Selecting a Quality Microphone for Podcasts, Screencasts, or Videos
Although most computers now have a built-in microphone, if you really want to create quality podcasts, screencasts or videos, you should consider purchasing a better microphone. Selection of a good microphone for your recordings is one of the most important decisions you can make in terms of creating professional-quality productions.
If you want to create professional productions, do not settle for the internal microphone that is installed on your computer. It will not give you the best results in terms of audio. As you watch other people’s screencasts, take note of which microphone they are using. Sometimes professional screencasters will let you know what equipment they have used for their production at the end of their screencast.
In general, you should expect to pay between $60 to $200 to add a good quality microphone to your quiver. Dr. Luanne Fose, the CTLT’s Lead Instructional Designer, prefers the Blue Spark Digital Microphone for podcasting and screencasting. This microphone is a studio-grade condenser (high end) microphone and comes with a shock mount. A shock mount is a type of stand that is often used with higher-end microphones to prevent vibrations from being transmitted through the mic stand, which may add undesired sounds to the output signal. Besides the great sound you will achieve with this mic, the digital lightning version of this mic is laudable for its ability to connect to a Windows or a Macintosh computer through a USB port with phantom power or to an iPad through a lightning pin iPad connector (Note: There is also a 30-pin port version available for older iPads).
What does phantom power mean? Phantom power means that the mic handles the transmission of the electrical DC current through the microphone cables so you don’t need to have it located near an in-wall power source. The Spark mic is perfect for recording with Camtasia on your computer or with Explain Everything on an iPad. The going price these days for this mic is approximately $185 so be ready to put some money on the table for this one; however, it is well worth it!
A Few Technical Terms
Cardioid Mode: When you flick the switch on the microphone to the cardioid mode, you will experience a mic that is well suited for podcasts or sung vocals. This sort of mic does best with sound sources that are directly in front of the microphone. It delivers a rich, full-bodied sound and it’s perfect for screencasting.
Bidirectional Mode: This mode records from both the front and the rear of the microphone. It is ideal for capturing the nuance of an acoustic instrument or recording an interview between two people.
Omnidirectional Mode: This mode picks up sound equally from all directions. Omnidirectional microphones are great for situations where you want to pick up the sound of a room during a meeting or for a “live” recording of a band’s performance.
Below are Dr. Fose’s middle-of-the-road (in terms of cost) USB microphones for podcasting and screencasting. They all connect directly to your USB port of your computer and contain phantom power.
#1: The Rode Podcaster Microphone
From most expensive to least expensive, first we have the Rode Podcaster microphone. The current price for this microphone on Amazon is $229. Rode microphones are often used in recording studios and are known for their clarity for voice and low self-noise. If you buy this one, you might want to purchase the shock mount for it at the additional cost of $39. This one is an excellent microphone!
#2: The Blue Yeti Microphone
Second in the line-up is the Yeti by Blue (remember, Blue is the company that makes the Spark that I previously mentioned). The Yeti is another USB plug-and-play microphone that sells for around $85. It is a mono/stereo condenser microphone that has the advantage of employing the multiple patterns selection of Cardioid, Bidirectional, and Omnidirectional with the flick of a switch.
#3: Audiotechnica AT 2020
The third quality microphone I would suggest is the Audiotechnica AT 2020. Audiotechnica microphones of any model will be of quality, but this particular model is especially favored by podcasters for its low-mass diaphragm that brings about extended frequency response and vocal clarity. It comes with a tripod stand (not a shock mount) and it sells for approximately $99.
#4: Blue Nessie Microphone
The fourth choice for a quality microphone on the cheap is the Blue Nessie, costing around $60. The Nessie is a very competent microphone for the price. It is recognized for its top quality, like the rest of the Blue family. Just like the Yeti, the Snowball has the multiple pattern selection choices of cardioid, bidirectional, and omnidirectional with the added benefit of an internal shockmount and a built-in pop filter.
#5: Blue Snowball Microphone
The fifth choice in the quality microphone line-up is the Blue Snowball. Selling for about $50 these days, the Snowball has the ability to select from the three multiple pattern choices like the Nettie does. Do you see a pattern here? The company “Blue” creates excellent microphones for podcasting / screencasting.
However, the clarity of the Snowball isn’t quite as good the Nettie and you have to have this microphone fairly close to your mouth to achieve a strong signal, so it’s not probably a mic you would want if you plan to record talking head videos. In general you don’t want the viewer to even see the mic when you’re recording with a talking head.
Studies have shown that viewers will generally put up with poor resolution in videos, but they will have a negative reaction to videos where the audio quality is substandard.
— Dr. Luanne Fose,
CTLT Lead Instructional Designer
Headphone Microphones: Pros and Cons
Headphone microphones work great for synchronous online meetings (with software tools such as WebEx or Blackboard Collaborate).
Headphone microphones reduce feedback when several people are using microphones in an online space.
If you record in a busy office space and noise from your office mates is a problem when recording, a headphone microphone may be just what you need because of its noise-cancelling capabilities. The Logitech USB Headset H530 sells for approximately $99 and is one of the better cheaper headsets that works on Windows or the Macintosh. It is also excellent for clearer internet calls in Skype or iChat. Another quality headset that runs a bit cheaper (approx. $45) is the Plantronics Audio 400 DSP Headset.
If you plan to use your talking head in your video, headphone microphones are distracting for viewers. Let’s face it, no one looks good with headphones on their head.