The never ending quest for quality audio: What microphones do you recommend?

What microphone(s) do you recommend?

microphonesWell…?  Yes! That’s a question for you.  What microphones do you use when you create your screencast, web video or e-Learning projects?  And, would you recommend it?

Quality audio is a never ending quest isn’t it?  The topic of recommended microphones comes up fairly regularly.  It came up again recently in this LinkedIn thread. (Note: Login might be required.)

For my part, I often switch-off between…

  • Blue Microphone’s Yeti (desktop USB condenser microphone)
  • Samson CO1U (also a desktop USB condenser mic)
  • Audio-Technica ATR3350 (a wired lapel mic which you see me using in a lot of my “picture-in-picture” + screencast videos)
  • A $35 Plantronics headset with boom mic (I can’t even find a link to it anymore because they’ve probably stopped making whatever model this is that I have)

And now I’m waiting for a Shure FP Wireless pack.  (FP5 is the receiver. FP1 is the transmitter.  And it comes with a WL 183 Lavalier microphone.)

Why all the different microphones?

I couldn’t really tell ya.  Other than to say that, over time, I just sorta woke up one morning and realized these different mics were littered across my two offices.

But, here’s the thing.  I don’t think the holy-grail-microphone-quest thingy is all about just the microphone.  As a matter of fact, I’m on record suggesting that it’s worth considering the heinous act of “dumbing down” your microphone in some cases.  (Hence, my trusty $35 Plantronics above.)  Here’s my response to a recent discussion about all this:

linkedin discussion about recommended audio microphones“…What I’ve found is that while microphone quality is (important), the overall quality of your audio is the end result of the interaction of both microphone AND the acoustic quality of the room you’re recording in.  If your options are limited in regards to office acoustics, it might actually be better to use a lower-end headset mic since their sound capture patterns tend to be more directional.

Like you, my (Blue Mic) Yeti records much better at my home office than in the business office.  The thing is, all the rooms in my business office location are pretty much the same — acoustically crappy: AC vents all over the place with hollow drywalls comprised of metal framing and populated with furniture made of “acoustically bouncy” components. (I.e., faux wood, and weird plastic composites.)

All this serves to help sound bounce really well ALL over the place.

Ironically, a great microphone will do really well in capturing all that bouncy sound.

(Then I digress a bit to suggest a few settings on the Yeti folks might try in different acoustic environments.)

Yeti has 4 settings on it — try the most directional setting you can. (Omni and Cardioid will probably be too wide in an acoustically bouncy room. Stereo or Bidirectional might work better.)

(And here’s the main thing…)

But, even this might not be enough if the room just won’t cooperate.  In those instances, I’ve actually found better results by “dumbing down” the microphone to accommodate the room I’m forced to work in, then relying on a couple of handy sound filters in post-production.

Don’t get me wrong. A better solution is to find a better room. (i.e, smaller–think “booth” or coat closet — with heavy carpeting and heavy wood furniture.) If the project warrants it, you might look into purchasing acoustic curtains to drape over the dry walls.

Audacity sound editorBut, if options are limited, then my Plan B is, ironically, an old $35 Plantronics headset AND application of a couple of sound filters in Audacity during post. (Using Audacity, I apply the Noise Filter on the first pass, then the Bass Boost filter on a second pass to my Plantronics-recorded audio.)

For e-Learning projects, that combination actually ended up working really well — much better than using the Yeti in my acoustically bouncy office.”

So that’s my story.  What’s yours?

What microphone(s) do you recommend?


