This article has been updated every six months since it was published in 2016 with the our choices for the best value for money streaming equipment on the market.
Twitch is home to all manner of gaming, creative, programmatic, mechanical and culinary broadcasts. As the number of active broadcasters increases past 2.5 million, technology continues to march forward, and the tools with which we stream become more and more complex. So we’ve made it easy to figure out what you, the streamer, need to get your message across.
Each of these categories will be divided up into six tiers.
- Please Don’t: Means what it says on the tin. There is no logical reason for you to ever do or purchase the thing unless you actively like wasting your own time and money.
- I’m Just Getting Started: Something that gets the job done, while perhaps being janky or excessively simple. Okay for beginners or people who don’t want to put a lot of effort in.
- I Want To Do Better: Mid-tier broadcasters, people who want things to look and sound good, but price is a concern.
- Time To Get Serious: Expert twitch streamers for whom time is money, and who broadcast as a job.
- Literal Professional: You’re being paid for your time and equipment to produce live video content for someone else, so it’s worth spending money on.
- Honorable Mention / Mobile: Something that you should know about because it’s cool, or because it can be used while you’re out and about.
We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so this article is split into eight sections.
Part 1: Streaming Programs
The foundation upon which your channel is built.
Your streaming package is the most important choice you have as a broadcaster. It determines your toolset, you workflow, and ultimately sets the bar for how good (or bad) the viewer experience is.
It’s also the most frequently-updated, so as a category all of these options are constantly in flux. Just because you tried something six months ago, doesn’t mean you have the slightest clue what it’s like now – so stay informed and up to date.
Please don’t stream directly from your PS4 or Xbox One. I know it sounds like a really good idea – since direct-from-console streaming was added, there was a large increase in the number of people broadcasting. However, there was no equivalent increase in the number of people watching. Most people broadcasting from their consoles simply have literally no-one watching, for a number of reasons.
- There is no camera, so we don’t know who we’re watching.
- There’s no 2nd monitor to have chat open on, so they don’t interact with the viewers at all, and;
- Most people have no mic attached, so they can’t communicate at all. It’s just gameplay footage. Worthless, worthless gameplay footage.
Please don’t stream from OSX. If you don’t Bootcamp it and install Windows, you’ll have to install a series of custom audio routing tools in order to be able to capture sound being played by your computer, and that’s a rabbit hole that’s very difficult to climb back out of. If you do insist on going through it, you’ll need Soundflower and WavTAP at a bare minimum, and possibly a multi-output volume controller. Your in-game performance will generally be much worse in OSX, too. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Please don’t use Wirecast or Gameshow. They’re getting progressively more buggy and unstable and even though we received our promotional copy for free, we have barred it from professional use.
I’m Just Getting Started:
Pros: Free, Lots of new features this year, Is not legacy OBS
Cons: Everything else
Look, credit where credit’s due – OBS Studio is a huge improvement. Original OBS was janky, spaghetti-code, CPU-heavy garbage. The replacement, OBS Multiplatform, made huge inroads into fixing that, and unifying the codebase with a ground-up rewrite. That has now evolved into OBS Studio, and it’s come a long way.
By far the two most important things are the ability to make changes as a set before sending them live, and the ability to recursively add scenes into other scenes, making it easy to create a ‘scene’ for your StreamLabs alerts that’s then included in your regular scenes. NDI functionality can be added to send video across the local network with the NewTek NDI plugin.
It does, however, have its fair share of problems. Time/delay synchronization, dodgy driver hooks and poor support for high-end equipment often make it unsuitable for power users, as well as difficulty backing up settings / scenes and profiling that just straight up doesn’t work. It’s still very impressive for a Free/Open Source project, but not something I’d want to be using if getting paid depended on it.
That said, if you are on OBS or Multiplatform, you should definitely upgrade to OBS Studio. It’s light-years better than it’s previous iterations, and should be considered the starting point for every broadcaster.
StreamElements OBS.Live: A mod for OBS Studio
Pros: An easy way to get overlays, alerts, and take donations, while optimizing the OBS experience, and letting you move it between computers easily.
Cons: Lacks some of the things you’d come to expect from OBS-native scenes, scene-building web interface is slow and sometimes confusing.
