Microphones 101: choosing the best mic type for you

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Choosing the best mic type for your stream or YouTube is a very simple process. I’ve outlined the important factors to consider when choosing a mic.

Now, If you are completely new to the audio world, you may not have known there are several types of microphones that can be used for streaming and YouTube. Of the various different types, there are typically three types that commonly get recommended for use in streaming.

Those types are:

  • Condenser/Dynamic Studio Mics
  • Shotgun Condenser/Dynamic Mics
  • And Omni-directional Lavalier Mics

Check out Alex’s video on the subject if You’d prefer a video/audio format. This article will go into a fair bit more detail than his, but the point being presented is the same.

The best mic type for you will be different than someone else

And that is totally okay! The type of microphone you use will largely depend on your recording/streaming environment and the type of content you are producing. In addition to this, everybody’s voice is different so a mic will sound better for one person than another.

For example, if you are a sitting streamer or YouTuber, and don’t move around much, then that means a studio microphone is an ideal choice. They have higher audio quality over lavalier mics, a result of their larger diaphragm.

However, If you do a lot of standing content or on-the-go streams, this will not be a logistically sound choice; Lavalier mics are the kings for on-the-move mics.

As for Shotgun mics, typically these are used to project an extremely directional cone of sensitivity at the subject. This is very useful for multiple people within the same room, so something like a podcast.

3.5mm, USB, Audio Interface or Mixer

Before you buy any of these microphones, you will need to know about the connection type to your PC:

  • 3.5mm – The Pink Port on your PC. These are the lowest quality connection you can use to interface your device with your PC.
  • USB – All the internals of an audio interface is stuffed into the body of the microphone. These tend to feel “More premium” due to the added weight, but many compromises are made to achieve this.
  • Audio Interface – Using an audio interface like the Behringer UMC22HD or 202HD, and an XLR cable designed for professional grade audio, this is the best option for those on a budget but want professional audio.
  • Audio Mixer – An Audio Mixer is a hardware solution for multiple audio signals being added to a device. It has a built-in Audio Interface, and advanced dials and knobs to dial in your signal before it ever reaches your PC.

If you can only afford to use a 3.5mm microphone attached to your headset, that is fine. I do recommend starting with a microphone that has BOTH an XLR and USB output to your PC, Such as the Samson Q2U if you can afford it. Let me explain why down below.

Studio Condenser mics, widely considered to be the “best overall” audio quality

A large Diaphragm Condenser Microphone, the best mic type if you have a treated room.

Studio Condenser microphones are widely considered to be the best mic type overall due to the audio quality of the microphones, and this is absolutely true. However, these kinds of microphones are exceptionally sensitive devices and are ill-suited for noisy or untreated environments.

The needs of a Studio Condenser mic

Large Diaphragm condenser microphones sound great. However, due to their sensitivity, they pick up absolutely everything:

  • The Hum of your pc fans
  • Ambient noise outside the room like footsteps
  • Refrigerators
  • Air Conditioners
  • Clocks
  • Ceiling fans
  • The Boiler downstairs
  • The Shower two rooms away
  • Etc.

This means if you have a large number of noisy devices within the vicinity of your room, you will have significant noise being projected to your audience.

In other words, you will need to do some basic room acoustic treatment.

You will also need a special shock mount for your mic stand to absorb vibrations from the environment, particularly those caused by typing on a keyboard. These usually are included with the microphone, but some manufacturers do not include it. One will need to be purchased separately (Such as the infamous Blue Yeti.)

I’ll quickly mention most condenser microphones are side-address microphones, so you should not be talking into them from the top as you would a dynamic front address microphone.

Fix the Source of the problem before you use software suppressors
Photo by FluidVideo

For every one of those noisy sources, you will need to deal with them in some way. The Simplest solution is to simply turn off the problem sources, however, that is not always practical.

We then need to get a bit more technical in our solution to fix the problem: Room Acoustic treatment.

Basic Room Acoustic Treatment
Acoustic treatment can get as crazy as a diffusion sheet of wood.
In the background is an audio diffuser made of wood, similar to this one.

These tend to be expensive, and you can make your own with a bookcase filled with books and oddly shaped things on bookshelves for cheap.

Without going too much into detail(Room Acoustic treatment is a pretty complicated subject) I’ll explain some free and super cheap ways to drastically improve the quality of the audio that your studio condenser mic outputs.

The easiest free way to treat your environment: Shut the door, and close your window and blinds. The blinds and any veils will act as a weak acoustic dampener, and the door acts as a diffusor for audio outside the room.

Underneath your door, you will see a gap. What you need to do is seal this gap, and the door frame itself.

To do this, you’ll need some weatherstripping for the door-frame, and a door strip for sealing the bottom; which is run all the way across the bottom. You want a tight seal, no air gap for sound to travel.

Doing JUST this will eliminate over Half of the issues listed above.

