Streamer Audio Hardware Buying Guide

Hey there guys, I’m Salt_Slinger. I am a Twitch streamer and I have put together this guide to help other streamers with their audio. This guide will cover hardware and will be relevant for ANY streamer, from those just starting, to those who are at the very top. As such, the items in this guide will range from budget to ultra high-end. Why should you listen to me? I studied audio engineering at the Los Angeles Recording School where I received a degree in Recording Arts. I have spent years in the audio industry, both academically and professionally. Now that you know a little about me, let’s dive right in.
 

Microphones:

If you plan on streaming, you are going to need to speak to your viewers. A good microphone is crucial to good stream audio. The good news is, there are many good microphones on the market that won’t break the bank.
 

USB Mics:

If you’re on a shoestring budget and need decent audio without any other components, a USB mic is a good place to start. USB mics plug directly into your PC and require no audio interface. While USB mics are not quite at the level of pro-grade mics, they are pretty close (some more than others). Here’s a list of the best USB mics on the market right now, they will get more expensive in descending order:
 

  1. CAD U37 – [condenser] Outrageously cheap, tons of great reviews, and sounds pretty good. For those who need good audio on very strict budget, this is the cheapest mic you will find that actually performs well. (Amazon)
  2. Blue Snowball – [condenser] Easy to use, sounds great, and an affordable way to get good audio. (Amazon)
  3. Blue Yeti – [condenser] Three polar patterns (cardioid, figure 8, omnidirectional), extremely versatile, very solid and popular USB mic (Amazon)
  4. Rode NT-USB / Audio Technica AT2020+ – [condenser] These mics are very comparable to each other. Studio quality & simple to use. (Rode – Amazon / AT – Amazon)
  5. Rode Podcaster – [Dynamic] Dynamic (more on the differences between dynamic and condenser later), great mic but expensive. (Amazon)

*What I would buy: In this category, either the Yeti or the NT-USB.

 

Condenser Mics:

Now we’re getting into pro-grade mics. All of the mics listed from this point will require an audio interface (more on audio interfaces later). To keep it overly simple, condenser mics are generally more sensitive than dynamic mics which can be good or bad, depending on your environment. Condenser mics will generally pick up more room noise and electronics noise than dynamics, but they also tend to sound more “open” than dynamics. For the purpose of this guide, we will only be covering “large diaphragm” condensers as “small diaphragm” condensers are not meant for vocals. Here’s a list of my recommendations, again the list is ordered by price:
 

  1. Audio Technica AT2035 – Basically the industry standard “cheap” condenser, very solid, studio quality, good features (cardioid pattern, high pass filter, -10dB pad), comes with accessories (custom shockmount, bag). (Amazon)
  2. Rode NT1-A – Rode has a reputation for making quality mics at affordable prices, and the NT1-A is the best selling model in their lineup for good reason. Comes with tons of accessories (shockmount, pop filter, dust cover, 20’ XLR cable). (Amazon)
  3. Blue Bluebird – Looks cool and sounds great. (Amazon)
  4. Neumann TLM 102 – Neumann has the reputation of making the world’s best microphones, especially when it comes to vocals. The problem is, the best doesn’t come cheap. With the TLM series though, Neumann has managed to make their classic sound much more affordable. For under $1,000, this is about as good as it gets. (Amazon)
  5. AKG C414 – A studio classic, versatile as hell, world-class sound – (Amazon)
  6. Neumann U87 – Neumann’s flagship and by far the most famous vocal mic of all time. Every pro studio in the world has at least one of these. If you’ve ever seen a picture of a popstar recording in a vocal booth, chances are they were singing into one of these. This is generally considered to be the best vocal mic of all time. (Amazon)

*What I would buy: Easily the NT1-A. The price to performance is insane.

