In a previous post (“Choosing a Microphone for Storytelling“), I offered some factors storytellers should consider when deciding which mic they’re going to use. That background covered, we can now get to the good stuff: the microphones themselves. I’m going to try to keep it simple. (Don’t laugh.) I’m going to recommend seven different microphones, along with comments for each. My criteria consist of sound quality, build quality, ease of use, versatility, and value. When relevant, I’ll also offer some alternatives you might consider if you’re looking for something either more robust or more affordable. I do not include any microphones I think you should avoid. Each mic on this list is one that I would actually recommend. Also, I currently own, use and have tested each of these six main recommendations.
Shure Beta 87a ($250)
This microphone is my favorite and the one I use most often. It sounds great with my particular voice. It has a strong output signal, and with its supercardioid pickup pattern, it’s fantastic at rejecting ambient noise. Because it’s designed to be handheld, there’s very little handling noise. That’s great if I need to take it on the road with me because I can use a mic stand and mic clip rather than having to pack a bulky shock mount. It does have two potential drawbacks that might give some people pause. First, you’ll need an audio interface or portable recorder because it’s an XLR mic. Second, it’s not cheap. But even at $250, I still think it’s an excellent value. [Alternatives: Rode M3 ($150), Sennheiser e945 ($220)]
Listen to an audio text of the Shure Beta87a microphone.
Rode Procaster ($230)
This microphone is almost as good as the Shure Beta87a. It has a warm, rich sound. Its cardioid pickup pattern rejects a lot of noise, but it’s more forgiving than the Shure. However, there are some drawbacks. Like the Shure, it’s an XLR mic, so you’ll need an interface or portable recorder. The signal output is much lower than most of the mics on this list because it is a dynamic microphone. As such, you will need to use an audio interface or portable recorder with high-quality preamps to get recordings that sound as good. It’s also much heavier than the other mics on the list. It’s built like a tank and weighs about as much. This mic is designed to be used with a shock mount to keep handling noise out of your recordings. If you’re not going to be toting this around a lot, the extra weight and bulk are worth it. I’m recommending several mics as alternatives to this one, but they don’t sound noticeably better, and they’re all significantly more expensive. [Alternatives: Shure SM7b ($400), Heil PR40 ($330), Electro-Voice RE20 ($450), Audio-Technica BP40 ($350)]
Listen to an audio text of the Rode Podcaster microphone.
Sennheiser HandMic Digital ($260)
If you’ve decided that a USB setup is the way you want to go, I’m confident that the Sennheiser HandMic Digital is the best combination of value, build quality, and versatility. It’s biggest selling point is that it uses Apogee’s legendary digital converters. It’s designed to be handheld, so you shouldn’t have any trouble with handling noise. And even though it’s a dynamic microphone, the output it sends to your computer or mobile device is much stronger than any other dynamic USB mic. It’s also one of the most versatile mics you can get. It ships with a USB-A cable to plug into your iMac or MacBook, a lightning cable to plug into your iPhone or iPad, and a USB-C cable to connect it to even the newest Apple models. And you can probably already guess one of its potential drawbacks. It’s only Apple compatible. Boo. Also, I don’t know if there’s a more expensive USB microphone than this one. That said, this is the mic I take on the road with me to record seminar participants. If it’s not out of your budget, this one’s a no-brainer.
Listen to an audio text of the Sennheiser HandMic Digital microphone.
Samson Q2U ($55)
If you like the idea of the HandMic Digital, but your budget can’t accommodate it, the Samson Q2U is a viable option. It’s inexpensive, and it sounds quite good, considering it’s price. One of the more novel and useful features of this mic is that it has BOTH XLR and USB connections so that you can use it in a bunch of different scenarios. It also has a built-in headphone jack so you can monitor your audio while you’re recording. Because it’s a dynamic mic, it has excellent noise rejection. And as with most dynamic mics, it tends to suffer from relatively low output levels. But you’re not paying the extra dough for those high-quality converters. To get a usable recording, you’re going to have to learn to get very close to this mic. That presents two potential pitfalls. Sometimes you can run into trouble with p-pops and other problems because you have to get so close to the mic. And some people with softer voices might find it challenging to get good recording levels. And like several of the mics on this list, it’s designed to be handheld, so you get those benefits, too. You should also note that this mic is almost indistinguishable in terms of its sounds, features, and build quality from two other mics: the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB and the Audio-Technica AT2005USB. The prices of these three mics tend to fluctuate quite a bit, so I’d recommend comparison shopping to get the best deal. [Alternatives: Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB ($64), Audio-Technica AT2005USB ($80)]
Listen to an audio text of the Samson Q2U microphone.
Apogee MiC USB+ ($250)
Recommending the Apogee MiC+ is a bit more complicated than the others I cover. I LOVE this microphone, but it’s not the best mic for everyone. This mic has a cardioid condenser capsule that offers incredibly detail recordings. If you can get yourself into a quiet recording space with very little echo, you will probably love working with this microphone. I think it makes my voice sound as good or better than any other mic I’ve used. But there aren’t that many situations for which I can use it. To tell you the truth, I think my affection for this mic is a bit irrational. It’s not that practical. Well, enough about me. Like the HandMic Digital, the MiC+ also uses Apogee’s amazing digital converters. It has a built-in headphone jack for monitoring your recording. It’s USB, so there’s no need for a portable recorder or interface. You can use it with any of your Apple products, but nothing else. It has an integrated camera mount so that you can use it with almost any small tripod. [Alternatives: Rode NT-USB ($170), Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ ($150)]
Listen to an audio text of the Apogee MiC USB+ microphone.
Shure MOTIV MV88 ($150)
The Shure mv88 is a bit of an outlier on this list because I wouldn’t recommend making it your primary recording microphone. Don’t get me wrong. It does sound pretty good for voiceover recordings. But it’s not going to give you the same quality recordings as most of the other mics on this list. I’ve included it because it is just so darn good at what it sets out to do. First, it’s tiny. Wow. To get this quality of sound out of that small of a microphone is pretty stellar. You can always have it with you, as it takes up little additional space in a bag or pack. It plugs right into your iPhone or iPad, and it’s pretty much ready to go. If you shoot much video with your iPhone, it’s one of the most practical options for improving the audio quality of your video clips. It’s quite good at recording environmental sounds, too. And if you want to get a little more creative with your recordings, the MV88 offers “mid-side” recording functionality which allows you to make recordings which you can edit in creative ways later. It’s a great value for all the different ways you can use it. [Alternatives: Rode iXY-L ($200), Zoom iQ6 ($100)]
Like I said before, there are a TON of microphone options for storytellers. There are even more options outside the parameters I’m working with for these six recommendations. You might want the portability of working with a small recorder and mics with 3.5mm connectors. You might just want to use your phone’s built-in microphones. If you have a portable recorder, you might prefer the simplicity of using those onboard microphones. You might find that a shotgun microphone is what works best for you. Or you might prefer the non-invasive vibe of lavalier/lapel microphones. I could go on.
Listen to an audio text of the Shure MOTIV MV88 microphone.
This post isn’t meant to cover every type of microphone for every possible recording situation. I’m just trying to start with some of the most common and practical options, and build from there.
I would love to hear what sort of mics you are using for your recordings. Please feel free to mention them in the comments section below. Also, I’ll do my best to answer any questions you might have about what I’ve posted, things I’ve missed, or any other microphone related comments you want to share.
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