Around the end of September/beginning of October each Every year I get a Slack message from Greg asking if I’m interested in writing a gift guide (or two). “Of course,” I say, not anticipating how much effort the next two months will be for hardware news/reviews. Putting together such a collection has the obvious benefit of forgetting what a pain the whole thing can be.
I wrote a “Best Gift for Travelers” every year. And then this global pandemic thing happened, and I switched to “Best gifts for working from home.” It’s fitting that I’ve committed to both this year, as myself and others re-enter the world semi-cautiously.
My process of putting these together is to use every possible product I can get my hands on. Sometimes it’s easier said than done, but an important part of recommending products is trying them out for yourself. I know it sounds simple, but it would surprise you.
The past few years have been a bit of a quiet revolution for teleconferencing. Some people are perfectly happy using their computer’s built-in camera and microphone, whether it’s for simplicity or price. Frankly, for 99% of people, that’s fine 99% of the time. I was forced on both things for two reasons. First, I check out gadgets for a living. Second, I’ve been hosting a podcast for a little less than 10 years and the pandemic required a shift from face-to-face to remote.
I did not go back for various reasons.
I’ve written a number of times on these pages about my personal mobile podcasting setup. It was the result of several years of refinement through trial and error. Putting together my home setup wasn’t all that different, to be honest. In particular, I went through a number of different USB microphones.
If I had more money and time I would probably have a more professional car interface with a true XLR mic. My devotion has instead gone in search of my platonic ideal USB microphone. So far I have been happy to recommend the Audio Technica ATR2100-USB. It’s a great sounding, directional stick mic, with both a USB-C and XLR input that’s no different from the kind I used for face-to-face interviews.
I am a proponent of directional microphones for a number of reasons and have long thought they should be the industry standard, especially for beginners. Here’s the dirty little secret in all of these: you can get pretty good sound from most USB mics over $100 (and several below), but the interface is almost intentionally difficult.
Many of these mics have three, four or five directional settings. Beginners will almost always pick the wrong one, accidentally crank the gain and end up sounding worse than they would have with a pair of earplugs or a standard system microphone. The ATR2100-USB solved that with a simple, out-of-the-box setup. But the Shure MV7 goes even further.
The design resembles a more compact version of the legendary studio/podcasting SM78. I’m not going to say it sounds as good as a good studio mic with a good studio interface, but I’ll say I doubt most people would be able to tell the difference. The MV7’s sound is rich, full and warm — everything you’d expect from a vocal mic. Like the ATR2100-USB, it has both an XLR and USB-C output. Given how good it sounds, I don’t feel the need to switch to the former though.
Like the Audio Technica system, it just works. Plug it in, make sure your software can access it and you should be good. Even better, there’s a touch panel with green lights that lets you adjust the volume right away. There’s also a headphone jack if you want to monitor your voice in real time through the microphone.
A few negatives. The first is the price. For $250 you can get a good microphone for half the price. However, this is a great microphone. If sound is important to you, splurge a little. Second, it has more to do with the directional design. If you sit in your chair a lot while speaking, this might not be the microphone for you. I do that sometimes, and I’m just trying to force myself to pay more attention to those moves.
Third, it is quite heavy. If it’s just going to live on your home desk, no biggie. It can be mounted on a mic stand (I have a small one I use) or an arm. For an extra $20, the company throws in a mini tripod. If you’re planning on taking it out on the road, it could be a bit more of a problem, but it’s far from a deal breaker, especially considering its small size (don’t forget to pack a kickstand).
I recorded episodes of my podcast exclusively on the MV7 and haven’t looked back since.