Stream Elements OBS.Live is an add-on for OBS Studio that lets you build and store your overlays on the web. That makes it fairly trivial to log onto any computer, install OBS/Live and be up and running quickly.
There’s a tonne of pre-made ones to choose from, designed for different games and themes. Alerts are included, so you don’t have to worry about using Streamlabs for alerts. You can also get ‘Super Scenes’ are a pack containing a full broadcast package, for a coherent, cohesive look and feel.
It’s not all good though. Whereas building scenes in OBS lets you build a source once and apply it to multiple scenes, shared elements between scenes aren’t references – get ready to make the same changes two or three times over if you want to take a Super Scene and customize it to make it yours. You also can’t stretch certain elements, only scale them, so unless you want exactly what’s already there, you’re in for some time getting them set up. But the biggest frustration is – this is an extension for OBS, so why can’t we just import the scenes and overlays we created online straight into OBS, rather than copy-pasting URLs that you only get easy access to once, on creation, then have to retrieve manually per-scene?
There are some other cool features though. A built-in chat bot, and prebuilt alerts/activity lists. Also, the ability to re-trigger alerts for old events is neat, and completely memeable, if you’re into such things.
Takeaway: If you have no photoshop skills or streaming experience, this is a great way to get started quickly and look good doing it.
I want to do better:
Pros: Lots of features and integrations, very stable, low CPU usage
Cons: Interface sometimes confusing, ongoing subscription $5/mo
I feel about XSplit the way one does about their favorite screwdriver. It’s not something I relish using in a joyful way, but it does its job reliably, and in some circumstances it’s just absolutely the perfect tool.
XSplit feels professional yafter using OBS Studio. It’s easy to store multiple output destinations, and overall it’s just plainly obvious that it was built with your workflow in mind, rather than just ‘hey we made it work ok lets move on’. You can also package your scene collection for portability and use it on another machine easily.
We do need to discuss one important feature, which is Local Broadcasting. XSplit can present your RTMP stream over HTTP on your local LAN IP. While it may sound unimpressive, this actually unlocks and enabled some really seriously powerful functionality. If you were to install XSplit Personal on ten computers on a LAN, and add each of those ten computers Local Broadcast IPs as an RTMP source on another machine, that machine’s broadcast software would then have the video from all ten machines as sources. Which means that you could, as a hobbyist broadcaster, easily create a live cast of a LAN tournament and switch POV in real-time for anything. Considering that League of Legends spectator clients have a 3 minute delay, this means you can actually have shoutcasters and people in your venue watching it live. You also gain something that spectators in MOBAs don’t have – the ability to see where a player is watching and clicking.
This is a Very Cool Feature and one that I’ve used building all sorts of live broadcast rigs, including some big names, like Twitch Headquarters Esports Room, and the flagship Razer Store in San Francisco.
Anyway, XSplit is good, is what I’m saying. Seriously consider it as an upgrade from OBS.
Time to get serious:
Pros: Lots of ways to get started quickly, very cool integrations, very much designed to get shit done.
Cons: Always a few versions behind OBS Studio features.
SLOBS, despite its terrible acronym, has fast become a staple of people who want to add a lot of cool stuff to their stream. If you’re prepared to put the effort in to customize it all, they’ve made it incredibly easy to add all manner of rad add-ons, and even let you monitor chat as an overlay that you can see, making streaming with a single monitor easy.
The trade-off is a lack of latest OBS features. But for the most part, you probably don’t care about that unless you’re heading into professional territory.
Pros: Lots of features
Cons: Not the greatest performance.
The full suite of plugins that are both included and available from the store is huge. There’s no reason to need to open anything else – just load XSplit and go.
Automatic scene switching as window focus changes ✓
Twitch/Youtube chat integration ✓
Follower alerts ✓
Integrated plugin store ✓
Audio customization per scene ✓
It’s just a big bag of features.
The criticisms that applied to XSplit Personal still apply here. Yes, it costs money ongoing, and yes, the interface is just plain difficult to find stuff in. Unless you know what you’re looking for, you’ll probably miss things. I found new things while refreshing my memory for this roundup. NDI is still somewhat of a beta feature, you may run into bugs.
