10 Reasons Why Headset Microphones Sound So Bad

A headset is a practical and cost-effective way to get headphones and a microphone in one package. But it seems like manufacturers always compromise on microphone quality, even on pricey gaming headsets. So, why is the sound coming from a headset microphone always muffled?

Here are 10 reasons why headset microphones sound so bad:

  1. Headset microphones have excessive noise canceling.
  2. Headset microphones don’t have enough gain.
  3. The headset buyer won’t listen to the microphone.
  4. Headset microphones are tiny.
  5. The frequency response range is narrow on headset mics.
  6. Headset microphones have limited bandwidth available.
  7. A lousy headset microphone gets users to buy dedicated mics.
  8. Headset microphones are designed for in-game voice chat.
  9. Headset microphones are too close to your mouth.
  10. High-quality microphones are expensive to manufacture.

Let’s go over the above reasons in more detail. You’ll learn what to expect from headset microphones in general. If you already have a gaming headset with a bad microphone, I’ll share a few tips on improving the sound quality.

Headset Mic

1. Headset Microphones Have Excessive Noise Canceling

Virtually all headsets come equipped with noise-canceling mics. This type of microphone is good at filtering out background noise.

Unfortunately, that’s not the only thing it filters out. It takes a huge chunk of your voice quality away with it too. 

Noise-canceling technology in headsets is decent, but it doesn’t come even close to condenser mics. If your friends tell you that you sound muffled, blame noise-canceling technology.

The circuitry built into your headset microphone is very simple. It can’t tell the difference between a quiet /h/ sound and the hum of your case fans.

Some headset manufacturers now offer AI noise cancelation. It can come in the form of hardware or software.

If you want superior noise cancelation, get an ASUS AI Noise-Canceling Mic Adapter from Amazon.com. It works shockingly well, and it’s compatible with virtually all 3.5 mm jack headset microphones.

ASUS Ai Noise-Canceling Mic Adapter | Built-in Artificial Intelligence Isolates Background Noise, Enhance Voice Clarity | Improve Quality of Conference Calls, Music | Supports USB-C & USB 2.0-3.5 mm
407 Reviews
ASUS Ai Noise-Canceling Mic Adapter | Built-in Artificial Intelligence Isolates Background Noise, Enhance Voice Clarity | Improve Quality of Conference Calls, Music | Supports USB-C & USB 2.0-3.5 mm
  • Ai BUILT-IN: Artificial intelligence powered noise canceling mic adapter technology enhances your headset microphone performance by minimizing background noise. With a built-in chip, ASUS is the first to offer such a solution without the need to purchase additional software or add strain to computer RAM. Loaded with Ai-enhanced profiles that reduces over 50 million types of background noise while preserving vocal harmonics.
  • COMPATIBLE MIC-ADAPTER: Includes a USB-C and USB 2.0 connectors that provide broad compatibility with mobile phones, PCs, Macs and gaming consoles. No matter the device you are using the ASUS noise cancelling mic adapter will provide consistent voice clarity, blocking outside noises to a high degree.
  • HYPER-GROUNDING TECH: The noise isolating mic adapter for headphones is the latest in tech hardware. The integrated 96 kHz / 24-bit DAC Hyper-Grounding technology prevents electromagnetic interference via a multilayer PCB and special layout design, resulting in pristine audio that's free of EMI noise. This will reduce crackling of voice or other interferences when speaking.

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

RotorDeal showcases the ASUS adapter in this video:

What is the best microphone for dig... x
What is the best microphone for digital nomads?

It’s especially good at recognizing and canceling keyboard clatter.

2. Headset Microphones Don’t Have Enough Gain

Microphones pick up sound waves and amplify them significantly to make the analog signal usable. The amplification is also known as microphone gain.

You can find microphone gain knobs on most mid-range condenser mics.

The knob is crucial if you want to adjust the amplitude of your input signal. You probably know that headsets don’t have a gain knob.

So, you’re stuck with the amount of gain that the manufacturer determined for you. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution. 

So, it works better with certain voice frequencies in certain environments.

Headsets are headphones that happen to have a microphone attached to them, not the other way around. That explains why there’s no way to change the gain.

At least not the traditional way.

You see, Windows lets you adjust microphone boost, which is a virtual version of gain. 

It’s not the same, but it’s at least something. We’ll talk about boost level adjustments later.

