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Updated , Marc Henney

Microphone of Headphones

What it is: The microphone section shows the quality of speech capture and transmission by the mic, as well as how well the microphone under test handles noisy environments.
When it matters: For your speech to be transmitted to and understood properly by the listener, the microphone needs to have a good recording quality. If the environment the microphone is being used in is noisy, a microphone with a good noise handling performance would be needed as well.
Score components:

Most of the headphones available today, whether wired or Bluetooth, come with a microphone for taking calls and sending voice messages. There are also gaming headsets, usually with boom microphones, that are made specifically for gaming and therefore tend to have a higher quality microphone design.

Our microphone reviews of headphones are divided into two sections: recording quality, and noise handling. Recording quality is concerned with the performance of the microphones and the quality of speech, when used in an ideal (quiet) environment. Noise handling tests the microphone in a noisy environment to see how well it separates speech from noise, and what effects a noisy environment has on the speech transmission and intelligibility.

Test results

Our tests

Recording Quality

What it is: Microphone recording quality shows how natural, neutral, extended and intelligible speech would be with the device under test, in a quiet environment.
When it matters: A microphone with a good recording quality ensures that the person listening to you would hear a full, clear, and easily understandable speech. Therefore, it is important whenever a good quality of speech transmission and intelligibility is needed.
Score components:

The recording quality test includes low-frequency extension (LFE), frequency response standard deviation (FR. Std. Dev.), high-frequency extension (HFE), harmonic distortion (Weighted THD), and gain.

As a rule of thumb, wired gaming headsets with a boom microphone and wireless headphones with a dedicated and proprietary wireless connection have the highest recording quality. This is due to the proximity of the boom microphone to the source (mouth) and the wide-band operating range of these headsets. Conversely, Bluetooth headphones with built-in or in-line mics tend to have a worse recording quality due to the distance of the mic from the source, as well as a limited operating range of Bluetooth protocol (limited to around 3.5KHz).

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Noise Handling

What it is: How well the microphone is able to separate speech from background noise, so that the transmission would include more voice and less noise.
When it matters: When a clean and intelligible speech transmission is desired in a noisy situation like talking on the phone on a busy street or on the bus.
Score components:

Speech to Noise Ratio is the test performed for noise handling, which is the difference in level between speech and background noise as heard by the listener. If the microphone is going to be used in a noisy environment, it is important for it to be able to separate the speech from background noise, so the voice would be easily audible and understandable.

Here again, the headsets with a boom mic tend to perform better since the closer the microphone to the source (mouth), the bigger the ratio of speech level to the background noise is captured by the microphone. Conversely, the further away the microphone from the mouth (as with in-line or built-in mics), the smaller the ratio of speech level to background noise.

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What is not included

A few elements that you could care about are not included in the score at the moment:

  • Evaluation of the codec quality (PESQ)
  • Evaluation of speech quality (POLQA)

If you feel there is an item missing that should be included, please let us know in the Q&A section.

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Questions & Answers

Hello, could more headphones be added to the Microphone Quality Test? I would like to see many of Shure’s lineups, Westone’s lineups, AirPods, and Libratone Q Adapt In-Ear earbuds, and much more Thank you
We have tested the microphones of all of the headphones we have reviewed (including the Airpods and Earpods), but not all headphones have microphones (like the Westone W40 we have reviewed). We haven't reviewed all of the brands you mentioned yet either. You can vote for your suggestions to be reviewed here.
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