Microphone Round-up!

Ever heard the saying, ‘Audio is King’? One of the most difficult parts of a screencast is getting quality audio, in my opinion. And, there have been studies that show that the quality of your audio affects your audience’s perception of the quality of your presentation more than the visuals. Poor audio = people think poor presentation. Kathy Sierra has a great blog post on the effect of sound on users that you can read here.

I struggle with audio especially when I’m out of a controlled environment. I often like to make videos on the road at events – usually in a noisy conference hall with high ceilings. This is a less than ideal recording situation.

So, I thought I’d round up a bunch of different microphones at work and compare them for you. Matt Pierce, the Training Manager, and I headed to our soundbooth and tested 6 different microphones. We used Audacity to record the audio at 44,100Hz. We tried to have as much consistency as possible, but we had to adjust the audio levels on each microphone. You will see in the screencast what level we recorded at. Also, I made the links a hotspot in the video, so you can click them if you’d like more info about the microphone. The screencast is short – running 1:30.

The text we used was from the classic book, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ by Lewis Caroll:

bq. “Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was all dark overhead: before her was another long passage, and the White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it.”

Also, you should always check your microphone’s manual to see where the most sensitive spot is on your microphone. That will dictate where you speak into it. *Hint* – it may not always be on top.

We liked the Audio-Technica Microphone as well as the Samson and Lapel microphones. What microphones have you tried that you like? Any tips to share with us and other readers?

**Update**:

It was suggested that I add prices for the microphones. So, here you go! *Note:* I could find most of the microphones/webcam cheaper than MSRP on places like Amazon.com.

  • http://twitter.com/homeion homeion

    Nice. I use the logitech headset. It sounds awful compared to others you have used. Would love to know app. price in the notes.
    Good show.

  • http://training.techsmith.com Matt Pierce

    Hi homeion,

    I was looking at prices for these after we made the recordings and they can vary. I don’t know if Amazon still has such a good deal, but I saw the Audio-Technica Microphone for something like $92 USD.

    It’s definitely worth shopping around a bit to see what deal you can get.

    Best Regards,
    Matt Pierce
    Training Manager
    TechSmith Corporation

  • http://twitter.com/circler Rodney Blackwell

    Thanks for this! I saw Betsy tweet that you guys were going to do microphone reviews and this was just what I needed.

    Headed over to Amazon today to pick up the Audio-Technica (it’s $117.28 at amazon today). That one sounded the best overall to me.

    Do you guys use a pop filter when you do most of your regular screencasts?

  • http://procasts.co.uk/examples.html Ian Ozsvald (ProCasts.co.uk)

    Matt and Betsy – excellent short demo! I’ll link to this in my screencast-tutorial series on the blog, it’ll complement the ‘how to record great audio’ post very nicely.
    For reference I use an sE2200a which Amazon lists at $299USD. It also needs a phantom power supply (mine in the UK would have been approx. $80USD) and an XLR->USB converter (I use a FastTrack USB – Amazon says $70USD).
    If you want to hear an example see the previous post (Adblock Plus screencast).
    It is great to clearly hear the improved sound of the more expensive condenser mics (especially the AT and Samson) over the cheaper dynamic mics.
    Betsy – note that the bit.ly link to the AudioTechnica is broken (mal-formed url!). I’d also suggest linking directly to the non-flash version of the site, the Flash version insists that us Europeans visit a Euro-friendly page which promptly forgets the mic you were linking to!
    Ian.

  • http://www.Knyshov.com/?ts Leonid S. Knyshov

    I use Zoom H2 for my audio.

    It’s less expensive than what you tested and has very interesting other features.

    You can use it directly as a microphone into USB and also as a standalone recorder (I use an 8GB SDHC card).

    You can hear a test of its audio (background audio is a separate track, also recorded with this mic at another point) on my http://www.harddiskcrashed.com site. You can hear the noise of my camcorder… :)

    Love it!!!

  • Tricia

    That’s amazing! Thanks so much for sharing! Really demonstrates the importance of good audio.

  • John

    The Samson C03U and the Audio-Technica microphones sounded the best out of this bunch.

  • http://www.maniactive.com/states/blogger.html Laura Bergells

    Thank you! Excellent post!

    For years, I was down in the Microphone dumps — until February, when an audiophile friend told me to get the Blue Snowball.

    One of the reasons mikes go bad — so quickly — is the infernal line — which starts to short out. With the Blue, it’s a USB port. If my USB line starts to go south — I’ll go buy another! Plus, it’s pretty sturdy, so I doubt it’s going to go bust anytime soon.

