Today we’ll be continuing our series on creating better screencasts, focusing on choosing the right hardware. Microphones, computers, headphones, and surprise accessories are all crucial to a smooth recording process, and we’ll share some of the lessons we’ve learned the hard way.
If you missed our first installment on recommended software, you can read Part 1 of the Screencasting Tips series here.
If you have looked at audio recording equipment for any purpose, you’ll know there is a wide range stretching from incredibly cheap junk to high-priced and high-powered professional gear. Because of the massive amount of options, it can be difficult to figure out what you need, especially for a purpose like screencast training, which needs to meet a professional standard but not necessarily please the pickiest audiophiles on the web.
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Look at your computer’s USB port. That’s the magic interface where hassle-free solid-quality audio will emerge as if from thin air. Forget fancy preamps and soundcards (unless you already have them and know how to use them).
USB microphones are easy to connect, nearly always plug-and-play with Mac and Windows computers, and (for each model) consistent in sound quality across multiple machines and setups, which is great if you have more than one person producing your content. We recommend products from Blue Microphones, such as the Snowball and the Yeti (pictured below).
If you’re looking to spend a little less, mid-priced gaming headsets such as this model by Plantronics provide suitable results, with the added bonus of providing headphones, as well. You can use headsets designed for VOIP and communication, but avoid the cheapest ones and keep in mind the gaming units have better ear padding.
If you happen to have a headset or microphone that is not natively USB connectable, a mini sound card such as this one can provide the same advantages as an out-of-the-box USB solution.
Feel free to let us know in the comments if you vehemently disagree, but for screencasting, any headphones are good headphones. Avoid headphones given to you for free on an airline or included as part of a children’s toy. Otherwise, feel free to use whatever you find comfortable and audible.
At $15, Koss KSC75 (pictured above) include platinum drivers and excellent sound quality for the price, if you like the over-the-ear style. For hundreds of detailed reviews of ‘cans’ at every price point, Headroom by Headphone.com is a solid resource.
For standalone microphones, we definitely recommend getting a shockmount and pop filter. When using a good quality microphone, you’ll be recording not only your voice, but also small, unwanted noises in your vicinity and audio artifacts that are imperceptible until you’re in the editing stage. With a little extra preparation, however, these errors can be greatly reduced.
A shockmount, preferably attached to a boom pole secured to your desk or a floor stand, prevents vibrations from your typing, fidgeting, and computer from being picked up by the microphone. Vibration noise can be difficult to edit out of the recording, so it’s best to prevent it if at all possible.
A pop filter, or pop shield (above), does two things: prevents audio artifacting and blocks spit. Basically, when you make hard consonant sounds such as Ps or Bs, microphones have a difficult time processing the small rushes of air that accompany them. The pop filter has a fine mesh screen that softens your breath and greatly reduces the popping and thudding errors that can show up in a recording otherwise.
Finally, you’ll want to grab a towel. Yes, it will pick up spills or help you dab away the sweat that comes from frantically working on a deadline, but that’s not all. You can place a small folded towel under your keyboard to prevent unwanted thumping noises resonating through your desk as you type.