Whether you're creating videos on YouTube, streaming on Twitch, or producing a podcast, you'll need the right gear to get the job done. Check out our Content Creators' Buying Guide to find your way through the world of microphones, audio interfaces, USB mixers, portable recorders, studio monitor speakers, video cameras, DAW software and more!
The first step in your audio recording chain, a quality microphone is a must for any content creator doing narration, voiceover, or live performance. To help you sort through the hundreds of mic options, here are a few things to look for:
Output connector: While some microphones have a USB or Lightning output that plugs directly into your computer or mobile device, the vast majority of pro microphones have a 3-pin XLR output. You'll need a standard XLR cable to connect an XLR mic to the input on your mic preamp, audio interface, mixer, or recorder.
Dynamic vs. condenser: Large-diaphragm condenser microphones like the Audio-Technica AT2035 are go-to choices for voice recording. However, some of the most popular broadcast mics, like the Shure SM7B or Electro-Voice RE20, are dynamic microphones. Generally speaking, condenser mics can capture a bit more detail, and dynamics offer more robust build quality.
Pickup pattern: For recording solo narration or voiceover, a mic with a cardioid (or unidirectional) pickup pattern is ideal for rejecting background noise. For a conversation with multiple people or a sit-down interview, it's a good idea to record each person on their own cardioid mic. For a simpler setup, you can also try one omnidirectional mic in the middle of a roundtable discussion. Some mics have switchable pickup patterns to give you more flexibility.
Mono vs. stereo: While a stereo microphone is great for recording a group of live performers, or picking up an immersive ambiance (think nature sounds or ASMR), a monophonic mic is your best bet for recording a solo voice. The vast majority of microphones are mono, unless they're specifically labeled as stereo.
Learn more in our Beginner's Gear Guide to Microphones and Guide to USB & iOS Microphones!
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Audio Interfaces & Mic Preamps
For each XLR microphone you're recording simultaneously, you'll need a microphone preamplifier to boost that mic's low-level signal to its proper recording level.
Look for an audio interface that has mic preamps built in, so you can plug your XLR microphone(s) into the interface, then connect the interface to your computer's USB/Thunderbolt port. If you've got a low-output dynamic microphone or ribbon mic, try adding an in-line gain booster like a Cloudlifter or sE Electronics Dynamite DM1 for an extra gain boost above and beyond what the built-in preamps provide.
For more sonic character and flexibility, add a standalone mic preamp to your setup -- look for a model with "channel strip" sound-shaping tools like an equalizer, compressor, and de-esser.
Learn more in our Audio Interface Buying Guide and Mic Preamp Buying Guide!
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USB Audio Mixers
Connected to your computer via USB, an audio mixer gives you hands-on control over the volume and tone of all the audio sources you're recording and sending out to the world. A good USB mixer can replace your audio interface and mic preamps, because it has those components built in. Analog mixers that add digital features such as USB audio I/O are sometimes known as hybrid mixers.
A mixing board is especially useful if you're using several mics, or mixing multiple live audio sources -- such as a video game, background music, and chat. Look for a mixer with enough input channels to accommodate all those sources. Even if you're rolling with just one mic right now, give yourself room to grow with a place to plug in a second microphone later.
Mixers typically have multiple outputs or "sends" that can feed your headphones and studio monitor speakers, in addition to sending audio to your computer via USB. Some mixers offer handy features like a Bluetooth audio receiver, SD card slot, or reverb/delay effects you can use to enhance a musical performance.
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Portable Field Recorders
If you create all your content sitting in your studio, a field audio recorder may not be on your must-have list. But if you want to do on-location interviews, record live shows, or just get out and capture the sounds of the world around you, a portable recorder is a great investment.
Portable audio recorders run on batteries and capture audio files to SD card media, much like a digital camera. Most handheld models have built-in stereo microphones -- so you can simply point the recorder at the sound source and hit record. If you'd like to use external microphones (like a clip-on lavalier mic) or capture a line-input audio source (like a feed from the sound board at a concert), look for a portable recorder with inputs for external sources.
