A personal experience recently drove home a point I’ve made to my students for years: The microphone you use for recording audio is more important to audio quality than any cable, plugin, software or hardware you use to record it.
Yes, all that stuff is necessary, but nothing beats the quality of a good mic.
I’ve used an AKG C 520 headset microphone for my webinars for years. One reason is that I frequently got rave reviews on my audio quality. However, during the last year or two, the mic started sounding a bit “muddy” or “muffled.” During that same time my hearing was also, sadly, getting worse, so I figured my hearing was the culprit.
But, after two live presentations at the Creative Conference last week, a good friend sent me a note wondering if something was wrong with my audio. Hmm… If someone else noticed it, then it wasn’t just my hearing.
That AKG mic has seen a lot of use and, probably, abuse. Maybe it wasn’t as good as it used to be – though mics, if well treated, can last for many years.
Then I remembered that I had a Countryman E6 headset mic sitting on the shelf. I swapped mics and the difference was AMAZING! Highs so bright they made the room seem dim. Significant lack of bass, though. Still, the difference between the two mics was stunning.
When I used the Countryman for last week’s webinar, viewers commented on the improved quality, clarity and volume of the “new” mic. I ran it through my Aphex Channel (a high-end preamp) and it sounded great!
NOTE: Both the AKG and Countryman mics were about the same age. But the AKG was used every week, while the Countryman was carefully packed in its box, sitting on the shelf. Age, alone, does not significantly damage mic quality.
Now, there’s a moral to this story, but it is not the one you might expect. I remain a big fan of AKG mics – along with Sennheiser, TRAM, Røde and Countryman – in fact, I’m buying a replacement for my original C 520.
THE BIGGER POINT
Here’s the more important point: Several years ago, when I was setting up my video studio, I was very focused on getting good quality audio. So, I rented seven different lavaliere mics from Location Sound in LA, connected them in the studio and had them evaluated by a panel of six of my production team.
We compared the sound of these different mics on men and women. And, because I was the central host, we also compared them on me. What was fascinating was the clear consensus on which mics sounded better. The “best” mic varied by gender/pitch of the voice. Based on that comparison, I’ve used a TRAM-50 for every video interview ever since.
The moral of this story is: Every mic is different. More importantly, some mics sound better with male voices, others with female and still others with instruments.
Also, the closer a mic gets to your mouth, the better it sounds. (The size of a mic’s sensor is not always a good indicator of how it will sound. Some very small headset and lavaliere mics have amazing range.) For me, for online work, a headset mic is ideal: tight, clean, rich sound with lots of noise rejection to hide the noise of computers, hard disks and air conditioning. I can move my head and arms and the audio stays tight. Plus my hands are free and nothing blocks my sight line to the computer screen.
Yes, you can buy a mic for $20, but then you get a mic that sounds like $20. Those mics are fine for Zoom.
However, if you are concerned about your audio quality – and in today’s online world, the quality of our audio is FAR more important than the quality of our video – you owe it to yourself and your listeners to get a mic that makes your voice sound great.
Do a test for yourself. It is easy in many cities today to rent 3-5 mics for a weekend. Pick the style you plan to use – headset, lavaliere, desktop, or shotgun – and record them. Then, invite a group of people to listen and compare. Match the levels, but don’t add EQ or other filters.
What you will discover is that one of those mics will make your voice sound much better than the others. THAT’s the mic you need to be using. Even better, your audience will be delighted at how good you sound and how easy you are to understand.
I’m old school. There are far more mics – with a far wider range of quality – that connect using XLR connectors than USB. (And not all USB audio conversion is high-quality.) For me, I use an analog mic, connected via XLR to a Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 audio interface, connected to my computer via USB for all my online recording.
Here’s a webinar excerpt that showcases the sound of my new-ish mic.
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