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The Neat guide to
Conferencing
& learning
from home

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If you’re like many of us, working, learning, and interacting from home has quickly become the norm. From conferencing with colleagues to online school curricula (eLearning), many of us find ourselves in uncharted territory. But with the right tools, setup, and a bit of knowledge, you can turn your new, instant home environment into an effective portal for work, school, and social connection.

Nothing can sidetrack an online conference or eLearning session like poor audio quality. Making your points clear to colleagues or understanding every word from an instructor will greatly enhance the success and enjoyment of any online conversation. Fortunately, smooth, detailed, and crystal clear audio has never been easier — or more affordable — to achieve. Here’s a guide to help you sound extraordinary in your new online office or classroom.

Ready, Setup, & Go

Before we get into the details on how to up your audio game, here’s a quick checklist of what you’ll need to conference / chat / broadcast effectively from home. You’ll find more information in our Tips & Tricks section further down the page.

  • A space to work (preferably a quiet room with ample desk or table space, especially for eLearning)
  • Computer with stable internet connection
  • Software application (Skype, Zoom, etc.)
  • External microphone (Neat, of course!)
  • Output source (headphones, computer
    speakers, etc.)
  • Webcam (optional)
  • Coffee, tea, or healthy fruit juice!
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It’s All About the Sound

Most built-in computer microphones are not designed for clear, focused communication, nor are they particularly good at picking up detailed audio. These built-in mics have a fixed position that isn’t always optimum, especially in conference-type settings. They also tend to pick up any available background noise, as well as those ever-present pesky keystrokes.

But there’s a simple, dare we say Neat, solution: An external microphone that can make you sound like a pro. These mics, either USB or XLR (more about that below) have superior dynamic range and detail, they can be moved and adjusted, and many offer a variety of settings that can be used to enhance your sound in ways you never thought possible. Once you’ve heard the difference, you’ll never want to go back to your computer’s on-board audio input again.

Microphonetopia

We live in an age that has never seen a greater variety of microphones available to consumers. Unfortunately, all those choices can be downright bewildering, especially if you’re unfamiliar with recording. But have no fear — we can simplify things greatly and get you connected with a mic that fits your needs.

USB Microphones

The most popular category for online audio are desktop USB microphones. They have the advantage of easy, plug ‘n play setup via a USB cable directly into your computer, affordable pricing, and an easy learning curve.

Basic USB Microphone

The most simple and affordable way to achieve great audio at home is to use a basic USB microphone. A basic USB mic, like the Neat Widget line of microphones, is a plug n’ play microphone that doesn’t have additional controls and features like analog gain adjustments or headphone outputs. Simply plug it in and go!

Professional USB Microphone

A professional USB microphone, like the Neat Bumblebee and Beecaster, is a microphone that incorporates additional features — typical of professional recording setups — that allow the user more control over their sound. Professional USB microphones are built using the same components often found in professional analog microphones, packaged into an all-in-one digital device.

The Neat Bumblebee Desktop USB microphone features a 24mm cardioid (this means it “hears” what is in front of the microphone and rejects everything else around it) permanently polarized condenser capsule, an analog microphone gain control, a headphone output and volume control, and a three-position sonic selection switch (Voice, Music, Neutral) allowing the user to dial-in the sound that works best for their particular voice or application.

Like the Bumblebee, the Neat Beecaster Professional Desktop USB microphone features an analog microphone gain control and a headphone output and volume control. The Beecaster, however, features four 24mm cardioid permanently polarized condenser capsules, and a 4-position switch (Mono, Stereo, Focused Stereo, Wide Stereo) that allows the user to change the stereo image/polar pattern of the microphone. These stereo image variations are very useful for situations when there’s more than one person in the room that needs to be heard.

Analog, or “XLR” Microphones

Analog, or XLR microphones (XLR is the name for the special three-pin connector by which they are connected to recording equipment), like the Neat Worker Bee and Neat King Bee microphones, are mics that have been around for decades, and typically what most people think of when they hear the word “microphone.” Professionals often prefer analog microphones because they provide the user complete flexibility throughout the signal chain. Unlike USB microphones, analog microphones require an additional microphone preamplifier, as well as analog to digital conversion, before they can be used with common conferencing or recording software on a computer.

The Neat Worker Bee microphone is a cardioid condenser microphone that features class A discrete electronics, and a 24mm permanently polarized condenser capsule. The Worker Bee is well suited for voice applications like conference calls and narration because of its fantastic mid-range frequency presence.

