Hey guys! I’ve been getting lots of questions from streamers regarding the audio of my stream and the various other streamers I’ve helped out with their setup. I figured a lot of the information I was passing along would do others some good, so I’ve decided to put together a series of guides regarding pro audio. I originally posted this on r/Twitch but figured posting here as well would reach the widest readership of serious streamers looking to step up their game. As of now, I have four parts planned, but I’ll add others if there’s enough demand and if the information’s not covered already in another guide on here.
That said, I’d like to point everyone to TheMissingLink5’s guides that are a great introduction. I’m not interested in repeating information covered in those or other guides so while there may be some repetition – which is sort of inevitable in these guides – I’ll endeavor to cover subjects not previously touched on or aspects not elaborated on in earlier posts. As such, in each guide I’ll be covering something different in-depth. This one will have a bit on microphones (which everyone’s got something to say about) and subsequent guides will be on compressors, expander/gates, audio interfaces, and mixers.
My plan is to also include some gear recommendations so that these guides are informational as well as practical. However, if you have questions about specific gear, please PM me rather than comment below. I’d like to keep the comments section devoted to questions about the guide and gear-related inquiries can quickly take over with a plethora of specific questions and nuances.
As opposed to previous guides available, I’d like to aim this series towards the streamer looking to expand their stream’s audio quality and doesn’t know where to start for pro audio information or gear. Similarly, these guides will also be useful to those who already own gear and would like a better understanding of how to get the most out of it.
This is not to say that someone with a USB mic (like the Yeti) cannot get great sound. That’s simply not true. In fact, you should check out Vancitygames’ guide on using a lightweight DAW, like Reaper, to clean up your sound and add compression to your input. If you’d like to take that route, then feel free to use the concepts I outline in Part 2 of this series and apply them to the virtual compression plug-in on the software you go with. Whichever route you take, please remember that the mic is only half your sound – the other half is your compressor, but we’ll get to that soon enough.
Who Am I?
Who am I? Who am I!? I am the guardian of lost souls! I am the powerful, the pleasurable, the indestructible Mushu! Or, better known as TransientGamers around Twitch. I’ve been working as an audio engineer for over a decade. Starting with an internship at a local music studio back in high school then working with major record labels and studios around NYC, I finally transitioned to sound for film and television a few years back and have loved every minute of it.
I’ve done everything from recording and mixing records to crafting sound effects and foley. I’ve operated the sound board for live events like music concerts and business conferences and recorded music artists and orchestras like the New York Philharmonic. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that people are more forgiving of poor video quality than poor audio. Even though our phones can shoot in HD, they don’t sound great. You can tell when a video’s shot on a mobile phone when you hear it but, when you toss in pro audio, you could end up with a RocketJump video.
I’m going to assume at least a cursory knowledge of condenser microphones and pre-amps (although, if there’s sufficient interest I can make an entire guide on pre-amps or microphone mechanics as well) otherwise please check out the guides I linked earlier.
So you’ve already got your stream established, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You probably also have in mind what you’re looking for aesthetically. If you’ve got a facecam, some streamers are concerned with how microphones look on-camera or all up in their face. Other streamers don’t care and either want that close-mic radio voice sound or don’t have a facecam and the point becomes moot anyway.
Before we hop into gear choices or recommendations, I first want to stress that you should limit your options like your life depended on it. There are so many choices these days when it comes to recording gear. Endless options from computer choice, to Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) choice, to plugin choice, to microphone choice; the list becomes insanely long. This causes mass confusion for many and, even worse, endless debates and arguments over software and recording gear. It’s an age old paradox: the more options you have available to you, the more likely you are to shift your focus and energy away from your original goal.
Don’t over think this. Investing in a piece of equipment is indeed a big deal. But, and this is a big but, don’t over think this decision. Pick a piece of equipment that fits your budget (whether it’s a microphone, pre-amp, compressor, etc.) and go with it. At the end of the day, when people listen to you they aren’t going to be able to tell what you’re using, nor will they even care! All they care about is whether or not you sound good! And you don’t need expensive gear to sound amazing. It’s that simple.
I’ve recorded artists who demanded the legendary Neumann U 87 ($3000 large-diaphragm) only to find that their voice sounded better with a Behringer B-1 ($100 large-diaphragm condenser). It’s not about the price-tag, but rather how your voice interacts with the capacitor and what type of setup you’re going for (e.g. whether the mic’s far away or up-close). I strongly recommend heading to your local music store and listening to these mics for yourself to get a better idea how your voice interacts with each one.
