If you are already an ASMR artist then you will know that one of the most common questions asked is: “What microphone do you use?”. This assumes of course that your microphone is generating fairly good quality sound. No one is going to ask you that question if your microphone hisses and hums and creates very low or poor quality output which seems to be fairly common amongst ASMR artists.
However, having a poor quality microphone isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’ve seen plenty of ASMR artists who have poor quality sound but are still very popular. What’s more important are the types of sounds, the voice, the visuals and so on. So the microphone isn’t the be all and end all of making good ASMR videos…it just helps and you will find that as you progress you will naturally want to improve your sound.
The world of ASMR is still in it’s infancy at least in terms of creating videos specifically to trigger ASMR. So we are all still learning about which microphones are the best for creating good quality clear sound for those low whispers and quiet sounds plus get that really nice stereo or binaural effect. Fortunately, most ASMR artists are pretty good about letting people know the make and model of their microphone, so it’s been a case of each artist researching what other artists are doing, listening to their videos and seeing what works.
Why is your microphone noisy?
What I have noticed is that many ASMR artists are usually NOT very happy with their sound quality, so you will see many of them upgrading microphones as they develop. Heather Feather is a case in point. If you follow her progression she started with a built in microphone on a point and shoot camera, then upgraded to a Yeti microphone, then a Sound Professionals binaural mic and as of writing this, a 3 Dio Freespace Pro binaural mic.
This is only natural as when you start focusing on sound, you start to notice everything about it…you hear the dog barking or the car driving up the street…sounds that you would never have picked up before because they are usually not that loud, but your microphone will pick them up without any problem….go figure!
What you also start to hear is the hissing, crackling, buzzing or humming that comes with recording. This is known as ‘self-noise’ and every microphone generates some sort of noise. It’s just that some are better than others at keeping this noise to a minimum.
Self-noise is an important determining factor when choosing a microphone for ASMR purposes. The reason for this is because we are recording low level sounds with potentially a lot of pauses, so the hissing, humming or buzzing in the background tends to be more noticeable. Plus, because we are recording such soft sounds, those listening may turn up the sound to hear it which in turn, turns up that self noise. It’s one of the biggest problems ASMR artists face.
With this in mind, what you need to look for in the specs when buying a microphone is a self-noise of about 15 dBA or less for a really quiet mic. In other words, the lower the better.
Take the Rode NT1-A microphone for instance. This mic is marketed as the ‘World’s Quietest Microphone” with a 5 dBA self-noise level. We purchased a matched pair and they are amazingly quiet. When we first got these microphones we didn’t really use them much for ASMR recordings, instead we used them for vocals like podcasts for instance. The reason for this is that we preferred a binaural sound and the Rode NT1-A microphone isn’t binaural, nor is it omni-directional, but we will get into all of that a little further on. But we love these mics now and use them all the time for our ASMR recordings.
When looking at the specs for most microphones, you won’t often see the ‘self-noise’ data listed. If you find that is the case, then you can either contact the company and ask them what it is or you can look for the ‘signal to noise ratio’ which is usually written in the specs as S/N. The signal-to-noise ratio is just another way of determining the self-noise of a microphone. In this case, the higher the better. So a signal-to-noise ratio of 80 dB is better than 60dB. The higher the dB the quieter the microphone.
If you’re starting to get confused at this point then all you need to know is that:
- the lower the self-noise the better – anything under 15dBA is excellent
- the higher the self-to-noise ratio the better – anything over 80dB is excellent
How to Calculate the Self-Noise from the S/N Ratio
You can actually determine the amount of self-noise by subtracting the signal-to-noise ratio from 94 dB. So a microphone with a signal-to-noise ratio of 60 dB will have a self-noise level of 34 dB. However, there are a lot of different methods for testing audio so just be aware that this little calculation may not apply for all microphones.
There is a lot of confusion amongst ASMR artists about what is a binaural sound. You will see many that post videos with the words ‘binaural’ as part of the title when in fact they aren’t binaural. They aren’t doing this to be deceitful but because they really don’t understand what binaural is. They think that because the sound can be heard independently in the left ear and the right ear that they have achieved binaural sound. Essentially what they have is just stereo sound. It sounds good but it really isn’t binaural.
Binaural recording uses two matched omni-directional microphones and they should be set up with a dummy head to create the sounds that a human would normally hear. It basically creates a 3D sound where you can hear sounds all around you as if those sounds were coming from the room you are in. I don’t know how many times I have jumped when listening to binaural recordings when I hear a sound and think it is coming from behind me.
Binaural microphones can be expensive. Neumann microphones for instance can range anywhere from $5000 and up. Fortunately there are binaural microphones that are a little more reasonably priced and work extremely well for ASMR videos. You can check out those microphones on our Best Microphones for ASMR page.
Omni-directional microphones pick up sounds equally from all directions so although you won’t achieve binaural sound with it, at the very least you will get the effect of sound coming from different directions.
A good and remarkably cheap microphone that can achieve omni-directional sound is the Yeti which plugs directly into the USB port of a computer. The Yeti is a bit of a favourite with us and one we highly recommend for ASMR artists looking for a reasonably cheap, quiet microphone. It’s super easy to use – just plug it into the back of a computer and away you go. The Yeti has a number of different options so can record in stereo or omni-directional. You can read our Yeti Microphone Review here.
Interestingly enough, you can create binaural sound by placing two omni-directional microphones on either side of a dummy head. So I am assuming that you could do this with two Yeti microphones, maybe?? We have attempted to try this but we could not plug two Yeti’s into our computer – it just wouldn’t recognize both.
Some microphones (most commonly condenser mics) require power to run. Without it they just won’t work. This power is called ‘phantom power’ and what it basically means is that you have to plug the microphone into a device of some sort that provides that power.
For example, we have two Rode Nt1A mic’s and the manual for this microphone states that it needs P48 or P24 volts of phantom power. So to get that power, we plug our microphones into a Zoom R24. The Zoom R24 (amongst other things) is a recording device and it provides that phantom power that we need to make the microphones work. We haven’t tried plugging them into a Zoom H4N as yet but that should technically work as well as the manual states that the Zoom H4N also supplies phantom power of P48/P24.
What Else Do You Need to Consider
One other important thing you need to think about when buying a microphone is that it has to be plugged into something that will record the sounds. This might be a computer or a mixer or some sort of recording device like a field recorder for instance.
With this in mind, think about what you have to record the sounds. If you want to use your computer, then you will probably want to go with a microphone that has a USB connector like the Yeti for instance. If in doubt, ask the manufacturer if the microphone you are interested in will plug straight into your computer.
Most high-end microphones have XLR connections. These don’t fit into a computer although you can buy XLR to USB adaptors like the Shure X2U that will allow you to connect it to your computer.
Otherwise what you will need is a recorder of some sort that accepts XLR inputs. We use a Zoom H4N which is used by many ASMR artists. It’s not just a recorder but also an audio interface and has it’s own inbuilt high quality microphone so essentially you can use it on it’s own to record sounds. However, we plug in in our binaural microphone to the device in order to record, mostly because we want to achieve binaural sounds and the Zoom H4n doesn’t do this on it’s own.