What on earth does a CS:GO commentator and esports journalist know about audio equipment? Quite a lot as it turns out. I have several years of experience in the audio industry under my belt. I am a former brand manager for Audio-Technica and Electro-Voice for Southern Africa. Both names are legendary brands in the microphone world. I feel I’m pretty well qualified to talk about this subject, both as an audio engineer and as a commentator and content creator within gaming and esports.
Whether you’re a Youtuber, podcaster, Twitch streamer or caster, you’re going to need some basic audio gear. For viewers of your content, being able to see you or see your skills in game is important. However, I’d argue that being able to hear a true to life representation of your voice is more important. Your voice is your most powerful asset in getting your message and personality across in any kind of broadcast or video. You owe it to yourself and your audience to make sure that the audio quality of your vocals is as good as is possible within your budget.
You will need two basic pieces of equipment. A microphone to capture the acoustic energy of your voice and convert it into electrical energy. Then an audio interface or soundcard, to capture that electrical energy and convert it into digital ones and zeros that your PC can work with. Both components are critical in making sure you bring across a clear and highly intelligible representation of your voice. There are of course USB mics available that combine both a microphone and an audio interface into one unit. They are a little compromised in both departments due to their two-in-one nature, but make up for it in convenience and lower cost. USB mics are by far the most popular option for content creators and have gotten increasingly good in recent years. I’ll focus on those in this guide.
Why not a gaming headset?
Simply put, the microphone is typically going to be of a far lower quality than that found in a dedicated mic. Generally they are going to be more prone to distortion if you shout and get excited while casting a game or streaming. From an on-camera point of view, they look fine if you’re a streamer, but would look completely out of place for most other kinds of videos. You can do far better and therefore sound far better with a separate mic. Do the right thing and value your sound quality and your viewers’ ears.
I’m going to try to keep this as simple as possible with as little technical jargon as I can get away with to avoid confusing you. My apologies to the audiophiles and audio engineers among you. I’m doing it for the people! This will cover the two main microphone types along with some suggestions of models to check out.
The advantage that you get with a large diaphragm condenser microphone is a more detailed sound. Due to their extreme sensitivity, the ability to put the mic out of the frame of your camera shot and therefore have a cleaner overall look to your video is a plus for many. Condensers tend to be the choice of most Youtubers and streamers, I’d guess for this reason. If the mic is further from your face, room acoustics are more of an issue, so bear that in mind. Microphones always sound better when closer to the source – your mouth. Make sure you have a good pop filter attached to the mic stand if you are using it closer to your mouth to avoid unwanted plosives being recorded. An essential for most condenser owners is the use of a software VST noise gate plugin to try minimize the effect of background noises on your recording or broadcast. There’s plenty of free options just a google search away to use within popular streaming and recording software like OBS Studio.
Condenser microphones are generally highly sensitive to background noise and room acoustics. That reporting live from the bathroom sound we’ve all heard is the result of poor room acoustics with tons of hard surfaces reflecting the sound of the voice back to the mic. Users will often need to put up some acoustic treatment to avoid reflections in the form of acoustic foam to get around this problem. Take the possibility of this extra cost into account if you have an echoey room. Try to mount the mic on a stand or boom arm away from your keyboard to avoid translating your keyboard bashing to the video. That can be a nuisance with condensers. You’ll also need to make sure your PC is quiet and far enough away from the mic to avoid unwanted fan noise being caught. Finally, make sure that your location isn’t noisy in terms of inconsiderate neighbours or loud passing traffic. Most condensers are going to pick all of that up and it will end up on your video.
Dynamic mics are generally less sensitive to background noise and room acoustics. This is the kind of microphone you want if you’re worried about your mechanical keyboard being picked up by your mic. They can usually handle higher sound pressure levels, meaning that they can be placed closer to a loud source and not distort as easily. Perfect for overly shouty shoutcasters like myself. Dynamics usually have built-in pop filters which does save you the additional cost of an external pop filter.
They can be slightly less detailed in terms of the way they capture the sound, particularly on the high-end or treble frequencies. Another possible negative would be that the mic is almost always going to be in your shot as it generally needs to be much closer to your face than a condenser to sound its best. Personally that’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make and I actually like the way my microphone looks on camera, but for many users that could be a dealbreaker depending on their aesthetic desires.
Sound is a very personal and subject thing. Sometimes a certain microphone will suit the tonality of your voice better than others. If possible, always try out a microphone before committing to purchase it to make sure it will flatter your voice, rather than exacerbate any negative characteristics it may have. Buy something that makes you sound great.