Converting LifeChat headset for external output and mic with Zoom and MS Teams

One thing that I’ve noticed since the pandemic started is that there are far more online meetings in general and also interviews on TV where the guest joins remotely via the web. I like both of these. While not having guests travel to studios is usually fine, sometimes I feel it could easily improved if they changed their microphone setup. Poor audio really is bad.

Years ago at work we were issued with LifeChat LX-3000 headsets. Although these are fairly inexpensive, I’ve been impressed with the sound quality and microphone for their price. I wouldn’t like to wear one for hours, but for the occasional 30-60 minute meeting I’ve found them to be good. I’ve never been in a Teams or Zoom meeting where someone was using a set and they did not sound clear. These connect via USB so basically have a sound card built-in.

Over time some have physically broken and I got a couple that were destined for recycling. I planned to remove the headset and connect a couple of 3.5mm jacks so I could plug in my own headphones and microphone or other input. Originally, the plan was to use them to interface with Arduino projects to reduce the risk of destroying my laptops inbuilt sound card. I’ve destroyed a sound card once before. In practice I have mostly used them for work.

Modifications

Looking inside there is a small circuit board with connections coming in and on the other side those going out to a microphone and earphones. There is even labelling on the output side for what the connections are.

I got a couple of cheap 3.5mm splitter cables. These have two female sockets to 1 male plug. I cut the plug off and connected the cables to the microphone and headset connections. Heatshrink and lots of hotmelt glue was used both within the heatshrink and inside the device for strain relief. Finally, a dymo label added to the back to indicate which socket was mic and output.

In use

I use this almost every day. I have a Power deWise Lavalier microphone like this. The one in the link contains two mics and the pack I got only one, was cheaper, but otherwise I think it is the same. I am very happy with this microphone. The output from the old LifeChat connector goes to an amp with speakers.

I believed that a headset was always required for reasonable audio. However, I have had very good results with this setup. Having the microphone clipped to my collar rather than at a distance like the laptops built-in one is probably key. My concerns about using external speakers being wrong was a surprise. Both Zoom and MS Teams have echo cancellation. Without that I expect others would be hearing echo from me. I still think headsets are best, but external speakers can be ok. I’ve done a few comparisons with team members where I switched between using a standard LifeChat LX-3000 headsets and the Power deWise mic and external speakers with the converted USB connector. They said both were good and thought I was using a headset.

I could of course have just connected the microphone and amp directly to the laptop. I presume that would be as good. The post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t provide some info about that. But I haven’t tried it so the post will have to remain as it is. A key benefit with using the modified USB LifeChat connector is that I can swap a working LifeChat headset for the modified cable and the laptop sees it as the same thing and I don’t need to modify the input or output device in any apps. It also has handy mute and volume buttons.

Warning

Just be aware that there may be some risk connecting an external amplifier directly to the LifeChat headset speaker connections. It is not designed as an amp input and may result in damage.

Future plans

At some point I want to learn how to add a couple of crocodile clips or jumpers with appropriate parts to allow it to be used to connect to project outputs so that I can use it to record directly from a project, but that is for another day.

Do you have any thoughts or tips?

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