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I'm REALLY tired of removing the noise later after recording audio on a laptop. What are the main ways to prevent line noise from causing a hum/hiss in the first place? (I.e. computer/monitor/AC ground loop noise.) Does using USB have inherent advantages in avoiding line noise?

I'm not too concerned about ambient noise in the room, and I don't need wonderfully warm or rich sound. Just something nice enough to do screencasts (and Skype--I telecommute) that won't be too tinny. Nor too obviously noise-reduced: a bit of that is fine, but do most USB mics have noise-cancelling software whose aggressiveness can be turned up or down?

The recording system's self noise has always been a problem for me with laptops, even with decent non-USB mics, and laptops with above-average sound cards. Running the laptop unplugged from AC power and monitor does help, but not enough. I currently have an Alienware m15x, with an inexpensive headset (Philips SHM3300) plugged into the mini jacks.

I'm open to a mic-only solution, but a headset is more convenient than trying to find desk space for a mic--maybe I could rig up a metal arm for a straight mic; a wired or wireless lapel mic that clips on could work too.

Logitech has worked well for me and I'm interested in their USB headsets--not sure which model to choose, though. (If other mics are far superior for screencasts etc. I'm open to that.) [EDIT: Sennheiser looks good too.]

I suppose this could be a good way to go: Behringer Xenyx 302USB Mixer http://amzn.com/B005EHILV4 . It's less portable, though compact for a mixer.

Wireless would be nice (my Logitech mouse and keyboard are on one Unifying receiver), especially if wireless headsets tend to avoid the line noise problem altogether. Do they? That is, would a digital (e.g. Bluetooth) headset have an inherent noise advantage over a wire-powered USB headset? In either case, knowing the quality of D/A converter in the device is the main concern when it comes to sound quality in digital mics, right?

BTW, the laptop has a good sound card, I think: IDT 92HD71B7 @ Intel 82801IB ICH9 - High Definition Audio Controller Still, investing in a mic setup that would work equally well on other laptops would be worth a bit more cost to me.

See also: https://sound.stackexchange.com/a/24321/16667

  • Could you state a budget? – Jire Oct 28 '15 at 23:36
  • @Jire, I'm not really sure. I'd been expecting to pay about $50 for wired or $70 for wireless, but I could go higher. There are several questions above whose answers could really impact what I end up getting. The biggest unknown for me is how wires factor in. E.g. would going wireless make any questions about ground loops a moot point? – Jon Coombs Oct 29 '15 at 18:29
  • @JonCoombs It is not clear what the main question is - could you edit the question to bring forward the main issue (and perhaps raise some other separate questions for the rest of the issues)? – Michael Hansen Buur Oct 31 '15 at 9:34
  • @MichaelHansenBuur Ok, I've tried. I realize that this is quite a shotgun approach, but part of the problem is that I don't know what I don't know in this domain. The core issue, though, is avoiding overall self-noise while recording from a laptop. – Jon Coombs Nov 2 '15 at 17:42
  • Note: I just found that this answer is quite relevant to me: sound.stackexchange.com/a/23179/16667 . One advantage to not using a USB headset, BTW, is that plugging in the mic won't turn off the speakers by default. That was a nuisance with the Trond I tested (a cheap two-minis-to-USB converter which did work and did eliminate a very tiny bit of the noise). – Jon Coombs Nov 3 '15 at 21:48
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The on-board mic/line-ins in laptops are at best crappy ;-) "USB Headphones" are likely to remove the typical line noise as the A/D D/A conversion is taking place in the connector itself, only sharing the PSU with the motherboard.

About wireless headphones: if you can find a model that specifically states it uses companding techniques to improve the signal, it may be doable. Otherwise (and in particular if your budget is low) I'd steer clear of those as you likely will be experiencing other issues due to the wireless transmission (such as drop outs, interference with mobiles, WAN etc.).

However as you note these converters may as be of varying quality. Go for medium series in a well-known brand. I'm sure some of the "mid range" Sennheiser headsets will work just fine for you. For example PC 323D, which comes with a special USB adapter that takes care of removing hizz, etc (scroll down to the 3D GAME1 section):

enter image description here

If you want to step up, take a look at the HMD 280 PRO and consider investing in a proper external audio interface.

If you want a cheaper option, take a look at PC 36 or PC 8, which will not suffer from the on board noise as well, but the quality is inferior to the PC 323D.

  • Thanks, that looks nice. One issue for me is that I don't really know which brands have the best microphones--a lot of times, the ratings on a headset are based on how good it sounds, which I care about but not nearly as much. And nicer hardware is rated by a much pickier audience (audiophiles). Another issue is knowing what exactly I need to buy to eliminate that noise. Wireless? Wired, plus a ground loop isolator? Do you have answers to some of my original specific questions? Note that Alienware sound cards do tend to be > other laptops. – Jon Coombs Oct 29 '15 at 18:35
  • @JonCoombs then go for a Sennheiser headset within your budget. The reason why I mention that exact Sennheiser model is that it will take care of eliminating the noise from the on board interface. You don't need additional adapters. I updated the post with additional answers (really you should try not to group that many questions into one "question"). – Michael Hansen Buur Oct 30 '15 at 7:08
  • Thanks for all the info! And for mentioning companding--I had wrongly assumed that wireless headsets would be be transmitting a digital signal, but it seems those aren't as common as I'd expected (except I'd think Bluetooth ones would have to be digital). Thanks, too, for directly addressing the issue of avoiding on board noise, and for pointing me to Sennheiser--some of the headsets you mentioned look pretty sweet. – Jon Coombs Oct 31 '15 at 7:29
  • You also mentioned another option: investing in a proper external audio interface. Do you mean something simple like amazon.com/Turtle-Beach-Advantage-Headset-Adapter/dp/B0036VO4XO/… , or something more like this Behringer Xenyx 302USB Mixer? amazon.com/gp/product/… Perhaps I could combine that with a condenser mic (not sure if MXL, CAD, or Neewer are good brands but some of their mics interest me). – Jon Coombs Oct 31 '15 at 8:01
  • @JonCoombs Well, initially you didn't state your budget, so the suggestion about an HMD headset and a high quality USB interface is really out of the question. That Xenyx USB device is quite nice regarding options and physical format, but if you are going for interfaces, go for something that can record in 24bit (the Xenyx 302 is 16 bit only). Like for example thomann.de/intl/alesis_core_1.htm. I can't find any specs on that Turtle device, but it is probably also going to solve your noise problem, which is the main topic of the question you raised. – Michael Hansen Buur Oct 31 '15 at 9:26

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