*Updated November 2021
Sound quality matters. We talk about it all the time at Soundstripe, and that’s because there are still too many content creators who don’t fully appreciate how much audio affects the video experience.
But you’re reading this, which means you do care about your audio. Or maybe you’re just looking to invest in a dedicated microphone or upgrade your gear. Either way, this guide will help you choose the best microphone for YouTube content.
Later on, we'll look at a list of the most popular mics out there, including:
Elgato Wave 3
- Rode NT-USB
But before diving into the pros and cons of each one, let's look at a more general explanation of microphones that may help you choose the right mic for the content you create.
You can’t do much to rescue audio that was recorded badly. So understanding the different types of microphones (and how each type is best used) will give you a big advantage in choosing the right mic.
So before we dive into the specs for different mics, let’s lay out some ground rules for how we chose picks as the best microphone for YouTube.
There are three specific topics we need to cover:
- how different types of microphones are used,
- how mics capture sound (pickup or “polar” patterns),
- and how you get that sound to a recording device (USB vs. XLR hookups).
Different types of microphones
Microphones are actually split up based on their construction. But the universal goal of any microphone is to receive sound waves, then translate them into electrical signals.
If you’ve ever wondered how microphones work, the most important thing to know is that they are a combination of tiny moving pieces, but primarily a diaphragm and a coil. The sound waves vibrate the diaphragm, and that movement creates the electrical signal through the metallic coil. Then those signals are funneled through the microphone to another device.
In some cases, that “other” device is a speaker (or headphones) that amplifies the electrical signal as a sound you can recognize. In other cases, the signals travel to a computer or audio recorder that stores the sound for later.
As you might expect, each type of microphone is constructed differently, which determines which category they fit into. To stay focused on the best microphone for YouTube, we’ll limit our list to the three most popular kinds of mics used by YouTube creators:
- Dynamic mics
- Condenser mics
- Ribbon mics
Dynamic microphones are great for capturing louder sounds and cutting out background noise. The ability to smooth out sounds means you’ll lose some of the finer details of audio, but you don’t have to worry quite as much about distractions in the background.
Condenser mics pick up sound clearly and cleanly, which means they capture a lot of the smaller innuendos in vocal performances. That kind of sound quality makes them ideal studio mics, and content creators often use them for voiceovers, vlogs, and podcasts.
These are the cream of the crop in the microphone world. Think back to any “live in studio” video you’ve seen, and the artists (or radio host) are almost definitely using ribbon mics...which means there's a widespread assumption that they are the best microphones around.
However, for all of their quality, they’re also extremely delicate. Add those two things together and you get a product that’s at the top of the class, but also not ideal for YouTuber creators.
Pickup or "polar" patterns
This particular subject can get technical, so we’ll keep it as short and sweet as possible.
Imagine placing a microphone in the center of a round table, but pointing it towards you. The mic’s polar pattern determines how well it can pick up audio sources from around the table. And the names for each pattern refer to the field that is picked up by the microphones.
If you’d like a visual before we get into some examples, here’s an explanation from the marketing director at Audio-Technica:
Not every pickup pattern will be relevant for every type of video, however. Some are mostly useful for podcasters or interviewers, while other mics (like shotguns) are pretty common on film shoots.
Every video project will have different needs, so we can't say that all of the best microphones use one particular pickup pattern. But what we can do is break down a few of the most common options for YouTube creators.
Remember that example of a round table? An omnidirectional pattern picks audio from all sides, including above and below and even behind where the mic is situated, without sacrificing sound quality.
On one hand, omnidirectional lets you go into a situation and never miss a piece of audio. The bad thing is that you can’t restrict sounds you don’t want, so if you’re in a busy place your audio will get muddied very quickly.
A bidirectional mic will pick up high quality audio in front and behind it, almost like the polar pattern forms an hourglass or figure-eight shape. These mics work well for interviews or even dialogue, assuming the audio sources are going to be stationary and not move outside of the field.
Cardioid mics are the go-to choice for most content creators, whether it’s for YouTube or Twitch. The polar pattern is heart-shaped (hence the “cardio” part of the name). So that mic on our imaginary round table will pick up everything in front and to the sides of it, with a little bit of coverage behind it.
