If you’re thinking about or if you’ve already started making your own videos or podcasts, picking the right (type) of microphone can make all the difference in your finished product. The audio part of a video is just as important as the video quality itself (would you want to see Transformers while listening to tinny sound), and for a podcast, it can literally be the difference between someone subscribing or not. Even if you have the greatest content there is, if the audio quality simply isn’t up to snuff, people may opt to find someone else with better produced content.
If you just watched the video above, you’ll likely have noticed some major differences between the various microphones used in the video. Undoubtedly, you walked away thinking the AKG D5 walked away with the trophy (at least those are my thoughts). Hopefully what I made clear in the video is that the quality of sound can, and typically is, very dependent on the environment where the recording takes place.
Generally speaking, if you have a less than ideal recording environment for your audio/video, then a dynamic mic is probably your best solution. These are the types of microphones that are used during most live concerts, and the reason is that they mostly just pick up sound that is in very close vicinity to the microphone. This doesn’t meant that dynamic microphones are only useful in large venues, rather, they’re a very “dynamic” microphone in that you can pretty much use them anywhere. Just as a side note here, as mentioned in the video above, the de facto standard for on stage performances are the Shure SM58 for vocals and the Shure SM57 for instruments. I’m very fond of the AKG D5 that I demonstrated in the video above and you’ll notice it performs great in my not-so-friendly recording environment. Well known podcasters/video-casters such as Leo Laporte use the Heil PR-40 which also has a very nice sound to it.
Condenser microphones are known and loved for picking up every nuance and subtle tone of a person’s voice or surroundings. IF, and I can’t stress this enough – IF you have a proper recording environment then a condenser mic might be the right choice for you. If you have a recording booth (there are even portable recording booths like this one) or a room treated with sound deadening materials, a condenser microphone can really bring out the lush sound in your voice. If you listened to the video with headphones on, you could definitely tell the echo that was present while recording on the condenser mics in my room with hardwoods and regular walls. The reverberation is very present and is distracting and thus takes away from the content being delivered. However, you noticed that when I went in the closet with the same microphones, it really transformed the way they sound. Granted, the ATR-3350 lavalier mic that I demo’d isn’t exactly high end, it was definitely usable and I don’t believe would deter a person from consuming your content. With a higher quality microphone such as the Rode NT1A you could produce some great sounding material. There are other popular USB condenser microphones such as the Blue Yeti, but I would recommend against them for reasons I’ll explain below.
I’ll cover these real quick simply because I demo’d the Rode VideoMic in the video. Essentially shotgun microphones are highly directional condenser microphones that filter out noises that aren’t directly in front of the mic. Being a condenser mic and having a high sensitivity to sounds in front of the mic, the Rode VideoMic picked up all echoes off the walls of my room and that’s why you got the reverberation. This particular microphone is more suited to be used outdoors where there are no walls to bounce the sound around and are generally used with higher gain settings so you can get further back from the action of what’s being recorded but still get great sound.
For the record, these aren’t the only types of microphones in existence. There are ribbon microphones, USB microphones, drum microphones, specialty microphones that are now being built for the iPad and other recording devices. As far as USB microphones are concerned, here are my thoughts. If possible, I would avoid them, for two reasons. 1. You are tied to only being able to use the microphone if you have a computer around. 2. You have to use a computer to record the audio, and if you’ve ever had a program crash on a computer, then you know why this is not the greatest idea. For all of you Mac owners out there, I’m also a proud owner of a Mac, and yes, I’ve still had programs crash on this machine. Trusting a computer to do your recording is basically rolling the dice. I would highly recommend NOT getting a USB microphone, and rather purchase either a microphone with XLR inputs (better for reducing noise due to electric interference), or a standard 1/8″ or 1/4″ TRS connector. At least with this approach, you can plug into just about any audio hardware on the market (including a computer) and the money you’ll be spending will be on good audio rather than USB convenience. Just to reiterate, it’s not that USB microphones don’t have great quality – some do, but you’re trusting that your computer will always behave and that you’ll never want to plug into anything else.
For a vast majority of people, a dynamic microphone will likely be the most convenient solution that will still provide professional quality audio. If you’ve already invested in a condenser microphone and you don’t have the right type of environment to do your recordings in, you can either fix your environment or invest in something like the portable recording booth like I mentioned above. There are also things you can do in your post-production (after you’ve recorded the material) that can help fix problems with the audio, but nothing is quite as good, or as easy as getting a quality recording the first time. Choosing the right microphone can not only vastly improve your audio quality, but it can save you time in editing, and increase your subscriber base. A good microphone is not just a tool, but it’s an investment.