Powerful, lightweight, fast. Difficult to set up the first time, takes maybe 2 – 3 hours to understand if you’ve used other packages from this list before but easy if you’ve done any sort of TV broadcasting. Not focused on capturing content from your PC so much as broadcasting other video sources. If you use a separate machine for broadcast production than gaming/spectating, this may be your ticket.
Most importantly, it contains triggers and scripting, so if you want to set up a broadcast and walk off, you can have countdown timers, videos playing in a row, playlists .. the list goes on.
The version of vMix that most of you will be looking at is $350, which I paid when my trial was up without hesitation. I then upgraded to the $700 version to get four remote call participants. Then to the $1200 version to get eight. It’s paid for itself many times over.
Honorable Mention / Mobile:
Elgato have the scene-switching stream controller market on lockdown right now. With integrations for every major streaming program, and the ability to trigger hotkeys (including F13 – F24, so you can never accidentally hit them), you can make it work with anything, even things it wasn’t designed for.
I’ve used mine at events in three countries across two continents, everything from podcasts to commercial esports broadcasts, and while the initial setup is a little janky, if you export your profile to Dropbox, you’re only 5 minutes from being ready to go, no matter where you are.
Single-button presses to go live, record, play soundboard files, switch scenes, run ads, or even tweet out the stream? Yes, please.
Live:Air Solo for iOS is great for broadcasting from your phone when you don’t have access to a computer. If you’re a broadcaster, you NEED this on your phone with your details plugged in ready to go, so if your computer crashes, your internet goes out, whatever, you can be live again in seconds.
VoiceMeeter Banana. Stupid name, great product. This custom audio router lets you do just about anything with your sound in Windows.
Part 2: Headphones
Music to your ears, comfort for your head.
In all honesty, headsets haven’t changed much in the last 12 months. The best things here are mostly either the same as last year at a more reasonable price point, or slightly upgraded versions. If you have the previous version, there’s little reason to upgrade. But if you want to skip a tier, then it’s definitely worth it.
Spoiler alert: Astros A40/50s are still bad. Very, very bad.
Astro make some of the most comfortable headsets money can buy. That is where the good ends, because literally everything else about them is terrible. I can’t stress enough exactly how terrible they are at making sound, or recording sound.
I need to restate this: If you think they sound good, you are objectively wrong and do not know what good sounds like. The quality might be acceptable for, say, a quarter of the price, but even a 50% discount would be nowhere near enough. I got my A40s for free and I gave them away. They were given back. If you do get some for free, it’s possible to make them sound vaguely acceptable if you EQ them within an inch of their life, which you can do on a Mixamp (which is actually wonderful) using the Command Center software. But wherever possible, don’t spend money on them.
I’m just getting started:
Logitech G430: $49.99
Selling point: Is cheap, doesn’t suck
The non-wireless version of the G930, the G430 is comfortable, sounds good, and has a good quality microphone. This is important because the G930 suffers terribly from driver issues under Windows 10 that causes it to constantly disconnect. No wireless, no wireless issues! Hooray! They’ve got plenty of bass without sounding too muddy, crisp-ish high-ends and just feels good when gaming. It’s actually surprising that these are only $50, because they sound and feel like something more expensive. The look is a little last-gen with the xx3 series gear going a bit more futuristic, but overall it’s difficult to fault this little headset.
Hyper-X Cloud: $69.99
Selling point: Comfort, mic quality
I’m just going to come out and say it – I love these headphones, I really do. The frequency response is wide and deep, and the closed-back design is reminiscent of the Plantronics GAMECOM Commander used for many live esports events, giving good isolation and containing the sound from escaping into your lounge room. That said, you will never forget you’re wearing them – the closed-back also creates a very tight soundstage. A TeamSpeak-certified detachable mic makes them great for voice comms in game, which is clearly the primary focus of this device. There’s a huge gulf of performance across different gaming headsets, ranging from ‘excellent’ to ‘how did this get past prototyping’, and many different design philosophies. This one sits firmly in ‘quite good’ and ‘we copied something we know works and made it a lot cheaper’. A solid choice.
Steelseries Arctis 3: $59.99
Selling point: Comfortable, cheap, decent sound
All the basic design elements from the more expensive Arctis 7 are present in the 3, just without the wireless and the connectivity options. If you want a cheap headset, it’s pretty difficult to go wrong with them. The mic’s not the greatest, but at this price we’re not really quibbling about it.
