As we discussed previously on this blog, the quality of sound is one of the defining features of any live broadcast or downloadable audio recording. Most novices without a background in sound or video production find the process of searching for and choosing a microphone confusing and even frustrating. In this blog post, we’ll show you how to choose a microphone that best suits your needs and budget.
Microphones – The Three Common Use Cases
Here’s something that might sound counter-intuitive at first: the “best” microphone isn’t often the most expensive or the cheapest either. Why is that the case? Well, the simple answer is that there are several factors to consider. Different mics are best-suited for different environments. What you’ll need to take into account first is where you will be recording or broadcasting.
Possible Scenario #1 – You will be recording in a “studio” or a space that may closely resemble a studio environment. Although opinions vary in this respect, a condenser mic should, in most cases, produce good results in an environment devoid of noise. There are also a number of techniques that you can apply to minimize noise, such as using a USB adapter, speaking directly into the mic, and removing noise after you have recorded. As an example, the Blue Yeti is a popular and solid condenser USB microphone.
Possible Scenario #2 – You will be recording in a loud or noisy environment. In this case, dynamic mics, which aren’t as sensitive to noise as condenser mics are, are better-suited for the job. On the downside, dynamics mics tend to produce lower sound quality (since they capture a lower range of sounds).
Possible Scenario #3 – You will need to move around while you broadcast or record. If you intend to be mobile while speaking into the mic, you’ll most likely want to search for a noise-cancelling headset mic. However, you’ll have to choose carefully since headsets on the cheaper end tend to have sensitive mics that capture a lot of noise, which can’t be removed during the editing process.
The Three Types of Microphone Connectors
Any microphone, irrespective of its type, connects in one way or another into your computer. The most basic headsets have audio and microphones jack that connect directly into the computer (usually demarcated by green and red colors). The second type connection types is through a USB cable. Most condenser mics have USB cables that connect into a computer’s USB port. A lot of podcasters start off using mics with this setup. The third category of mics use an XLR connection. The dynamic mics that were mentioned earlier come with XRL cables. Condenser mics can also be XLR-based and some models, such as the Audio-Technica AT2020, are manufactured in two types (USB and XLR). Always check whether a microphone has an XLR connection before making a final purchase decision. One of the benefit of having an XLR mic its compatibility with mixers, which require an XLR connection. (You also have the option of buying an XLR-microphone and using an XLR to USB transfer cable until you decide to make an upgrade to an mic + mixer setup) Lastly, if you are planning on having guests on your show or podcast, dynamic mics are preferred (in cases when you have multiple people in room) as well as using a mixer (in cases when you need to record more than two call participants on Skype).
Bottom Line and Additional Tips
The bottom line is that a condenser mic or and XLR/dynamic mic with a mixer will produce a better quality of sound than a headset or built-in computer mic. The latter can be used without much hassle in both a quiet studio environment and in noisy locations. By now you should have a good general idea about which mic to purchase for your individual case. Despite everything, it’s recommended that you take the time to read through the reviews of several different types of microphones and mixers. This will help you get a sense of their pros and cons and the scenarios in which the reviewers are using the mics. Once you find a few models that you’d consider placing an order for, head over to Youtube and search for live audio test of those devices. You’ll get a sense of how they sound in real life (the commentary from the reviewer generally has a few useful tips as well). Another useful tip is to listen to a few good podcasts and find out what equipment the hosts are using (many podcast hosts have written about this extensively). Finally, you can ask to test a few mics in a physical store location.