By Matt Vanacoro
Whether you’re capturing gaming exploits directly off the PC screen or game console, one truth becomes perfectly clear; If you want your live stream to sound professional, you have to up your audio game.
There are a variety of microphones and accessories to help you sound like a pro while you rack up stats. Let’s break down the various solutions and what kind of situation you might use each piece of hardware for.
The Simplicity of USB
Using a microphone solution that is USB compatible simplifies things a great deal for you. A USB microphone has an audio interface built into the microphone that will convert the audio signal into one the computer can understand. This means you plug the microphone directly into the computer, no other hardware needed. As a bonus, USB ‘class compliant’ devices don’t even require any specific software to function. You plug them into a computer, and the computer ‘sees’ the microphone. Select it as an audio source like a webcam microphone, and there isn’t any further intervention required from you – just focus on the creative side!
The Samson G-Track Pro is a professional condenser USB mic, so it will plug directly into your computer. Since it’s a studio-quality condenser mic, you have some flexibility in placement and don’t have to be ‘right up on it’ to get a good sound. There are a ton of pro features to make your streaming life easier, as well – you’ve got selectable pickup patterns, hardware-controlled gain, hardware monitoring, and even a second input for another audio source.
This type of mic can sit on the corner of your desk and still get a robust and full vocal sound from a bit more of a distance away. Think of a ‘late night talk show’ and the typical mic placement for that purpose and you’ll get the idea. The USB output allows you to plug it directly into a computer – no drivers, no muss, no fuss.
If you want to get that big voice-over sound, the Samson Q9U (coming Q1 2021) professional broadcast dynamic microphone allows your audience to hear everything they need to and none of what they shouldn’t.
Broadcast dynamics are beloved for their superior rejection of background noise and faithful pickup of the sounds directly in front of them. You don’t have to worry quite as much about how your voice will change as you get closer and farther from the mic when using a broadcast dynamic. The mic is specifically engineered to be more forgiving for you ‘animated’ players out there that tend to bounce around a bit. When paired up with a Samson MBA38 Boom Arm, this mic will give you recording studio quality that will have your viewers hanging on your every word.
The Q9U has a USB and XLR output, so the mic can work in a plug-and-play fashion directly with your computer, or it can be utilized with a mixer/audio interface setup (more on that later).
Portable Pro Sound
If you want to be able to stream on location but don’t want to carry as much cargo as Sam Bridges from Death Stranding, the Samson Satellite is your best bet. This broadcast quality mic works with both USB and iOS, allowing you to replace the tiny on-board mic of your phone with something far more robust. Paired up with a laptop, it is a fully functioning audio interface as well as a mic.
One of the neat tricks this little mic has up its sleeve is selectable pickup patterns. Want to capture audio just in front of the mic? Choose the cardioid pattern. Working with a fellow streamer and want to capture 2 voices? Figure-8 can help you out there. Got a need to simply capture the sound of the entire room in high-fidelity? Switch over to omni. This tiny workhorse is like having three mics in one. You can even monitor your sound directly from the microphone with absolute zero latency.
XLR, Interfaces, and Mixers
Although USB microphones are wonderfully convenient, with this simplicity comes a trade-off. The nature of those devices typically allows for only a single mic at a time (although the G-Track Pro is a welcome exception). If you want to utilize a more professional mic preamp, a modern audio interface with multiple inputs and pro features, or a mixer with effects, it’s much less complicated to integrate XLR microphones into your system.
XLR has been the ‘mic cable’ standard for quite a long time. Its 3-pin system allows mics to connect to mixers, preamps, audio interfaces, and more. Setting up a system with XLR mics will require you to have an audio interface to convert your analog audio signal into a digital one that a computer can understand. Some mixers have an audio interface built-in specifically for this purpose, and that can certainly simplify things a bit.
Mixing it Up
If you’re utilizing multiple XLR microphones, you’re going to need a mixer to plug them all in, and to set their volume levels independently. The Samson MXP124FX is a compact 12-input analog stereo mixer that will do just that, and it acts as an audio interface for your computer at the same time! You can plug up to 4 XLR microphones in at once, connect the USB cable directly to your computer with no need for drivers or specific software, and get all of your microphones routed directly to your streaming software in a snap.
The MXP124 FX has built in effects, and even built in compression to control some of your more ‘passionate and unpredictable’ guests and keep their voice volume at a reasonable level for your audience. With onboard EQ for the 4 mic channels, you can make a variety of microphones sound more consistent and give everyone the ‘vocal sound’ they like. The flexibility of crafting the tone for each mic shows one of the big benefits you get when trading off simplicity for a more robust setup.
When considering your ‘multi mic’ setup, you’ve got quite a few options. The Q9U I mentioned above is an excellent pro choice, but the very expressive Samson CL7a and the budget-friendly C01 condenser microphones are also both ideal if you need a standard XLR microphone to plug into a mixer. These mics work well with a boom arm, and if you’re going to be using multiple microphones, you’re going to need standard XLR mics that will plug into an audio mixer.
The CL7a is a large-diaphragm condenser microphone and a versatile choice if you’d also like your mic to do ‘double duty’ as a professional studio microphone. It’s perfect for vocal tracks, voice overs, instruments, and more. If you frequently utilize multiple guests and need to invest in several microphones all at once, the C01 will give you the robust condenser sound at a price that is easier to fit into a budget when purchasing several mics.
Samson Q7x and Q8x dynamic microphones are also a great choice for multi-mic applications as well. The smaller profile of a handheld dynamic keeps the mics well out of the way of your camera and desktop area. They sound great, and setting up bunch of them is a snap!
Do You Hear What I Hear?
If you’re going to be competitive and hear the rustle of the camper hiding in the bushes behind you, you’re going to need a set of headphones that are impeccably balanced. Throw in the chore of monitoring the balance between your voice and your game audio and now the need for professional headphones becomes absolutely clear. One of the most common audio complaints streamers face is a voice track that is either too loud or buried beneath game audio.
The Samson Z55 Pro Reference Headphones will give you an immersive soundstage, but more importantly, they will give you the ability to ‘trust’ your ears. You’ll know that the mix of sound YOU are hearing is what your audience hears when you are wearing them. The closed-back design also limits outside noise from getting to you, so you’ll have a mix in your ears you can count on.
In addition to multiple microphones, when streaming or podcasting with multiple guests you’re going to have to find a way to let everyone hear what is going on. The Samson QH4 headphone amp is a 4-channel headphone amplifier that will allow you to send a customized mix to four people, giving each one of them an independent volume control.