Technology has brought us wonderful things over the years and continues to do so as technological advances seemingly happen almost yearly.
Some of the biggest advances in technology have happened in the headphones and microphone world.
Think of office staff and those vocations where users are constantly on the telephone.
Some older people would remember the days of affixing that rubber bumper on the bottom of the phone handset to curb the discomfort of cocking our heads at an awkward angle to rest the phone on our shoulder.
Of course, these were the pre-cellular and pre-smart phone days of the long distant past.
With today’s smartphone technology and the eventual phasing-out of landline telephones, headsets and, specifically, wireless earbuds with internal microphones have taken the place of those padded-up handsets of old.
Before we get into the main course of the discussion, we will look at some topics that will cover the audio capturing technology of today’s professional earbuds.
What Is a Beamforming Microphone Array?
This is a technology that’s starting to be seen more and more with each new earbud release. The term “beamforming” refers to the practice of capturing distant audio sources accurately.
You see this technology on display almost every day in the news as reporters are constantly looking to get audio from a news conference or from a public statement.
In days of old, you would see a bank of microphones on the podium, with a feed running from each individual microphone to a different network.
With today’s technology, if you see a football player in a locker room giving a statement or answering a reporter’s question, chances are good that you’ll see a sea of digital recorders or recording devices using active pickups with beamforming technology.
The essence of the technology lends itself well to capturing difficult audio or grabbing one voice amidst a sea of other voices in a conversation.
The “Array” part of the equation ties in with a group of microphones set together to capture the source at the best audio resolution possible. Typically, the more microphones used in the array, the higher the audio quality will be.
How does a Beamforming Mic Work?
The microphone captures the source by utilizing DSP (Digital Signal Processing) to lock on to the source as it’s picked up on the microphone.
Hence, the term “beamforming” as the microphone’s internal signal processor “beams” the capturing area to get the distant source coming from a portion of the room.
Sometimes, a group (or array) of beamforming microphones are used to capture all the sound in a specific direction.
This is most prevalent in music recording studios as engineers try to capture the essence of the sound in a recording. Sometimes, happy accidents happen during this process to enhance the sound even more.
A good example of this can be heard on the famous recording by Led Zeppelin of their cover of “When The Levee Breaks” from 1971.
Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham played the famous drum beat on his kit in the large foyer of a stairwell. The pair of microphones used were positioned above his kit, one floor up, hanging over the stairwell to capture his drum sound and the ambience of the stairwell.
Producer Andy Johns used compression and an echo unit to provide just the right amount of delay to make the drums sound gigantic.
This example shows that you don’t need an array of 30 microphones to capture a high-quality sound, sometimes you can achieve it with just two microphones.
Are Beamforming Mics Good?
Beamforming microphones are good for capturing voices and distant sounds. The “capturing voices” part is what earbud manufacturers have latched on to when designing their latest entries into the market.
The ultimate aim for earbud companies is to capture the voice of the user when they’re on the phone speaking to someone to improve sound quality for the listener on the other end.
The other half of the aim is to cancel out other extraneous noises in the background to improve the clarity of the voice while on a phone call.
Beamforming microphones are the next step in that evolutionary process of phone call clarity and high-quality audio capture.
What does a Microphone Array Do?
A microphone array is a multi-microphone recording setup that is placed strategically in a room to get the best sound.
You can use two microphones (left and right) to capture the sound, or you can use 20 microphones set up all over the place. Some people prefer having one microphone capture the direct source and have another microphone pointed away from the source to capture the ambience.
As long as you have more than one microphone for the recording, it’s considered a microphone array.
Endfire Microphone Array Explained
An Endfire Microphone Array is a set of microphones positioned to capture an audio source as a regular microphone array, but with an important distinction. The distance between the microphones capturing the source are adjusted by DSP and delay (in milliseconds) between each microphone source.
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The DSP within the earbud uses delay to sync up all the sources together in real-time so that the listener will hear everything smoothly. If there were no DSP applied to a microphone array, the resulting speech or audio capture would sound off, as the first microphone would be the source you heard first.
The other sources would also come in a few milliseconds late and the sound would be slightly garbled due to the millisecond delay in sound capture.
3 Top Bluetooth Earbuds with Microphone Array
Jabra Elite Active 75T
Jabra has been in the headset and microphone game now for many years and was there at the forefront of the technology as it started.
Being one of the oldest and most respected names in the industry, you would expect a high-quality earbud / microphone combination from Jabra, and the 75T does not disappoint.
Jabra Elite earbuds are dustproof, sweat proof and waterproof with an IP57 rating. Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) blocks most background noises out as you talk on a call. You can activate it through either a smartphone app or a button on the earbud.
There are 4 built-in microphones (2 in each earbud) with beamforming microphone array technology to capture your voice at the highest quality possible.
You also get 24+ hours of battery life and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, ensuring fast and solid connection with your streaming device.
Jabra Elite Active 75T is the highest priced of the three sets of earbuds, but you’re paying for the quality and reputation of the Jabra name, which has been well-earned over the years.
Anker Soundcore Life P2
Anker’s latest entry into the earbud / microphone sweepstakes is the Soundcore Life P2 earbuds, which come with an array of features that you would usually find in much higher priced models.
These come with 4 microphones with noise-reduction technology. Graphene drivers help amp up the bass and the sound when you listen to your favorite music beats.
Battery life is very impressive with a 40-hour usage time on a full charge including the charging case.
A fast charge option is available for your convenience, which will get you an additional hour of playtime from only a 10-minute charge.
Life P2 buds come with an IPX7 rated waterproofing.
Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity means strong connection to your device and better streaming quality.
There are multiple tip sizes for different ears, which is a nice touch to cover a range of users.
A USB-C cable for fast charging is also included.
The Avantree TWS120 is a capable earbud / microphone device with many features to enhance the experience. aptX improves the sound quality for both listening to music and making phone calls to get the best fidelity possible.
These buds will provide you with over 36 hours of play time, including the charging case. Similar to the Anker’s Life P2, TWS120 also support quick charging.
Bluetooth 5.0 and the latest in noise-cancellation technology provides a stellar listening experience.
They are easy to fit and thanks to their soft silicone tips provide maximum comfort while listening to music even for a long time.
They are sweat proof, which makes them perfect for listening to music during the workouts.
The earbuds are backed by a 2-year warranty if you register them via the Avantree website.
The Avantree TWS120 and the Anker Life P2 are great earbuds for the money, and both supply you with a boatload of features that will make your phone calls and music listening aims that much better!
The Jabra Elite Active 75T is more expensive than the other two models, but you are also getting the Jabra experience, both in quality and in brand name, and that shouldn’t be taken lightly.