Choosing the Right Webcam in the Youtube Era

Old time film camera

Q: I am looking at starting a Youtube channel, and I was wondering what you’d suggest for a webcam solution. I’m looking for one that has good audio. Alternatively, what is the best, cheap USB interface to buy?

A: As many of you may know, I could stand to focus a little attention to my production values with my own YouTube videos. I have often simply gone with what I had available to me or what was most affordable.

But, as I’ve started to take my videos a bit more seriously, I have come to a few conclusions.

First, USB webcams just don’t produce very good looking or sounding videos. I haven’t had any luck with them.

My built in webcam in my newer desktop computer (using the built in mic of the computer) is acceptable, but it still doesn’t look that slick and the built in mic is overdriven quite easily. I bought a Flip at one point, but I think that I may have gotten a lemon because it never charged well, and I wasn’t very impressed with the quality.

I’ve actually had the best luck with my digital still camera. I have a Canon Powershot which shoots HD video and it looks great and sounds great. The digital SLR cameras also do a fantastic job. Janek Gwizdala, for example, uses his camera for all of his podcasts and video stuff and it looks fantastic.

Janek, as well as Ed Friedland and many others who have an upper level quality in their videos tend to record their instruments directly, using recording software (ProTools, Logic, etc.).

I’ve recently begun to considered the following as my personal next step in this direction:

  1. Buying a nice USB podcasting mic for my voice
  2. Using my HD video, still camera for the video
  3. Recording directly into ProTools for the bass sound (this also allows you to add a little reverb, compression, and so on).

Of the USB podcasting mics I’ve explored, there are quite a few that are supposed to be pretty great, but I don’t have any personal experience with them.
I’ve been recommended the Blue Snowball or the Blue Yeti, both of which seem reasonably priced. Most every company makes a good USB mic these days. I’d definitely do an online search, read some forums, etc.

Readers, I know plenty of you have solved this! What do you use? Share your recommendations in the comments.

Photo by Jason Antony

Have a question for Damian Erskine? Send it to [email protected]. Check out Damian’s instructional books, Right Hand Drive and The Improviser’s Path.

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  1. I use my PreSonus Inspire 1394 for small stuff recording (a firestudio project for the recording studio), was my first interface.. and although firewire might look like a put off, I find that the extra 10 dollars spent on the firewire card gave me amazing results… I don’t know how the new line of PreSonus USB interfaces are coming out, but so far, I have no complaints…

  2. I have and use the Blue Yeti for Webinars. It is a great mic with one drawback in my estimation and that is it shuts off all audio and speakers and the only way is to plug ear buds or a headset into the jack on the bottom of it.

  3. DavidSinRocks and Lallare90 (youtube) has a video that shows what he uses/how he records, I think when I get around to it I’ll just copy that setup but substitute ProTools/Logic/etc. for GarageBand for now (link for the video)

  4. I use a low end Sony video camera that cost under $400. For editing, I use their Vegas Home Studio, which can do far more than I know how to use. I recently got a PreSonus AudioBox 22VSL (w/Studio One Artist software) and medium grade AKG mic as a starting point for home recording work. I hope to use it all for lesson videos, but I’m sure I’ll have a learning curve.

  5. Issue with all USB microphones is that they have fixed analogue signal input gain and input levels are artificially adjusted via the PC sound software at digital level. Other issues to watch out for are:

    (1) with vocals and face close to microphone there can be what is called a “plosives” issue, which is where Ps and Bs make popping sound.
    (2) Less sensitivity than “real microphones” as you go towards the lower bass frequencies — quality and tone definition drop off.
    (3) Can be overpowered by loud instruments such as drums and often no way to turn down input gain (at analogue signal level) to compensate.
    (4) USB microphones specified at 24-bit encode sample audio at 44.1 kHz / 16-bit, whereas a real microphone will be converted to digital via computer DAC at 24-bit rate with control over sampling rates.
    (5) Can be over sensitive and pick-up all background noises like computer fans (gain & directionality issues).
    (6) Even higher end USB microphones typically use some cheap plastic non-durable parts.
    (7) Most USB microphones including Yeti use fixed sample rate (44.1 kHz/16 bit), which really isn’t pro quality.

    Bottomline: Best to use a real quality microphone and interface into computer via small preamp with tone and gain controls. For video agree to use digital video cam or digital cam with HD video feature.

  6. I would use a regular Microphone/Bass/Guitar through an Apogee interface, like the Apogee Duet into Logic Cubase,(it doesn’t matter what sequencer you prefer) very good sound quality for both instruments and vocal.

  7. record all my videos with a Zoom Q3HD and really that’s all you need. High Definition video and sound quality. Make sure you have plenty of light in the room as that gives your videos more clarity and definition. For the mixdown I use iMovie on my Macbook.

    • Hi Benny – so does this mean that by using the Zoom Q3HD I won’t need to record my audio separately and then synch it to the video? I’ve been simply recording my video directly from iMovie, and the sound quality is terrible – my bass sounds extremely distorted.

    • Dara Njeri Indeed as easy as that. The sound is just wonderful, 32 bit WAV quality (studio quality). Just make sure you have enough light in the room it makes a difference for the video quality.

  8. Thanks for this article. I’m a beginner bassist trying to start a youtube channel myself, and wondered how to deal with the horrible audio that I get from my Macbook Pro. I record my videos directly from iMovie, with my bass (a 5-string Ibanez SR705) plugged directly into my amp (a Peavey 110 bass amp). As I’m new to this, I didn’t realize that the Macbook’s built-in mic can’t handle the low levels of my bass, especially from the B string. The bass sounds so distorted that it’s not even worth uploading the footage that I have. I’ve been trying to figure out what the easiest, most cost-effective way to record my video will be. What’s the best way to do this, WITHOUT having to record the audio separately and later synch it to the video footage? PS – I’m a “starving student”, so needless to say I can’t afford a really high-end set up right now, LOL. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    • Damian Erskine Thanks so much for responding. I’ll follow your advice :-)

  9. UPDATE… sooo… I bought the Blue Yeti mic, and it’s great for voice. As for recording my bass, can someone provide step-by-step instructions for me? I’m not technically savvy at all :-( how do I record the audio in Protools or Garageband while recording the video? (I still can’t afford a camera right now, so I’m stuck using iMovie on my Macbook Pro for now). How do I sync the audio and video after? I also forgot to mention before that I also have the M-Audio Fast Track, which is supposed to reduce distortion – but I don’t know how to use it either, lol. I apologize for being so technologically clueless, lol. More feedback will be, again, greatly appreciated! Thanks, guys!