Part 3: "What use is a phone call, if you cannot speak?"
There is no such thing as a perfect microphone, only a perfect microphone for a situation. I have studio recording mics that cost more than a small car, which sit in a drawer because they’re just not appropriate for streaming. What we’re covering here is what’s good for streaming, but be aware that your use case must factor into any decision.
I’m just getting started:
Just use your headset mic. It’s really not worth paying for anything extra until later on, and you already own it so just run with it until it becomes a problem.
I want to do better:
Antlion Modmic: $55
At $55 this is by far the cheapest, easiest upgrade you can make, especially if you have a quality pair of headphones with no mic. This little magnetised mic flips up and away when not in use and comes in uni or omnidirectional models, and with or without a mute switch. The mute switch is a little useless since it’s kind of difficult to use, but gosh. Unless you spent a lot on a headset, there’s a good chance this mic is better.
It’s more expensive than the V-Moda Boom Pro but works with literally any headphones (rather than just a small subset with a detachable cable), and it sounds better. When we got the modmic, people on the other end of voice chat asked if I’d gotten an expensive desk mic because the sound was that much clearer. The cabling can be messy if not done sensibly, but that’s on you, you lazy sack of crap.
Time to get serious:
If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s worth the upgrade from a headset mic to a real microphone, there’s a sample recording on the Razer Seiren web site about half way down.
In short - yes. Yes it is. No surprises where this section starts either.
Blue Yeti: $129
A staple of broadcasters everywhere, the Yeti remains on the list once again, because it does what it does really well and cheaply. The community is deeply divided on Yeti quality, but this is largely misunderstanding what it is you’re supposed to do with it. Condenser microphones should be placed close to the source of the sound (with an optional pop filter for those nasty plosives), with the gain turned right down. Not far away, with the gain turned right up, so that it picks up every keystroke, every click, every dog running by your house. Set up correctly, there is no reason most people will ever need to move past a Yeti, but sadly most will never be set up correctly, and people will continue to spend money chasing something that could be rectified by having the slightest idea what they’re doing.
The Yeti connects by USB and also has a pro version that has XLR out, but if you’re reading this you probably don’t care about that. You should strongly consider investing in a $40 shock mount which will get rid of desk vibration noise from slamming the keys angrily typing ‘no peel gg’.
Voice is captured well, but it’s important to recognise that the Yeti was designed to capture /everything/ well. It was designed in a time when USB condenser mics literally didn’t exist, and so it functions pretty well for most use cases. What this does mean however, is that it wasn’t designed specifically for streaming, that’s just something we use it for.
Razer Seirēn: $178
Like the Yeti, but black. In all seriousness though, there are notable differences in the Yeti and the Seirēn, but they’re best heard by listening closely. Unlike the Yeti, the Seiren was designed specifically for broadcasters, and this becomes evident when you compare recordings. The Yeti captures everything - even the things you don’t want. Every lip smack, for example. The fan humming. Your dog humping the futon. The Seiren’s sound is much more focused on the vocal overtones and undertones and as such is easier to pull a sound with vocal clarity, without getting a close-up of what you had for dinner.
Look, the Yeti is a good microphone, so this may seem a little out of place, but the direct comparison is the first thing on everyone’s mind and it’s about use-case, so let’s just get down to it.
If you want to capture the sound of a room, get the Yeti.
If you want to capture yourself speaking, get the Seiren.
Behringer XM8500: $20 + interface
This is the last thing anyone would expect to see here, but hell, we’re doing it. Behringer makes cheap copies of well-known equipment. This is a dynamic mic for $20, or you can get a Shure SM58S for $110, and most people can’t tell the difference. It will put up with being shouted in, and transmit the bass in your voice well. Again, add a limiter in software and you’ve got a sweet vocal sound.
Obviously this doesn’t cover the cost of the audio interface required to pick it up, but if you have one already, or are buying into it cheap, this is absolutely the best value for money. I’ve tested all of the mics mentioned here, and I still use a Behringer XM for streaming.
Rode NTG1: $250 + interface
The only shotgun mic mentioned here, the NTG1 is very good at capturing sound directly in front of it, making shotguns a prime choice for broadcasters. It will capture some off-axis sound, but gosh, it’s just really sweet. The sounds are sweet and accurate. You don’t have to have a mic right in your face either. It is also the only mic listed that requires +48v Phantom power, so if you don’t have an audio interface capable of providing phantom, then you won’t be able to use the NTG1.
Rode has the best after-sales service of any mic company I’ve ever dealt with, and spent some time helping me debug a problem that turned out to be with a Canon camera, just because I had a Rode mic connected to it. Mark, if you’re reading this, thanks for your effort.
Rode is pronounced ‘road’, not ‘roadie’, by the way.
I use an NTG1 in my portable rig and it’s spectacular for interviews or small groups. It’s the most expensive of the TTGS group, but if it’s a natural sound you’re after, you can’t beat it.
Behringer XM1800S 3-pack: $40 + mixer interface
Again, surprises. You can get a 3-pack of dynamic Behringer mics in a road case for $40. They sound near-indistinguishable from mics 6x the price and it doesn’t matter if they get lost, stolen or broken. You will need a mixer interface for this because by default, audio interfaces will attempt to assign channel 1 to Left and channel 2 to right. If you have two casters, this will pan one full left and one full right. You do not want this. Get a mixer that has a USB connection. Get a $5 colored foam wind shield to pretty it up if you want.
Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + mixer interface
The only repeat-appearance on this list, the BPHS-1’s dynamic microphones are great for casting because they’re attached to your head and they deal with variation in speech volumes very well. Again, given the nature of why you’d buy these, a mixer is a must.
Remember, sometimes professional doesn’t mean ‘the very best quality’, it means ‘the best effort:reward ratio with minimal screwing around’.
Neewer Boom Arm Mic Stand: $13.50
Whatever mic you choose, get one of these. They cost basically nothing, they mount to practically anything, and they’re awesome. Surprisingly durable considering it costs less than a good sandwich; we’ve bought three of them and will definitely get more in the future. Plenty of options too, with models containing USB cables, XLR cables or have integrated pop filters. And if you don’t like it, put it in a cupboard somewhere - you will find a use for it.