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Choosing A Microphone For Streaming – The Ultimate Explainer Guide

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Choosing the proper microphone for streaming can be a very important purchase. Audio is often one of, if not the most important components of streaming. However the landscape of microphones, configurations and accessories is vast and there are tons of things to consider. In this guide, we break down the different types of microphone setups, mic types, room layouts, audio capture direction and a brief overview of popular accessories that can help take your stream to the next level.


TYPES OF MICROPHONE SETUPS

There are many different types of audio capture setups and if you watch streams, you’ve definitely come across a few. You can have a desktop mounted microphone, an all-in-one headset with mic arm or a mounted mic on a swing arm like a professional studio would have. Along with this, there are lots of accessories and add-ons that can greatly increase the quality of your audio and allow you to configure your setup to exactly your liking. I will go over the more common configurations and the reasons that a streamer may want to choose them.

 

ConfigurationProsConsUsed by
HeadsetCheap, simple configuration, takes up very little space, mic is good at picking up only your voice.Often times has poor quality. Mic quality is tied to headphone quality, and one usually suffers. No control over configuration.The hobbyist streamer
Desktop micUsually higher quality than a headset while still being affordable. Allows you to separate headphones from microphone. More flexible configuration.Some mics can be pricey. Prone to picking up vibrations on the desk from things like keyboard and mouse movements. Can contribute to a cluttered desk or get in the way of typingThe somewhat serious streamer
Arm-mounted micAllows for maximum configuration. Can easily be moved out of the way when not in use. You move the mic to exactly where you want it – no need to lean in to talk.The most expensive configuration. Need a decent amount of room for a swing arm mount.The professional streamer

 

When choosing which configuration you want to go with, it’s very important to keep in mind your budget and the available space that you have. These will be the two largest constraints that determine which setup will work best for your particular case. Many people understand what is within their budget, but not many pay attention to the space they are working in.


A mic that fits your workspace

Your workspace refers to where you do your streaming. This means the desk or table you use, whether you are standing or sitting, how high the ceilings are, how much room around your microphone you have and even what materials the room is built with. All of these factor into your audio setup and can mean the difference between crystal clear audio and extremely poor audio.

If you’re planning on using a headset microphone, you probably don’t have to worry about this. The only concern would be the cable length of your headset. However for a desktop mic or a swing-arm mounted mic, there are several things to consider.

Two desktop microphones in front of the keyboard

Desk space. You want to ensure you have a big enough desk to mount your mic, but also enough space for everything else. This includes monitor placement, keyboard, mouse, mousepad and other peripherals. If you are using a desktop microphone then you need to think about where it will be placed. Most commonly, streamers place their mic in between the edge of the desk closest to them and their keyboard.

Some people may opt to put it to the left or right side of their keyboard as they find it can get in they way when typing or pressing keys in game. Regardless of where you put it, you need to ensure that you are close enough for it to pick up your voice.

With desktop mounted mics, you also need to factor in mouse and keyboard sounds. Many first time microphone users do not realize that a desktop mic will pick up clicks (especially from a mechanical keyboard) and vibrations through the desk. For this reason, some people place a towel under their microphone to dampen vibration feedback through the desk.

 

Computer location. This can be an issue if your computer fans are too loud or from potential electrical interference. If you are playing games and streaming, chances are that your computer fans are running at or near full clip. Investing in a water cooling setup (simple all-in-one kits like Corsair H1ooi make this conversation quite easy) and low-noise fans such as Noctua NF-F12 can help reduce background noise. You should also check that your cable inputs are not picking up electrical interference from other nearby electronics such as microwaves, televisions, etc.

Acoustic wall panels

 

Room layout. The physical layout of your room matters a lot. It controls how sound reverberates around you and can drastically change the quality of your audio.

 

An ideal room layout is one that is small, has low ceilings and is carpeted. This prevents sound reverberation which is very common in large rooms and particularly bad in rooms with hard floors and bare walls. If you find that you are picking up a lot of echo or fluttering in your audio recording, you can dampen the reverberation by mounting acoustic foam panels such as these to damped the sound reverb in your room. Another good idea is to add an acoustic rug or mat if you are in a room with hardwood, tile or stone floors.


Different microphone types

There are different mic types with different sets of features that you will want to pay attention to. Let’s take a quick look at the different types of microphones and their intended uses and how well they are suited for streaming.

