How to Connect a Microphone to a Computer

Capture better sound with an external mic attached to your PC

microphone in shock mount

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Many computers, especially laptops, come equipped with internal microphones—all you need to do is open some recording software and start speaking. However, it won't take you too long to figure out the limitations of these internal microphones. If you're ready to move to something better, you may want to know how to connect a microphone to a computer for better customization and recording quality.

Keep reading to learn why you might want to upgrade your microphone, some of the different microphones available, and how you install and configure your microphone once it's out of the box.

Why Would I Need an External Microphone?

Beyond the most basic functions, your computer's included internal microphone will not be what you need, and that's if it even has one. Most desktop computers don't have mics. You'll probably want an external microphone if you frequently do any of the following:

  • Record audio for podcasts or YouTube videos
  • Utilize streaming services, like Twitch or Mixer
  • Frequently use internet calling, especially in a professional setting
  • Use voice chat for various activities, such as online gaming

In general, you'd want an external microphone for any of these activities for the improved audio fidelity and customization options.

What Are the Different Types of External Microphones?

Unless you're setting up a home studio with special equipment, you're probably going to connect a USB microphone to your computer. However, there are some things you should know about the different types of microphones you can purchase.

Close-up of a microphone.
 Klaus Radetzki/EyeEm / Getty Images

Dynamic/Condenser/Ribbon

In simplest terms, these are different ways microphones convert sound waves into electrical energy. There are positives and negatives to all three:

  • Dynamic: These are going to be your best bet for most purposes. Dynamic microphones use a diaphragm and magnets to convert sound waves to electrical impulses. Dynamic mics are durable, affordable, and high quality.
  • Condenser: Condenser mics are something you'd typically see used on movies or television shows. They're extremely sensitive and pick up every little noise, but not very durable. Unless you need to record extremely sensitive audio, condenser mics are probably not what you need.
  • Ribbon: These are vintage microphones, like the one shown above. Ribbon mics still work, and can add a bit of style to your setup—not necessary, but certainly an option.

Polar Patterns

Another detail to look for in your microphone is the polar pattern, which tells you what directions your microphone will pick up audio from. Many external mics—such as the Blue Yeti, a very popular entry-level option—can adjust their polar pattern depending on what you need. Others have a set polar pattern, as they're designed to be used in a very specific way. Some common polar patterns are:

  • Cardiod: Only picks up sound from one specific angle, usually directly in front of the microphone. Excellent for recording voiceovers, podcasting, or music.
  • Omnidirectional: Captures audio from every direction around the microphone. Great for "experience" recording, like a musical set.
  • Figure of Eight: Captures directly from the front and back of the microphone. Perfect for duet singing or an interview.
  • Stereo: Captures from in front and both sides, but not from the back.

Again, many microphones are versatile and can switch to different modes. Think about what you are recording and research to find the best fit.

How to Connect Your External Microphone and Adjust Settings

Most microphones you purchase will connect to a USB port, although some will connect through a specific microphone port.

The microphone port will look almost identical to a headphone jack. It will usually have a picture of a microphone or say something like "Line In" above it. Check the front, back, or inside cover of your PC to find it.

Regardless of whether your microphone uses a special port or a USB port, simply plug it in and it should be usable. See your microphone instruction manual for any included software—many will include an installation disc or a website to go to for additional support.

How to Connect a Bluetooth Microphone to Your PC

If you have a wireless Bluetooth microphone, connecting it is just a few more steps. Turn your microphone on, and, if it doesn't do it automatically, set it to Pair Mode or Discoverable Mode.

Many Bluetooth devices will do this automatically if it's not in close enough proximity to something it has been paired with in the past. If it doesn't, consult your manual to see how to start this mode, then follow these steps on your PC:

  1. Open your Windows Settings. Type "Settings" in the search bar on your Windows toolbar or press Windows Key+I.

  2. Select Devices > Bluetooth & other devices > Add Bluetooth Device or Add a New Device.

  3. You'll need to enter your microphone's PIN to connect it to your PC. The PIN is usually something simple like "0000" or "1234," but your instruction manual should have it listed.

    If you have multiple microphones plugged in and need to change which you're using by default, go to Settings > System > Sound on Windows or System Preferences > Sound > Input on Mac. From either of those menus, you should be able to choose the microphone you want to use.

  4. That's all there is to it! If you're having trouble getting your microphone to work, try a different USB or Microphone port and make sure your microphone is actually turned on. If that fails, try restarting your computer with the microphone plugged in already—it may need to run an installation program to get everything working.