Wanna know what is the most important technical thing to get right when you are making a YouTube video? No, it’s not the visuals. If your content is good, viewers will forgive rough and ready video production. But it is absolutely crucial that you make your YouTube Videos SOUND great. Here are my three personal favourite bits of kit for getting great sound into your YouTube Videos (and no, you don’t need all three. Any one will do … unless you are a gear junky like me)
Table of contents
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1. Lavalier MicThe Rode SmartLav+ is a quick win to improve audio on phone, tablet, or computer. Also can connect to camera mic input with adapter
2. USB MicThe Audio Technica AT2020USB+ is a high quality USB Mic to make professional voiceovers for videos on Mac, Windows or iPad
3. Handy RecorderTotally versatile, the Zoom H4N has built-in mics so use as is, connect additional mics, use as an audio interface, or in loads of ways to capture good sound for your videos
4. Audio Interface + MicrophoneCombine a high quality microphone with an audio interface to make pristine audio recordings. Great for voiceovers to screencasts (and the Audiobox iTwo connects direct to iPad as well as Mac and PC)
The importance of getting the audio right on your videos was really stressed at a Creator Day I was invited to at the YouTube Space in London. It was a totally awesome day full of great hints and tips on how to create videos for YouTube. There were video creators of all ages and types, from comics and vloggers to mum-bloggers, travellers and singer-songwriters. But the one thing everyone agreed on was this:
When Making A YouTube Video, You MUST Get The Sound Right. Audio is KING.
Even if your content is awesome, bad sound really lets down good video. Don’t let it happen to you!
Knowing this, working on my own YouTube Channel, I have worked really hard to make sure the audio is as good as it can be. And there are lots of different ways of doing it. So below are a few things I have tried. From cheap and cheerful to professional level equipment. Hopefully something for everyone whatever your budget or experience.
What’s Wrong With The Built-In Mic Option?
Is the built-in mic an option? Yes … and no. Everyone tells you. You can record videos quickly and easily on your phone, iPad, GoPro or a DSLR. And they all have built-in microphones. So what is the problem? Well, they are all OK … as far as they go. And every new generation of phone, tablet and laptop seems to have better on-board equipment.
But here’s the thing. The sound on your videos will be better if you use one of the following sound recording solutions. You will be able to avoid background noise, and get much clearer, professional quality audio with a proper video mic. You will have much more control over the final result.
Although you can improve the quality of the audio tracks on your video with editing techniques, help yourself by starting with decent audio in the first place. Remember GIGO … garbage in, garbage out. The mic is at the beginning of the recording chain. So invest at least a small amount on a good recording solution. Here are my recommendations
1. The Lavalier Mic Solution
A simple Lavalier Mic is the easiest and cheapest way to improve the sound quality of your videos. I own and have used two: The Rode SmartLav+ and the Audio-Technica Pro 70. And for my money, the SmartLav+ is an absolute no-brainer. Here’s why:
- Works with everything! Android smartphone, iPhone, iPad, Mac and Windows. I also use it with my GoPro (with SC3 adapter). So you buy once. Use Everywhere. Beware though – to use with your GoPro, or any device with a standard 3.5mm mic input you will need the Rode SC3 TRRS to TRS adaptor. And because it comes with quite a short cable you might also consider the Rode SC1 SmartLav extension cable.
- Exceptional quality for the price.
- No other equipment needed (other than the adapter where needed). Works straight out of the box.
- Well-designed clip and cable management to avoid picking up rustling noises
- Very portable. This is the Lavalier Mic I take travelling for all the above reasons, and the fact I can use it with all my devices. Saves me taking bulky equipment.
- Broadcast-grade professional quality omni–directional condenser capsule
- Use two mics at once … great for video interviews. You just need the Rode SC6 with twin inputs for two SmartLavs. (I use one of these for headphone monitoring even though I only have 1 SmartLav)
- Downsides? Some people seem to find it a bit fiddly, and moan about needing an adapter for equipment other than phones and iPads. However I think the SmartLav+ combined with Rode SC3 is a genuinely fantastic way to instantly improve the audio on your video recordings across a range of devices.
So what about the Audio-Technica Pro 70? Well, this was the first lavalier mic I bought. The big downside with it is you really need to use it with an audio interface. Or a recorder with XLR mic inputs (like the Zoom H4N below). I simply could not get it to work very well without. However, if you do have an audio interface with XLR input, then this mic does make great quality recordings. In fact the recording quality is superb. But it is a more “Pro” solution.
And the Pro 70 really comes into its own if you want to record acoustic guitar, or other string instruments like violin. It comes with a clip to attach it to your instrument. So if you are looking to make videos of your acoustic guitar or violin playing then this could be the solution for you. I often use my Pro 70 at home for voiceovers and for guitar. But because of the extra equipment required I rarely take it out of the studio.
2. The USB Mic Solution For Video Voiceovers
I am a HUGE fan of USB mics for video voiceovers. Why? You get high quality results with minimum outlay. I own and use two: a Audio-Technica AT2020USB+ which always sits next to me on my desk at home, and my long-standing best friend, a Samson Go Mic, which is highly portable. I have used both to record the audio tracks for my videos on Mac, Windows and iPad. For making screencast videos and narrating voiceovers, USB mics work just how you might expect. You plug in and record. Easy.