If you want to get even more soundproofing, go to your local Lowes or home depot and get a 1/4″ sheet of Lexan (clear polycarbonate) and have it cut to the dimensions of your window. Then get more weatherstripping and line the window frame with the Lexan and you’ve created another air gap and seal, cutting down on outside noise substantially.

If you are serious about your audio, I recommend checking out this video by Bobby Owsinski who is the source of this info.

In short: You need to treat your room even a little to get any value from a Studio Condenser Microphone.

Dynamic Studio Microphones: The best mic type for most people

The Shure Sm58, a Dynamic XLR Studio Microphone. The Best mic type for any beginner.

If your environment is particularly noisy, You may want to step down to a Dynamic studio microphone. These are the next best thing in terms of audio quality and greatly improve upon the issue of background noise due to their inherent design.

The Strength of a Dynamic Studio Microphone

Dynamic microphones are used widely in the live music industry, such as the Shure SM58. That particular microphone is so well known, it is what defines a microphone to most people. Knowing this, you can rest assured that the audio quality of these things is no joke.

The benefits don’t end there, however. Due to their nature of low sensitivity to noise, they require less in the way of room acoustic treatment, with the bare-bones setup listed above being all you really need for good quality.

In other words, IDEAL for those who are on a tight budget, or don’t have permission for landlords to do the door/window modifications. Dynamic studio microphones are the best mic type for beginner streamers and YouTubers.

EposVox on YouTube made a pretty straight-forward video about one such Dynamic microphone, and it is my recommendation for you too if you are just starting out.

The Samson Q2U:

The needs of a Dynamic studio (or broadcaster style) microphone

Their low sensitivity is both a blessing and a curse. For good quality audio, you need to be almost on top of the thing, about 2-5 inches from the front of it. And you will need to boost the gain on the microphone a lot to get a usable signal. This introduces pre-amp noise from the circuitry being driven hard.

Incidentally, this is the reason some singers look like they are eating their microphones…

To combat this noise, you will need to invest in something like a Cloud lifter. While not required, these cut down on the pre-amp noise quite a lot by boosting the signal inline before it reaches the interface or mixer.

See this video for more information on this subject.

Next up, we have the humble Lavalier mics

Photo by FluidVideo
A Lav mic up close. This one uses a 3.5mm connector, which technically can be plugged into the pink port of your PC, camera, or smartphone. You can use a wireless system like the MOVO WMIC-10 or a 3.5mm extension cable if you need more room. More expensive mic setups use Mini-XLR connections like the Shure SM93

A lavalier microphone is hands down the best mic type to use for people who are constantly moving around within a scene. One such example would be VR Gaming.

When you have a VR headset on, You…can’t see where you are within your own room. This makes staying in the right place for your microphone to pick up your voice nearly impossible for dynamic microphones, and particularly noisy for Condenser studio mics.

The answer to this problem is Lavalier mics. Where these little workhorses lack in audio fidelity, they have an immeasurably useful trait that makes them a favorite for TV shows; they clip onto your clothes and can be hidden away from the camera, and allow for decent audio quality despite their small size.

The Omni-directional pickup pattern

Lavalier mics come in two Flavors: Omnidirectional and Condenser. Think of this like a sphere pickup pattern; sensitive in all directions.

As stated by this article on Sweetwater, an omnidirectional microphone is what makes up most of the lav mic options. Even condenser variants act like omnidirectional mics due to how close they are to your body(Which is explained in that article.)

In other words, It doesn’t much matter which type of lav mic you use, but the quality of the mic you use matters.

This video will give you a lot of great info regarding lavalier mic placement and other useful information.

Finally, The Shotgun mic

A Shotgun Style Microphone, the best mic type for long distance recording.

A shotgun-style microphone is actually what is called interference-type line microphone. It works by canceling out noise from the array of notches, which gives it a great amount of sound rejection from anywhere that isn’t the focus. I found this article by shure that you should give a read regarding shotgun microphones. It goes far more in-depth into the dynamics of shotgun microphones by experts in the field than I could.

Cases where you would use a shotgun mic

If you need to be very far away from your subject and can’t get up close to them, a shotgun mic is the best mic type to do this. However, even up close, a shotgun style microphone can be useful.

This is true if you have a particularly loud noise you can’t do anything about in your environment. The audio quality of a shotgun mic isn’t as good as a studio condenser or dynamic mic but has potentially the best off-axis rejection of all the types. This is because of the interference patterns that cancel out noise from the side of the body. The quality can be better than lavalier mics, depending on how far you need to be from the subjects; but a lavalier mic is a lot easier to use for moving subjects.

Got an idea for your best mic type you want me to look into?

Let me know over on Twitter by mentioning me using @MrGoodHand and I’ll let you know what I can dig up about it! While you are there, throw a follow to stay up to date whenever I publish a new article!

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