So, you got a friend. Maybe a niece, nephew, or kid of your own. Perhaps a grandchild, and you want your gifts to feel more relevant than the usual newspaper clipping and check for fifty bucks. And what’s this—your little buddy is making videos now? On YouTube? From the videos, it looks like they’ve got the video and lighting figured out, but maybe they could some help in the audio department.
If that’s the case, you can easily swoop in—cool friend or parental figure that you are—and get them something both useful and cool, something that’ll help a lot with getting their audio to cut above the noise on YouTube. The following is a list of ideas, complete with solid choices in each category.
Get your little buddy a microphone. Well, sure. This seems obvious. But what kind of microphone? First you must consider if the microphone will be in or out of the shot, because this changes your options. Rest assured, however, you do have options.
The easiest microphones for your little buddy to use are USB mics, which have seen some strides over the last few years. Notable USB mics include the RØDE NT-USB, which sports a cardioid polar pattern for off-axis rejection, making its field of capture very focused, and more suited for picking up what’s pointed directly at its capsule. It also boasts a 3.5mm monitoring jack, a pop shield, and a tripod-desk stand.
Another popular USB microphone is the Blue Yeti, which comes in a variety of configurations. This one includes a DAW for editing audio, which, depending on your little buddy’s level of technical involvement, could very well come in handy. This mic has a tri-capsule design with four selectable polar patterns, which is useful if cardioid doesn’t fit your little buddy’s particular room. You’ll also note controls for volume, mute, gain, pattern selection, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and more. As the mic boasts stereo operation, your little buddy can use this mic for more immersive content, such as ASMR videos.
These mics plug directly into the computer over USB, so your little buddy can use the mic without a dedicated interface. However, some feel the sound isn’t as good as the traditional wired-mic/dedicated interface combo. If sound is a primary concern, you might want to consider traditional wired microphones, and their accoutrement.
For wired mics, you have options such as the Audio-Technica AT2035, the RØDE Procaster (with internal pop-filter and included shockmount), and the Shure SM7B, a classic in broadcasting circles. These mics all have their strengths. The condensers can capture higher frequencies for a more “immediate” or “intimate” feel, but they require external phantom power to operate. The Shure SM7B is a solid option that can take a lot of gain before clipping, but it can lack the high-end sheen of condensers.
Perhaps a shotgun mic is order, if your little buddy needs to position the mic from farther away. In that case, we could recommend the RØDE NTG2. Whatever the case, you should consult with your little buddy about their project, so you can get the right mic.
If the mic your little buddy goes with ends up being wired, a digital interface will be warranted, to get audio into the computer. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a budget-conscious option from a well-regarded company, one that provides two mic inputs, phantom power for condenser microphones, and included software. It’s got outputs for headphones and studio monitors, so your little buddy has the option to edit through either. Also, a special edition of Pro Tools comes with the interface. This DAW is useful for editing and mixing vocals, and it also benefits your little buddy for the future, as Pro Tools is, at present, the industry standard DAW.
If you’re looking for other options, Audient makes good, relatively wallet-friendly interfaces, including the iD14 with two Class-A microphone preamps developed by well-regarded engineer David Dearden. This interface connects to computers over USB. If only one preamp is needed, check out the iD4. A classic in the radio, podcasting, and field-recording game is the Zoom H4n, and this is yet another solid option for YouTubing. This interface doubles as a portable, battery-powered digital recorder, and includes a stereo microphone. With something like the Zoom H4n, your little buddy can ’tube or Twitch from nearly anywhere.
Solid Monitoring Options
Most likely, your little buddy won’t want to wear headphones in the video. But for the mixing and editing process, they will need some good monitoring devices for critical listening—gear that really reveals imperfections, so that each choice can be made intelligently.
The Audio Technica ATH-M50x is a great pair for the budget-conscious. These circumaural, sound-isolating headphones provide a relatively un-hyped frequency response, revealing issues not readily apparent in computer speakers. These are a personal favorite; I’ve been working with them for years.
Another good pair for the budget conscious are the Sony MDR-7506, long held in high regard for their ability to provide a clear, present sound. Their design is intended to help you identify potential disasters and audio imperfections. Sibilance is especially noticeable in these headphones, which means your little buddy will be more apt to create a sonically pleasing product for fans.
Those are great headphone choices, but perhaps dedicated monitors are the way to go. They can run you a little more than headphones, but provide a sonic boon that headphones cannot, as yet: they show you what sound feels like as it moves through the air. This tends to aid in making a sonic project that translates across listening platforms. So, monitors could be well worth it.
The Mackie CR series of monitors provide a good budget conscious option. Take a look at the 3, 4, or 5" models. KRK Rockits have become quite popular as well, and may suit your little buddy’s needs—and aesthetics!
If you want your little buddy to rise from the pack in the audio sphere, some easy-to-use software might do the trick. First and foremost, your little buddy might be interested in plug-ins that remove horrible room noise. Ideally, this software would be better than what they could find in, say, Audacity, but not too hard to wrap one’s head around.
iZotope RX Elements Version 7 will do nicely, because it has a repair assistant that makes de-noising, de-clicking, and other issues a breeze. Another good option is Audionamix IDC—the Instant Dialogue Cleaner. This in-line process works beautifully in de-noising audio.
As for mixing plug-ins—EQ, compression, and the like—your little buddy’s DAW has stuck plug-ins that are usually sufficient. So, perhaps you can buy them a tutorial on how to mix, something like a subscription to Secrets of the Pros. Teach your buddy to fish, as it were, rather than providing a single swimmer.
Well, that about wraps it up for our list. We didn’t include items like room treatment, because the good stuff isn’t always wallet-friendly and doesn’t always suit the needs of video. Other than that, we think this is a good place to start. Do you think we left anything out? Do you have ideas for what you’re going to get that special, YouTubing person in your life? Be sure to let us know in the Comments section!