With so many options available, it’s incredibly easy to get overwhelmed. Furthermore, microphones aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Even if you had the money to buy a top-of-the-line dynamic mic like the Shure SM7B, that one isn’t going to work for you if you don’t want a big microphone super close to your face and in view of your camera.
I’m not in a position to make specific microphone recommendations. However, I did want to provide you with some factors to consider before making a purchase.
What’s your budget?
Budget shouldn’t be your first or final consideration. That said, budget does matter a great deal. You can get a notable step up from your onboard laptop mic for under $50, or go all out on the best possible XLR mic rig in the thousands. If your budget is under $200, you might be better off with a USB setup. If you want an XLR rig, you’re going to have to budget for equipment such as an audio interface, mixer, or maybe even a cloud lifter.
USB or XLR?
I’ve covered this in a previous post. At the highest of levels, USB mics can be plugged directly into the computer, while XLR mics require a go-between to send the audio signal. The general benefit to USB is that they’re plug-and-play solutions that still sound really good. XLR mics require extra hardware and can be tricker to set up, but you will generally get more control and have a higher ceiling for overall sound quality depending on which equipment you buy.
Condenser vs. Dynamic?
Most mics marketed at streamers are of the condenser variety. These types of mics are often used in studio environments to record voices and higher-frequency instruments. In ideal environments, they make for great streaming mics.
However, condenser mics are also prone to picking up ambient background noise, such as the clacking from your keyboard, the whooshing from a room fan, or the car driving by your house. Also, if you need a setup with more than one mic in the same room, condenser mics are basically a non-starter without special hardware or software due to the inherent bleed that comes from every mic picking up every sound.
If you can minimize the external factors that may compromise your sound, check out the condenser options. But if you need a solution that’s better equipped for external sound reject or easier support for multiple mics, then a dynamic mic might be a better fit.
Are you planning on using the mic for something other than streaming?
For the purposes of streaming, you don’t necessarily need the most expensive microphone rig. Most of the time, you’ll be talking over music or game audio, which does a lot to mask your mics faults and the clarity of higher-end mics. Of course a better mic will sound better than a worse one, but you might be content with the sound from a cheaper solution if streaming is your only goal.
The calculus changes though if you’ve got other ambitions. For example, if you’re shooting a video and you don’t want to be tethered to a desk, then your standard microphone form factor isn’t going to work out. If you’re podcasting, odds are listeners are only hearing your voice. In this scenario, you’ll want a higher-end solution that makes your voice sound as crisp as possible.
We should also take a moment to talk about polar patterns. Microphones capture sound at different angles depending on their design. Odds are if you’re streaming alone, you probably want a mic with a cardioid pattern that will only pick up noise directly in front of it while avoiding the sound to the sides or the back. However, maybe you also want to do one-on-one interviews with someone sitting across the table from you while only using one mic. At that point, a mic with a bi-directional pattern would work best. Or, if you want to capture all of the sound in your immediate area, consider an omnidirectional mic.
Some mics come with multiple capture options. For example, my Blue Yeti Nano can support both cardioid and omnidirectional patterns.
Whichever mic you get, make sure it suits your specific content creation needs.
Does the mic you’re planning on buying have a headphone jack?
Some USB mics come with headphone jacks that allow you to monitor your voice. However, I recently learned that with some rerouting in OBS, you can use it to monitor all of your game sound and streaming sound out of a single source. Not sure if this works for every USB mic with a headphone jack, but it certainly works with my Blue Yeti Nano and I’d expect it to work with others in the same way. Mics with monitor out jacks tend to be on the higher end of the USB mic spectrum, but the added benefit of being able to mix all my audio in one monitor source is a huge benefit.
Can you get more out of your existing mic?
Depending on your current configuration, you might be able to squeeze more out of your existing mic. For example, placing an area rug on the floor where you stream might go a long way towards dampening the reverb in your room. If you’re doing voice work, recording in your closet full of clothes could achieve a similar effect. Maybe there are settings on your mixing board or VST plugins you can install within your streaming software to improve your overall quality. Heck, something as silly as moving the mic closer to your mouth might be all you need to find the improvement that you’re looking for.
Before spending money on a new mic, make sure you exhaust every option with your existing one. There might be ways of getting a sound that you’re happy with using the gear you already have.
Research before you buy
This is by no means a definitive list of considerations when buying a mic. Even if you’ve got all of the money, simply throwing money at the most expensive won’t guarantee that you’ll get the right equipment to suit your specific needs. Do as much research as you can before making the investment. Best of luck in finding the right mic for you!
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