 

Dynamic Mics:

Dynamic mics tend to be less sensitive than condenser mics which makes them ideal for rejecting unwanted noise. Generally speaking, dynamics also tend to be sturdier (less moving parts) and can handle more abuse. For these reasons, dynamic microphones are ideal for streaming. When it comes to the live broadcasting sector of the audio industry, dynamics are the standard. Note that many dynamic mics (especially the ones listed here) have very low gain and are best paired with either a Cloudlifter or a Fethead (I’ll go over that later in the guide). Here is a list of my recommendations:
 

  1. Shure SM57 / Shure SM58 – These two mics are identical, except the 58 has a built in pop shield (grill). Pretty much the best selling mics of all time, they are ridiculously durable and extremely versatile. The 57 is a studio standard (mainly used on snare drums and guitar amps) and the 58 is THE live sound standard vocal mic. At the time of writing this, I am using the SM57 as my stream mic (and it sounds great). (57 – Amazon / 58 – Amazon)
  2. Sennheiser MD421 II – Widely regarded as the best all-around dynamic mic in the world, this is an absolute studio standard. Studio’s use this mic on everything from vocals to guitars to drums. Not the best looking mic on the list, or the most feature heavy, but it is a classic. (Amazon)
  3. Shure SM7B – My personal favorite of all the mics in this guide. This mic is specifically tailored to vocals and is one of the two broadcast standard mics (the other being the Electrovoice RE20). This mic is also the studio standard for rock vocals and was famously used to record Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” album. The SM7B rejects noise better than just about any mic in this guide and has some great features (bass rolloff, mid-range presence boost, built in pop filter). (Amazon)
  4. Electrovoice RE20 – The other broadcast standard mic. You’ve probably seen this mic in TV, movies, and pictures involving radio stations. This mic has a couple great features that make it well suited for broadcasting : 1. a windscreen built into the grill which deals with popping (plosive sounds like hard p’s) and sibilance (harsh sounding high-end) and 2. “Variable-D” technology which eliminates proximity effect (In its simplest form, proximity effect is the increase of bass frequencies as a directional microphone comes closer to the sound source). It also maintains consistent frequency response at just about any angle. (Amazon)
  5. Sennheiser MD 441U – Many people consider this to be the best dynamic mic ever made. Very good on vocals, very expensive. (Amazon)  

*What I would buy: I already have the SM57, which sounds great; but the next mic I buy will be the Shure SM7B

 
Note on dynamic mics: I HIGHLY recommend you buy either a Fethead or Cloudlifter to pair with your dynamic mic. Dynamics have very low gain compared to condensers (especially the ones listed above) and require a lot of gain from your preamp. The more a preamp is turned up, the more noise it introduces, and with these mics the preamp in your interface will be turned all the way up. A Fethead or Cloudlifter will add about 25dB of clean gain which will greatly reduce noise and allow you to get the best out of your dynamic mics. I recommend the Fethead over the cloudlifter, as it’s cheaper, smaller, requires no extra cables, and has a couple dB advantage in real world tests. (Fethead B&H / Cloudlifter  Amazon)  
 

Audio Interfaces:

Unless you have a USB mic, any of the other mics listed above will have XLR connections, which will require an audio interface. Many people mistakenly call audio interfaces “mixers” which is not correct (mixers are entirely different). An audio interface will allow you to connect your XLR mic (or instruments) to your computer, increase mic gain (via built-in preamps), connect headphones (most have built in headphone amps), provide 48V phantom power (which condenser mics need), connect speakers (such as studio monitors), and adjust levels physically. There are many audio interfaces out there, but they are NOT all the same. A good interface will be built to last, provide necessary features, and provide quality preamps (which affords you clean gain with your mic, a bad preamp will be noisy and sound bad). Here are the best audio interface brands and models:
 

Presonus AudioBox (USB Connection):

  1. AudioBox USB – (Amazon)
  2. AudioBox 22VSL – (Amazon)
  3. AudioBox 44VSL – (Amazon)

Focusrite Scarlett (USB Connection):

  1. Scarlett Solo – (Amazon)
  2. Scarlett 2i4 – (Amazon)
  3. Scarlett 6i6 – (Amazon)
  4. Scarlett 18i8 – (Amazon)

Native Instruments Komplete (USB Connection)

  1. Komplete Audio 6 – (Amazon)

Focusrite Clarett (Thunderbolt Connection)

  1. Clarett 2Pre – (Amazon)
  2. Clarett 4Pre – (Amazon)

Apogee (USB Connection)

  1. Apogee Duet – (Amazon)
  2. Apogee Quartet – (Amazon)

Avid (USB Connection)

  1. Pro Tools Duet – (Amazon)
  2. Pro Tools Quartet – (Amazon)

Universal Audio (Thunderbolt Connection)

  1. Apollo Twin MKII SOLO – (Amazon)
  2. Apollo Twin MKII DUO – (Amazon)
  3. Apollo Twin MKII QUAD – (Amazon)

*What I would buy: I personally use the Komplete Audio 6 and it has lasted at least five years. It has never given me any problems and sounds great. You really can’t go wrong with anything listed above, but Focusrite especially has a great reputation for quality at a good price.

