On the PCMech Live show I am asked at least once each broadcast what I use for a headset and why it sounds so good.
The answer is simple: It’s a USB-based headset with microphone. Specifically, the Logitech ClearChat Comfort USB (wired, not wireless). The cost for one of these at the time of this writing is between $25 to $35 depending on where you shop.
Why does a USB microphone sound so much better compared to plugging one into the MIC port of a sound card?
It’s the difference between analog and digital.
The MIC input even on brand new sound cards is a very old technology. It’s an analog signal going into a digital environment. When using it, be it for recording or chatting with Skype, Ventrilo, TeamSpeak or otherwise, white noise (i.e. hiss) happens and "muds" the sound.
USB on the other hand is digital-to-digital and much "cleaner" sounding overall.
The Logitech headset I use is not fancy; it’s as basic as you can get. All it has is the headset/mic itself and volume/mute controls on the wire. Nothing else.
When you plug one in, there are no special drivers needed (not for the Logitech anyway), and no audio settings you have to tweak other than input volume.
There is one thing to consider however. A USB microphone is treated a completely separate device from your sound card, because it is. So you cannot use your sound card volume controls to adjust a USB-based microphone’s input volume. But don’t worry because a new setting will be available in the Windows sound manager to adjust the input setting.
In addition, programs you use that access the microphone will also show it as a selectable device, so setup is easy.
Final tip: Make sure to plug in your USB headset before using the program that needs to use it. For Windows XP in particular this must be done. If you plug in the headset after the program is launched, the USB mic won’t be available as an option until you restart said program.
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