3. The Headset Buyer Won’t Listen to the microphone

When you go into a computer store and try out a headset, you’ll never test the microphone. You’ll pay attention to how good the drivers sound when you play games or listen to music.

And most reviews about headsets focus primarily on the playback quality. 

I’d be lying if I said that they don’t test or mention the microphone. But more often than not, it’s only a minute part of a lengthy review.

Consumers care about comfort, build quality, design, RGB, software, and sound quality. 

Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t pass up a headset with impressive sound and build quality just because the microphone is subpar.

Frankly speaking, the microphone isn’t for you anyway. It’s for the people you talk to: your friends, teammates, and colleagues.

Only a select group of people cares about their mic quality. Streamers, YouTubers, and podcasters usually buy dedicated high-end mics. They know that the one built into their headset sucks.

It’d be great if manufacturers built better microphones for headsets. But that would mean an increase in the overall price of the device. That’d put them at an enormous disadvantage in this highly competitive industry.

4. Headset Microphones Are Tiny 

When it comes to sound, bigger usually means better. A microphone must be of a certain size to efficiently pick up vibrations in the air.

Larger microphones have larger diaphragms. So, they’re better at picking up the natural bass in your voice.

But with headset mics, the diaphragm is very tiny. If you were to take your headset mic apart, you’d see that the actual microphone is only a few millimeters in size.

The little microphone is extremely sensitive to vibrations. So, it picks up a lot of unnecessary noise. After noise cancelation is applied, you’re left with a muddy-sounding mic.

5. The Frequency Response Range Is Narrow on Headset Mics

Frequency response on microphones is the range of sound that your microphone can pick up. Every microphone has a unique response curve that defines the mic’s sound profile.

We can’t generalize too much with all headset mics, but most of them have a very narrow range.

They typically cut out the low range to reduce unnecessary noise and rumble to make you sound clearer.

They also don’t handle higher frequencies well, but that’s not a problem. 

The average female voice only goes up to 255 Hz, which is the low to mid-frequency range.

I previously mentioned that you need a large mic diaphragm to pick up low frequencies. 

So, the response curve on headset mics is not suitable for the voice frequency range whatsoever.

If you or someone you know has a deep voice, it’ll become squeaky.

6. Headset Microphones Have Limited Bandwidth Available

Bandwidth is essentially how much data can be transferred from your headset to your PC and vice versa.

Wired headsets usually have separate microphone and driver wires. In those situations, the microphone has all the bandwidth it needs to send its analog signal.

But that’s not the case with USB headsets. The input and output wires are both wired to a single USB connector, severely limiting bandwidth.

Companies give the headset drivers high bandwidth to achieve a high sample rate.

And the headset mic takes whatever available bandwidth is left. So, the sample rate isn’t even close to the potential maximum.

If you don’t know what sample rate is, it describes how many times the audio is recorded or played back in a second. It’s measured in hertz (Hz).

I’ll use my HyperX Cloud headset as an example. The driver’s maximum sample rate is 24-bit 192000 Hz, and the microphone is capped at 16-bit 192000 Hz.

Doesn’t sound like much, but 16-bit audio suffers from severe audio clipping when stacked against 24-bit audio.

Audio clipping is basically distortion. Distortion sounds good on electric guitars but not on your headset mic.

7. A Bad Headset Microphone Gets Users To Buy Dedicated Mics

It’s no coincidence that all the major gaming headset manufacturers also sell USB condenser microphones. 

Razer and Kingston are both great examples. All of their headsets come with built-in mics. 

But they’ll gladly sell you a redundant condenser mic that goes perfectly with the headset anyway. If you look at a few ad campaigns for the mics, there’s always a headset in them too.

Of course, a true condenser mic will always sound way better than your headset mic.

But by purposefully making the headset mic of bad quality, the stark difference becomes conspicuous to non-audiophiles too.

This tricks you into buying a dedicated mic even though your headset came with one.

Gamers are more likely to buy equipment from the same manufacturer because of aesthetics and RGB compatibility.

8. Headset Microphones Are Designed for In-Game Voice Chat

If you’re not getting a headset for work, you’re getting it for gaming. A good headset is a prerequisite for first-person shooters.

You need a microphone to talk to your teammates about the enemy’s position, ask for ammo, shields, healing, and maybe even trash-talk.

