Around the end of September / beginning of October every years, I received a Slack message from Greg Ask if I’d like to write a gift guide (or two). “Sure,” I said, never predicting how many taglines in the next two months would be devoted to hardware news/reviews. Putting together such a round has the definite benefit of forgetting the pain that the whole thing can be.
I used to write “The Best Gifts for Travelers” every year. And then this global pandemic hit, at which point I turned to “Best Gifts for Working from Home.” Fittingly, this year I’ve committed to both, as I and others approach the world half-considering.
My process for putting these things together was to create any potential product that I could get my hands on. Sometimes easier said than done, but an important part of recommending products is actually trying them out for yourself. I know that sounds simple, but you’d be surprised.
The last few years have been a silent revolution to teleconferencing. Some people view content perfectly using their computer’s built-in camera and microphone, be it because of simplicity or price. Honestly, that’s good for 99% of people 99% of the time. I have tied my hands to both of these for two reasons. First, I consider gadgets for a living. Monday, I’ve been hosting a podcast for just under 10 years and the pandemic requires a shift from in-person to remote.
For various reasons, I did not return.
I have written many times about setting up podcasting on my mobile device on these sites. It is the result of years of refinement through trial and error. Honestly, putting together my home setup isn’t all that different. In particular, I came across several different USB mics.
If I had more money and time, I’d probably have a more professional looking auto with a proper XLR microphone. Instead, my level of commitment sought out my ideal platonic USB microphone. So far, I’ve been happy to recommend the Audio Technica ATR2100-USB. It’s a great-sounding, directional stick mic, with both USB-C and XLR inputs, no different from the one I use for in-person interviews.
I like directional microphones for a number of reasons and have long thought they should be the industry standard, especially for beginners. Here’s the dirty little secret in all of it: You can get pretty good sound from most USB mics over $100 (and some below), but the interface is barely intentional. .
Many of these microphones have three, four, or five-way settings. Beginners will almost always choose the wrong one, inadvertently increasing full power and ending up sounding worse than what they would get with a default pair of headphones or system microphones. The ATR2100-USB fixes that with a simple, immediate setup. But the Shure MV7 takes things even further.
The design looks like a more compact version of the legendary SM7B studio/podcasting. I wouldn’t say it sounds as good as a proper studio mic with a proper studio look, but I will say that I doubt most people will be able to tell the difference. The sound of the MV7 is rich, full, and warm – everything you want from a vocal microphone. Like the ATR2100-USB, it has both XLR and USB-C outputs. However, given how good it sounds, I don’t feel the need to switch to the old one.
Just like the Audio Technica system, it just works. Plug it in, make sure your software is accessing it, and you’re good to go. Better still, there’s a touch panel with a green light that lets you adjust the volume on the fly. There’s also a headphone input if you want to monitor your voice in real time through the microphone.
A few downsides. The first is the price. For $250 you can get a good mic for half the price. Still, this is a great mic. If sound is important to you, save a little. The second is more related to design-oriented. If you absentmindedly move a lot while speaking, this may not be the microphone for you. I do the same thing sometimes, and I’m just trying to force myself to pay more attention to those movements.
Third, it’s quite heavy. If it just exists on your home desk, no problem. It mounts on a microphone stand (I have a small one that I use) or an arm. For an extra $20, the company is launching a mini tripod. If you’re planning on taking it on the road, it might be a bit more of an issue, but it’s not a deal breaker, especially given the small size (just remember to pack a stand) .
I recorded episodes of my podcast exclusively on MV7 and haven’t looked back since.