Top Microphones for Twitch & YouTube Streaming
We mentioned prioritizing audio quality in our “How to Get More Twitch Viewers” guide, but didn't go into depth on which products would be most beneficial to achieving that goal. In this article, we'll talk about the best microphones for game streaming (on Twitch.tv) and for making YouTube videos. These microphones are picked primarily for Let's Play style gaming, for voice-over, or for live streams.
Difference Between Desk Mics, Headsets, & Lavalier Mics
First, let's establish the difference between all of the different types of microphones on the market.
The most common gaming microphone is far-and-away the headset mic. Any microphone attached to your gaming earphones instantly classifies that headwear as a “headset,” and those microphones – generally, but not always – are lower quality than what you'll find for an extra $50-$100 online. Dedicated hardware will always have higher quality, of course, but gaming headsets really do minimize the quality of input compared to a desk mic or lavalier mic. Some headsets, like the old SteelSeries Siberia Elite, do have a replaceable microphone to allow for condenser mics on headsets – it's just uncommon, and not always a perfect solution.
The advantage of a headset microphone is that it's trivial to set up. Plug in the headset, set it to the default input and playback device, and you're done. With higher-end hardware, there's a bit more of a learning curve, but the quality blows away what's normally feasible on a gaming headset.
An example would be the exceptionally common Blue Yeti microphone, used by many of the most popular streamers. These are desk mics, meaning that they stand separately on your desk – it's not attached to a headset. Desk mics are massive in comparison to the input on a headset, often offering greater resonance and more of a “radio” sounding quality to the voice. Most desk mics are powered by USB and can input straight through the USB interface, though some setups do require a standalone mixer (we'll talk about that below). Separately mixed inputs will complicate setup and steepen the learning curve, but mostly guarantee the highest level of quality for a gaming stream.
Finally, lavalier (or lapel) microphones are clipped onto the shirt, and are some of the most common microphones used on TV. You'll notice almost all interview guests on talkshows wear a lavalier mic clipped to their collar, which is to avoid using a boom (pole mic) on stage. For the gaming world, lavalier mics can also be clipped to a shirt and will offer surprisingly high quality audio. Some lav mics can compete with desk mics in quality levels, dollar for dollar, but they are more fragile and tend to pick up more background noise than a desk mic would. Similarly, you'd have to buy a lavalier mic that has its own power draw; some lav mics (those used for non-PC production) will not work with a PC without some sort of amplifier or external power.
Best Microphones for Streaming
The Blue Yeti is among the most popular streaming microphones. The Yeti is pictured above.
There are a few different Blue Yeti microphones, but for most streams, the entry-level model “Blue Yeti USB Microphone” will do just fine. This is a bit over $100, sits easily on the desk, and connects to the system via USB. The microphone far-and-away exceeds headset quality and offers a superb option for voice-over or game streaming/capture. You won't need more than this for most streams, though other models do exist.
You'll want to use the Blue Yeti in “cardioid mode” for most streams. Make sure the mic is positioned appropriately, as cardioid is direction sensitive.
One example of an alternative would be an amp / mixer in combination with a vocals mic. This allows far greater control over gain, input volume, and multi-channel mixing (with some equipment, anyway), and even grants a high-quality monitoring solution. It's more complex, as stated earlier, but definitely more customizable. These setups are surprisingly affordable, at ~$60 for a basic mixer (like the Xenyx Q502USB 5-channel mixer), then ~$100 for a high-quality vocal mic. A Shure SM-58 would work well for this, putting the total cost to $160 but allowing greater flexibility and future growth.
If you'd prefer a lavalier setup (clipped to the shirt), you'll almost certainly still need a pre-amp (like the Xenyx Q502). For simplicity, we'd suggest a desk mic setup.
Check our other guides for more helpful streaming content.