The secret to better video

David Tames of Kino-Eye gave me a piece of advice years and years ago at one of Steve Garfield’s Boston Media Makers meetings that I’ve carried with me ever since and has made a huge difference in everything I do with video. He said:

Great video begins with great audio. Think about it for a second. People will sit at a bar, for example, and watch a TV with lousy picture quality if they can hear what’s going on. However, they’ll lose interest quickly in a TV that has no sound. If you can improve one thing, improve your audio.”

When I look over the years at the audio gear I’ve bought compared to the video gear I’ve bought, I’ve definitely followed his advice. These days, there are a few pieces of gear that I’m using that make a big difference in the video I produce. Disclosure: unsurprisingly, any product link will be an affiliate link.

For the Desktop

I’ve been a big fan of the Blue Snowball mic since it came out. I’ve been podcasting on it for years, and its sound quality is excellent for the price. It’s USB as well, which means fewer connectors. It’s also software-free, at least on my Mac. Just plug it in and go.

For the Mobile

Continuing the track record of Blue gear, I have the Blue Mikey for my iPad. It’s got a 30 pin connector, which means it won’t work with the latest generations of iPhone and iPad without the 30-pin to Lightning adapter, but Blue confirms it does work, even if it looks goofy. I find the best application for this mic is when you’re doing video from your iPad or other webcam – by using the Voice Memos app on your mobile, you create a separate audio track that sounds MUCH better than anything that’s going to come through the built-in mic. Here’s an example video I did – notice that I’m holding my iPhone as a mic; there’s no way to get this level of sound quality at this distance from anything built into the computer.

For the Studio

I recently grabbed the Audio 2000 combo kit for SHIFT Communications for doing in-person webinars. It’s a great little system that does a good job with the basics using one headset mic and one handheld mic. The outputs on it are the only tricky part – it’s either XLR out or 1/4″ unbalanced out, which means that if you want it to go into your computer, you’re going to need some adapters. I took a 1/4″ to 1/4″ cable and plugged it into a Creative Soundblaster USB external device, which then sent USB audio into my Mac. It’s not the cleanest or most elegant setup, but it did the job just fine for a webinar I did with Chris Brogan.

For the Single Person Webinar

Believe it or not, some of the best audio I’ve gotten for a single-person webinar comes out of a gaming headset. Gaming headsets are designed to be both durable and low latency so that you can scream loudly at your friends while shooting at them. I’ve been using the Logitech G35 USB headset for most of my “slideshow talks” because it means I don’t have to maintain perfect position in front of a computer while talking over slides. The best part is that a gaming headset will cost a third of what a “professional” or “business” headset will cost, even though the companies making headsets are using virtually identical technology.

No matter what kind of video you’re creating, having great audio is the place to start. It’s worked wonders for me over the years and it will for you, too. Unsurprisingly again, I put all this in an Amazon store if you want to grab any of it.


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