Do All Headphones & Earphones Have Built-In Microphones?


Since remote work has become the norm in our digitally advanced world, wearing headphones and earphones equipped with microphones has become advantageous. By cancelling out the environment's noise and laser targeting the speaker, it allows for much easier discussion on video calls, virtual meetings, and more.

Do all headphones and earphones have built-in microphones? Not all headphones have built-in microphones. Though many headphones/earphones have a mic installed internally or inline, many budget models do without, lowering their cost. Furthermore, professional and audiophile-grade headphones rarely have mics since they're designed specifically as headphones.

Within the headphone industry, there are various upmarket and budget choices you can select from. Therefore, for brands to enter a market, they usually need to add or take away features to suit that price point. Because of this, some cheaper-priced headphones might not include a built-in microphone, so you'll need to check the device's features before purchasing.


How To Identify If A Pair Of Headphones Has A Built-in Microphone(s)

Maybe you've already purchased headphones or earbuds, and you're trying to distinguish whether they have a built-in microphone or not. Luckily, this is easy. To make this straightforward, you'll want to become knowledgeable on the three different types of built-in microphones common to headphones.

1.  Internal Microphones

The most common microphone that comes with headphones is a MEMS or ECM. Each of these is positioned around the device and built into the internal case. Since they're located the furthest away from the mouth, the audio on the receiving end isn't the best.

There's usually an indication to identify an internal microphone on headphones. In most instances, it's a small hole (this may or may not have a microphone symbol next to it) located on the bottom of the ear cups. The most optimal position for a microphone is the closest to your mouth, which is generally this part of the device.

2.  Inline Microphones

If you're struggling to find an internal microphone on your device, then the next option you'll want to search for is inline. Before doing anything, these are only attached to wired headphones and earphones.

Locating them is straightforward because they're physically added to the cable. By running your fingers down your headphone cable, you should find a rectangle compartment with three buttons: volume up, volume down, and pause. Now you've found this, search for a small hole as this will be the microphone.

The advantage that inline microphones have over internal types is that they're often closer to the mouth and further from the headphone drivers. This allows for better voice audio. In some higher-budget devices, they might even have a clip that you can attach to the collar of your t-shirt, making the audio even clearer.  

3.  Boom Microphones

Additionally, the headphone could also have a boom mic. Undoubtedly, this is the most apparent microphone attached to headphones because of its nature. Boom mics are commonly found on gaming headsets, so you're not muffled. They can be retractable, detachable, and adjustable for optimal comfort.

Understanding the different microphones that circulate the headphone market makes it easier to identify if your device has one attached. However, you should know about the different microphone variations as these could significantly impact audio quality.


MEMS Vs. ECM

The two different microphone types are called MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) and ECM (electret condenser microphone), which are used in headphones because they can be designed remarkably small. Here's what you need to know about them:

Microphone NameMEMSECMS
DescriptionThe MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) is the newest innovation of small mic technology. They're the most superior option because of their significant updates.An ECM (electret condenser microphone) is the “older brother” of the MEMS, but it's still widely used in various headphone types.
Key AdvantagesCompared to older models, they require less energy to operate. MEMS mics are resistant to electrical and heat interferences, which generally cause static noise.Cheaper to manufacture and easier to replace if damaged. By design, ECMs are more resistant to water than a MEMS.

To learn more about MEMS mics and electret condenser mics, check out the following My New Microphone articles, respectively:
What Is A MEMS Microphone? (Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems)
The Complete Guide To Electret Condenser Microphones


How To Choose The Best Headphones With A Microphone

Understanding the above is superb, and by developing this knowledge, you can invest in a headphone that'll cater to your microphone needs. However, this isn't the only consideration you should think about when deciding on headphones. To achieve this successfully, you'll want to ask yourself the following questions:

Where Will Phone Calls Be Made?

When searching for your “best” headphone choice, you'll want first to decide where most of your usage will be with them. The two categories you should be thinking about are:  

  • Quiet places: With this application, you won’t need any noise-reduction features
  • Loud places: In this environment, noise-reduction features are pretty much mandatory for practical audio

As you can imagine, using a headphones microphone in a quiet atmosphere won't need any “special” features to help with the audio output. However, noise-cancelling/reduction features are essential for the recipient to hear you clearly in busy cafes, offices, on the go, and much more.

Noise-cancelling is perfect for reducing background noise and targeting your voice but is known to cause some distortion. Without noise cancelling, the mic will output significant background noise, but the sound quality will be much clearer.

How Vital Is Comfort?

Unquestionably, the more comfortable your headphones are, the more expensive. Therefore, you'll want to understand how long you'll wear these headphones.

If you're going to use these daily for numerous hours, investing in a more expensive and comfortable headphone will be much more beneficial. It'll make long voice calls much more bearable, providing you better satisfaction with the device.

Is Sound Quality Crucial?

Headphone sound quality isn't as crucial as the mic audio for some users. If you fit into this category, you can undoubtedly save some money by purchasing a lower sound quality headphone equipped with a good microphone. Again, this will depend highly on how you'll use the device, where, etc.

After reading the above, you should have a more comprehensive idea about if all headphones have a built-in microphone and how to identify them. Hopefully, your existing headphone has one. If not, you have enough knowledge to invest in a pair that will provide you with the ultimate amount of benefits.


Microphones & Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Microphones are not only incorporated into headphones are earphones for telephony purposes. They're also a necessary part of active noise-cancelling (ANC) technology.

Active noise-cancelling utilizes active circuitry (requiring power) to effectively produce an “anti-noise” signal in the headphone driver that cancels environmental noise by means of phase cancellation.

To do so, the ANC circuit must have a microphone. The microphone will capture the environmental noise as an audio signal. This audio signal is then phase-inverted and added to the headphone signal to help cancel out environmental noise.

These mics are typically ECMs, and each earcup generally has its own microphone(s). All active noise-cancelling headphones and earphones have built-in mics, even if none are used for telephony. The differences in ANC circuits are largely defined by the positioning of such microphones.

Feed-forward active noise-cancelling works with a microphone placed on the outside of the headphones. The mic pickups up environmental noise, and the ANC circuit produces the anti-noise signal without ever “hearing” the intended audio being sent to the headphone drivers.

Feedback active noise-cancelling works with a microphone placed on the inside of the headphone ear cup. That way, the mic can hear the intended sound of the headphones along with the environmental noise

To learn more about noise-cancelling headphones, check out the following My New Microphone articles:
How Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work? (PNC & ANC)
Passive Vs. Active Noise-Cancelling Headphones
Do Noise-Cancelling Headphones Work With Or Without Music?


Professional & Audiophile-Grade Headphones

Professional and audiophile-grade headphones hardly ever have built-in microphones. They are designed solely for the purpoI'vef monitoring audMicrophone'sy (for mixing and mastering engineerBuyer'seproducing audio in the most musical ways possible (for audiophiles).

The addition of a microphone in such headphones would add complexity to the design and even play a small role in degrading theI'veio due to additiMicrophone'signals being carried throuBuyer'scable.

These headphones, including in-ear monitors, are expensive because they're either very accurate or otherwise awesome-sounding. The price has to do with their sound reproduction rather than their two-way telephony capabilities.

For professional-grade headphones with built-in microphones, look for pro audio (or even aviation) headsets.


Choosing the right headphones or earphones for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Headphones/Earphones Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next headphones/earphones purchase.


Choosing the right microphone(s) for your applications and budget can be a challenging task. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Microphone Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help in determining your next microphone purchase.


This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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