If you’re a user of Phone.com’s Communicator software on your laptop, as I am when I travel, here’s a neat little tip I picked up while sniffing (okay, call it surfing) around the web. (Communicator, for those who aren’t aware of it, is a neat little program that turns a laptop into a Phone.com extension on your virtual switchboard, both for incoming and outgoing calls from anywhere in the world that you can connect to the Internet.)
Most modern laptops have tiny built in microphones but, let’s face it, the sound quality on those microphones isn’t really all that great. The solution, it would seem, is to connect an external microphone. The microphone, with the proper interface, can cost anything from a few dollars up into the big bucks for a broadcast-quality unit. Even a modestly priced one does amazing things to the way VoIP sounds over your laptop (by the way, the same is true when you replace the little pinhole size microphones on many modern cameras with an external microphone, assuming of course that your camera will support such a microphone).
Communicator supports external microphones but, it seems from what I’ve been reading, a lot of people who have used such microphones complain that they’re still not getting the sound quality they were hoping for. As it turns out, the reason is simple: the laptop is still set to use its own internal microphone. All it takes is a simple setting change to choose the external microphone and instantly get the sound you are paying for.
Figuring out which microphone is actually in use is also usually simple. Just tap the external microphone, then flick the laptop with your fingernail. Watch the bar on the microphone input. That will tell you quickly enough which microphone is really being used.
For those interested, I found this tip on a web site called RadioWorld (www.rwonline.com), which is devoted to the technical details of radio broadcasting. Programs such as Communicator, it seems, are now being used by broadcasters to send broadcast-quality sound from remote locations, for uses such as news reporting. I would think it could also be quite useful to traveling executives participating in conferences back at the home office.