A common question I see on the internet is “what microphone should I get for streaming or podcasting?” and almost everyone’s instant response is the “Blue Yeti.” It’s true that the Yeti isn’t a bad microphone by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not the be-all, end-all mic for every situation. In fact, in my experience, there are many other better microphones out there for various applications. So what I’m going to attempt to do here today is explain the difference between different microphones so you can determine what best suits your needs. Of course, at the end of the day this is just my opinion, and if you really want to record yourself, your options are endless. You can even do it with your phone microphone in a quiet room. But if you’re looking for more professional results, let’s dive in.
When shopping for microphones, you’ll find that there are essentially two types of mics you’ll be looking at. First, let’s talk condenser microphones. These are the ones that you see in recording studios that artists use to record vocals and certain instruments. They’re known for being able to pick up a wide frequency range, and for being very sensitive so the mic can pick up every detail of your voice. This is category the “Blue Yeti” falls under. Keep in mind that most microphones are NOT USB, and that condenser microphones require a current to run through them called “phantom power” that gives them the ability to be this sensitive to sound. If you don’t get a microphone that is specifically USB-enabled, you’re going to need other accessories to get a condenser microphone up and running. There’s a lot more to the science of condenser microphones that I’m not going to delve into here, but if you’re interested in more information about that, a quick Google search is all you need. There’s a ton of information out there about them that will help you better understand them.
The other type of microphone is called a dynamic microphone. While not as sensitive or clear as condenser microphones, dynamics are much sturdier and have far better noise rejection which will be helpful if there’s anything in your recording area you don’t want to be picked up, like loud appliances or pets. You’ve probably seen these sorts of microphones in action when you go to concerts or live events. Dynamic microphones are also often used in radio stations.
We’ll explain things like polar patterns and other terminology, as we go, but for now let’s focus on which mic is best for a couple of applications, primarily streaming and podcasting. So let’s start with podcasting.
When preparing to podcast, you need to consider what your setup is going to be. Are you going to be the only person recording, or will there be multiple people in the room? Will you be talking over the internet? If you’re in a quiet, small room, a condenser might be right for you.
The Blue Snowball is probably going to be the best bang for your buck. This condenser will run you around $50 (sometimes less on sale) and is as plug and play as it gets. All you get with this guy is the microphone, a small stand and a USB cable. Less is more in this case as the Blue Snowball is very capable of giving you great sound with very little in terms of set up. It features a Cardioid polar pattern, meaning the microphone picks up sound mainly in front of it and a small area in back, making it perfect for people recording alone. For any fine tuning, you’ll have to open up whatever sound editing program or Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) you use to adjust things like “Gain” (The sensitivity of the microphone) from inside there.
Most other USB condenser microphones live in the $100 dollar range. While they all slightly differ in features, all these microphones accomplish the same task. None of them are bad choices. It really comes down to your personal preference.
Samson has released several USB microphones over the years and while they may not be as well known as Blue, their products work decently and most of their USB microphones hover in this price range. Take a look at the Samson C03U or Samson Meteor Mic. The C03U is a little more geared towards a studio setup with a few bells and whistles like a low end roll off (the microphone will cut out some of the low end frequencies that don’t factor in for vocals much) and adjustable polar patterns (the microphone and be switched to pick up sound from multiple sides) while the Meteor Mic is built for someone on the go with a very strong metal outer shell, a built in mute button, volume knob for monitoring, and headphone jack. While the MSRP for the “Meteor Mic” is about $100, it goes for much less now as the that model is a little older.
Audio Technica is a well known brand for audio equipment with a wide line of microphones for everyone’s budget. They also carry various USB versions of their preexisting microphones. In this $100 price range, you’ll find Audio Technica’s AT2500. This microphone is roughly on par with the Meteor Mic and C03U. While I’ve used the XLR (cable for a normal microphone) version of this line without issue, I have read about some problems with the USB version. There are newer models out there as well but they’re a bit pricier.
