Recently, I bought some nice in-ear headphones: the Klipsch Custom-2 In-Ear Noise Isolating Earphone. They do a great job of eliminating outside noise because they fit in my ears like earplugs. Here’s the downside to that: I discovered that my main computer, a Dell Latitude D820 (yeah, I’m using a 4-year-old computer, what of it?!), has a low, constant hiss whenever the sound isn’t muted.
When I plug the headphones into my iPhone, there’s no background noise–just perfect silence.
So, I went searching for a solution to the problem. Turns out, it’s not a software update or a configuration problem. I just have a cheap sound card. All sound cards introduce some level of noise (though my iPhone doesn’t seem to) and cheaper sound cards introduce more noise than better-quality sound cards. Being a laptop, my computer has the sound card built into the motherboard, which makes it prone to this type of background noise.
If this were a desktop, I could simply add a better-quality sound card and plug my headphones or speakers into it. With a laptop/notebook/mobile computer, I need to add an external sound card or USB headphones (as described later). Check the reviews–some are better quality than others.
This problem also extended to recording. I regularly record voice-overs for instructional videos, and I had a seemingly incurable problem with background noise. When I bought a digital microphone (which uses a USB connection rather than the mic-in port), the background noise disappeared. Because I wasn’t using the analog microphone port on my laptop anymore, it wasn’t subject to the motherboard-induced background noise. The headset I bought also had headphones, and those headphones were immune to the background noise, too.
Moral of the story: if you hear noise when you plug a mic, headphones, or speakers into your computer, use a USB connection instead of the built-in analog connection.