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The Yeti is a Perfectly Good Mic, You’re Just Using It Poorly

Let's fix that

The Yeti is a Perfectly Good Mic, You’re Just Using It Poorly
Photo by Kate Oseen on Unsplash

No, not the abominable one, this one — the one on the left.

The Yeti is a super popular USB microphone, I might say the most popular USB microphone to date, and has been since its inception more than 10-years ago.

It looks good, it’s affordable, it’s USB (which saves you a bunch on additional gear), and it’s got pretty good construction as far as its working parts are concerned. Objectively it is a good microphone for the ~$150 price tag it starts at.

In spite of that, almost all Podcast/Audio Engineers hate them and condescend to them (and those podcasters who use them) frequently. So what’s the problem?

The problem is actually perfectly displayed in the above photo

The woman using that microphone is a good two feet a way from the capsule and she’s in an untreated space — a spacious & posh living room by the looks of it.

The first problem…

She’s too far away. When recording dialogue which doesn’t include loud bursts of outrageous energy, 8-inches is the absolute furthest you should be away from your microphone.

The bottom-line reason for this is that the more space there is between you and the mic, the lower your Signal to Noise Ratio will be. The lower your SNR, the less ability your Podcast Editor & Engineer has to reduce background noise. That means there will be more unnecessary noise in the finished product — and we Audio Engineers really hate noise.

“But my living room isn’t noisy!”

We’re talking about a different kind of noise. Noise, in an engineering sense, is anything that isn’t your signal (your voice, in the case of a podcast). If you want to see the noise that exists in your room just take your cell phone, open up whatever audio recording app you might have installed on it (for iPhones it’s the Voice Recorder app), stand in the middle of your living room and hit record while remaining completely quiet.

Do the same thing in your bathroom.

Now your bedroom.

Now your closet.

Listen back to all that audio on a pair of headphones.

No one was making any noise but you sure do hear a lot of noise for a quiet room don’t you? That’s the noise we’re talking about. That’s what we’re trying to get rid of as much as possible.

The Second problem…

She’s in an untreated environment and that means there will be a lot of background noise and a higher noise floor in general. This compounds the effects of the first problem by orders of magnitude.

The third problem…

There are really only two sorts of microphones you’re going to be choosing from as a podcaster: Dynamic microphones and Condenser microphones.

What follows is a broad generalization, but it’s true enough to be practical:

Dynamic microphones are manufactured to be used on the stage. The stage is a live environment, it isn’t a recording studio. There are people screaming, there’s music blaring, there may be wind howling, et cetera — you get it. This variety of microphone is built to perform well in live environments, which makes them very well suited for hobbyist podcasters who don’t have access to proper recording spaces.

Condenser microphones are manufactured to be used in the studio. The studio is a dead environment created specifically for capturing clean sound. So condenser microphones don’t need to contend or compete with noise because there shouldn’t be much noise within the environments they’re designed to be used. Because they are designed with this use in mind, they are much more sensitive than Dynamic microphones — that is to say they “hear more” more easily.

Guess what kind of microphone the Yeti is? Correct. It’s a condenser.

The fourth problem…

The Yeti is a USB Microphone (though the pro model has an XLR option — that’s the $250 version) and that means it comes into your laptop or computer at “line-level” and this creates a situation where most users of the mic will have the gain set too high and they’ll wind up clipping their recording during capture.

This is less of a problem now that Yeti has come out with gain control software to pair with their mics (like the Yeti Nano’s “Sherpa” software).

The trick to making your Yeti sound good is the same trick for making any mic sound good…

  1. Ensure your environment is at least somewhat treated: Spend a couple hundred bucks on broadband absorption panels from acoustimac.com
  2. Ensure you are using good mic technique: keep between 4–8" from the mic and speak at a 45-degree offset. Don’t drift from that position, pay attention.
  3. Ensure that the gain isn’t set too high: the ability to increase the loudness of your recording in post is almost limitless. If Audacity says you’re coming in between -30dB and -20dB, that’s perfect (I aim for -24dB). If it’s hard for either of your to hear yourselves, turn up your headphone volume not your gain — the the engineer worry about the loudness.
  4. Don’t scream, cackle, shriek, or bellow into your mic: one of the reasons I tell people to keep their gain down so that they’re peaking right around -24dB is because I know at some point they’ll laugh super loud, or try to “out loud” the guest or host and having the gain this low will prevent peaking with it happens but, trying to not be super loud all of a sudden is a good practice.

I promise that if you can do those four things, any mic you use, even the Blue Microphones’ Yeti, will perform just fine.

And if you’re an Audio Engineer reading this, I feel you and I get it. I’d rather they use a “better” mic as well, but they’re going to choose what they’re going to choose, and it’s easier to educate them about their decisions than it is to fight with them and create friction in the working relationship. If they want to use the Yeti because it’s easy, just teach them how to use it well — they can work towards perfect once they have a bigger budget ❤

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Tanner Campbell
See all posts by Tanner Campbell