Shure is a relatively new player when it comes to USB Microphones, really only diving into this a few years ago, but they’re pretty well-known for making reliable equipment that’s been on top of the industry for a very long time (the company has been around since 1925). While they don’t have many options, their entry-level USB Microphone called the “MV5” boasts some functionality that a good chunk of the microphones listed to this point don’t, like iOS connectivity and three digital signal processing (DSP) settings, meaning that microphone characteristics can be adjusted to better suit your voice. Mostly everything else is the same, like a built-in headphone jack for monitoring, and a mute button.
Blue offers the “Yeti Nano” at this price point as well, which is basically a normal Yeti with a couple features shaved off. You’ll get the built-in headphone jack and volume control like most of the other microphones, and the adjustable polar patterns, but instead of four like on the normal Yeti, you’ll only get two (Cardioid and Omnidirectional) while maintaining the same great recording quality that the normal “Yeti” offers. Blue has also included a companion app with this microphone that lets you control the gain, polar pattern and headphone volume from it instead of having to mess with knobs. It’s a capable little microphone for the price point, but the app is ultimately pointless as you can do most of these things in whatever program you’re using or directly on the microphone itself.
In the $130-$150 range, The Blue Yeti, Audio Technica AT2020I, and Samson G-Track are all decent microphones. Basically, these guys have the most features with higher recording quality, more polar patterns to select from, and some volume knobs for various options. (headphone volume and gain specifically on the G-Track). Most people will lean towards the “Blue Yeti” and there’s no reason not to. Its a solid microphone with plenty of options. The only real caveat is that you’ll probably never actually use the options that make this more expensive. While having adjustable polar patterns is a great idea in theory, it’s really only helpful for singers who where recording a duet or gang vocals. If you were to record a podcast with two people in the same room and want it to be high clarity, you’d need both speakers, and to be about 2 to 3 inches away from the mic for the entire recording, which isn’t ideal. If you just want to get the audio recorded and quality is less of a factor, you can just slap this thing on the table set it to omnidirectional and hit record. But bear in mind that if you’re not that close to the microphone you will end up with thin sounding vocals.
USB condensers above the $150 price point will give you diminishing returns. You won’t notice an increase in the quality of the recording at this point and most extra features are novelty than necessity. For instance, Shure’s “MV51” offers more DSP options but not much else for the $100 jump over the MV5. Blue’s “Yeti Pro” offers higher recording quality and an XLR option to plug the microphone into a recording interface or mixer, but otherwise you’re getting the same microphone as the regular “Blue Yeti.” While a high recording quality might sound good in theory, this is likely a perk you’ll never notice if you’re just recording spoken word. Blue does offer other microphones like the “Spark Digital” but they’re hardly worth mentioning here. If you’re interested, head over to Blue Microphones and have yourself a look at their options. I’m not saying everything above $150 is useless, but if you’re willing to spend this much money, there are better things to focus on. (We’ll get to that later).
While there aren’t as many USB dynamic microphones as there are USB condenser microphones, the ones that are here deserve a look for a few reasons. Mainly, if you’re doing live stuff, you never know what might happen. Someone could be mowing the lawn outside, you could need to use your air conditioner, you might even need to look something up while recording and need to use your keyboard. Every single one of these instances will be picked up by a condenser microphone and there’s not much you can do to change that because condensers were made to pick up every little detail of your voice and then some. Some people might argue that you can add “Noise Gates” (a tool that will essentially mute the mic under a certain volume threshold) or EQ the incoming signal (when you equalize, you’re adjusting the frequencies of a recording to better accentuate the good characteristics of your sound while lowering some of the bad ones) but that’s not something you will just know how to do right off the bat, nor is it a foolproof way to fix the problem. Condensers are also not great for recording a multi microphone setup as you’ll get a lot of sound bleed from the whole room. You might as well be recording everything on one track. Dynamic microphones are made with this purpose in mind, rejecting noises that aren’t right in front it to give you just your vocals. This doesn’t mean that you’ll get a clear recording in the middle of parade, but you probably won’t have to stop recording because some guy outside of your house is singing. The other nice thing is for most basic dynamic microphones, they don’t need to be USB since they don’t need any extra power to work. While that’s an option, I don’t recommend it because then you will be using your computer’s sound card and processing power to record the podcast which could lead to some recording issues.
