written by
Major Tom

Your Microphone Matters

4 min read
Photographer: Matt Botsford | Source: Unsplash

Would you show up to an in-person meeting with bad breath and a chunk of spinach stuck between your teeth?

How would you feel if positions were reversed, and the person you were meeting with exhaled a foul odor and waved a dangling vegetable every time they opened their mouth?

Both the smell and sights would distract you in your meeting.

In the virtual world where we are a hop away from our own toothbrush and where no odor travels (yet) over Zoom, those problems go away.

However, most people are burdening each other with poor audio hygiene.

The fix is quite easy: buy an inexpensive external microphone instead of using your internal microphone.

The audio quality of the internal microphone can be slightly improved with a few tips below. But since the new normal will be more meetings online, why not put your best voice forward?

Issues with poor audio quality:

  1. You reduce your own credibility
  2. You stress the listener

Scientists were less credible

In this article from USC [4], the professor Norbert Schwartz and co-author Eryn Newman, discovered the following (research paper here):

“When the video was difficult to hear, viewers thought the talk was worse, the speaker less intelligent and less likeable and the research less important,” the scientists wrote.

They took two audio sources, lectures on YouTube and an interview on NPR, and altered the audio quality using iMovie.

“As soon as we reduced the audio quality, all of a sudden, the scientists and their research lost credibility,” Newman said.

Higher Stress on the Listener

Although this article focused on cognitive “non-verbal” overload from the poor visuals in Zoom, the

This article looked at the elderly, but saw an impact of poor auditory qualities on cognition. In other words, the extra effort to listen when there’s degraded sound induced a stress response in the listened:

This type of ‘effortful listening’ is associated with increased stress responses, changes in pupil dilation, and poorer behavioral performance (e.g., on memory tests for degraded speech).

In this Scientific American article, the stress from distracting “ambient” sounds can impair brain development:

Though not definitive, recent research also suggests that noise-induced stress may decrease dopamine availability in the prefrontal cortex, where the hormone controls the flow of information from other parts of the body. Stress resulting from background noise, then, may decrease higher brain function, impairing learning and memory.

Increase the bass in your voice

This doesn’t work in a Zoom call (as far as I can tell, although there might be apps which do this).

But it can be easily done if you are doing a recording or podcast.

According to this article, “bass” increased the impact of the presentation:

Interestingly, presentations with, rather than without bass, also significantly enhanced ratings of the visual properties of the presentation, namely, perceived audio/visual synchronicity, excitement, fidelity, and enjoyment.

Poor microphones without a shorter range could potentially have less bass.

Recommendation on microphones

Note: I may receive a small commission if you purchase through my link. This supports my writing. I’ve already done research based on both my own experience or by reviewing sites like Wirecutter or Consumer Reports.

I looked at the different technical specifications for microphones, but most are missing in regular consumer-grade microphones. This one, the Blue Snowball, is $39 direct. It’s the one I have used for years.

The relevant specs shared by the manufacturer:

  • Transducer Type: Condenser, Pressure Gradient With USB digital output
  • Polar Patterns: Cardioid or Omnidirectional
  • Frequency Response: Position 1-3: 40 –18 kHz
  • Sample/word Rate: 44.1 kHz/16 bit

The built-in Macbook Pro microphone specs are not officially published.

However, before you do anything, consider the two options:

  1. Improve the Macbook audio settings
  2. Improve the Zoom audio settings

Macbook Audio Settings

Adjusting the input settings can help.

Sometimes, when it is set too high, the sound will distort.

Adjust the input volume

Zoom Audio Settings

Zoom should auto-select the appropriate filtering, but removing any processing can prevent the audio being muddied.

Zoom will also adjust the quality of audio based on bandwidth and possibly CPU available for audio processing. So ensuring you have a strong Internet connection and no CPU-hogging processes can help.


Improve your credibility and reduce fatigue for your listeners by using some kind of exteranl microphone.

No need to spluge on something expensive.

If you have wired Apple headsets, those could even improve the sound quality (but would likely need to keep moving the microphone to be the right distance, from my experience).

I’ve heard Airpods are supposed to have good microphones, although my experience as the listener when someone is using it hasn’t been good (but it could also be their settings from above). The sounds seem “muted” and “echoing” over Zoom (versus on a 1:1 call).

Inexpensive choice is the Snowball Blue. I use it at my desk. For $40, it’s been a good investment and has lasted for years.

For more intense meetings, I’ve used a headset with microphone. The headset gets sort of warm, but I found it’s the best way to be super focused.


  1. https://www.gwern.net/docs/design/2018-newman.pdf
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2631351/
  3. https://www.news-medical.net/news/20190909/Schizophrenia-and-brain-noise-filtering.aspx
  4. https://dornsife.usc.edu/news/stories/2792/audio-quality-influences-whether-you-believe-what-you-hear/
  5. https://tmb.apaopen.org/pub/nonverbal-overload/release/1
  6. https://tips.ariyh.com/p/good-sound-quality-smarter
  7. https://www.dpamicrophones.com/mic-university/how-to-read-microphone-specifications
  8. https://www.jefftk.com/p/why-is-my-macs-mic-so-bad