The microphone has come a long way since it was first developed in 1877. Microphones allow us to capture sounds ranging from birds tweeting in nature to human speech—replaying them at a later date to relive the moment or transmit it thousands of miles across the land. So what is the best microphone for live streaming your church services?
Microphones, like cameras, are designed with specific use cases in mind. Each type of microphone excels at capturing some particular sounds with some tuned for musical instruments, others for vocals, and human speech.
In this article, we will look at the most common types of microphones for live streaming. We will share strengths and weaknesses, and cover the common connectors you may come across when setting up your live streaming equipment.
Not all Mics are Created Equally
As we hinted at earlier, different mics capture specific sounds by design. The material and process used for manufacturing differ significantly. As a result, some microphones excel at some audio frequencies while suffering to capture others.
To get the best sound signal, always try to get the microphone as close as possible to the source. Sometimes it is not practical to have a large microphone directly in front of a person speaking. In those cases, there are smaller microphones which can still offer a good quality sound signal without being too obtrusive.
Common microphones for live streaming
The most common microphones used for live streaming explicitly capture the audio frequencies of the human voice. Depending on your live streaming kit, and the environment from which you are streaming, some microphones will produce a better richer sound than others.
Clip-On / Lapel / Lavalier Mics
Used widely in the TV broadcast industry, lap mics, as we commonly know them, offer a great way to get a microphone close to an audio source, without it being too obtrusive. They can sometimes be as small as a few millimetres and are great at being invisible. They can hide inside of clothes, attach to glasses, or attach to hair to capture the best audio invisibly.
To accomplish the fantastic size of lap mics, they capture only a narrow band of sound waves, tuned specifically for the human voice. If you want to capture other types of audio such as singing or live music, a different mic type will produce a better result.
- Very small
- Hidden easily
- Tuned for human speech
- More affordable price
- Quality for non-speech is poor
- Can be fiddly to position right
Broadcast microphones have become more familiar with the growth of the podcast industry. Initially designed for radio broadcasts, where the quality of the voice is the most critical factor, these microphones are big and positioned directly in front of the speaker. Because they capture a wide range of frequencies, broadcast mics capture singing vocals well. They excel at capturing a very natural sounding voice.
Most broadcast microphones work with a full audio kit by design, including a mixer and other output devices. As a result, you might need some other accessories to use a broadcast mic with your live stream.
- Best quality audio
- Require another device to process the audio
- Can be expensive
In some situations, it is not practical to use a broadcast mic, and a lap mic will either be too visible or impractical to use. In these cases, Shotgun microphones offer the best of both worlds. Built in a convenient package, you can place these mics a short distance away from the subject and still capture excellent quality audio. On-camera mics are almost identical to shotgun mics but will have specific ports to connect them directly to a camera.
The most common placement for a shotgun mic is above the subject, pointing to just below their chin. This way, the Shotgun can capture the audio waves without too much interference from other sounds.
Shotgun mics are most commonly used in the filmmaking industry, where they need to capture dialogue in places where having other types of mics won’t work. Shotgun mics are great because you can use one mic to capture the audio of various speakers.
- Can sit further away
- Can capture multiple people
- Can attach directly to the camera
- Picks up a lot more of background and ambient sound
- Still needs to be reasonably close to capture good audio
Common Microphone Cables and Connections
Because of the broad applications of microphones, and the different requirements for quality levels, different connectors and cables exist in the audio world. Luckily, there are two common ones you may come across when you shop for a microphone. It’s good to know what type of connector your camera has, so you can avoid having to purchase any additional devices to convert the audio.
3.5mm—The Humble Headphone Jack
By far the most common audio connector you will find on most devices is the little headphone jack. It’s been around for years and can found on everything from your pre-2017 smartphone to your TV. The 3.5mm jack has an older brother, the 6.35mm jack, also known as the 1/4 inch jack. You can still find the 6.35mm jack on some specialist audio equipment such as electric guitars and mixing desks.
Headphones and microphones both use the 3.5mm jack because of its tiny size and excellent sound transmission properties. Most modern devices can use the same port and automagically detect what’s on the other side of the cable.
Typically the cable for 3.5mm audio devices is between 1-2mm thick, making it easy to hide and store. But due to the size of the wire, it is susceptible to electronic interference from the surrounding electrical devices.
Professional 3.5mm audio cables have additional shielding built-in, which increases their thickness, but these usually come at a higher cost and reduced flexibility. Due to their susceptibility to external interference, we recommend using a maximum length of 3 meters for 3.5mm audio cables.
XLR—The audio industry standard
The XLR connector quickly became a versatile connection used primarily in the professional audio and video industry. Having between 3 and 7 pins, they can transmit many different types of signals between devices.
In the audio world, XLR cables connect professional devices using three pins. By sending an inverted copy of the audio signal over the 3rd wire, the device on the receiving end can process the incoming audio and work out what the interference is, removing it from the audio feed. This is referred to as a balanced connection and offers higher resistance to audio interference than a 3.5mm jack.
Typical XLR cables are between 5-8mm thick, and their connectors are relatively large compared to the 3.5mm jack. You can use XLR cables in lengths of hundreds of meters because of their excellent resistance to external electronic interference. Still, their size and weight become challenging to handle and manage.
Going Wireless—The Best of Both Worlds
Sometimes you need the practicality of a 3.5mm jack, but the distance between your mic and camera is over 3 meters. Running an XLR cable can be impractical if both your mic and camera both use 3.5mm connectors. Laying the XLR cable across the floor creates a tripping hazard. In these situations, going wireless offers the best of both worlds, a small connector size with excellent resistance to interference.
Wireless audio kits come in two parts, a transmitter which connects to your microphone and a receiver that connects to your camera. Depending on the specific model you use, you can transmit the audio signal wirelessly for upwards of 50 meters.
The Most Common Setup
A 3.5mm jack is standard on most prosumer microphones and cameras. If the distance between the speaker and camera is relatively small, there should be no issues connecting by cable.
If, however, the length exceeds a few meters, most people opt to get a wireless microphone kit which allows greater flexibility in camera placement and allows the microphone to be located much closer to the speaker without the risk of electronic interference.
If both your microphone and camera already have XLR connections, and you have a clear and safe way to install the cables, then balanced XLR cables are a great choice and still used by professionals every day in the filming industry.
What’s the best microphone for live streaming?
Audio quality is more important than video quality with live streams, and it would be better to upgrade your microphone before your camera.
We recommend using a wireless microphone system with a lavalier mic attached. This setup allows the clarity of a lav mic with the flexibility of not having to stand right next to the camera.
To see our recommendations on which audio setups offer the best value for money, check out our article here.
We’ve pulled together some of the best tech for live streaming in our live streaming starter kit, which includes a Mevo Start camera, RØDE Wireless go and Lavalier Go microphones, Lights, Tripods and all the extras you will need to get started with your digital worship services. If you have questions about live streaming or want to improve how you offer online worship, get in touch!