Audio Technica makes the AT2005 which is as straightforward as it gets. Plug this guy in via USB, adjust the gain, and hit record with whatever program you’re using. The microphone runs from $80-$100 and you’ll see largely the same sort of offerings from Samson and CAD with the same basic features. There’s only one USB dynamic microphone that stands head and shoulders above the rest and that’s the Rode “Podcaster.” This microphone has the same quality of life features you see on something like the Blue Yeti, like a mute button and built-in headphone jack with volume control, but combines the perks of a dynamic microphone with a brand that is fairly well-regarded in the music and sound industry. The biggest drawback is the price which is a hefty $230, but you’d be getting probably the last microphone you’ll ever need if you we’re ever going to do podcasting or streaming and wanted to keep it simple with a USB microphone.
Another option to save money would be to buy a mixer or recording interface for your computer so you can essentially use any microphone on the market. There are no real drawbacks to this besides it being more expensive than to just purchase a USB microphone. The recording interface can be used as your sound card while your computer processes your recordings, which leads to faster rendering times (when you export your recording to a listenable file) and you’ll have the option of plugging in multiple microphones for a multitrack recording, so if you have someone over you want to interview, you can make their vocals separate, allowing you to better adjust and edit the sound. (This option will change for each product, so if that’s a feature you’re looking for you’ll need to pay more) While this would cost more, you can get a “bare essentials” setup going for less than the cost of a Blue Yeti Pro.
If you’re looking for something better or larger, more impressive models are out there. I recommend you go look them up If that’s something you’re interested in. I’m going to leave out mixers here because unless you’re willing to spend above $400 dollars on just the mixer, most will only offer stereo recordings going in USB. Mixers are great for live shows if you want to record something and don’t have a computer near you, but for the most part, recording interfaces offer more bang for your buck for our application.
Focusrite is probably one of the more popular companies for entry level interfaces. They offer everything you need to get you going at affordable prices and don’t sacrifice quality. The Focusrite Scarlett Solo offers one XLR port for any microphone, one 1⁄4″ jack for instruments, Phantom Power for condensers, adjustable gain knobs to dial in how sensitive you want your microphone along with some of the best preamps(what powers the microphone so you’re able to hear it) and a high recording quality. One of these will cost you anywhere from $90-$110 depending on if you can get one on sale. If you want an interface with two ports, be prepared to pay any where from 130-160 for the Scarlett Duo.
Other companies such as Steinberg (a subsidiary of Yamaha), Mackie, Presonus, M-Audio and Behringer to name a few, all offer similar products ranging from $80-$200 depending on which company you choose. I’m partial to Focusrite, but also take a look at M-Audio, Behringer, or Steinberg as you’ll find close to the same quality and options with their respective models.
As far as the microphones go, looking beyond just the Blue Yeti, your whole world has basically opened up. Do you want a $50 dynamic microphone just to get you by? There’s a microphone for that. Do you want a $700 condenser microphone with all the bells and whistles? You can do that too! For now, let’s focus on the less expensive option.
The old standby for dynamic microphones for the last 60 years has been the Shure SM58. With second-to-none durability and an overall decent frequency response, this microphone will get the job done no matter what you need it to do. It might not look as cool as some of the other microphones but make no mistake, the Shure SM58 is a work horse through and through. Since it’s a dynamic microphone, you’ll get that sound rejection but the polar pattern is a Cardioid so it’ll only pick up what’s being thrown right at it. At about $100, it’s a great microphone.
