I want to make YouTube videos with quality audio, which microphone should I buy?
Well, are you making vlogs? Let’s Plays? Original short films? Are you recording just yourself? Multiple people in the same room? These are all important considerations that go into your choice of microphone.
For the sake of making YouTube videos, there are two main categories of microphones that you should consider using: condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.
What’s special about condenser microphones?
Condenser microphones come in several different varieties, each with their own particular uses, but they all share the common thread of being very sensitive microphones. This allows you to position the microphone farther away from the speaker, or even out of the camera frame for a polished, professional look.
The consequence of this higher sensitivity is that condenser microphones pick up the ambient noise of the room, for better or for worse. This may be useful in cases where multiple people are sharing one microphone, or if you want to hear all that is in front of the camera. The downside to this, however, is that most rooms have more echo and background noise in them than you might realize. A certain amount of room noise is natural and acceptable, but if you do not want your microphone to pick up the air conditioner or the people talking in the other room, a condenser microphone may not be right for you. (Room echo/noise can be tamed with proper acoustic treatment, but that’s a topic for another blog!)
Within the family of condenser microphones are three types of microphones that may be of use to you as a video maker: a large diaphragm condenser microphone, a shotgun (or “directional”) microphone, and a lapel microphone.
Large diaphragm condenser? That sounds too complicated…
Well don’t be intimidated by the name, they’re really very simple. Without getting into the technical aspects of how these microphones are constructed, they are designed to be so sensitive that they need to be suspended in a shock mount (or “shock cradle”) in order to avoid excessive handling noise. These microphones have excellent frequency response and a sound that resembles what our ears naturally hear. These are best for applications where you want the microphone to pick up the sounds of the room, or where you want a rich frequency response to make your voice sound crisp and clear.
Polar patterns? I don’t want my microphone to freeze!
There are different polar pickup patterns that microphones can have – and they have nothing to do with the North Pole. The most common for condenser microphones is called a cardioid, which is a heart shaped pattern. This means that the microphone picks up the sound within a wide arc of 3D space in front of the microphone, some around the sides of the microphone, and very little from behind. Still with me? The diagrams below make it fairly intuitive to understand:
(Note: These diagrams depict a dynamic microphone, which can also have a cardioid polar pattern. More on dynamic microphones later)
Shotgun microphone? That sounds too dangerous…
If the name sounds too intimidating then just think of it as a directional microphone. As opposed to the cardioid pattern we just saw, these microphones have a directional pattern that is more concentrated on the sound that is positioned in front of them. These microphones are often mounted to cameras or used as boom mics because they excel at picking up the sound that they are pointed at from a distance. These are ideal for filming vlogs and cinematic scenes because they can be positioned outside of the frame while focussing on the subject in the shot.
Lapel microphone? That sounds too fancy…
You don’t need to be wearing a suit to use one. Lapel (or “lavalier”) microphones are small, wearable microphones that you can clip to any kind of shirt. This type of condenser microphone is great for a close-miced vocal sound without having to hold a bulky microphone on camera.
Well what if I don’t want to hear everything around me? Is that where a dynamic microphone comes into play?
Exactly! See, you’re learning.
Dynamic microphones are much less sensitive and only pick up the sound that is immediately in front of them – about 2 to 6 inches in front typically. As a result, they are much less suited for recording a subject’s voice on-screen because the microphone would have to be positioned close to the person’s mouth. These microphones are especially good for voiceovers, radio shows / podcasts, and applications where you want the microphone to isolate only your voice.
Can you just tell me which microphone to buy already?
Like I said, different microphones are best suited for different types of videos, so ultimately the decision of which to choose is up to your specific situation.
It is also very important to note that each person’s voice is unique and will work differently with different kinds of microphones. Any given microphone may suit one person’s voice perfectly while not sounding as good with another person’s voice. But don’t worry too much about that for now. Any affordable studio quality microphone will get you started making YouTube videos – just be sure to buy the right kind!
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