make sure to click on the “gear” or settings icon to select your new microphone.

Here are some microphones that we recommend:

Fifine K669 USB microphone (US$29.99)

Tonor TC-777 USB microphone (US$34.99)

The Blue Snowball USB microphone (US$59.99)

The Blue Yeti USB Microphone (US$129.99)

The Shure SM7B Microphone (US$399)

Any of these external mics will make all your online communications better. But you will especially appreciate the impact on your music lessons.