    My only problem — not I’m chagrined to go listen to old screencasts. So scratchy and poppy… if you’re going to screencast, get a good mike.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • http://davidkamerer.com/spoonful David Kamerer

    I use the Blue Snowball and the Audio Technica 2020 regularly. Both are good for the price (about $100 each). The Blue is bulky for taking it into the field (it’s about the size of a grapefruit). The Blue has a couple of pickup patterns you can choose from; the “wrong” setting may account for the low level on the test recording above. The 2020 is better sounding to me by a little bit. It’s also very well finished and more “pro” looking. However, the 2020 mini tripod is weak. Mine broke the first time I used it. I use a regular mic stand or the Snowball mic stand with the 2020. The room, recording level and mic-to-subject placement all are significant variables, so test before you record your masterpiece.

  • Wally Larsen

    Great topic!

    A trick I use is to always record in mono rather than stereo. Using stereo can imbed a lot of weird background noise, whereas mono is fairly clean. I’ve used Audacity, but also had a lot of luck with Windows Recorder. When I pull the file into Camtasia I use audio enhancement to filter for background noise, and get a decent audio track. I use a simple Plantronics headset with one of those black foam filters of the microphone to screen out the plosive sounds.

  • Robert Wickman

    Great post. I too like the sound of the first and last mics best. I wonder about background noise – does anyone use a sound booth or a mini mic sound booth to isolate the audio? I came across this post that seemed like a good idea: http://blogs.oreilly.com/digitalmedia/2008/02/build-a-portable-vocal-booth.html

    Is it redundant and unnecessary? My recording space is a 13′x11′ office with a window.

  • http://www.clarkston.k12.mi.us Matt McCarty

    I have both a Samson (C01U) and a Blue Snowball. I have the same problem with the Blue in that I just can’t get a good level out of it…no matter what setting I use. I’m thinking that Blue might have a manufacturing issue as other have said they love their Blue. I should have sent it back right away for a new one. If anybody has any ideas I’d love to get the Blue working better.

  • David Frazier

    This is a great demonstration of the different types of mics. I personally use a Rode Podcaster hung off a flexible mic arm and suspended in a shock mount. I get great audio with this mic for all my voice over work. I also use a cheap wireless lapel mic (because that is all I could afford) when I do on camera work and you can definitely tell a difference between the two mics when a video is all put together. I don’t have the luxury of a sound booth nor do I have the room in my office for one but I desparately need something. My office is right next to an air handler it is rather noisy to say the least. But believe it or not, Camtasia Audio Enhancer does a pretty descent job of getting rid of the awful roar. What I do is put about 10 seconds worth of nothing but background noise before I start any recording. Then when I use the enhancer, I do the manual method, select that 10 seconds and remove it. It works pretty good.
    I was also wondering, will the two styles of mics, studio and lapel mics, always have a sound quality difference regardless of cost? Is there something that I can do to blend them? Does anyone have any recommendations on this practice? I would be very interested to hear what the rest of the communities take is on this.

    Thanks for a great demo.

    David F

  • Stuart McGarrity

    What happened with the logitech recording? I’ve never used that mic but surely its not the typical quality. Were the cables being pulled or something?

    Stuart

  • http://www.GaryNorth.com Gary North

    David, here is a $150 solution: the Porta Booth.

    http://www.harlanhogan.com/PortaBoothArticle.php

    Use it with your rode.

  • willswords

    Did you normalize the audio? It might be a better comparison if the audio was normalized across the different microphone recordings.

  • Wendy Jones

    Stuart, Unfortunately, that is the typical recording quality of the Logitech. I use the Logitech for recording and the noise you hear is from the cord and earpiece. You can’t move at all while recording or you get these ‘pops’ and ‘thud’ noises.

  • Robert

    Excellent post, this was very helpful. Based on the round-up I included the at2020 and Samson c03u to my search criteria and ended up purchasing the at2020.

    I haven’t had a chance to record anything official yet, but it really shines with various test recordings and my own round-up with some built-in, webcam and other usb mics.

    Now I can’t get Alice and the rabbit out of my head…

    Currently the setup is with a MXL WS-001 windscreen inside of a 10x10x10 canvas box. I don’t have any acoustic foam yet for true porta-booth style (really no room in a 10″ box), but for now I think it’s working well to help absorb any sound or vibration bouncing around my desk.

  • http://www.screencastprofits.com Lon Naylor

    In fairness to the Logitech (I own & use a wireless version), this was just poor recording technique.

    All you have to do is: Get the mic out of your mouth!

    The garbage is caused by “plosives”…forceful bursts of air that are ejected from the mouth when certain consonants (P, B, T, etc.) are spoken.

    This problem (and the same fix) applies to any of the mics tested…

    Lon

  • kaye

    Love your post! I have a Samson CO3U. Great quality but there’s a constant hiss…In here, your recording is very clean. May I know how you did it?
    Thanks!

