For whatever reason, audiophile-quality headsets don’t exist unless you can spring for something like the $250 Sennheiser PC 360. Fortunately, you don’t have to use a dedicated headset anymore and can stick a capable microphone right onto your beloved headphones. The Zalman ZM-MIC1, the AntLion ModMic 2.0, and ModMic 3.0 are all priced under $50 and are aimed at headphone users.
All three of the microphones attach to any set of headphones. Both ModMics are paired with a magnetic clasp that attaches to the side of your headphones with an adhesive tape. The microphone itself is then held in place by a magnet. The system works remarkably well and makes for an easily removable and re-attachable system. Zalman decided to go with something a bit more simple and attached a clip to the ZM-MIC1 which allows you to literally slide the microphone onto your headphone cable. They also all use the pink 3.5mm jack on your rig which means that they’re susceptible to interference. Use them with a dedicated sound card or your front panel ports if at all possible.
We put them all through their paces to find out which one you should pair with your audiophile headphones.
AntLion ModMic 2.0
Round 1: Audio Quality
The AntLion ModMic 2.0 is the clear winner in audio quality. Voices sound so crisp and clear that it’s easy to forget that you’re not hearing an actual person in front of you. The problems start when you’ve got any sort of background noise. Crystal clear recordings come at a cost—the fan you have in your window or that mechanical keyboard you type on will come through with your voice.
AntLion recognizes this problem and has tried to solve it with the ModMic 3.0 which has active noise cancellation. This has a negative effect on the richness of recordings. Keyboard and mouse clicks are muffled, but voices lose some of their fullness. Your recordings will still be crisp and clear, but you just won’t sound as good as you do with the 2.0.
The Zalman ZM-MIC1 is surprisingly capable. Despite being the smallest microphone we tested, it sounds decent. Voices sound a little hollow, but are otherwise alright. Your friends won’t have any problems hearing you on Vent, but you probably don’t want to be podcasting with this microphone. It’s a step below the 3.0 despite the lack of any noise cancellation.
There’s a clear difference between the audio quality of the ModMic 2.0 and the other two contenders. Take a listen to the audio recordings and experience the difference firsthand.
Winner: AntLion ModMic 2.0
Round 2: Durability
This one goes to the Zalman ZM-MIC1. As a small microphone on the end of a disc encased in plastic, this thing should be pretty much impossible to destroy. Although there’s only a tiny bit of strain relief on the end of the cable, it’s long enough to have some slack if you accidentally yank on it. Although the ModMics aren’t weak, they’re definitely not as durable as something that’s encased entirely in plastic. The ModMic 2.0 is a step above the 3.0 with its flexible boom and one-piece construction. AntLion was a bit more ambitious with the 3.0 and added a detachable boom. The unfortunate part is that the microphone itself is a lot harder to bend and can easily get kinked. The simplicity of the ZM-MIC1’s construction gives it the edge in durability.
Winner: Zalman ZM-MIC1
Zalman ZM-MIC 1: small and affordable.
Round 3: Look
There’s something about the ModMic 3.0 that screams professional. A stiff boom microphone that is hard to bend may not be the best thing if you’re trying to position it correctly, but it sure does look amazing. Add in the little plastic clip that braces the cable against the microphone itself to prevent the microphone from moving, and you’ve got an attachable microphone that looks like it was built onto the headphones at the factory. The ModMic 2.0 uses the same magnetic clasp to affix the microphone to the side of one of your headphone cans, but the larger boom and flexible wire make it look a bit more messy. At the same time, the understated design of the ZM-MIC1 is something that we appreciated. Aside from the silver Zalman bezel, the microphone is small and unobtrusive which is ideal for an accessory that attaches to your already stylish headphones. This category’s a tie between the simplicity of the ZM-MIC1 and the sleek lines of the ModMic 3.0.
Winner: AntLion ModMic 3.0 and Zalman ZM-MIC1 (Tie)
Round 4: Noise Cancellation
The ModMic 3.0 is a shoe-in for this category because it’s the only unidirectional microphone in this head-to-head. Unlike the omnidirectional microphones in the ModMic 2.0 and ZM-MIC1, the 3.0 only records sound from a single direction. As a result, keyboard noises and other background noise are noticeably quieter on ModMic 3.0 recordings. Background noise is a huge nuisance for the 2.0 and the ZM-MIC1. The ModMic 3.0 is the clear winner in noise cancellation even if it doesn’t complete silence background noise.
Winner: AntLion ModMic 3.0
Round 5: Compatibility
Both the ZM-MIC1 and the ModMic 2.0 are usable immediately after plugging them into an unoccupied 3.5mm jack on your PC. They don’t require any extra drivers, but won’t work with combo jacks (headphone and microphone in one). The ModMic 3.0 is a whole different story. AntLion is well aware of the ModMic 3.0’s compatibility issues and has compiled a list of compatible sound cards. The biggest problem is iffy support for Realtek HD drivers which rules out compatibility with the majority of integrated sound cards. We were fortunate enough to get the 3.0 working with Realtek HD drivers after a bit of tinkering, but your mileage may vary. This one’s a tie between the ModMic 2.0 and ZM-MIC1 which both worked without a hitch.
Winner: AntLion ModMic 2.0 and Zalman ZM-MIC1 (Tie)
Round 6: Value
At $9 on Amazon, the ZM-MIC1 is an absolute bargain. You’ll be hard pressed to find any microphone, attachable or otherwise, that’s as affordably priced. Although it doesn’t sound nearly as good as the ModMic 2.0, its performance is more than acceptable. Pay $32 for the ModMic 2.0 and you’ll have a great microphone for actual voice recordings that is a bit overkill for casual Skype calls. An extra $4 will net you the 3.0 which gives you a removable boom, wire clip, and noise cancellation—a lot of features for a meager price hike marred only by the 3.0’s compatibility issues.
Winner: Zalman ZM-MIC1
And the Winner Is...
Our first impression was to give the edge to the ModMic 2.0, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue with a $9 microphone that just works. The Zalman ZM-MIC1 looks great, sounds okay, and works with pretty much everything. It may not be the best microphone in this head-to-head, but it’s the most affordable and will work fine for anyone who just needs a cheap microphone to use on Skype. If you need something with better audio quality, you can spring for the ModMic 2.0 or 3.0 depending on the environment you’ll be using your microphone in.