Moving over to condensers there are a lot of options. Blue makes the new $100 “Ember,” but if you keep an eye out, their higher model, the “Spark” also goes on sale from time to time for around $100. The “Ember” is a bare bones package with a Cardioid polar pattern and slim design to give it the self proclaimed title of “The Streamers Microphone.” The “Spark” is basically the same idea with a couple more bells and whistles including a low-end roll off at about 100hz (the threshold frequency that the microphone will begin recording above) and a 20db pad (when you have something incredibly loud, you can use this to lower the gain without moving any knobs on your interface or program to give you more room to adjust).
This is where companies like Audio Technica and AKG begin to shine. With their tried and true technology, both companies have offerings in the sub $100 range that rival the “Ember.” Audio Technica has the AT2020 which is all the great parts of the USB version without any of the connectivity issues. AKG has the “P120” which has all the same features at the “Spark” but for half the normal price. You can always go cheaper with companies like Behringer, but you’ll be sacrificing quality at that point so my advice is to stay around the $100 range.
Jumping back in dynamics, we’re going to cover the final frontier for these microphones. These are the sort of microphones you see radio personalities, large podcast companies, and lets players/larger streamers use. These microphones are expensive, but I figured I’d list them as you’re “Pie in the Sky” items in case anyone’s interested.
MXL BCD-1 is the cheapest “broadcast” microphone you’re going to find. At about $150 it boasts great sound rejection for noisy rooms without sacrificing quality. While there’s nothing that pops out about this microphone, there’s also nothing to hate and at this price point in this category, you’re going to have a hard time finding anything cheaper. The Rode Procaster is the XLR version of the Rode Podcaster. Not much has changed between the two and they’re the same price at about $230, so the only thing that’s really being gained is the ability to switch this to another XLR microphone on the fly. Rode has great quality, but this only makes sense if you’ve already bought an interface and are looking for a broadcast microphone.
The last two are pretty much the cream of the crop in this category. Both of these microphones have been used in recording studios and radio stations across the globe. The first is the Electro-Voice RE20. RE20 is pretty much a standard. It can ignore slight to moderate room echo without losing the articulation of your voice and like most dynamic microphones, has a pop filter built in to reduce plosvie sounds (P sounds). It has a remarkable pedigree and works great. It also costs $400.
The final microphone we’re going to cover is the Shure SM7B. The SM7B is THE microphone for vocal work if you’re going to use a dynamic. Having a great, flat frequency response, incredible noise rejection, and the ability to adjust the frequency response on the microphone are all great perks. Unfortunately, the microphone comes with a hefty price tag of $400 dollars to start, and another $100-$150 for a line booster because this microphone is so quiet it needs some extra juice to get up to line level. Cloud Microphones makes the CL-1 to combat this problem, and one of those will run you $150.
No matter what you get, some basic accessories to invest in are a pop filter and maybe a microphone stand depending on what comes with the setup you choose. Both can be found for relatively cheap and you can even make your own pop filters if you’re really on a budget. I’d also recommend Googling HOW to use whatever microphone you purchase as it’s not as easy as just sitting on the couch and hitting record with the microphone a couple feet away on the coffee table. (It can be, but it won’t sound great) A little research can go a long way.
Personally, I think dynamic microphones make far better podcasting and streaming microphones for amateurs. They are far more forgiving than condensers and we don’t all have studios where it’s completely quiet. However, if you want to get into this and just get your hands dirty, pick up a Blue Snowball and mess around with it. $50 is not too big price to pay to enter into this hobby. You probably won’t sound the best without some fine tuning and microphone technique, but it’s definitely possible. Podcasting is some of the most fun I’ve ever had and I hope this helps you get on your way to achieving that same feeling. If you have any questions, feel free to ask me on Twitter @Kimono_VestLord or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!