I’m no stranger to microphones. I recorded many of my own radio spots, news reels and radio ads while a college broadcast communications major. As a longtime musician, I’ve worked with countless mics in the studio that captured my drums and vocals with expert precision. I learned a lot about the technology at home available to basement radio hosts during the quarantine.
The microphone I’ve used at home for about a year now is a cheap one that sounds okay for its low cost, but it only has one setting and often run hot when I record in Audacity or any other audio apps on my laptop. Vocal demos can be irritating, but voice overs sound fine as long as you are in the right place and keep your voice monotone. When JLab, makers of some of my favorite budget earbuds (read about those here) offered to send over their much fancier Talk Pro USB Microphone, I was thrilled to give it a whirl.
Straight out of its shipping box, I appreciated the fully recyclable packaging I’ve come to appreciate from the company. It’s also an attractive blue shade of soft-touch cardboard, making the unboxing process quite pleasant. Inside the box, the microphone and its stand were wrapped in soft foam to protect them. The fabric-wrapped cord was neatly tucked inside. The microphone was unwound, I plugged it into the port and then attached the stand. It splays in three directions, making it a stable and adjustable base that can be placed on top of your desk or table.
Despite my experience with microphones, I’m still put off by anything that seems too complex or messy. Lucky for me, the quick start guide inside the box has just three steps once you’ve assembled the pieces: Plug it in, open your computer to its home screen to check your connection, then go into system preferences and click one button to ensure your computer recognizes the microphone. That’s it!
The subtle LED light at the base of each mic that changes color was what caught my attention immediately. It’s one of those small details you may not consider when buying, but lighting affects moods drastically and having the option to spill fiery red, cooling blue, or a fun green glow onto my work area? It’s a very fun touch.
Here’s my favorite part–there are four different directional modes available to switch between, so you can play around with the sound pickup depending on what you’re trying to capture. Generally these types of mics are produced individually, so to have them all wrapped into one is a sound geek’s dream. I haven’t had to memorize these for a test in nearly 10 years (though I did get an A+ in Advanced Audio Production), but here’s the rundown:
This type of microphone uses a heart-shaped sensitivity pattern (aka where it picks up sound) to let noises from the front and sides of the microphone come through clearly while deadening those that come from behind that field. This microphone is ideal for voice-overs, streaming, voice-overs, podcasting and ASMR.
As you might guess by the name, omnidirectional patterns pick up sounds with gain from all directions, so matter where you’re sitting in relation to the mic, you’ll be heard. It’s great for business calls, group streaming or voice overs, multi-person podcasting, and group music recording where you’re not individually mic’d.
This mode gives you the most natural sounding audio, as it records on the sides of the microphone similarly to how we hear based on our ear placement. This is a great way to record music and ASMR. However, it has a more natural sound.
Again, it’s all in the name with these things, and bidirectional means the sound is heard from the mic in two directions. This is perfect for face-to-face interviews where you want to hear each others’ voices without the hubbub of the background, and it also works well in recording duets.
So far, I’ve been mostly messing with the cardioid and stereo modes, and I am keen to start my own podcast (feel free to roll your eyes) and want to familiarize myself with the way the Talk Pro picks up my sometimes too-animated voice. The sounds I’m getting are clean, it’s easy to find the green zone while recording with a little twist of the gain and volume controls, and the construction feels far more professional than any other at-home microphone I’ve found–even better than some studio mics I’ve used.
What I wasn’t expecting from this mic is how much of a creative inspiration it’s been to have it around. After I had read the operation manual, I started to experiment with ASMR scripts. The result was a hilarious story about a walking through a graveyard. It will become a YouTube series for my friends and me to laugh at. I also got out an old hand drum and jotted down some quick lyrics, then switched on omni mode and whipped out some quick demos that I’ll be passing along to my band for us to refine and hopefully turn into songs. There’s a lovely feeling of freedom I get with a device that has so many quick-change options built in, and I love letting it guide me into what I want to do rather than creating the project first then spending hundreds on the perfect equipment to make it.
This is a great buy for anyone who wants to make their own content or improve the quality of their Zoom calls with friends. You basically get four high-quality microphones for the cost of one, and you’ll feel like a professional with its sleek, attractive construction sitting at your station.
JLab Talk Pro USB Microphone
–24-bit depth, 192 KHZ sample rate
–Four directional modes
–Quick mute button