The Neat King Bee is similar to the Worker Bee in that it too is a cardioid condenser microphone featuring class A discrete electronics, but the King Bee features a 35mm large diaphragm condenser capsule, which provides a rich, full-range extended frequency response, perfect for capturing every nuance of your voice or instrument.

Both of Neat’s analog microphones are an amazing value and will ensure you’re heard loudly and clearly among the din of an online meeting.

 

Neat Mics by Application

Below is a comparison chart showing Neat's microphone types and their suggested use applications.

Neat Mics by Application

On the right is a comparison chart showing Neat's microphone types and their suggested use applications.

Software Applications

There are many options for online software platforms that connect you with colleagues and friends. Most are simple and intuitive to use and all support external microphones and webcams. The list below is not meant to be conclusive, but is instead a good place to start your research with some of the more popular apps available.

1. Skype – Available as a free download, Skype was one of the first common conferencing software applications available on the market. Not only can you connect with multiple computer-connected colleagues or friends at one time on Skype, you can use Skype to call regular phone lines both domestically and internationally.

2. Zoom – A newer entry into the conference app market, Zoom is available as a free download and suited for small or large teams (or groups of friends and family). With a free account, you can host meetings of up to 100 participants and up to 40 minutes. Additional features are offered with paid subscriptions.

3. GoToMeeting – GoToMeeting is a paid application that is aimed more toward businesses than casual conversations with friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use it to connect with a group outside of the office while staying at home. GoToMeeting has become known as a dependable solution for both small and large businesses, with many choosing GoToMeeting for its cross-platform compatibility and ease of use.

4. Webex – Webex, another scalable paid application from networking giant Cisco, is a conference calling application geared for businesses of any size. Webex offers company branding customization, dial-in capabilities, and varied meeting size offerings.

5. Freeconferencecall.com – An obviously free option, freeconferencecall.com lets users create meetings with up to 1,000 participants (1,000!!!!) via phone or web connection, hold webinar style meetings, and host meetings with screen sharing. Although known for its long-time standing in the industry and its FREE offerings, additional paid features are also available.

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Conferencing Tips & Tricks

1. High-quality Microphone
One of the most important items for quality conferencing audio is a high-quality microphone. Any one of Neat’s microphone offerings will produce sound far superior to the built-in mics included inside most laptops.

2. Headphones
Although not required, a good pair of headphones is highly recommended for achieving the best quality conference audio when working from home. Using headphones instead of your computer’s built in speakers will help provide much clearer sound, and will also help avoid any unintended echoing caused by the microphone picking up the sound of the speakers’ output. Headphones are also quite helpful if you’re conducting a call in a shared space.

3. Optimum Mic Placement
Microphone placement is a very important aspect to consider when setting up for a web conference or at-home meeting. If you are the only one using the microphone, you should first make sure that you’re using a cardioid microphone (if there is more than one participant, using a microphone with a stereo pattern or omnidirectional pattern may be advised). Place the cardioid microphone at about mouth level, 4”–12” away from you, pointed directly toward your mouth. Since you will likely have a computer directly in front of you, placing the microphone slightly off to the side is acceptable. Just try and keep the microphone as close to directly in front of you as possible.

4. Optimum Microphone Settings
If you’re using a basic USB mic — like the Neat Widget microphone — there isn’t much adjustment needed. For slight gain adjustments, you can navigate to your computer’s sound settings menu, or the settings menu of your software application, and adjust the microphone level – increase the level if you’re too quiet, decrease if you’re too loud or distorting.

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If you’re using a professional USB microphone, or analog microphone — like a Neat microphone from the Bee line — you will want to adjust the mic gain setting on the microphone (or preamplifier gain if you’re using an analog mic) so that your voice reaches the optimum level. The optimum level is reached when the level meter reaches the furthest point without hitting the top. Most conference software applications offer visual confirmation of the microphone level within the settings menu under “Audio & Video settings” or similarly worded menu option.

5. Room Dynamics
Most people don’t have a professional recording booth at home, so you’re going to have to make do with what you’ve got (unless, of course, you DO have a professional recording booth at home!). The best place to conduct a web conference or meeting is in a quiet space, preferably a smaller space, away from distractions.

Large rooms tend to be reverberant (meaning the sound is reflected), which can create issues with your audio, making you sound less clear than in a smaller space.

In addition, glass windows and desktops, as well as tile surfaces, also tend to be reverberant. So, if possible, try and set up in a space away from the windows (and away from the kitchen backsplash).

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Be Heard

We hope this information has been informative and useful as you navigate the ups and downs of communicating remotely from home, or wherever you may be. Here’s to lending your voice to productive and meaningful conversations and connections around the world.