The only thing you expect from the mic is to work, not to sound good. You’re not producing a high-quality video that needs excellent voice clarity.

A nice-to-have is noise cancelation so that your teammates don’t complain about ambient noise. 

But nobody’s going to complain about your headset mic’s sound quality. They have to focus on the match, so nobody pays attention to how you sound.

9. Headset Microphones Are Too Close to Your Mouth

Headset microphones must be close to your mouth. Otherwise, the mic will pick up a lot of unwanted noise. At the same time, it’ll severely distort your voice.

But having the mic close to your mouth is a double-edged sword. It won’t pick up ambient noise, but it’ll record various unintentional mouth sounds.

The best example of that is plosivesPlosives are consonant sounds like /b/ and /k/ created by briefly blocking and then releasing built-up airflow.

This tiny “explosion” causes a burst of air to hit the microphone.

What your friends end up hearing is a loud, booming noise.

And since several consonants fall under the plosive category, there’s a lot of them in everyday communication.

Plosives and other mouth sounds seriously affect the quality of your headset mic.

10. High-Quality Microphones Are Expensive To Manufacture

Many things affect your headset’s price. The microphone is one of them. So, manufacturers usually cut corners when it comes to input sound quality.

You probably know that even the cheapest condenser mics start at around $40-50.

Making a small microphone sound good is even more expensive. It involves hundreds of paid hours of research, development, testing, and high-quality materials.

Consumers are reluctant to pay extra for a high-quality mic on a pair of headphones. And as I explained earlier, mics with tiny diaphragms will never sound as good as full-size ones.

If you’re looking for a high-end detachable mic for gaming, the Audio-Technica ATGM2 from Amazon.com is for you. It’s one of the best microphones for gaming. It attaches to any pair of headphones.

Sale
Audio-Technica ATGM2 Detachable Boom Microphone, Black
178 Reviews
Audio-Technica ATGM2 Detachable Boom Microphone, Black
  • Make your favorite headphone your favorite gaming headset
  • State-of-the-art detachable flexible boom microphone with mute control
  • Highly directional hypercardioid microphone element eliminates distracting background noise

Last update on 2022-05-25 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

How To Make Your Headset Mic Sound Better

While a headset mic will never sound fantastic, there are a few ways to improve sound quality. Let’s see what we can do.

Adjust the Volume and Boost in Control Panel

If people say they can’t hear you even though your mic is right in front of your mouth, it’s because the volume is too low.

By increasing the volume and microphone boost levels, you can get more sound out of the mic.

Note that these two sliders will increase unwanted noise too. So, only increase it so that your voice can be heard clearly.

Here’s how to change the microphone volume and microphone boost in Windows:

  1. Right-click the Speaker cone in the bottom right corner of your taskbar.
  2. Select Open sound settings.
  3. Under Input, press on Device properties.
  4. Adjust the volume by sliding the Volume slider on this screen.
  5. To change boost, open Additional device properties.
  6. Click on the Levels tab and adjust the Microphone Boost slider.

You can usually get up to about +30.0 dB on microphone boost. This can double your mic’s volume, so be careful with the setting.

Play with both volume and mic boost until you get a clear sound.

Pro tip: You can listen to your microphone by going to the Listen tab and checking the Listen to this device option. Turn it off after adjusting your volume and boost levels.

Disable Noise Suppression

Digital noise suppression, in general, isn’t all that bad. But the one in Windows is.

If you use Discord, use Krisp in place of Windows noise suppression.

Here’s how to disable noise suppression in Windows:

  1. Right-click the Speaker cone in the bottom right corner of your taskbar.
  2. Click on Open sound settings.
  3. Under Input, press on Device properties.
  4. Go to Additional device properties.
  5. Press on the Enhancements tab.
  6. Uncheck Noise suppression and Acoustic Echo cancellation.

For Discord, you shouldn’t use any noise filtering effects except for Krisp. It’s the only good one.

Here’s how to enable Krisp in Discord:

  1. Open Discord.
  2. Open Settings by clicking on the cogwheel next to your profile in the bottom left corner.
  3. Go to Voice & Video.
  4. Scroll down to Advanced.
  5. Select Noise Suppression above the Krisp logo.
  6. Ensure Noise reduction and Echo Cancellation are disabled.

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Vinnie

I'm Vinnie, and I'm here to support you to create your own studio at home, whether it’s for photography, recording audio, podcasts, or videos!

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