  • http://idratherbewriting.com Tom Johnson

    My favorite mic is the Electro-Voice RE20. It’s about $400, but if you’re in a corporate environment and you want to sound more professional, it’s worth it. You also need an audio converter because this is an XLR mic. You can hear how the mic sounds with a tutorial I recorded here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EvOQdUE2CCA

  • MiaFan2010

    I use the Logitech USB Headset and the Blue Snowball Microphone because they are really good microphones. Thanks for the post!

  • http://screencast.in Rajat Chodhary

    friends,
    I want to start career as a screencaster. But, I have a problem – have very tight budget upto 50 USD [because, when it come to Indian price it turn in 100 USD]. I need headset for noisy room with 2 room-mates, with less hiss-n-buzz sound, clear acceptable audio for my screencast. Suggest option from Logitech, Altec-lansing and Microsoft.
    I have lined up my three options [All model with USB Interface]:
    Logitech H390,
    Logitech H530,
    Microsoft LX3000,
    Thank for suggestion in advance.

  • cory Casanave

    I have also been doing the microphone search – one thing I have learned is that the distance from the mic, the position and room acoustics can make a huge difference. Without knowing these factors for this comparison it is hard to judge which will work best for my situation. For a screencast, we can’t have the mic “in our face”, for me that is at least a foot away. My understanding is mics like the procaster/podcaster need to be very near the mouth (2 inches). I would be interested to know the conditions under which the above tests were made.

    What I have tried thus far is:

    * AKG Perception 120 – clear sound but very sensitive and a bit “peaky” – this is the first I tried based on Guitar Center recommendations.
    * AT2035 – Fuller sound but “muddy”, I was disappointed in the 2035 after reading good things about it – however this may be due to my room.
    * Cobalt Co9 (Dynamic) – Works rather well for $30 but needs the gain boosted.
    * Logitech USB mic and plantronics headset – not good at all.

    I have tried all of these at about 14 inches (front-left) and 6 inches (to the side). This is in a normal home/office room which is not at all acoustically treated. I am running these into a PreSonus 22VSL which has the advantage that I can do real-time EQ, Gain and compression on record. At this point I am using the Co9 but looking for a better alternative.

    I want to explore and know if anyone has tried: Shotguns (e.g. Audio-Technica AT897 ) , lower super cardiod mics (Rode NT3, Samson CL8), voiceover mics (VO: 1-A), better quality dynamics mics (Sure Beta 58a). My price target is under $200 but some of these are a bit more.

    I will probably post some recordings once I get this figured out a bit. Any experience or advice is appreciated!

    • http://blogs.techsmith.com/ Renee Badra

      Hi Cory,
      Do you have any updated info on this microphone research? This post is a bit old and we’d love to have newer information to share!
      Thanks,
      Renee

  • http://twitter.com/andrew_apt Andrew Smith

    Interesting comparisons. I tried to view/listen to this on my iPad but video would not play. It’s fine on my desk-top machine. Is this a problem at my end or at your end?

    • http://www.techsmith.com/ Daniel Foster

      Hi Andrew – the video is a few years old so it doesn’t support playback on devices without Flash Player, such as iPad. It’s probably about time we recreate the video with some newer models of microphones and in the latest mobile-friendly format. :)

  • http://twitter.com/unicusDOTcom Ron

    The Samson Meteor Mic is a good mic at a reasonable cost, and its all chrome metal construction looks awesome on your desk. But stay tuned for a new mic out from Blue, its the Nessie. Thats going to be a hot mic. Google Blue Nessie Mic.

    • http://www.techsmith.com/ Daniel Foster

      Hi Ron – I bought a Meteor and love how it looks but have trouble getting the recording volume high enough (even with all settings at 100%). Do you get good volume…and how close to the mic do you sit?

      Great tip about the Blue Nessie…we’re actually waiting for it to ship and test so we can update this blog post. :)

      • http://twitter.com/unicusDOTcom Ron

        I have a Snowball and a Meteor. The Snowball is better, no background noise. The Meteor has background noise, but not a deal killer. My mic actually records too loud, I had to go into my audio settings under “Sound” and turn the mic down. Way too loud. Windows 7. But the mic is a sweet mic, looks great by my computer, they get an A+ for looks.

      • http://twitter.com/unicusDOTcom Ron

        How close do I sit to it, well its on the left side of my computer and I don’t speak directly into it as you can get pops, so I am about 10 inches away and its perfect.

  • Robert Green

    Blue Yeti. It has a hyper cardiod (selectable) pickup pattern that rejects off axis noise superbly. I set my gain a little lower than normal and get right on the mic (use a pop filter) to get that lush, radio style bassy proximity boost. Women can use this trick very effectively to add lower EQ to their voices for a more balanced tone.