Dear Wirecutter: Which Earbuds Have the Best Mics?
Q: I know earbud reviews are a dime a dozen and most center around sound quality, but I would like to use earbuds to talk on my mobile phone, often for work-related calls. I have tried different recommended earbuds only to be disappointed by the mic, including the Sennheiser momentum series, the 1More Triple Driver headphones, and the BlackBerry Premium Stereo Headset I just ordered. I recently switched to an Android phone, and my tried and true Klipsch earbuds are not compatible.
I am tempted to buy a gaming headset since they have a retractable boom mic. Can you recommend any earbuds with a great mic?
With these earbuds, music sounds fantastic, calls are clear for both you and your caller, and the fit is comfortable.
A: A lot of people rely on earbuds at work both to keep them motivated and to take calls. Though gaming headsets technically would get the job done, they’re likely bulkier than you’d care to use for calls.
And you’re right: Most earbuds treat the microphone as an afterthought. The mic is hanging on a cord, too far from your face, and many sound pretty crappy. Because manufacturers know that the cable will move, the mics are often omnidirectional, so they pick up noises from all directions—including sounds that aren’t your voice. They also tend to be smaller and of poor quality, so the sounds they do register are tinny and muffled.
Thankfully, some manufacturers take voice quality as seriously as sound quality. In fact, microphone quality was one of our main testing criteria in our recent review of Bluetooth earbuds. At the moment, the headphones that have the best microphones are the ones with a collar or necklace style. Our pick, the Phiaton BT 100 NC earbuds have the best combination of call quality, sound, comfort, and extra features like active noise cancelling. And with Bluetooth, you can control volume as well as play, pause, and more on your Android phone and on Apple devices.
Because the microphone is in the collar, it takes some of the guesswork out of where the mic is located in relation to your mouth, so it’s more directional, and sounds significantly better than many headphones we’ve tested. If you have a Samsung phone, our runner-up, the Level U Pro, are also great. The Level U Pro earbuds have dual microphones, to help reduce background noise, plus a slew of bonus features via a Samsung-only app.
In a category plagued with fit problems and overly boosted sound profiles, the Marshall Mode sounds wonderfully rich and balanced. It fit everyone equally well, and has a single-button universal remote.
If you want corded earbuds, the Marshall Mode, our current $100 in-ear headphone pick, are a good choice because the mic is located closer to the mouth than it is on most headphones. Unfortunately, they don’t come with volume controls, but that’s typical of Android-compatible headphones. There are simply too many different manufacturers of Android phones, and they can’t agree on the same control standards. That being said, your Klipsch iPhone headphones should still work with your Android. The center play, pause, and call button will work on most devices, even if the volume buttons don’t.
If you really must have a boom mic, there is one other recommendation I can make: the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC. They’re pricier, but are a Bluetooth on-ear headset that I personally use when I’m switching from music to calls to video-chat meetings. They also have a USB dongle that enables you to use Bluetooth through your USB port on your non-Bluetooth-enabled computer. It has a boom mic that folds up, helping actively reduce background noise. The Focus UC headphones have mild active noise cancelling; air conditioner sounds and other low-frequency hums will be reduced, but not much else. They’re comfortable, and music sounds good on them too. As I said, they are not cheap; $300 is a lot if you’re only using these casually. But if you spend most of your time on your phone for work, they are worth the investment.
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