Sure, most headsets now come with built-in microphones as standard. So why would you need one of the best microphones for gaming anyway? You can just do it all via your headset? Well, because not all mics are created equal, and if you're serious about both streaming and voice-over for the videos you're making, you need a serious mic. Plus, not all headsets do actually come packaged with a microphone. Perhaps you do your gaming with a pair of proper audio headphones, and you want a clip-on mic to talk to squad mates whenever you venture online? This guide has what you need.
What do you need to look for in the best microphones for gaming and streaming? Well, if all you need is that boost to your fancy Sennheiser headphones, then look out for something with comfort and clarity. That's all you really need. The best gaming headsets offer great sound quality, but they can't quite match the premium audio headphones. However, if you're an aspiring streamer or video creator you'll need a studio-quality mic (or close to it), with vibration dampening and a decent filter for background noises. Nothing undermines the credibility of your stream than your mum doing the vacuuming in the background. Here are the best mic options for gaming - whether you're supplementing a headset or setting yourself up in business.
1. Blue Yeti
The best microphone for most people
Specs: Power: 5V | Polar patterns: Cardioid, Bidirectional, Omnidirectional, Stereo | Connectivity: USB | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: four color choices, zero-latency monitoring, gain, mute & headphone volume controls
There are a lot of things to like about the Blue Yeti. It’s easy to set up and has a comparably low price next to other microphones with this level of audio quality—and, of course, it sounds great. But its best trait for livestreaming is its adaptability. Your distance from a mic and whether or not you are speaking directly towards it can have a massive impact on sound quality, but the Yeti performs well even under less-than-ideal conditions. The foam padding on the bottom of the base didn’t do much to deafen desk vibrations, but the shape and size of the Yeti means you can generally find a suitable place for it without a hassle.
One thing the Yeti does have trouble with was its tendency to pick up keyboard clicking and desk taps. The small foam pads on the underside of the base helped dampen this a bit, however. You can definitely pay more to get higher audio quality, but the Blue Yeti does everything a livestreamer, or just someone playing games with their friends, needs it to do.
2. AntLion ModMic
The best attachment mic
Specs: Power: 10V | Polar patterns: Unidirectional | Connectivity: 3.5mm, USB (adapter) | Frequency response: 100Hz-10,000Hz | Features: modular and toggle mute switches, adhesive pads, carrying case, 1m and 2m cables
Some of you out there might have a desk that’s… well, let’s just call it cluttered. Making room for a standing microphone without it being in an inconvenient spot may not be possible. That’s where attachable mics enter the picture, and the AntLion ModMic is the best one we’ve used. It sticks on to the side of your headphones like a built-in headset mic, but its audio quality is significantly better. Its magnetic attachment also makes it incredibly easy to setup.
Most small headset mics like the ModMic don’t have very clear audio fidelity, but that’s because they usually come attached to a pair of headphones. The sound of the headphones is prioritized over the quality of the microphone, but the ModMic doesn’t have this problem. It was designed to be a good mic and nothing else. And, as a result, it’s a really good mic. It still doesn’t sound as good as a standing mic like the Blue Yeti, but it probably sounds better than any other mic you’d find attached to a pair of headphones.
3. Razer Seiren X
Compact and portable
Specs: Power: 5V | Polar patterns: Super-Cardioid | Connectivity: USB | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: built-in shock mount, mute button, zero-latency 3.5 mm headphone monitoring port
50 percent smaller than the original Seiren mic design and packing just as much audio quality, the Seiren X is designed with portability in mind. It stands on your desk like a can of soda, such are its unassuming dimensions. The built-in shock mount works well to absorb unwanted spikes from desk kicks and the like, while a single volume control and mute button make up the only controls so that the Seiren X can retain its slick aesthetic.
There are a couple of minor downsides, inevitably. Like the Blue Yeti we found that this mic picks up a noticeable amount of ambient noise like the dreaded mechanical keyboard clatter. It’s not so much as to prevent it from being a feasible streaming mic, but we’d hoped for better noise-cancelling from Razer given their trumpeted super-cardioid polar pattern. Still, the fundamental recording quality is there, as is the quality of finish.
