The Streaming Microphone Feature Glossary
| Reuben Howe
Whether it’s running, a sport or hobby, study, work, or gaming, you never want to let your equipment be the thing holding you back.
A runner needs great stamina and pace, but that won’t mean anything in the wrong shoes.
A student earning 8’s might learn very quickly, but that won’t matter if they don’t keep track of their notes.
A new streamer might have all the passion, drive, skill and hot takes in the world but it won’t get through unless you have a clear mic, reliable equipment and a consistent audio experience.
To that end, choosing your streamer microphone is a vital step when first starting out. That’s not to say you need to break the bank, but you do need to be aware of what products are out there and what, exactly, they are offering you in terms of features and fidelity.
There are some burning questions that need answering when setting up a USB microphone, especially for streaming:
- How to Set Up USB Mics?
- Which mics are compatible?
- What is Polar Pattern?
- What is a Noise Gate?
- What is a Pop Filter?
- What is a Boom Arm?
- What is a Shock Mount?
Learning the possible features and attachments for USB Microphones is important in understanding which gaming mic is right for you. Deciding to leave behind your integrated headset mic and go fully standalone isn’t a decision you want to take lightly!
How to Set Up USB Mics and How They Work
USB Microphones are just that. We are not referring to mics that are integrated or bult-on to the side of headsets but rather standalone or suspended microphones with a dedicated purpose. These sorts of mics are used by studios and content creators the world-over and make sure your voice sounds clear and legible even in the chaos of balancing stream audio (We’ve all been there).
Essentially you only need two things. You need a USB port, and a recording software. Beyond that, the functions and use of the device are entirely up to you! USB Microphones don’t need special input locations or audio set-up, as most will install drivers automatically when connected. If this isn’t the case, the mic will come with a download link or USB stick/CD with the drivers on.
Once it’s installed once, all you need to do is plug the USB in and it’s ready to record. This bypasses the need for optical audio or 3.5mm ports being used and simplifies the entire process. It also makes USB a better option for content creators who stream IRL or record videos out and about, as all you need to carry is the mic and one cable which will be connected to your phone/laptop/Camera/PC.
Which Mics are compatible with streaming?
A question that seems far more important than it ends up being, as any device that can record audio to your PC on an audible / distinct channel can be streamed. Basically, if it works in the first place, it’s compatible! This is because recording software like OBS register Audio Devices and Recording Devices in a very intuitive way that enables any device to be added.
The only compatibility issues you will encounter may be certain mics not supporting your OS. However, most mics like the REC100 are compatible with Windows 11 and below, MacOS and Linux all together.
What are Polar Patterns?
Now we’re getting into the nitty gritty of features you need to understand. Microphone Polar Patterns are the pattern in which it records audio around itself. Essentially, it is the direction and shape that the mic “listens” to.
For example, an omnidirectional microphones' polar pattern is an equal sphere, in which any noise nearby is picked up as loudly as any other. This is excellent for IRL streaming in groups around a table in a bar when everyone wants to be heard, or for recording group sessions from a sofa.
More common pickup patterns are the Cardioid Polar Patterns. This pattern is not a sphere, but closer to a semi-sphere. What this means is that sound sources from behind the cardioid mics are barely registered, or completely ignored, while the front of the microphone is still sensitive to sound.
This is perfect for desks and rooms where a loud PC, A/C Unit, family room and more may be behind the microphone. This is how directional mics are made and even USB mics can utilise this technology to achieve a more controlled recording.
Some rarer patterns include Super Cardioid (A More frontal version of Cardioid), Figure of 8 (A pattern that picks up audio from in front and behind but not the sides) and Wide Cardioid (A large sphere similar to an Omnidirectional Polar Pattern that is just shifted slightly towards the front).
These terms all sound daunting and technical, but overlooking them when buying a microphone for streaming can end up with the stream hearing your Hard Drive spinning more than your own voice! Remember to point your microphone at the right angle to your audio source based on your Polar Pattern.
What is a Noise Gate?
One common term when looking for streamer equipment: the Noise Gate. Noise Gates work by aiming to remove background noise and spikes in volume by regulating volume between two points. What this means, in practice, is you can set a minimum and maximum volume for your stream. Anything recorded above maximum will be lowered (Or removed entirely if too loud). If anything falls below the threshold it will not be recorded at all. This will eliminate things like traffic noise, hard drives spinning, and more.
However, most USB mics do not come with one as they operate either as their own device, or on a software level. You can manually adjust your pickup volume in Discord, for example. This provides a noise gate effect within the app itself.
Mics like the REC100 do have condenser technology integrated, which aims towards the same goal of condensing high sound down into a reasonable range. Do not necessarily prioritise a noise gate for this reason, as it may cost more than it is worth compared to integrated features like your Cardioid Pattern.
What does a Pop Filter do?
The best USB Gaming Microphones come with a few attachments to help create clear, concise callouts for your team and snappy, reactive comedy for your stream. One of these items is the pop-filter. Pop filters are thin meshes within hard plastic rings which sit between you and the mic. If you can, place metal pop filters perpendicular to the angle you look at the microphone from. The filter acts as a physical barrier blocking larger particulates like saliva from passing through to the mic and it also dampens the harsher sounds we make when we speak and switch consonants.
Everyone will have slightly different recordings without a pop filter and notice that certain words need cutting the front or end to remove annoying spikes in amplitude. That is pop and the pop filter acts to pre-emptively stop those spikes from appearing! Make editing easier and far, far quicker with a gaming mic with a built-in pop filter or a deployable one. Streaming is also improved as your voice is high quality and crystal clear, making for a more engaging stream.
What is a Boom Arm?
A simpler piece of kit compared to the last couple, a boom arm is just an adjustable, stable, articulating arm that holds the mic in place. Perfect for maintaining consistent volume levels as you keep your Polar Pattern in the same place every stream, and you are the same distance from the microphone too.
Consistency will save you a lot of time editing and no-one likes having to do a tech stream for 45 minutes when they go live. Boom arms are an alternative to something like a Tripod. The REC100 has a Boom arm and all the features listed above, while the MCP200 is a similar product that uses a tripod. Compare the two stands and see which suits your set-up best.
What is a Shock Mount?
The “cage” you see around most microphones, a prime example is the Blue Yeti and its iconic frame, when they are set-up is a shock mount. The mount helps reduce the effects of you bashing your leg on the desk or typing on your keyboard. This offers increased audio stability and will reduce time needed editing.
It is something that a gaming headset cannot hope to match as it moves around with your head and is never secure. It’s another simple feature that is purely mechanical, and which no USB gaming Mic should be without.
Choose Your Fighter
Leaving the other side of this dive into USB Microphone features and what they really do you should feel confident in choosing the Mic that is best for you. Whether it’s a Boom Arm supported condenser mic like the REC100, or a smaller and simpler desk microphone that sits on a mini-tripod like the MCP200, choose knowing that you are getting something you truly understand the capabilities of.
Remember to consider the Polar Patter, Noise Gate, Mount/Stand options and posable/in built pop filter. You don’t need to spend silly money when you know which features to prioritise!