REVIEW – Since a good portion of the country’s workforce has shifted into a work-from-home scenario, tools that make working from home a little easier have been in great demand. My personal work-from-home setup was severely lacking in the audio department. Constantly having to don a headset for all of the neverending video and audio chats was a huge pain, as was making sure my Bluetooth headset was always charged. Additionally, the audio quality of my equipment, in and out, was never particularly good. Investing in a good, high quality USB microphone seemed like a no-brainer. The JLAB Audio Talk USB Microphone addresses all of my work-from-home needs and at $99 it’s quite affordable. The build quality of the microphone is great for video and audio chats, but some issues with the gain will keep me from using it for any high end audio tasks, such as music recording.
What is it?
The JLAB Audio Talk USB Microphone is a desktop-style microphone with three condensers and a 96kHz sample rate. The Talk is the intermediate level offering of JLab Audio’s Talk Series of microphones. The other mics in the series, which were recently reviewed by my fellow Gadgeteer contributors, are the Talk Go and Talk Pro.
The Talk arrives in a nicely branded blue box, safely nestled in molded foam. All of the technical specifications of the Talk are detailed on the box.
What’s in the box?
- Talk Microphone
- 6.5ft USB / USB-C braided cable
- Folding Tripod
- Quick-start Guide
- Microphone Type: Desktop USB
- Condensers: 3 x 14mm condenser capsules
- Directional Patterns: Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo, and Bidirectional
- Controls: Volume Control, Gain Control, and Quick Mute
- Cable: 6.5ft USB / USB- C braided cable
- Transducer Type: Condenser, Pressure Gradient with USB digital output
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz
- Max SPL: 120DB
- Sample Rate: 96k
- Bit Depth: 24
- Weight (Microphone Body): .47 lbs
- Weight (Microphone with stand): .91 lbs
- Dimensions: 135 x 70 x 63mm
- Dimensions with tripod position: 235 x 195 x 195mm
- Compatibility: Windows: 7,8,10 and Mac: 10.10 or higher
Design and features
Right out of the box, the Talk looks and feels like a high-quality piece of audio equipment.
The style and coloring of the Talk is very sleek and attractive, a muted grey body with bright blue highlights. I love having it on my desk.
The mic fins feel like standard aluminum while the body seems to be made of molded plastic.
There are two dials on the front of the Talk. The large dial chooses the mic’s directional pattern and also functions as a quick mute button.
The smaller dial controls both volume and gain, you switch between the two by clicking the dial in.
An LED ring around the large dial lights up, blue for volume, green for gain, and red for mute.
The LED indicates the level the volume or gain is currently set at. It would be nice if the directional pattern options that appear over the LED ring lit up as well since they are very difficult to see in low light.
Both of the Talk’s inputs are located on the bottom of the microphone, there’s a USB-C connector and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. I found that having the inputs under the microphone was problematic. When the Talk is placed in its stand, there is barely any clearance for the cables.
The included braided USB to USB-C cable conveniently has a 90-degree head to address the clearance problem, but not all headphones have that option.
The Talk also comes with a very cool, small folding tripod.
I really like this tripod because of its portability and before I moved my Talk to a telescoping mount, I used it frequently.
The tripod uses a standard-sized 5/8” thread which mates perfectly with the included swivel stand.
The swivel stand works fine, aside from the cable clearance issue. You can tighten the stand with the knobs on either side.
Setting up the Talk USB Microphone was relatively easy. My setup is for a PC, but the Mac setup is very similar. Once I had the Talk connected to the swivel stand and tripod, I connected the USB to USB-C cable to the Talk and to my PC.
For the PC, the manual instructs you to go into Control Panels, choose Sound and then choose the Talk for both Recording and Playback. Once I plugged my headphones into the Talk as well, I was able to hear my own voice as it came through the mic.
The only other setup step is to choose the mic’s directional pattern. The Talk offers four choices; Cardioid, Omnidirectional, Stereo, and Bidirectional. Cardioid has the most sensitivity at the front and is least sensitive at the back. Omnidirectional has equal sensitivity at all angles and picks up sound evenly from all directions. Stereo records sound in both the left and right channels. Bidirectional picks up the sound from in front of the microphone and from the rear, but not the sides.
Once the Talk was set up properly, I began testing it and using it regularly in my video and audio chats for work.
For greater ease of use, I switched the Talk to a telescopic mic stand that attaches to my desk. The universal 5/8″ mount on the end of the Talk swivel made it a breeze to connect.
I still had some issues with the amount of clearance under the swivel stand for my headphone plug, but keeping the Talk at an angle solved the problem for the most part.
In all of my testing, the Stereo directional pattern provided the best quality sound. Although, I do have the keep the gain turned practically all the way up to be able to get a consistently good sound.
The Talk’s quick mute button comes in handy occasionally, but I don’t find myself changing the dials very often. The Talk’s quality, even with the gain maxed out is still better than my laptop’s internal mic or the mic on my work headset.
I’ve included three samples of recordings from the Talk; one in Stereo at 50% gain, in Stereo at 75% gain, and in Stereo at 100% gain.
I experimented a bit with using the Talk to record some basic audio music tracks, but found that the quality was quite poor because of the gain issue. For video and audio chat, as well as for podcasting, the quality is pretty good, especially for an intermediate mic at this price point.
What I like
- Easy to set up
- Great build quality
What needs to be improved
- Have to keep gain set very high
- Inputs under mic difficult to use
- Dial options hard to see in low low light
The JLab Audio Talk USB Microphone is a really good addition to any work-from-home or podcasting setup. The price is very affordable for the quality of the microphone, included tripod, and braided cable. I was a bit disappointed in the low gain on the mic and have to keep it set very high to use effectively. The lower quality of the audio will keep me from using the Talk for any music applications, but, despite its shortcomings, the $99 Talk perfectly serves its purpose replacing my laptop’s mic for video chats and podcasting.