 

Microphone Cables:

Next up, Cables. Arguably the most overlooked part of the signal chain, cables are actually pretty important. Not all cables are created equally, a good mic cable will help reject unwanted noise and radio/electromagnetic interference, be durable, and help you get the best sound out of your mic. All of the cables listed will be standard XLR cables. There are many factors that go into what makes a good cable as opposed to a bad one, such as strand count, lay, shielding, impact absorption, connector conductivity, and star-quad cabling; but for the sake of simplicity, I will just skip right to my recommendations. Keep the length as low as possible for your needs for optimal performance (the longer the cable, the more degradation of signal occurs), for most people that will be between five to ten feet. The following list will be broken down into price ranges:

Best Budget XLR Cables:

  1. Hosa Pro REAN – (Amazon)
  2. Planet Waves Classic Series – (Amazon)

Best Mid-Range XLR Cables:

  1. Pro Co AQN – (5ft/15ft)
  2. Mogami Silver – (15ft)
  3. Rapco Horizon N1M1 – (3ft/6ft/10ft/15ft)

Best Premium XLR Cables

  1. Mogami Gold Studio – (3ft/6ft/10ft)
  2. Monster Performer 600 – (5ft/10ft)
  3. Monster Studio Pro – (5ft)

*What I would buy: I would buy the Mogami Gold Studio cable. Mogami is the name in pro-grade studio cables and the gold is their flagship model. Many people swear by this cable. Buy the best cable once and be done with it.

 

Studio Mic Arms:

You’ve got your mic, your cable, and your audio interface, but now you need something to hold this mic in front of you while you stream. The best tool for this job is going to be a studio mic arm / suspension arm / boom arm. Here are the ones I recommend:
 

  1. NEEWER Adjustable Microphone Suspension Boom Arm – (Amazon)
  2. On Stage MBS5000 Broadcast/Webcast Boom Arm – (Amazon)
  3. Heil Sound HB-1 Microphone Suspension Boom Arm – (Amazon
  4. Rode PSA1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm – (Amazon)
  5. Heil Sound PL-2T Suspension Boom Arm – (Amazon)

*What I would buy: I would buy the Rode PSA1. It is one of the best selling boom arms of all time and has the best bang for buck in my opinion.

 

Pop Filters:

Pop filters are pretty basic tools, they block “plosives” (bursts of air that your mouth emits when forming hard P’s, T’s, B’s, etc.). They also have the added benefit of blocking spit from your mic. Here are the ones I recommend:
 

  1. Nady MPF – Best selling and most widely known pop filter of all time. Extremely affordable (Amazon)
  2. On Stage ASFSS6GB – Different from the Nady in that it has two screens rather than one. Dual screens help further block plosives, however some people believe that too much high-frequency detail is blocked with two screens. The reviews suggest that this model does not suffer from that problem (Amazon)
  3. WindTech PopGuard 2000 – Wraps tightly around your mic. Mounts to the grill itself rather than using a gooseneck. Takes up almost no space. Fits most large diaphragm condensers but not all of them, and it won’t fit on most dynamic mics. (Amazon)
  4. Avantone PS-1 PRO-SHIELD – Wraps around the mic grill. Hard screen which is more durable and easier to clean than the “panty hose” types. (Amazon)
  5. Blue The Pop – Strong metal frame, wire mesh grill, sturdy gooseneck, extremely durable. (Amazon)
  6. Stedman Corporation Proscreen XL – All metal makes it easier to clean and more durable. Uses angled slots to redirect energy downwards, away from the mic. Great mix of quality and affordability. (Amazon)
  7. Pauly Ton Pauly Superscreen – Best of the best, perfect clarity, way too expensive to recommend to most streamers. (Amazon)

*What I would buy: I would buy the Nady on a shoestring budget. Generally though, I would buy the Stedman. It has the best price to performance ratio and should last forever.

