In a world of silky smooth YouTube desk tours, I had a different plan for my desk. If you are looking for a premium, top-shelf desk setup, look elsewhere. This is the best bang for your buck starter desk setup. A dramatic improvement from hunching over a laptop at your kitchen table without breaking the bank. Outside of the monitor, the keyboard, and the desk itself, nearly every item is around or under $100 individually.
Microphone — Samson Q2U ($70)
This is frequently listed as the best entry-level microphone for its quality and price. I particularly like it for two additional reasons. First, it is a dynamic mic which means it will pick up less room noise which is great for those offices that aren’t audio-treated recording studios. Second, it has both a USB and an XLR output which means you can start by plugging this microphone directly into your computer, and later on, you can upgrade (see below).
Boom Arm — Samson MBA38 ($50)
While this isn’t technically required it makes a world of difference for two reasons. First, it allows you to move your mic into an ideal audio placement for calls. Second, it allows you to easily swing your mic out of the way when working, freeing up a lot of desk space. This comes in multiple sizes depending on where you want to place it and how big your desk is.
Shock Mount — Samson SP05 ($15)
For the price, this is a no-brainer. It cuts out much of the noise from banging on the keyboard during video calls. While most video conference software can cut out the clacking of the keyboard they struggle with cutting out the thumping sounds on the keyboard that are transferred through the desk and boom arm, and into the microphone itself.
USB Mixer — Behringer Q502USB ($60)
This is a “nice to have” but it certainly is quite … nice. The primary benefit here is the built-in EQ and compression. This allows you to get that “podcast” sound which someone recently described to me as “you feel like you are right next to me”. There is research that shows higher quality audio makes the speaker sound more credible. I have both the low and high EQ turned to 3 o’clock and the compression turned all the way up. If you go this route, there is a hack to be able to hear yourself through your headphones.
Speakers — Audioengine A2+ ($300)
This is the one place where I splurged. These are lovely, compact, speakers. They connect directly via USB and they make the music come alive without taking up a ton of desk space. That said, I had the Behringer MS16 speakers for many years. They connect via a headphone jack and at $100 they are a great place to start.
Webcam — Logitech C920 ($60)
This is the undisputed entry-level webcam king and for good reason. I would put this up against webcams at 2–4x the price for three reasons. First, most video conferencing software will limit your video resolution to 720p making fancy 4k webcams a waste. I’ve had calls with folks using fancy webcams and it is very hard to tell the difference. Second, fancy webcams can have better software but there is very good 3rd party webcam software out there for cheap. And finally, fancy webcams can have an edge in low light, but you can easily fix that with … more light.
Lighting — Amzrozky LED Light ($60)
I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit looking through led desk lights online. The Amzrozky lights fit my three-part criteria. First, they are brightness and color temperature adjustable. Color temperature adjustment is important to get the skin tone on your camera. Second, they are bright enough. At full brightness, they hold up to a lot of natural light coming through my windows. Third, they are reasonably priced. I have two of these for even lighting on my face when I’m on a call. When I’m not on a call I aim them down at the desk for some lovely ambient backlighting.
Keyboard — Kinesis Freestyle Pro ($170)
I’ve used a Kinesis split keyboard for around a decade now starting with the original Freestyle model. I was always curious about mechanical switches but there were very limited options for split keyboard users. When the Freestyle Pro came out I jumped at the chance and have been in love with the Cherry MX Brown keys ever since. I don’t make much use of the keyboard’s built-in key mapping capabilities but it is a nice feature for those that do.
Mouse — Magic Trackpad ($130)
Standard mice have given me wrist pain in the past. For a while, I used a trackball but when my favorite one was discontinued I switched to a trackpad, and more recently I moved the trackpad to the middle of my split keyboard. I have stuck with that layout ever since. I find this leaves me pain-free and I enjoy the multi-gestures on Mac.
Monitor — Dell UltraSharp U3415W ($650)
I can’t say enough about the benefits of an ultrawide monitor. I typically run three programs in thirds across the screen on this 34" ultrawide monitor. It excels at video meetings while taking notes or viewing a shared document on the side. While 34" is the bang for your buck but I am very tempted to splurge here. I’m eyeing Dell’s 38" ultrawide monitor just waiting for a sale.
Desk — Fully Jarvis Standing Desk ($715)
I love my standing desk. I spend roughly half my time sitting and half standing, alternating multiple times a day. I find switching it up helps with both physical and mental energy. I have the 60" x 30" bamboo top and the silver, 3-stage frame with programmable controls.
Monitor Arm — Fully Jarvis Monitor Arm ($130)
Adding a monitor arm was a huge improvement to my available desk space. It also gave me the ability to position the monitor exactly where I want it for ideal ergonomics. I highly recommend using one.
Desk Pad — FireBee Extended Gaming Mouse Pad ($13)
Another no-brainer for the price. It is worth it just for the aesthetics and certainly doesn’t hurt to further reduce keyboard noise during video calls. But, the detail that sold me was the ability to easily slide my keyboard and mouse under my monitor and open up that desk space for writing. I really appreciate it when I go through my weekly planning process.
Laptop Mount — Screwless Horizontal Box Mount ($27)
You’ll notice that I don’t have a computer on the top of the desk. Anything for more desk space! Instead, I have it mounted underneath using four screwless box mounts. It does get a bit hot under there and the fans spin up more than they otherwise would but I’m happy with the trade-off for more desk space.
Cable Management — Fully WireTamer Cable Management Tray ($25)
These trays do a great job at keeping all the wires up and out of the way without a lot of fuss. I could make this nicer and neater but who has the time for that? Just shove all the cables into the trays.
Headphone Hook — ElevationLab The Anchor ($12)
This actually hangs just out of the frame on the right side towards the front. I hang my headphones here to keep them easily available for video calls.
Power — Belkin Power Strips ($15)
I have two of these daisy-chained for all my power needs. I purchased one with a short cable that plugs into the one with the longer cable that plugs into the wall. This setup lets the desk raise and lower without an issue. I also appreciate the ability to turn everything off in the evening and back on again in the morning with the flick of a switch.
USB Hub — VAVA 8-in-1 USB-C Hub ($55)
This has everything I need, 3 USB-A ports, an ethernet jack, and USB-C power delivery passthrough. The one thing I don’t use it for is my monitor. The HDMI jack doesn’t have quite enough bandwidth to optimally drive my monitor. Instead, I use a Cable Matters USB-C to DisplayPort cable for that.
Networking — Airport Express ($100)
This is now discontinued but is still working great. I have a direct ethernet cable run from my router in the house to my office in the garage. The laptop is directly connected through the USB hub so the wifi is only for my phone while I’m in the office or if I want to occasionally work from the couch.
Affixments — Command Large Picture-Hanging Strips ($13)
I use these to affix the USB hub, power strips, and Airport Express to the underside of the desk. They have plenty of holding strength and the velcro between the two sides allows me to pull things off if I ever need to without removing the adhesive.
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