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About Mel

Mel is the online training architect and screencasting wizard at Kareo, one of Forbes' 2013 list of 100 Most Promising Companies in America. He's also the creator of Digital-Know-How, a training website devoted to developing learners' skills for screencasting and web video course development. Mel is also the chief blogger of ScreencastingWizard.com; Mel's personal blog. The comments and opinions you read here are Mel's and not associated with any other company.
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  • Jorge Olenewa

    Hi Mel,

    I recently purchased a Zoom H1 at a pro photo shop. It’s fantastic for high quality directional stereo recording whenever it is difficult to use a headset or the microphone built into a webcam or camera (any kind), and the price is very reasonable for the level of quality that it produces, at about $120.00. It records digitally onto a microSD card (comes with a 2GB card, but supports up to 32 GB), and has many other pro features. If you need a pro level of quality and control over the audio, this one can’t be beat, except for the more expensive models. You can check it out at http://www.zoom.co.jp

    In addition, if you must have a top quality headset, take a look at the products from VXI at http://www.vxicorp.com. These are also pro quality at a reasonable price (though much higher than $35). Also, your audience should know that there are many advantages to using a USB mike as opposed to one that plugs into the audio input on your computer. The main reason is that the voice is converted to digital format on the mike/headset, instead of using your computers processing power while you may be trying to record video at the same time, which can degrade the quality of the audio.

    By the way, thank you very much for your video about synchronizing sound and video. It is incredibly informative and I finally found out what a clapper is used for! I am ordering one for $11.99 on the Web and I highly recommend your video.

    I hope this helps.

    • http://www.MelAclaro.com/ Mel Aclaro

      That definitely helps, Jorge. And, you added a very good point about the USB microphones. Thanks for that.

      Also, good tip about Zoom H1. In fact, I just recommended one to a colleague. I wasn’t aware of the VXI website. Definitely a good one to bookmark.

      Thank you for adding these tips. Great add. :)

  • Eric Salerno

    Good read, Mel. I like your articles. I used to use a Logitech $35 boom headset and did the same thing in Audacity, but I would run the Bass Boost first, THEN the noise removal, and I got better (quieter silences) results. I actually employ the same process and get even better results when I plug my Zoom H2 digital recorder into the USB connection and use it as an input to Audacity. I mount it to a tripod and tip it towards me.

    I have also combined the H2 with an Audio Technica “Pro88W-R35 VHF” wireless transmitter/receiver system that came with a basic ATR35 Omni Microphone. I’ve had mixed results with the lapel mic connected to the wireless, and have read that I might improve quality with a mic that uses phantom power.

    For those reading comments, I was surprised at how much the sound improved when I did a test with a mic surrounded by pillows. Yep, pillows. I made a little sound booth on my desk to try and eliminate the slightly noticeable echo / tunnel effect that my painted wall office provides. It’s worth a shot if no one’s watching you talk into a bunch of pillows on your desk! I’m considering making a small box lined with padding or foam.

    • http://www.MelAclaro.com/ Mel Aclaro

      Great additions, Eric. I like the list you have and I agree with the Zoom H-series. I haven’t been using one yet, but have already recommended it to others based on the reviews on it, a demo I’ve had on one of the H1′s and from mentions by folks such as yourself.

      LOL. Pillows! :) Yep, I believe it. I remember an article Betsy Weber over at Techsmith wrote a couple of years ago about how she had to do a quick screencast while on the road and the best place she could fine to get good audio was under her bed covers amongst the pillows. :) So, yes, I don’t doubt that will work… And I’ve also had great results with closets and also the inside of my car, come to think of it. :)

      • Eric Salerno

        Thanks, Mel. Here’s a link to something I came across today, and thought it might be relevant to this post: Home Studio Sound Booth. At $150, it’s fairly affordable, but if you’re handy, can probably be done for about 1/10th of that.

        http://www.editorskeys.com/products/recording-equipment/portable-vocal-booth-home-version-soundbooth/

        • http://www.MelAclaro.com/ Mel Aclaro

          Thanks Eric. Another good share for our readers. Yeah, I’ve seen the booth and in fact have one on order for a media room we’re setting up at our company. I haven’t used it before and can definitely envision a blog review on it once we have the new studio online. :)

  • Owen Peery

    I use a Blue Yeti mic. I always do the audio recording at home and I can get really good results. Results at work very, and if I have to re-record a section of the audio, I may have to use a different room, with different ceiling heights, acoustic properties, so it always sounds different. If I do it at home, with my hand built vocal box, my audio always sounds the same. I agree, a mic can only do so much. I used a Mac Mice mic for years and with the vocal box, it sounds better than many mics that are 10 times the price.

  • Owen Peery

    Vary*** not very