 

Headphones:

When it comes to headphones, I’m sure many of you already have a preference; but I will go ahead and make some recommendations anyway. Now here’s the deal, if you are going to buy (or already have) a standalone mic anyway, there’s really no reason to buy a gaming headset. Gaming headsets look cool and are useful for the average gamer who just needs a mic to communicate in game; but you can find much better (pro-grade) headphones for similar prices (and of course much higher if you have the budget). Additionally, gaming headsets / consumer grade headphones do not have the the right connecter (¼ inch TRS) to connect to your audio interface (there are cheap adapters, however). For those of you who have reason to buy a gaming headset, or simply just want one for aesthetics, I will recommend a couple. One last note on headphones is that there are two types: closed-back and open-back. To put it simply, closed back headphones are designed to keep sound in (so it doesn’t bleed into the mic in a studio session), however with the isolation comes a loss in sound quality (generally speaking). Open-back headphones aren’t designed to isolate sound, which means they tend to sound better and more open (but be aware that sound does bleed out). Frankly, when it comes to streaming either design should work just fine, although one benefit streamers will find in open-backs is that they tend to be more comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Here are my recommendations:

Gaming Headsets:

  1. HyperX Cloud Stinger – For those on a tight budget, this is the best reviewed and best selling “cheap” headset on the market. The Stinger beats all other similarly priced headset in sound quality and build quality. (Amazon)  
  2. HyperX Cloud II – One of the best reviewed and best selling gaming headsets of all time (Amazon)
  3. HyperX Cloud Alpha – HyperX’s new replacement for the Cloud II, new dual chamber technology offers more distinction and less distortion. (Amazon)
  4. Sennheiser GAME ZERO – In my opinion, the best gaming headset on the market. Sennheiser is one of the biggest and best names in the pro audio industry. Great sound quality, great mic. (Amazon)
  5. Sennheiser GAME ONE – Very similar to the GAME ZERO but with an open-back design and a few minor improvements. (Amazon)

Closed-Back:

  1. Sennheiser HD280 Pro – The recording industry standard in closed back headphones. Most popular recording headphones in the world. (Amazon)
  2. Sony MDR-7506 – The nearest competitor to the HD280 (in terms of popularity) is the classic Sony MDR-7506. They are comparable to the HD280 in just about every way (including price), although some give the Sonys a slight edge over the Sennheisers. (Amazon)
  3. Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro – Pricier than the previous options but better in just about every way. Great cost to performance ratio. (Amazon)
  4. Focal Spirit Professional – Offers all the benefits of closed-back headphones while offering the sound quality of high-end open-backs. (Amazon)
  5. Shure SRH 1540 – The closest you can get to reference quality sound in a pair of closed-back headphones. The best of the best in the closed-back category (and far too expensive for most streamers to justify). (Amazon)

Open-Back:

  1. Samson SR850 – Studio quality sound at a ridiculously low price with great reviews. (Amazon)
  2. AKG K 240 – Solid pair of headphones from a great brand at an affordable price. “Semi-open” design combines the best features of closed and open-back designs. (Amazon)
  3. AKG K 240 MKII – Updated version of the original K 240’s (Amazon
  4. Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro – The best sound quality for the lowest price. Wide frequency range, strong bass presence, very comfortable. (Amazon)
  5. AKG K 701 – A modern take on the legendary AKG K1000’s. Flat-wire coil technology provides better low-end and allows them to be driven by less powerful amps. Quincy Jones (who has more grammy’s than anyone alive) claims these “have the best sound of any pair of headphones he’s ever heard.” (Amazon)
  6. Shure SRH1840 – Best introduction headphones in the “high-end” category. An audiophile standard. (Amazon)
  7. Sennheiser HD 650 – Synonymous with high-end sound. A favorite of audiophiles and audio pro’s alike. Very well reviewed. (Amazon)
  8. Sennheiser HD 800 S – The absolute best headphones currently on the market, and the price reflects that. (Amazon)

*What I would buy: In the gaming category, it’s hard to beat the price to performance of the HyperX Cloud Alpha. In the closed-back category, I would go with the Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro for the same reason. In the open-back category and in general, I would buy the Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro as they’re my favorite pair of headphones on the list, and are the cheapest way to get the best sound.