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones are considered “solid and versatile” in the world of sound recording. They have what is called a moving coil magnetic diaphragm which allows them to capture sound even at high sound pressure levels. This means minimal distortion even when picking up very loud sounds (think concert instruments like a guitar or drums). When you see a singer using a microphone during a live performance, they are often singing into a dynamic microphone. A good example of a dynamic microphone is the Audio-Tehcnica ATR2100-USB.

Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones use a thin, conductive diaphragm that works as a capacitor when capturing audio. Because of this, they are much better suited for a controlled environment where precision recording is needed. These are often used on podcasts with high audio fidelity and are quite popular for streamers as well. A popular and often recommended example of a condenser mic is the Blue Snowball iCE.

Ribbon Microphones

Ribbon mics are not nearly as popular as they once were in radio broadcasting and it is rare to see them used, especially for streaming. They are great for precision recording with sensitivity in higher frequency ranges. These are making a slight comeback as their manufacturing process has improved since the golden days of radio. A popular example is the MXL R144 Ribbon Microphone.


Microphone Directionality

Directionality of a mic refers to the direction in which the microphone is best suited to pick up sound from. It is important to understand the directionality of your mic as it related to the type of streaming and recording you do. For example, if you are hosting a talk show or a table-top game such as DnD with multiple people sitting around a table, you will want an omnidirectional microphone that is able to capture sound from all angles. Some modern microphones are able to dynamically switch their directionality settings, so always check for this feature if you think you could use it.

A chart showing the three main directionality graphs

Unidirectional

A unidirectional microphone only captures sound from the front. They are often referred to as “cardioid” microphones. This can be a great option for the solo streamer that is always sitting behind their microphone.

Bidirectional

Bidirectional microphones capture audio from the front and the rear. These are best suited for things like podcasts or interviews where the two participants are seated on opposite sides of each other with the mic in the center. If you plan on doing head-to-head gaming, co-op streams or in-person interviews, this can be a great choice.

Omnidirectional

These microphones will pick up sound from any direction. This can be a blessing and a curse however, as it means a dog barking, a truck passing by or a loud air conditioning unit can all be picked up by this style of microphone. However the versatility is welcomed by those who can use it in a controlled environment with minimal outside noise.


Microphone Accessories

There are many accessories that you can pick up to help with your audio capture. These range from things that will make the audio sound better to things that will just be a helpful convenience. Below are some examples of popular accessories and their uses.

Arm Mounts

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A desk-mounted swing arm with a pop filter

A mount or swing arm is something you can use to help position your mic at any height or distance you feel comfortable with. This gives you much more flexibility over the placement of your mic. It also prevents you from having to lean in to your microphone when talking. A good arm mount will also help in preventing vibrations from your desk or keyboard. Just be aware of the space you have before installing an arm mount.

Shock Mount

A shock mount such as this one is used to “cradle” the mic and prevent it from picking up vibrations. These can come from you banging your desk or even from clicking your keyboard loudly. It’s generally a good idea to pick up a shock mount regardless of whether you have a desk mounted microphone or a swing-arm mount. This is a good, cheap way to ensure you have high quality audio with no muffled “bumps” while recording.

Pop & Wind Filters

Another absolutely essential accessory is a pop or wind filter like this one. These are the small circular mesh pads you see in front of a microphone. Their purpose is to prevent loud peaks in audio (or “pops”) that can happen when fast moving air hits the microphone. If you are leaning into your mic and talking excitedly, your own voice can cause odd popping noises in your audio recording. A pop filter is a cheap way to prevent this from happening. Wind screens are similar but usually cover the whole microphone and are meant to prevent the mic from picking up wind from a breeze or an air conditioning unit.

Acoustic Panelstwitch-streaming-acoustic-panel-mic

If you’re doing Let’s Play style commentary or voice overs for recordings, you may want to invest in a desktop acoustic panel block. These are smaller versions of wall-mounted acoustic panels that help shield your mic from external noises while recording. They are inconvenient and large, so it may not be possible to use them while gaming. But they are great if you are recording commentary for a highlight video or montage.


Ultimately your audio setup and configuration is your choice. You can get as elaborate or simple as you want. We hope this guide helped you answer some common questions and important points of getting the best quality audio you can from your microphone streaming setup.




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