You can also think of supercardioids as the shotgun mics that filmmakers rely on. As you would expect from a shotgun, most of the coverage is in front of the mic, and the blind spots are to either side. However, a supercardioid will also pick up sounds from behind the mic, although to a lesser extent.
These are a little more precise than normal cardioid mics, which is why shotguns are so valuable on a film set — they are extremely versatile mics. You can isolate the audio much better with the narrower polar pattern.
Recording audio from a mic
Most microphones use one of two hookup cables to actually transfer data from the mic to a computer. These two styles are USB microphones and XLR microphones. And yes, they’ve each got a unique set of pros and cons.
You can't really say one captures better quality audio than the other, although it may be true that one type tends to be a more budget-friendly option than the other.
Meanwhile, the "higher end" XLR mics have some additional requirements (like needing phantom power) that can offset the benefits they bring.
But hey, let's dive right into those pros and cons so you can make the decision yourself.
USB microphones (plug-and-play)
The nice thing about a USB microphone is that it’s basically plug-and-play. You can purchase a mic, take it with you to a park, plug it up to a laptop, and start recording audio. They’re convenient, generally budget-friendly, and great for people who don’t have much audio or production experience but still want to capture high quality audio.
It's hard to say a budget-friendly mic can't qualify as the best microphone for YouTube, because there are a lot of benefits to them. But the negatives are...well, basically the reverse of all of the benefits.
The convenience and price mean USB microphones aren’t going to be high-quality products, so you may not get that crisp, studio-level sound you want. And you also have less control over the sound quality because you aren’t using a mixing board.
XLR microphones (phantom power)
XLR mics are the industry standard for filmmakers, musicians, radio stations, professional podcasters, and basically anyone else who records, edits, or mixes audio. That also means the standard for quality is going to be a lot higher because they are “prosumer” level products.
Of course, that means even an entry-level XLR microphone will cost you $200. Also, you won’t be able to use an XLR microphone on its own — you’ll have to invest in things like a phantom power source, mixer, audio interface, adapter, etc.
That only adds to the overall cost of XLR microphones. And while phantom power can be a valuable tool to add to your kit bag, it's not always the most convenient thing to deal with on a set.
The best microphones for YouTube
Here we are, the list to help you find the best microphone for YouTube — well, for the sort of content you produce for YouTube, which might as well be the same thing.
There are a lot of options out there, even if you restrict them to the subcategories we covered already. But we’ll try to simplify it even further by grouping them by the type of microphone, specifying each mic’s polar/pickup pattern, and covering features like gain control, pop filter, mounts or stands, etc.
We’re looking at royalty among the mic family. The SM7B is a go-to choice for musicians, radio/podcast producers, and other audio professionals. The $399 price tag is certainly the highest we’ll include on this list, but it does offer the best sound quality available for an entry-level (or even an intermediate-level) microphone.
The SM7B is a cardioid microphone, but the coolest feature is that this mic will actually auto-correct itself to get the best quality audio. You can move around in your chair or even change positions in the room, and the mic will make slight adjustments to compensate.
This mic will also screen off the hum of electronics so you can avoid picking up background buzz, making it not only an extremely versatile mic but also one of the best studio mics available right now.
If you want to know more about why the SM7B is one of the best microphones for YouTube creators, here’s a more in-depth review from the Podcastage channel:
The MV7 is like the SM7B’s younger sibling. Sure, the $249 price is still pretty steep compared to the other items we’re about to cover, but the Shure MV7 consistently delivers studio-quality sounds regardless of where you’ve got your recording station set up.
The MV7 has some of the same quality-of-life benefits as the SM7B. It’s still a cardioid mic, and has the self-adjusting capabilities to make sure you get the best audio quality at all times.
Here’s a review about studio mics comparing the SM7B vs the MV7 from Think Media:
With a cardioid polar pattern that is almost as tight as a unidirectional one, the Procaster combines good audio without very much background noise. It’s also solidly built and has the look of a professional studio mic, but at a more affordable cost.
The Procaster also features an internal pop filter and a built-in shock mic mount. You’ll probably still buy those accessories (most content creators keep some on hand just in case) but the fact that you don’t need them means the $229 price tag has a little added value included.
Here’s a recent review of the Rode Procaster from Techvania:
You might recognize the name/product right away. When podcasting and game streaming blew up a few years ago, the Blue Yeti mics were the perfect blend of flexibility, quality, and affordability. They quickly became the go-to option for people jumping into content creation who wanted a versatile mic to use.