4. Focusrite Scarlett CM25 MkII
A studio solution for budding audio engineers
Specs: Power: 5V | Polar patterns: Cardioid | Connectivity: XLR, audio jack | Frequency response: 20Hz-20,000Hz | Features: mic stand adapter, cable included
A bit of a curveball, but one well worth checking out if gaming, streaming and music production overlap on the Venn diagram of your interests. The Scarlett CM25 Mk II’s large diaphragm cardioid design make it great at picking up both soft and loud speech, so when you’re instinctively whispering from your PUBG hidey-hole and then shrieking in terror when an enemy closes in, it’s got your back. In general, sound quality’s up there with the best in this list.
However, this isn’t a bespoke ‘gaming’ mic and thus doesn’t feature an easy USB or 3.5mm connection. You’ll need to run this through a preamp via XLR to get it working, and while that might be a bridge too far for some, Focusrite does sell a Scarlett Studio bundle including the mic, headphones, and audio interface for under $200. That’s tempting for any budding music producer or podcaster who’s also serious about gaming and streaming broadcast quality.
5. Zalman ZM-Mic1
Good sound quality at a super-budget price
Specs: Power: 2V | Polar patterns: Cardioid | Connectivity: 3.5mm | Frequency response: 100Hz-16,000Hz | Features: three mini-clips, lightweight, low power requirement
The ZM-Mic1 doesn’t have top-of-the-line fidelity, but we’re willing to bet it’s significantly better than whatever you’re using now with your gaming headset. This mic’s so impressive for its price that it demanded attention on this list.
Just to be clear, there are a lot of mics with better audio quality than the ZM-Mic1. It can be rather quiet and is prone to picking up background noise, but in the right environment and with the right volume setting, the actual voice quality is impressive. There’s none of the static from breathing or loud ‘S’s that you might get from a typical headset-mounted mic. It's nowhere near studio quality, but you could use this mic for a podcast and it would only sound out of place if compared side-by-side with a better option. It’s not an amazing microphone, but it is amazing considering the cost.
How we test microphones
It’s important to understand that gamers have different standards and needs for a microphone than the hardcore audiophiles among us. So much of what we use our mics for means the sound is going to be compressed and pumped through the internet anyway, so you hit a point of diminishing returns much more quickly than if you were recording in a studio. Although fidelity is important, there’s a lot more to a great gaming and livestreaming microphone. Here are the criteria we judged our microphones by:
I say that audio quality isn’t everything, but it’s still the most important factor when testing a microphone. The point is, after all, to find a mic that makes you sound good. We tested the microphones in multiple setups and with different mic settings, although we primarily tested them with the “cardioid” recording pattern when available. This pattern is intended to record only what’s in front of the mic and is the setting you will be using 99% of the time when gaming and livestreaming. How much a mic picks up background noise or keyboard clicks is also necessary to be aware of.
Everyone’s desk and setup requirements are different, so it’s important that a mic will perform well under a handful of different scenarios. If a microphone sounds better than all the rest combined but only when it’s on a suspended mic stand with a shock mount, positioned precisely six inches away from your mouth, it’s a hard option to recommend. You need a mic that sounds great under any circumstance, and can adapt to however you need to use it so you can play your games comfortably and still sound great.
This isn’t a fashion show, but form factor is still something that matters. In the case of a standing mic, you’ll be staring at it every time you are sitting at your desk—and attachable mics need to make sure they aren’t too distracting. A mic’s form factor can also play a role in how adaptable it is, as you’ll need to make space for it. We used every mic in multiple settings with different PCs, keyboards, and monitors, getting a feel for how they looked and performed in each environment. As a streamer, your mic will also be in view for your audience, so its appearance is relevant.
And of course, PC gamers will always try to get the best they can for less. It’s easy to get lost in the deep dark woods that is the world of audio, and even easier to spend a ludicrous amount of time and money getting the best possible setup. But we don’t need studio-ready equipment, so price is an important factor when looking at how good a certain mic is. You can keep working your way up the food chain, finding better and better quality at a higher and higher price, so made sure to keep it in a gamer’s budget. Price is also key in comparing what one option can offer over another.
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