A friend and I have been looking into mic hiss recently. We have come to the conclusion that Mac laptops (MacBooks?) suffer much less than PC laptops. Experimenting I have found that

  1. Using an external mic does not help very much.
  2. Installed software on my Windows install does reduce hiss, but makes my voice sound like I am underwater.

So my questions are:

  1. Is it true that Mac laptops are (generally) better than PC laptops in this way?
  2. If so is this down to software or hardware?
  3. Is there anything that can be done, bar using USB mics?

Pretty certainly yes to 1 here, this is an area where most PC laptop manufacturers apparently don't care for quality at all – namely, to answer 2, they tend to use the cheapest microphones and preamps available (it has little to do with software), which is IMO absolutely ok because 3. you should always use external microphones if you care for quality at all, there really isn't any way to get truely acceptable results with standard internal laptop microphones, not with PCs and not with Macs either.

edit I hadn't listened to your video there. Well, that's really quite extreme, I've never had such a great amount of noise even with cheap PC built-ins. Sure there isn't some other source present that you're also capturing?

Anyway, as I said you'll never get good results with the hardware built into normal laptops, you need external microphones, and by that I also meant to include a proper external preamp. USB audio interfaces are a good choice, Id recommend some combination like M-Audio Fast-Track MKII and Behringer B1, though that may be a bit of an overkill depending on what you want to use it for.

As you said you can also use a USB microphone / headset.

  • Ok, but this doesn't cover the fact that using an external mic didn't cut out that much hiss in my case. Could it be, for example, that the internal design of a Mac shields the internal circuits better? – Jamie Kitson Nov 2 '12 at 20:55
  • 1
    Hiss like that (white noise) has little to do with shielding, it just comes from badly-designed analogue circuitry, usually microphone preamps. It's ok when you feed them with a sufficiently strong signal, but the cheap electret condenser microphone commonly found in consumer-grade stuff doesn't offer this, so the preamp has to do a lot of amplification, which also magnifies the noise of course. – leftaroundabout Nov 2 '12 at 21:56
  • Thanks. Your hardware recommendation is especially interesting, although at the moment you're right, it would be overkill and I'll stick to my USB headset for now :) – Jamie Kitson Nov 2 '12 at 22:44

I think your question is actually very misleading.

Some Windows based laptops have far superior sound to Macs, and some are much worse.

The thing Macs have is consistency, as Apple has control over the entire hardware, whereas there are a million different Windows laptops.

So for your 3 questions:

  • 1 - not better generally, nor worse generally, just more consistent than windows laptops.
  • 2 - hardware
  • 3 - always use a soundcard, as @left says

However the audio you have recorded sounds like no laptop I have ever heard - I would assume something is wrong with the machine if I heard that. Even cheap ones should sound much quieter!

  • I admit that our test machines were few and unvaried, but they were both fairly expensive machines, an X220 and a Zenbook. Perhaps the fact that they're both small has an effect. But if a MBP and an Air can both produce reasonable results then why shouldn't our two machines? I'm also not convinced that there's zero software trickery at work. Most of the tests were done using Linux and presumably no software assistance, so maybe that is at least part of the issue. (Did you listen to my "watery" recording?) – Jamie Kitson Nov 5 '12 at 13:09
  • Yeah - the watery one is just weird. I have some effects that can do something similar with some short reverb and flanging, but not sure why the machine would do that. Even my cheapest laptop is almost hiss free and clear of oddness when I record. Even using free software. – Rory Alsop Nov 5 '12 at 13:14

What you want to buy is an external sound card that is plugges in via usb. most windows laptops come with a really bad built in sound card thats why even the best microphones sound bad. Look for "audio interface" "dac" and "usb soundcard"

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