Video Microphone Shootout

David Power, Brooklyn, NY

Microphones discussed in this video:

(Note: More affordable lavalier mic option… RODE SmartLav+)

Video Microphone Shootout

If you’ve been making videos or thinking about making videos for more than a few hours, you’re already know how important audio is. And capturing good, clean audio is highly dependent on the microphone you use.

In today’s demonstration, we compare five different microphones all recording exactly the same performance in exactly the same room at exactly the same time so you can hear the differences between them. Exactly.

Here are today’s contenders:

1. RODE Lavalier mic

This is condenser microphone that clips to a shirt, blouse, jacket or tie. This is the mic you’re hearing my voice through right now. As you can see, it’s clipped to the collar of my shirt so it’s somewhere between four and six inches from my mouth. Lavaliers are great for live-action videos because they’re small and easy to hide. They’re also a good choice if you need to move around a lot. Because they’re attached to your body, they move with you. And I’ll note, in this demonstration I have this mic hardwired to my audio recorder so it’s not using any kind of wireless transmitter.

2. Rode NTG3

This is a what’s known as a shotgun condenser microphone. Shotgun mics are often used on movie sets on the ends of boom poles. On outdoor sets, they’re typically covered in a furry windscreen like the one in this photo. Because they have a longer reach than most condenser mics, it’s possible to hold them further away from the actor and still capture a good, strong signal. You can’t see it at the moment but right now, my NTG3 is on a boom stand mounted just above and in front of my head so it’s about a foot away from my mouth.

3. Shure SM7B

This is a heavy duty, broadcast-style dynamic microphone. In comparison to condenser microphones, dynamic mics are less sensitive so they pick up a lot less of noises you don’t want to hear. Things like computer fans, key presses, mouse clicks, air conditioning, etc.

On the flip side, and this is especially true of the SM7B, dynamic mics typically need more powerful preamplifiers to produce a good strong signal. And quiet, powerful preamplifiers tend to be on the expensive side.

I wouldn’t typically use this type of mic in a live-action video situation because to be effective, it needs to be within four to six inches your mouth. And a large mic on a stand with a pop filter can be distracting to your viewers in a live-action situation. This type of mic is better suited to voice over purposes for online course content, tutorials, podcasting, etc.—any situation where you’re not performing on camera.

The optimal working distance for a microphone like this is generally four to six inches from your mouth. It’s important to note that any time you use a microphone at this distance, a nylon mesh pop filter is a must. Otherwise you end up recording what are known as plosives. Plosive are the loud bursts of air your mouth makes when you pronounce works containing P, B and sometimes T’s.

In the video, I've included examples of these sounds both with and without a pop filter. The difference between them isn’t subtle. Pop filters are inexpensive. I recommend you always use one when your microphone is at close range.

4. Neumann TLM 102

This is a large diaphragm, studio condenser. The TLM 102 is similar to microphones such as the Blue Yeti or Blue Snowball—which you might be familiar with.

Like the SM7B we just discussed, I typically wouldn’t use a microphone like this in a live action video because it needs to be close. In the demonstration that follows, I have the TLM 102 on my desk about two-and-a-half feet away. So the results are not going to be ideal. The reason I’m doing this is to let you hear how even an expensive condenser mic sounds when it’s not used properly. A lot of novice video creators are using condenser microphones like the Blue Yeti or Blue Snowball at distances of several feet and they’re not pleased with the results.

Now to be clear, the Yeti and the Snowball are not bad microphones. It’s just that when they’re not used properly, the results aren’t great. Despite the fact I’m not using it properly, keep in mind the optimal working distance for this type of microphone is four to eight inches.

5. Logitech C920 Webcam

I informally call this the built-in condenser type. If you’ve read any of my books or blog posts, you’ll know I’m not a big fan of microphones that are built-in to cameras. They’re generally added as an afterthought so they’re not fantastic microphones and they’re usually too far from your mouth to capture high-quality audio. At the moment, my webcam is about three and a half feet away. Webcam microphones are fine for casual Skype conversations with friends and family. But for the types of videos we’ll make for business purposes, there are much better choices.

So in this video, you’re going to hear me rap. And while I rapped, I recorded the performance simultaneously on each of the five microphones we just discussed. Four of these microphones were recorded on my Tascam DR-70D digital recorder. The webcam was record directly into my PC. I mention this because—with the exception of the webcam, which I don’t consider to be a real contender in this race—any differences you hear between these clips will be due to the microphones and not other factors such as the performance or by differences in the preamp or recorder.

As I play the clips in the video, I display both the name and image of the mic you’re hearing so it’s clear which mic is which.

I rap the following lyrics (from Buggin' Out by Tribe Called Quest) for each of the five microphones under review:

Microphone check one, two. What is this?

The five foot assassin with the rough neck business

I float like gravity, never had a cavity

Got more rhymes than the Winans got family

I realize some of you will never think of me the same way again after hearing me rap… I'm at peace with that.


Now, what conclusions can we draw from this shootout?

First, I hope it’s clear that you can capture really great sounding audio using several different types of microphones. I think you’ll agree the RODE Lav mic, the SM7B and the NTG3 all sounded clear and professional. They each sounded quite different from one another but all were acceptable.

Second, using an expensive microphone (like the TLM102) at the wrong distance doesn’t produce great results. Every microphone has an ideal working distance. Once you exceed that difference your audio is going to suffer.

Finally, built-in microphones aren’t ideal tools for the types of video we entrepreneurs typically make. Again, mics built-in to cameras are fine for casual purposes but they really won’t cut it for business purposes.

I want to acknowledge that I’m using some fairly expensive microphones in a room that’s been professionally acoustically-treated. I’m not suggesting for a moment you should go out and spend thousands of dollars on microphones and acoustic paneling. In fact I think that would be an absolutely terrible idea. I just happened to use the mics and the room I have available. I recommend you do the same.

You can find perfectly good budget versions of the mics I’ve used in this demonstration. And I think you’ll find that you’ll produce far better results using a cheap microphone properly than you will using an expensive microphone improperly—as you just witnessed with the TLM102.

That’s it for today’s shootout. What are your thoughts? Did you have a favorite mic? Which was your least favorite? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Until next time,


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