microphone sitting on a desk

What Microphone Is Best for Recording Video?

When you look at video creation, 50% of your video (roughly) are the visuals. And the other 50% is the audio. Audio is critical to making a good video.

But how do you get audio that is going to work for your video production? How do you ensure that you capture the best quality? A good place to start is choosing the right microphone for video. How do you know which microphone is going to serve your needs best? There are hundreds of different microphones to choose from and multiple microphone types.

We’re here to help. While we couldn’t test every microphone, we brought together 18 different microphones from brands like Blue, Rode, Shure, Sennheiser, and Audio Technica to see what microphone is best for recording video. We tested them out (so you don’t have to) to see how they measure up.

The Studio Set-Up

Our objective was not to try to get all of the settings perfect for a singular recording, but we wanted to compare the microphones against each other so you could hear how they sound.
We tested all of our microphones in our sound studio. We realize that not everyone will have access to a studio, but we wanted to minimize background noise and provide as clean of a test as possible.Testing out microphones for video and narration in the TechSmith Studio
We plugged USB microphones into a 2015 Macbook Pro running MacOS Sierra 10.12.3 and set the sound input level to 67%. We used this consistently across the USB microphones, despite the best practice of adjusting the level to your voice and needs. The reason we did not adjust the level was to keep the level consistent across microphones and to mimic the plug-and-play experience a USB mic provides.

We plugged XLR microphones directly in a Zoom H4N digital recorder. We took the recordings directly from the SD card used in the device. The same levels were used across all XLR microphones.

Microphones using an ⅛ inch jack were plugged into a Behringer Xenyx 302USB, which was plugged into the Macbook Pro. The gain was set to the midpoint, with the EQ set even at zero for the Low and High. Mic level was just shy of the midpoint.

Unfortunately, different microphones required different inputs, making this an imperfect scientific endeavor. However, in every environment, every setting will be different.This test does provide a good baseline to help you to hear the difference.

For our tests, we wanted to capture the difference between male and female voices. Ideally, whatever microphone you choose will work well for either, but we wanted to know if it made a difference. Overall, some mics did perform better for a male voice, and some for a female voice. Do note, that with some post-processing, or by adjusting your equalization on your mixing board you can optimize any of these mics for any voice type.

Our voice over talent for these tests was:

Andrea Perry & Ryan Knott (English Voice Over)

Lars Grosspietsch (German Voice Over)

Don’t want to buy any of these microphones? There are rental options out there, like from Borrowlenses.com.

Top 5 Recommendations & What We Found

We selected the following microphones based on the recordings we made.

1. SE Electronics sE2200a II C Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone
This XLR mic isn’t a name that will roll off the tongue. However, this microphone has a great overall sound for both a male and female voice. Coming in at $299, if it’s not too much for your budget, it is well worth its value.The Microphone is an XLR microphone, and it needs to be powered. Neither of these is inherently bad, but you must have a mixer that provides power and accepts an XLR input. For Andrea’s recording, we felt like we needed to add a little bit of low end (bass). We tested adding bass in a different recording through a mixing board, and feel like it enhanced the quality of the mic even more. This action could be done using an audio editing program as well.

SE Electronics sE2200A II C

 

2. Audio-Technica AT875R Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone
This XLR microphone was a surprise performer during our tests. This microphone has a small stature, but a great sound. As a shotgun mic, it has a line and gradient pick-up pattern, meaning it rejects a lot of noise from the side and is very directional. If you have someone controlling the placement of the mic, this is a positive. However, if you have an individual that tends to move as they talk, this can affect the recording. Overall, coming in at $169, this mic feels like a good value.

Audio-Technica AT875R

 

3. Blue Yeti USB Microphone – Silver & AudioTechnica 2020 USB
The Yeti and the AudioTechnica 2020 USB were really too close to call for the third spot. Both are USB microphones and sit in the same price range, $129 and $128, respectively. Both microphones have a good sound and picked up minimal background noise in our quiet environment. The Yeti sounds a little smoother, but the AT2020 also has a nice sound and has been the workhorse mic used for TechSmith’s tutorials for multiple years now. I think your choice between these two will come down to preference.

If looks matter and you want to impress your colleagues and boss, the Yeti is an impressive (and hefty microphone) and would be first on the list. The Yeti also offers a few different options not provided by the previously-mentioned microphones, including a switch for various polar patterns. In addition to four polar patterns, there is also a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack that allows you to monitor the input of what you’re recording in real-time.Our only frustration and this is more about us being unprepared than about the Yeti itself, was it wasn’t easy to mount to a mic stand. You can easily remove it from the provided base, but the size of the mount for the Yeti didn’t match our microphone stand. Looking around it is possible to get an adaptor, but that’s something you’ll want to take care of before your recording session.