The same perks are still true today — especially the $99 price tag. Blue Yeti condenser microphones offer four different pickup options, as well as easy to access gain control and volume. And while there is no internal pop filter, they work with a lot of different accessories.
The mic mount make these USB microphones easy to transport and easy to use, so you can trust them in just about any situation.
Here’s a deeper dive on the Blue Yeti by Andy Slye:
The Quadcast is another example of a trendy condenser microphone for content creators. It’s got four pickup patterns, but HyperX also includes a shock mount and pop filter with each mic. But it’ll cost you $132, which is less than the high-end dynamic mics but more than the other condenser mics on the list.
And while the visuals don’t affect the audio quality, the red accents add a little flash and style to the presentation (if you want to show it off in your videos).
Learn more about the HyperX Quadcast in this review:
Yet another example of a quality USB mic that’s popular with YouTubers — and perfect for your Twitch audio setup — The Wave 3’s polar pattern is unidirectional, which means it has a very narrow pickup field.
That’s great if you only plan to shoot vlogs or record voiceovers, but it does have its limitations if you want to use it anywhere besides a home studio.
The main seller for Elgato mics is the Wave Link program, which is a piece of mixing software that comes with each mic. You’ll be able to tweak and adjust things to get the exact sound you want from your mic (and yes, it's got a very simple gain control), which helps you achieve the feel of a professional studio mic.
Want a review? We got you:
This condenser microphone is going to be one of the best options all around. It’s got a cardioid pickup pattern, which makes it versatile enough to use in most projects. It also comes in at $99 — bundled with a solid base/stand and a pop filter, it’s pretty much ready to go right out of the box.
Oh, and as the name suggests, it’s a USB microphone. You can plug it into a computer and start recording voiceover in less than a minute. Linus Tech Tips has the review:
Rode mics are popular shotgun with filmmakers, and the VideoMic GO is Rode’s lightest and simplest option for content creators who want a condenser microphone. It’s got a unidirectional pickup pattern, and has a built-in shock mount to counteract any unwanted noise while you’re shooting — which is important, since this shotgun is built to mount directly onto your camera.
The $79 is budget friendly, even among the other options on this list, but it’s not exactly the best microphone for YouTube if you mostly use audio for voiceover or vlog content. Here’s the review from SonyAlphaLab:
This particular Movo model compacts reliable audio capture into something that can work with a DSLR camera or even an iPhone. You also get a shock mount, two windscreens, and 3.5mm adapters to work with whatever device you film with.
The VXR10-PRO is a supercardioid mic and supports headphone monitoring. The $50 price tag is kind of unbelievable, but this mic isn’t quite as high-quality as the more dedicated studio-style microphones above. It won't dethrone the other picks here as the best microphones around, but it's a solid YouTube mic.
See if the cheaper price is worth the sacrifice in quality with this review from TDCatTech:
We wanted to include a lavalier mic since it’s something that almost every filmmaker or creator will need at some point. They’re easy to use and include adapters for computers and cameras (but not phones). And of course getting two lav mics for $45 is perfect for content creators on a budget.
These mics might not be as high-quality as the Rode SmartLav+, and they will never replace the studio mics on this list. But PowerDeWise is a mic brand built specifically for vloggers. That sort of dedication is a clear indicator of which filmmakers will benefit most from these budget-friendly lav mics.
Learn if this mic is right for you with this review from HighTechCheck:
The best microphone for YouTube content
It goes without saying that choosing a microphone is a pretty subjective thing, just like any other piece of video gear. But when it comes to finding the best microphone for YouTube, there is a little more objectivity that goes into the discussion.
Sure, you may not need a hardcore studio mic like the Shure SM7B. And you may not need one of the shotgun mics if you mostly film vlog-style videos. These are the sort of qualifiers and questions you should ask yourself before buying any piece of equipment.
As you continue to grow your YouTube channel, your needs will evolve as the sort of content you produce changes. But this is one case where chasing the industry trends (especially the most popular channels in your particular niche) will actually be a good thing.
If you feel like you’re better equipped to choose a microphone to for your YouTube videos, then you might also enjoy more content about filmmaking and royalty free music on the Soundstripe blog:
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