Portable field recorders have one job: to record audio. That means they can be much more stable than a computer. If you want to sit your friends around the table and record a podcast, but your old laptop is crashing trying to record 4 mics at a time, a portable recorder can end your worries. Just plug in your microphones and roll.
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Put your microphone exactly where you need it with a desktop boom arm. Great for podcasters and streamers, these microphone stands let you "float" your mic over your desk, then fold it out of the way when the show's over. They're easy to adjust if you move around a lot, or if you have a revolving door of guests coming and going.
A microphone shock mount isolates your mic from vibrations, and a pop filter helps reduce "P-pops" or blasts of air from plosive consonants, helping you get cleaner audio.
When you're not on camera, portable isolation booths and reflection filters are great for recording voiceover narration or vocals. These acoustic shields fit around your microphone, giving you a quiet recording space and cutting down on unwanted room sound.
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Studio Speakers, Headphones & Headsets
Make sure your mix is ready to go live with a solid pair of studio monitor speakers. Quality powered monitors help you get an accurate representation of how your audio will sound on all platforms, as you use panning and volume to "place" elements in your mix. Compare monitors across all price ranges in our Studio Monitor Speakers Buying Guide.
You can plug your monitor speakers directly into your audio interface's outputs, but adding a separate monitor controller gives you hands-on control of volume, switching between sources, a "talkback" microphone and more.
When it's not possible to monitor out loud over speakers, a good pair of studio monitor headphones will be your best friend on those late-night editing sessions. Closed-back headphones will give you the best isolation, where open-back headphones can provide more natural, accurate sound. Check out the recommendations in our Headphones Buying Guide.
Want to wear your headphones while you're streaming? Gaming headsets and sportscaster-style broadcast headsets combine a pair of headphones with a microphone on a flexible gooseneck, simplifying your setup. While gaming headsets typically have a 1/8" (3.5mm) stereo mini-plug connector for your computer, broadcast headsets come with a professional XLR output for the microphone, and a 1/4" TRS cable to feed the headphones.
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Microphones for Video
A microphone on your desk can look cool on camera -- but it can also get in the way of your performance. Try a clip-on lapel lavalier microphone or an earset microphone for a more discreet look. With a lavalier wireless system, you can move freely and still stay "on mic" -- since your microphone is clipped to your clothing or sitting over your ear.
Professional video shoots also use shotgun microphones on boom poles to pick up clean dialogue from a distance without showing the microphone on screen. Look for a shotgun mic with the right connector to plug into your specific camera or field audio recorder.
If your smartphone is your video camera, adding a quality external mic is a great way to raise your audio game for Facebook Live and other streaming platforms. Add a mic that plugs into your smartphone, such as Shure's MOTIV series microphones.
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For a camera that's focused on high-quality audio recording, Zoom video recorders are your top choice. If you're shooting video using your phone, check out Benro gimbals and tripods to stabilize and smooth out your shots. And for an all-in-one solution for capturing audio and video for live streaming, check out Marantz tower systems.
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With digital audio workstation (DAW) software, you can turn your computer into a recording studio. DAW software such as PreSonus Studio One gives you the tools to record, edit, and mix all your audio sources. Whether you're just adding a bit of compression and reverb to sweeten the sound of a live music performance, or you're constructing an immersive audio documentary with tons of audio clips, DAW software can help you put it all together.
Most pro-level DAW software comes with tons of bells and whistles, including libraries of loops and samples, virtual instruments you can play using a MIDI controller, and audio processing plug-ins that let you build complex chains of effects. If you don't need every music production trick in the book, an entry-level DAW will meet your needs for around $100.
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Get the gear you need and save time and money with a zZounds bundle! These kits put together some of our most popular production gear in an all-in-one package. PreSonus recording packages bundle an audio interface along with studio monitor speakers or headphones, microphones, software and more gear you'll need to get up and running. Best of all, as you continue to grow your studio, you can swap in new pieces of gear and expand your capabilities.
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