Blue Yeti
AudioTechnica 2020 USB

 

4. Blue Snowball – USB

The next microphone on our list is the Blue Snowball (Blue makes a lot of really great microphones). Overall, we did a lot of comparing of the Snowball to the Yeti, and the Snowball wasn’t too far behind. Coming in at around $69 dollars, it’s definitely a great microphone for anyone on a tight budget.We really like that the Snowball had good volume to it. Given that we set the input, and kept it consistent, some mics were pretty low and difficult to hear, but the Snowball had a lot of volume. If we were going to use the Snowball consistently, I’d probably adjust the input level down on my computer. The overall sound isn’t as rich as the Yeti but still sounded really good.

Blue Snowball

 

5. Zoom H4N Multitrack Recorder
The Zoom H4N is a very different type of microphone. It is both a microphone and a recorder. You can use it to record sounds, voiceovers, and interviews directly to an SD card, or you can plug in and record from up to 2 XLR microphones. Since we have a Zoom, we thought we’d give it a try as a standalone microphone. The overall quality is pretty good, although it did pick up a lot of popping sounds during the voice over. This problem could be remedied with a pop filter. Overall, the Zoom is a versatile device that can go anywhere you go. On video shoots, we will plug a wireless lapel mic directly into the camera, but set up the Zoom with another mic (usually a shotgun) to get a second audio source. There is a new version of the H4N available, which boasts of newer better microphones, among other features.The H4N runs $199, but is a great value, especially because it is so versatile.

Zoom H4N Sample

Honorable Mention:

Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A omni-directional EW System
If you’re looking for a wireless pack, and have a bit of a budget, we really like the Sennheiser. While it didn’t provide the best overall sound, it was still good. Also, it’s a lapel mic, which is great for on-camera interviews, or presentations.

Wireless microphones have two components: the transmitter and the receiver. The Sennheiser has a small battery powered receiver that you can mount to a camera, or easily keep out of the way. Other wireless set-ups have a base station that needs to be plugged in and usually isn’t convenient if you’re out and about.

The biggest downside is the cost. These are not cheap, coming in at a whopping $630. Depending on your budget, this might be well worth the price.

Sennheiser EW 112P G3-A

Your Experience May Vary

While we tested a lot of different microphones, there are a lot that we didn’t test. When we did a microphone round-up a few years ago, the Blue Snowball didn’t perform well, but honestly, it may have been that particular unit. And while we made every effort to be fair and consistent with the microphones, there are so many variables that could impact outcomes that our tests may not be indicative of your experience with a particular microphone.

Other Microphone Samples

Blue Nessie – Raw
Blue Nessie – Voice
Blue Nessie – Music
Logitec USB Headset
Lenovo Laptop Built-in Microphone
Macbook Pro Built-in Microphone

 

The Test Retrospective

Under the testing environment, we had to make some decisions to be consistent, for instance, as mentioned before, we didn’t adjust the volume input level. Some of the mics we tested would have done much better had we boosted the audio input (and lowered it for the Snowball).

For the XLR mics, the settings were very neutral, and if we were using the mics, we would have added in some equalization to adjust the sounds to accommodate our voice over talent.

The audio files provided as part of this blog post were edited only to remove extra whitespace or the signals to start recording. We didn’t do any processing on the clips.

Conclusion

We talk a lot about audio being a critical part of your videos. And it’s true, bad audio will make bad videos, and a good microphone will go a long way in helping you make better productions. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Remember to control the noise in the location (e.g.turn off overhead lights that buzz, turn off the HVAC.) Also, if you can, record your audio in a space that doesn’t have a lot of echo (think about recording in a walk-in closet, or a library or office with lots of books, or throw a comforter over your head). Finally, learn about your microphone and how to get the best sound out of it, and take the time to learn how to adjust it. The investment of time to learn will be well worth it when your audience listens to your sweet audio as they watch your videos.

And HUGE thanks to SE Electronics for the use of the SE Electronics sE2200a II C Large Diaphragm Cardioid Condenser Microphone and to Blue Microphones for providing a Blue Yeti USB Microphone – Silver and Blue Nessie USB Microphone to test.

Both organizations make great products–so great you can hear and see it.

Posted in Tips & How To's
Author
Matt Pierce

Matt Pierce is a Learning & Video Ambassador at TechSmith. A graduate of Indiana University’s School of Education’s Department of Instructional Systems Technology, he has ten years of experience working in learning and development with a focus on visual instruction. He has directly managed the training, user assistance, video, and other teams for TechSmith. Teach him something @piercemr