When it comes to picking out a new microphone, like most pieces of technology, the higher the quality of the device, the higher the price tag. If you’re dipping your toe into a new creative field that price barrier can feel like a deterrent. You want something good, but you also don’t want to drop a huge wad of cash on Day One.
To help you finally flip that Now Recording switch on, we’ve broken down the different kind of mics you can pick up as a beginner, and the best uses for them.
Whether you’re looking to start streaming or podcasting, want to start recording yourself performing music, or maybe you just want something you can use to chat with teammates while gaming, there are different kinds of microphones to meet your needs.
Check the polar pattern
When it comes to picking out a mic, one of the most important things you need to know is what the device’s polar patterns are. The polar pattern determines how sensitive the mic is to the various directions that sound approaches it. Put simply, this sensitivity determines what the mic will or won’t pick up when recording.
- Cardioid: This pattern is predominately sensitive to sounds approaching from the front of the mic.
- Bidirectional: Also known as “Figure of 8”, this pattern is sensitive to sounds approaching the front and back of the mic.
- Omnidirectional: As its name suggests, this pattern is sensitive in every direction.
USB microphones vs. XLR microphones
A USB microphone is exactly what it sounds like – a microphone that you can plug straight into one of your computer’s USB port.
An XLR microphone is a more heavy duty option, but it’ll give you the most professional sounding result when compared to all other microphones. It’s the type of microphones used by a musician when performing live or by someone hosting a radio show.
XLR microphones are more versatile when it comes to picking a mic that fits your recording needs, and can give you the clearest audio recording possible. If you’re a musician and want multiple microphones set up when recording, an XLR mic is your best option.
If you’re recording through your computer, you’ll need an audio interface or mixer to run the XLR cable through. If you’re just starting out and working on a budget, this probably isn’t the option for you. But if you need the absolute best sound quality possible and are willing to pay for it, an XLR microphone is what you want.
Which microphone should you pick?
While you can just pick up any old microphone and start recording, some mics are better suited to some tasks than others (although, most of the microphones below would do you well in any category).
However, if you’re after an all-in-one mic that you can use for streaming/podcasting/recording some tunes, you’ll want to grab one of the best all-rounder microphones.
If you’ve spent any amount of time researching USB mics, you’ve most likely run into a recommendation for the Blue Yeti, and it’s not hard to understand why.
This mic comes with tri-capsule array, giving you a wide range of versatility when it comes recording your voice. You can set it to three different polar patterns – cardioid, bidirectional and omnidirectional. Unlike most USB microphones, the Yeti lets you record in stereo making it a great option for the budding musician.
Best microphone for gaming/streaming: Razer Seiren X
Razer are a pretty reliable go-to when it comes to PC gaming accessories, so it makes sense that that’d do a solid job with their streaming microphone, the Seiren X.
The microphone has a supercardiod polar pattern, which helps to isolate your voice when streaming, so you won’t need to worry about any unnecessary background noise being picked up while you’re gaming.
It comes with a built-in shock mount, which will dampen any vibrations – like knocking your desk a bit too hard – from disturbing your recording.
Best microphone for podcasting: Blue Snowball iCE
If you’ve listened to enough podcasts you can easily tell the difference between one that used a professional setup, and one that was clearly just recorded on their laptop’s in-built microphone.
The Blue Snowball iCE is a great option for a podcasting microphone because it’s extremely easy to set up and can capture crystal clear audio.
Compared to most other beginner microphones that sit in the early to mid-$100 range, the Snowball iCe is considerably cheaper, without compromising on quality. If you want something with a little extra go, the standard Snowball microphone isn’t a bad choice either.
Best microphone for musicians: Rode NT-USB
As far as audio brands go, Rode is one of the most respected. The NT-USB microphone is designed with musicians in mind, and is highly versatile when it comes to recording both vocals and instrumental performances.
This microphone comes with a zero-latency headphone jack that lets you monitor the input, and in-built control dials that let you adjust the monitoring level and mix on the fly.
Alternative options: Samson C01U Pro, Audio Technica ATR2100X-USB (Dual USB/XLR Connection).
Are there any essential accessories?
Firstly, if your microphone doesn’t come with a pop filter, you need to buy yourself one as soon as possible. Have you ever listened to a recording of someone and the audio clips when they pronounce certain letters (like the first “puh” sound in pop)? A pop filter is designed to stop that from happening.
Most brands sell pop filters that are designed to fit with their products, but you can also pick up a generic one pretty easily.
A microphone arm is also a great accessory, because it gives you more versatility when it comes to positioning your mic. If you were to just stand your mic on your desk, chances are you’ll pick up vibrations and the sound of things being bumped in your recordings. A microphone arm can help reduce that, making your audio sound cleaner and a tad more professional.
Again, most audio brands make arms designed for their mics, but you can just as easily grab a generic one, and usually at a lower cost. If you’re a bit limited on space, a shock mount can help counteract any vibrations.