 

Acoustic Treatment:

At this point you’ve got everything you need to achieve great sounding audio on stream, but the problem is, most streamers have their setup in a room that is not designed for audio purposes. What this means is, there will be a lot of room noise, reflections, flutter echo, and a number of other issues that can make your audio sound messy. In order to get your acoustics under control, you will need acoustic treatment. There are different types of acoustic treatment, such as bass traps, acoustic panels, reflection filters, monitor isolation pads, and diffusers; but for the purpose of this guide we will only be going over acoustic panels (as they are the most relevant to streamers). A common misconception is that acoustic treatment is “sound proofing.” Acoustic treatment is NOT sound proofing; it will not keep sound in or out of a room, It is simply a way to “treat” the room for acoustic problems such as reflections (which is when sound waves bounce off walls). While acoustic treatment is not necessary to achieve good audio on stream, it is highly recommended for streamers who have the budget for it. As far as placement goes, there are many guides online that go into great detail so feel free to check those out, but to keep it simple for this guide, the most important place to hang these panels is on the wall behind you (as that is where the mic will be pointing and taking in reflections off the wall). Here are the packs I recommend:

Smaller Packs:

  1. Auralex DST 112 – (Amazon)
  2. Auralex DST 114 – (Amazon)
  3. SoundTrax PRO – (Amazon)
  4. ATS Wedge – (Amazon)
  5. Auralex Wedge 1ft² – (Amazon)
  6. Auralex Sonoflat 1ft² – (Amazon)

Larger Packs:

  1. Auralex D36 Designer Series – (Amazon)
  2. Auralex 2ft² Pyramid – (Amazon)
  3. Auralex 2×4 Pyramid – (Amazon)
  4. Auralex Sonoflat 2ft² – (Amazon)

Mounting Materials (that won’t ruin your walls):

  1. Auralex TubeTak Pro – (Amazon)
  2. Auralex FoamTak – (Amazon)
  3. Auralex EZ-Stick Pro – (Amazon

*What I would buy: Here, it is really a matter of budget and preference. Any of these packs will do the trick.

 

Upgrades:

Everything on this list will just be upgrades and add-ons. None of these things are necessary, but for streamers with the budget, they are all useful tools that will make your audio even better and are worth checking out. From here on out I will not be including what I would buy, as everything listed is completely optional. Here are some recommendations:
 

Rackmounted Audio Interfaces:

Rackmounted Audio Interfaces are larger and sized to fit in a professional “rack.” These interfaces will have many more ins and outs, tend to be built a little sturdier, will fit in a rack with other rackmounted gear, and  generally (but not always) have better preamps. Here are my recommendations:

Presonus:

  1. Audiobox 1818VSL (USB) – (Amazon)
  2. Firestudio Project (firewire) – (Amazon)
  3. Studio 192 (USB) – (Amazon)

Focusrite:

  1. Scarlett 18i20 (USB) – (Amazon
  2. Clarett 8Pre (thunderbolt) – (Amazon)
  3. Clarett 8PreX (thunderbolt) – (Amazon)

Universal Audio:

  1. Apollo 8 (thunderbolt) – (Amazon)
  2. Apollo 16 (thunderbolt) – (Amazon)

Antelope Audio:

  1. Antelope Audio Zen Studio – (Amazon)
  2. Antelope Audio Orion Studio – (Amazon)
  3. Antelope Audio Orion32+ – (Amazon)

 

Standalone Microphone Preamps:

The preamps in all of the audio interfaces mentioned in this guide are good, but if you want a GREAT preamp, you’ll need to buy a separate standalone unit. Everything listed here has ONE job: to amplify the level of your microphone (as cleanly as possible). Everything here except what’s listed in the “single channel” category will be rackmounted. Here are my recommendations:

Multi-Channel Budget Preamps:

  1. Presonus Digimax D8 – (Amazon)
  2. Art Tube Opto 8 – (Amazon)
  3. Focusrite Octopre MkII – (Amazon)

Multi-Channel High-End Preamps:

