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What kind of microphone should you use for live streaming?

One of the most commonly asked questions I am asked is “What kind of mic should I be using?”. In fact, this question is common enough to warrant its own article, in which I cover each type in a hypothetical scenario in which they would be the most useful. Armed with these examples, you’ll be able to make an educated choice for your streaming microphone.

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 stand out within the streaming community.

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.

Understanding what the best mic for you is

Audio is a subject that causes a lot of headaches for many people. But the truth of the matter is that it is much simpler than it first appears to be. The first step to understanding audio is that there is no single “Best” mic out there. On the contrary; there are situations where a clip-on lavalier mic is ideal for production. Then there are microphone types that do well in a live concert scenario.

Each design is built to excel in a specific situation and to accentuate a specific type of voice. The various types of microphone formats have strengths, and weaknesses. Understanding what those are will ultimately lead you to choose a mic that is a best fit for you and your situation. That said, It is important to do your research. Find reviews of microphones with a host that has a similar voice to your own to get the best idea on how it sounds.

Microphone TypeStrengthsWeaknessesUseful forAudio Quality
Condenser Studio MicRelatively cheap
No need for extra pre-amp
Hyper Sensitive
Picks up a lot of noise
Requires a well-acoustically-treated room
Fairly fragile
Stationary recording and streamingSuperb, If room acoustics is sufficiently treated
Dynamic Studio MicHigh quality audio possible
Can be in a somewhat noisy room
Gain Hungry: Some interfaces are unable to handle them
Rock Concerts,
Stationary Recording and streaming,
Podcasting in a large room
Exceptional in most cases.
“Shotgun” MicrophoneExtremely directional pickup pattern
Ideal for long distance audio capture, if your aim is good.
Can be fairly large
Small window of capture
Limits your freedom of movement
Situations where subject needs to be greater than 1 foot awayExceptional
Lavalier MicrophoneDiscrete microphone
Fairly good audio quality
Distance is never a factor, especially when paired with a wireless transceiver
Suffers from “rustling” of clothes, needing the subject to stay very still, or well secured where it won’t scrape against the cloth.When the subject needs to move around a lotGreat
Webcam/Headset micsConvenient
Cheap
Widely available
Very obvious that you are using the deviceJust starting out, low budget, etc.Good to Poor

There are various Connection types:

3.5mm, USB, Audio Interface, or Mixer, pick your poison. Before you buy anything, you will need to ensure you have the hardware capable of using the microphone.

  • 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.
    • I wrote an article about my experience with the Behringer UMC204HD. You can read it if you like.
  • 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.

When choosing a mic, make sure you have that harware, or are willing to purchase it alongside the mic.

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

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.

In fact, I actively recommend users to look into a Dynamic microphone, because they will usually get better results with them because people don’t typically have an acoustically treated room.

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. In this case, one will need to be purchased separately. For example. the Blue Yeti does not come with one.

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.

Dynamic Studio Microphones: My recommendation

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. And that is without limiting the area in which you can move around.

As a streamer, sitting in one place for 3+ hours can be rough, and sitting still is a challenge I’m certain everyone would fail. So a Shotgun mic might not be a good idea, as you may move out of that tiny cone of sensitivity.

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

In some fringe cases, you may actually need an inline amplifier. See this video by Podcastage for more information on this subject.

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Next up, we have the humble Lavalier mics

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. With that being said, some VR headsets, such as the Valve Index, come with a very nice microphone, eliminating the need for a lav. Sill, for cheaper options, a Lav is usually the way to go.

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.

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 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.

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