Which Microphone Is Best For Home Recording?


Voice Over Artists, Internet Marketers and Podcasters and even actors are always asking, the same question. If you are reading this, you must have the same question too.  Most of this is in the podcast too.

The question they ask is , what is the best microphone to use for home recording. What they really mean is How do I get better sounding recordings at home. So today join me for a moment and step into the world of audio recording and let me show you the secrets I’ve learned in 15 years of designing and working in the world of sound.

Today I am going to quickly cover microphones and some basic acoustics. For demonstration and listening, I will read the same paragraph using three different microphones, and then read it again with a pop filter on two of them. Finally I will read it one more time with a microphone shield. A pop filter reduces the “plosive” words that have a p or a b.  I pop without one and you’ll hear it in the podcast.   The microphone shield just eliminates some echo, not much though.

The three microphones I have chosen are the Apogee MiC, the Audio Technica AT 2020USB and the Microsoft LifeCam with built in microphone. All three are under $200 and available online and around town. All of these are budget minded microphones with USB connectors. No digital converters required.

If you want to take it up a notch, an Apogee One and any directional microphone to get better sound. Everything tested here combined is less expensive than the Apogee One.

The Apogee mic has the distinct advantage of being able to connect digitally to an iPhone or iPad as well as using USB to connect to a PC or Mac. You can set up a complete home recording studio with a Apogee MiC, iPad, and a mic stand with an iPad holder. All of this can be found for under $700.

The AT2020USB comes in two models, the standard and the PLUS.  The AT2020USBPLUS has the ability to plug in headphones right into the mic.  This gets rid of the delay when you plug a USB mic into your computer.  If you like to have headphones on to hear what you sound like when you record, this is the winner.  Having headphones or “cans” on while you work is how most professional studios work, so even though it is a bit more expensive, this option might be worth it.

One quick thing to understand is the difference between microphones sold at the office center for home and office use and pro microphones. Most home microphones are designed for Skype and are omnidirectional.  They hear everyone but they all get that talking through a tube sound.

Microphone Basics:

There are three basic microphone types, Cardioid, Omni and directional.  Omni is short for omnidirectional meaning they pick up sound about equally from all directions. The echoes are all picked up equally and that is what gives you that talking in a tube sound.

Directional mics are sometimes called shotgun mics.  They are great for sound booths, and radio announcers.  Film and TV boom mice are also shotgun mics.  They only pick up what is right in front of them eliminating unwanted noise.  Shotgun mics are harder to use because you can’t move very far without hearing a big change in the sound.  Unless you have a lot of practice, I don’t recommend this for home use.

Cardioid are the most common.  The Apogee and the Audio Technica tested in my podcast are both Cardiod mics.  These are easy to use and still sound better than an Omni in most situations.  Cardoid mics have two different pickup patterns and use electronics to clean it up.  You can move a little while you talk without “fading away”.

The Room Acoustics:

In every room, The echo you hear is the sound bouncing off the walls. The more furniture, carpeting and stuff you have in a room, the less echo or bounce you get. A microphone shield prevents a little bit of that bounce as well. A sound booth used shape and special wall panels to eliminate most of that bounce.  The shield I used in the test is quite small because my wife’s office is pretty quiet.  Bigger shields cost more and do a much better job.

So lets get started and at the end we’ll see if you can tell which mic and setup I used for the intro. The microsoft life cam is an omni mic with very high sensitivity so it picks up everything. See if you can hear the difference.

The room is my office. I do have to pause for airplanes flying over and trucks coming by and even my refrigerator. Even though it is a very quiet refrigerator, it shares a wall with my office and causes a hum through the walls that the mic pics up. This is just home recording reality, my office isn’t anything special, no big acoustic treatments, just an office with two chairs a wood desk and a bookshelf. Something you might be able to create in your own home. I am even recording this sitting down which most voice coaches don’t like. Standing is the best way for you to sound good.

For each test, I am setting the mic up to have a room floor of -50db. This might not mean much to you, so I’ll explain. The room floor is the sound of the room with nothing happening. just the sound bouncing around the room or leaking in from outside. by adjusting each mic to -50db the test is more fair. At this setting, my refrigerator reads a -36db. Even at home you should see about -45db or quieter for home voice recording or auditions. Studios shoot for a -60db or better which is very difficult in most homes.

The bigger the negative number, the quieter the room. At some point you get a dead room. When you walk in you hear yourself breath and it can be very uncomfortable for some people. You can cheat and lower the gain or input volume of the microphone, but then you lose some of the sound in your voice as well. The trick is to find a balance.

Recording Software:

The program I am using to record is Audacity because it is free. It is a little harder to set up to save your files in other formats though.  I don’t like garage band because it is too difficult to record “clean”, and it occasionally loses files if you save in the wrong order.  Twisted Wave is another great choice, but the price just went up to $50, so I am not using it here.

The Setup:

When I test the mic, the loud parts of me speaking should not go above 0db In fact I am trying to target a peak of -6db leaving a little headroom. Listed to the podcast and see what you think. There are some other things you can do as well, recording in a walk in closet that is filled with hanging clothes or offices with lots of books and odd shapes. The worst place to record is an empty bedroom with no furniture and flat walls. Echo city.

By now you should have listened to the podcast.  I read just enough of this post to give you a baseline, and then recorded with the three different setups.

So which mic and set up did I use? My personal setup is the AT2020 USB with WindTech popgard pop filter, I had the Apogee MiC and my wife took it for her work. So, which did you like better? Let me know at Scottbourquin.com


Thank you for listening and come back soon.