  1. API 3124+ – (Amazon)
  2. Solid State Logic Alpha VHD – (Amazon)
  3. True Systems Precision 8 – (Amazon)

Single Channel Preamps:

  1. Grace Design m101 – (Amazon)
  2. Universal Audio SOLO/610 – (Amazon)
  3. Avalon VT-737sp – This is actually a channel strip as well, and is also rackmounted. (Amazon)

 

Gates/Compressors/Limiters:

Gates make it so that anything under a certain threshold (such as room noise) isn’t picked up by the mic. More accurately, gates “turn off” a channel until there is input (such as your voice), and then “turn it off” again when the input is no longer present (you stop speaking). Compressors reduce dynamic range (the range between quiet sounds and loud sounds). This helps with two things: turning you down when you scream into the mic and turning you up when you are speaking softly. Compressors essentially help even out the differences in sound level and helps to keep you sounding consistent. Limiters create a ceiling at which signal cannot go over. Essentially, limiters prevent you from clipping (which causes nasty sounding distortion). The order in which signal should flow through these is gate->compressor->limiter. Here are some recommendations:
 

  1. dbx 266xs (gate/compressor) – (dbx)
  2. dbx 166xs (gate/compressor/limiter) – (dbx)
  3. dbx 1066 (gate/compressor/limiter) – (dbx)
  4. dbx 1046 (compressor/limiter) – for those that need more channels (dbx)

 

Power Conditioners:

Power conditioners combat problems such as noisy interference (which can degrade your sound quality), voltage fluctuations (degrades your gear over time), and electrical surges (which can destroy your gear). Another benefit of a power conditioner is that it mounts in the rack with all your other rackmounted gear, making it easy to plug everything in. Here are my recommendations:
 

Rackmounted Power Conditioners:

 

  1. Furman M-8X2 – Furman is the name in studio-grade power conditioners, and this one is their cheapest and best selling unit (Amazon)
  2. Furman PL-Plus DMC – This unit has some huge upgrades over the M-8×2. First of all it has a large digital voltage display which informs you of the current state of your voltage. Secondly, it has added protection with three new technologies: 1. Series Multi-Stage Protection (blocks voltage spikes without self sacrifice), 2. Linear Filtering Technology noise filtration (provides a cleaner, quieter power source), and 3. Extreme Voltage Shutdown (engages at a lower voltage than regular surge protectors. (Amazon)
  3. Furman M-8X AR – While the PL-Plus DMC shows you if your voltage is low/high, this model actually fixes the problem by regulating the voltage. (Amazon)
  4. Furman P-1800 AR – Furman’s flagship model, it combines all the features of the above units while adding some of its own. It has a USB charger in the front, Velcro securing for three wall wart inputs, separate analog and digital power banks in the back. The best power conditioner on the market. (Amazon)

Power Strips:

  1. Furman SS-6B – Does not offer the level of protection as the above options but is a much better choice than standard power strips. Features EMI and RFI noise reduction. Has a 15’ cord. (Amazon)
  2. Monster PowerCenter Pro 1000 – Offers the same features of the SS-6B but includes power banks for analog, digital, and high-current gear which isolate and filter noise independently of each other. It also has dual LED bars to monitor available voltage and current draw, and audio and visual alarms to alert you of problems. (Amazon)
  3. Ebtech Hum X – Not a power conditioner but a great little tool that basically has one job: eliminating ground loop hum without sacrificing sound quality in any way and still maintaining a safe ground. If you have a ground issue (which will cause an audible hum in your audio), this should do the trick in eliminating it. (Amazon)

 

Rack Mounts:

Many of the items in the “upgrade” category are rackmounted, which means you will need a rack to put them in. Here is a list of my recommendations broken down into three categories: 
 

Basic Racks:

Raxxess:

  1. 4U
  2. 6U
  3. 8U

Middle Atlantic:

  1. 4U
  2. 6U
  3. 8U

Odyssey:

  1. 4U
  2. 6U
  3. 8U

 

Portable Racks:

SKB:

  1. 4U
  2. 6U
  3. 8U 

Gator:

  1. 4U
  2. 6U
  3. 8U

 

Premium Racks:

ISOBOX:

  1. ISOBOX

 

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