If you have been one of the many people that have had to become audio experts as of late I want to take a post and talk a bit about microphones. This is not going to be a technical post but rather a post to help out those that have never needed to know much about microphones. Have you been in a video conference or listened to a video and heard an awful screeching sound, a mic scratching against the individual’s clothing, or just an overall bad sounding mic. People can handle video that is not the greatest quality but if the audio is bad, people will tune out or move on. In a video conference obviously everyone needs to be there but it can be hard on the ears and if the quality is really bad, you might miss something of importance or misunderstand what is said. So this post is to help you find the best possible solution for a microphone. Please check out my other two recent posts on the topic of video conferencing for other tips and guides. This post will also help if you already have a microphone but have some issues of it either not picking up your voice properly or it picks up your cat meowing two rooms over and downstairs!
Microphones definitely follow the rule of you get what you pay for so if you plan to use it over the years spend the money. You will be thankful you spent money on a quality microphone.
The first thing to know is there are mainly two styles of microphones. The first is called a condenser microphone and the second is called a dynamic microphone. One of the most well-known video conferencing mics or just all-around computer mics is called a Blue Yeti. Amazon is selling them for around $100-$170. The largest complaint is how sensitive the microphone is at picking up everything. If you are working in a quiet room or in a location where there is hardly any outside noise beside what you are recording a condenser microphone is the preferred choice. Condenser microphones are omnidirectional which means it picks up sounds from all angles. It is more sensitive which allows it to do a better job picking up all the different frequencies which will give you a more well-rounded sound. If you are recording multiple people at a roundtable with one microphone a condenser is also ideal.
Dynamic microphones are directional meaning they mainly pickup sound that is entering into it from a specific direction. Radio broadcasters, podcasters, and vocalists at a live performance will use dynamic microphones. If you are speaking directly into the microphone it does an excellent job at picking up the sound but as you move off to the side of the mic and behind it, the sound is picked up much less. If you are participating in video conferences with children in your home or a noisy husky like my house you want a mic that won’t pick up as much sound from the side or behind it. Dynamic mics generally do not pick up all the frequencies to the level of a condenser microphone. As you move into the higher quality dynamic microphones you won’t really notice the difference unless you have an extremely trained ear.
Hopefully, now you have an idea of what style microphone you need to purchase, now you need to figure out how it will connect to your computer. There are two ways of connecting a microphone to your computer. One is by purchasing a USB mic which has a USB cable coming off the mic and plugs in directly to your computer. The second is you need to purchase what is called a digital interface. Some of them can be very small and simple meaning it is an XLR to USB adapter. Non-USB microphones use what is called an XLR cable to connect to a mixer or digital interface. You can purchase digital interfaces for $60-$160 on average. The one I highly suggest is called a Scarlett Focusrite 2i2. It is small and portable so easy to carry around with you if you are traveling. There is something to be said for purchasing a USB mic as it is extremely portable and does not need any additional hardware. The advantage of using a digital interface is the audio quality will be a bit better due to processing the interface can do and you can easily purchase additional mics for different situations and just change the mic as needed.
That is the basic information on microphones so here are some suggestions. I am going to start first by listing my own setup that I use for creating podcasts and video tutorials. I use a Scarlett Focusrite 2i2 digital interface with a Heil Pr-40 microphone. The Heil Pr-40 is a fabulous dynamic mic that is used heavily in broadcasting. That setup will run around $600 which I consider a solid solution that will sound great. A lower-priced dynamic mic that can plug into your digital interface is a Shure SM48 or a PGA48, the only real difference is one has an on/off switch and the other does not. If you are looking for a good quality dynamic USB microphone I would strongly consider the Rode Podcaster as that is one of the better USB dynamic mics and will run you about $230. If you are looking for something a little cheaper the Samson Q2U is well respected in the under $100 price range. If you are interested in condenser microphones the Blue Yeti is considered the standard for USB condenser microphones and as I mentioned earlier it will run you around $170. Audio-Technica is another brand I am a fan of and they have a dynamic USB mic called an AT2020USB is another solid mic that is $150. If you are interested in XLR based condenser microphones that won’t break the bank I would only look at the Audio-Technica AT2020. If you would like to step up to a little higher quality condenser mic I would look at the Rode NT1-A which will run you about $230.
Again, all of these are my suggestions based on many years of working with and researching microphones. There are a lot of options out there. My best suggestion is to find a couple of mics that fit your price range and go to YouTube and find people showing audio examples of the mic so you can hear it. If you can, try and find someone with a similar voice to yours, even if it is someone of the same gender that will help a lot. Some mics sound a little better with a female voice and some with a male depending on how it deals with the different frequencies.
The final piece of advice is to use a pop filter or windscreen. If you ever listened to someone on a mic and when they say a P or B sound there is a loud pop into the mic. That is the explosion of air coming from how the letter is said that the mic picks up. Pop filters and windscreens remove that problem. I hope this helps you find the best microphone for your situation!