(Note on iPad and iPhone recording … many USB mics work straight away with iPad some may require extra power. The best way to achieve that is with an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. It provides power via your lightning charging cable and a USB connection at the same time. Great bit of kit.)
There are literally hundreds of different USB mics available, so a while back I tested the most popular on the market. If you want to go the USB mic route to improve the sound quality of your videos, then refer to this ultimate guide to USB Mics. On that page you can watch videos and listen to uncompressed recordings made with the all top-selling USB Mics and make direct comparisons to help you choose the best one.
In short, USB mics are great for video:
- Easy to install and use. Plug and Play on Mac, Windows and iPad (check spec to make sure the mic will work on iPads… many will, some require too much power)
- No additional equipment required so relatively inexpensive solution
- Perfect when using your laptop or iPad for making the videos via Webcam, built in camera, or if you are making screencasts or narrating voiceovers
- The Samson Go Mic even has an omni pickup pattern option if you want to record a conference, interview or an ensemble. There are also other mics that have an omni option such as the Blue Yeti. Refer to our USB Mic Guide for more details.
- It is also possible to use a USB mic to record high quality audio tracks directly on your computer while you film yourself using your phone, DSLR, GoPro or other external camera. I have done that in many of my videos. BUT you will have to combine the video and audio tracks after. Very easy to do in software like iMovie, remember to clap 3 times at the beginning of a take to make it easy to synch the two tracks!
3. The Portable Digital Recorder
A portable digital recorder like the H4N is probably THE most versatile bit of kit you can buy to improve the audio quality of your YouTube videos. I have a Zoom H4N (mine is the older version it has since been updated to the Pro with even better mic pre-amps etc) and it is simply brilliant. Mainly because it can be used in so many different ways! Here are a few examples:
- Place the Zoom wherever you want to record the audio for your video (no need to be anywhere near the camera) and record to the SD card. Then simply transfer the recording ready to synch with the video track).
- Use any kind of mic! The H4N built-in X/Y stereo mics, you can connect your Lavalier mic, or any studio condenser or dynamic mic. In fact you can record up to 4 channels at once by using built-in and external mics.
- Connect the headphone output of the Zoom recorder directly to the microphone input of your camera, GoPro or handycam as shown in the picture above. This will immediately improve the quality of the sound tracks as you film
- Use as a USB audio interface. I have used mine with Mac, iPad and iPhone. (NB to get Zoom H4N to work with iPad or iPhone you will need the Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter. It’s a little bit pricy but it works.) This is a great option for recording exceptional voiceovers. Very like the USB microphone option. Because of the built-in mics you don’t need any other equipment. It also means you can create videos with the camera on your iPad, iPhone, Mac or Windows PC and record high-quality audio at the same time via the Zoom in audio interface mode.
- Super versatile if you want to do more than just record voiceovers or vocals. Can also record other instruments, or even a whole choir or conference.
- Use the Zoom H4N as a separate recorder and synch your video and audio tracks, or record your video and audio simultaneously to the same file (depending on which video equipment you are using).
- Easily attach to a camera tripod (the zoom has a threaded tripod mount) or to a mic stand using the Zoom tripod to mic stand adapter.
4. The Audio Interface Solution For Recording Professional Video Sound Tracks
So far I have looked at very simple, quick and versatile solutions to make sure your audio is pristine when you shoot your YouTube videos. Another piece of kit I have used quite often for YouTube videos is an audio interface. This combined with a condenser microphone gives broadcast quality results for video voiceovers. It also enables me to record my digital piano and guitar very easily.
An audio interface is particularly useful if you want to record more than just voiceovers straight onto your computer. It forms the heart of any home recording studio. And so if you also want to make high quality recordings of your guitar, piano, keyboard etc, and also use it for videos, then this could be the best solution for you. The AudioBox iTwo shown above will record direct on a Mac, Windows or iPad, and as well as audio it has MIDI so is a great all-round interface for a small home recording studio. It can also be bought standalone or as part of a complete studio pack with headphones, mic and cable. Everything you need to make high quality voiceovers and vocal tracks, as well as record guitar, acoustic and line level instruments.
Depending on which one you choose, you can use it directly with an iPad or iPhone if you are using that to record your video. However, an audio interface won’t work directly with a DSLR or video camera. But you get round that by recording the high quality audio direct onto your computer or iPad, while simultaneously filming with your camera. You can then easily combine the video and audio tracks in almost any video editing software. As I mentioned with the USB Mic, if you do this simply clap 3 times so you can easily align the audio track with the video.
Music Repo on YouTube
The above are not the only ways to ensure the audio is right on your videos. However, they are all things I have used and can personally vouch for. Any one of them will make a huge difference to simply relying on the built in mic option on your camera, phone, tablet or computer. So best of luck with your own video endeavours. May they sound supreme! Oh, and don’t forget to visit my YouTube channel, where there are tutorials and video reviews of all kinds of home recording studio equipment and software.