The popularity of large diaphragm condenser microphones has led to a surge of choices in the marketplace. And since this technology is neither new nor hard to copy, prices of mics have come down tremendously (unless you’re buying classic name brands like Neumann). So you’re looking for an XLR microphone (I assume not a USB because you’ve got your eyes on the broader picture here and you want to eventually plug your microphone into a mixer for effects and such or interface and not deal with input delay).
If the microphone you choose has a low-cut filter switch on the actual body of the mic, you’ll want to engage that as it will cut extraneous low frequencies from eating up your frequency range and ultimately taking away precious head-room that could be going to your voice volume instead of boosting room noise.
This part will be for those looking to have a close-mic setup resulting in a type of “radio” voice or commercial voiceover work with that classic warmth to it. So you’ve got your boom mic stand, a long enough XLR cable, and a pop filter (to tame the air rushes, otherwise known as plosives, from your “p”s and “b”s from exploding on your mic capacitor). Now onto recommendations! Check these out (in order of price):
- Samson C01 ($79)
- Audio-Technica AT2020 ($99)
- M-Audio Nova ($109)
- Studio Projects B1 ($119) [selectable low-cut for 75Hz and 150Hz]
- Audio-Technica AT2035 ($149) [I highly recommend this mic instead of the AT2020 since it includes low-cut switch, if you can afford the extra $50]
For those looking to spend more money on their setup, you can grab a scissor arm to hold your mic from your desk and either of these dynamic mics:
- Shure SM7B ($349) [Michael Jackson loved it, doesn’t mean you have to]
- Electro Voice RE-20 ($425) [radio broadcast standard as this mic’s pickup does not diminish with off-axis sound]
Whichever microphone you choose to go with, I recommend reading the following section to gain the best clarity and punch with your voice so that it carries through your mix and sits on top of the audio from the game you’re streaming:
Close Mic Placement (and a little on room treatment)
If you’re like most streamers, you’re broadcasting from some extra space you’ve got in either your bedroom or somewhere else in your house. Without going all-out for acoustic treatment, you can attenuate any slap-back or harsh echoes in your space with mover’s blankets. You can pick these up in a variety of sizes from your local Home Depot or hardware store. These are used on movie sets, professional studios, and everywhere in between. Place these on any exposed wall to absorb the reflections from your voice.
Close microphone techniques refer to placing the mic from about 1″ to 3” away from a sound source. This commonly used technique of miking a sound at such close distances provides two major advantages:
- To create a tight, present sound quality.
- To effectively exclude the acoustic environment from being picked up.
Because sound diminishes with the square of its distance, a sound originating 6” from a mic will be insignificant in level compared to that of the same sound originating 3″ from the microphone pickup. As a result, only the desired on-axis sound will be heard and extraneous sounds, for all practical purposes, will not be picked up. So if your room doesn’t sound that great or you just want that “larger-than-life” radio voice, close miking is what you’re after. Since you want your pop filter to still be effective, have at least a 1” space between your mouth and the filter and then another 1” space between the filter and the mic. That way, the pop filter has a chance to reduce the wind from your mouth before it explodes all over your mic’s pickup and blasts your volumes to clipping and distortion (ouch!).
Ah, you don’t like the aesthetic look of a microphone on camera. Or you don’t like a microphone up in your face. Either way, you’d like a nonobtrusive way to have pristine sound and a small, light-weight footprint. First we’ll start with headworn microphones. These mics are super tiny, but also super expensive.
For off-camera microphones, there are a bit more options and I’ve endeavored to include a mic in every price range that will suit the job! You’ll place these mics in a stand off-camera pointed at you from either directly in front (good) or above you and pointed down aimed between your mouth and chest (better) – as close as possible. In order to remove any noise from the ground-shake that transfers through the mic stand to the mic, you’ll want to equip a shockmount. Again, in price order:
- AKG P170 ($99)
- AKG C1000 S MK4 ($199) [built-in roll off below 50Hz]
- Shure SM81 ($349)
- Audio-Technica AT4053B ($599) [low-cut switch for 80Hz]
Great! So you’ve got a microphone (along with a power source either through a pre-amp, a compact phantom power supply, or your mixer/interface) and you’re ready for Part 2. Getting a compressor is the crucial next step that most streamers don’t take. My next guide is all about compressors: what they are and how to use them effectively. I’ll post it as soon as I can format it properly and I’ll keep this guide, and the future ones, updated with links to all the guides. I really hope this was helpful, informative, or answered some of your questions!