I want to do better:
Let’s just get this out of the way first – Logitech wants to be Razer, but I’m not terribly upset about it. Both the headsets at this tier just happen to be wireless, and similar to each other. While this definitely wasn’t the plan, don’t underestimate how good wireless headsets are for streaming. It’s super easy to stream in different places in different ways when your audio and mic aren’t tethered to anything; cooking streams, Pokemon Go, working on cars, whatever. It is far, far easier than trying to use fixed mics in random places.
Razer Ifrit: $89.99
Unique features: in-ear headphones + boom mic + two-port DAC
One of the terrible things about gaming headsets is that if you want in-ear headphones, you can’t have a boom mic. Until now, that is, with the Razer Ifrit, which through a clever earpiece inspired by sporting headphones, allows a broadcast quality mic to be attached to in-ears. This gives you a lot more freedom of movement, lowers strain on the neck, but also allows your fabulous hair to fly free!
The bundled DAC isn’t the greatest quality; I prefered to use these either with my onboard sound card or with the Astro Mixamp TR. That said, it does have one unique feature – two 3.5mm TRRS inputs, meaning you can plug a second headset into it, and get audio to and from both.
If you want to do a two-person stream in front of one computer, this is a super easy way to achieve it. Just BYO 2nd headset, plug it in, and you can hear each other + the game. Instant talk show!
Turtle Beach Elite Atlas: $99.99
Unique features: Retractable channel for glasses-wearers
These headphones are tuned for gaming. This sounds like a silly thing to say, but a lot of headsets have a heavy music focus in their sound. These do not. They’re also super comfortable, and I’ve come back to them three or four times after initially testing them. In fact, I’ve got them set up on my PS4 right now through an Astro Mixamp so I can stream from the lounge room.
There’s a lot of crisp high end and overall for $99 it’s very difficult to argue with them.
BONUS POINTS: There’s a pull tab hidden in the earpieces to create a tiny channel for glasses to sit in. These are the most glasses-friendly headphones I’ve ever used. I give away a lot of the equipment I get sent to review, but I kept these, and you can’t have them so stop asking.
Logitech G935: $129.99
Selling point: Wireless, and good
The G935 is the successor to the G933 which is the successor to the G930, which I’ve tested and used extensively, even getting a pair for myself to use permanently as a headset for travel, and have accompanied me around the world several times. It’s incremental improvements every time, and I see no reason to iterate on the things that make them good. I haven’t gotten to spend much time with them on a day to day basis, and I’ll report back when I have, but I feel pretty confident given the lineage of the product that it will continue to hold up.
Razer ManO’War Wireless: $139.99
Selling point: Wireless, and good
The ManO’War Wireless is the only Razer headset you should consider buying (with the possible exception of the Tiamat 7.1). They’re definitely better than the G933s, but perhaps not the G935s. They feel great over any time period, they don’t ever feel heavy, and the sound stage is impressively open. Great battery life, good sound, good mic, great for streaming, and absolutely sounds better than the wired version. The only real complaint is that unlike the G933 you can’t connect a 3.5mm – if there’s a PC driver issue or you want to connect it to something else, you literally can’t; you’re tied to the dongle. On the bright side, it does also work on PS4 and OSX out of the box. The mic sounds crisp and clear, and has fooled people on-stream a few times asking what off-screen mic we were using. Surprise! ManO’War.
After-sales support is truly spectacular as well – this year one of ours bought in Australia failed in Hong Kong, and they shipped us a replacement from a local warehouse in HK the same day. The only caveat was that they asked us to destroy the failed unit, so no-one else attempted a warranty claim on them. It’s honestly one of the most sensible, pragmatic customer support experiences I’ve had and it makes it easy to recommend purchasing.
Steelseries Arctis 7: $149.99
Unique features: Multiple inputs and outputs for use in many situations
If you have a $150 budget, buy this headset. Don’t read any further, just click buy and never worry about headsets again. This is one of the only headsets in existence that seems tailor-made for broadcasters.
The simplified transceiver requires no setup, and has a 3.5mm line in and line out. The line-in can take input from a console, making console streaming easy. Or, you can plug your phone into it so you don’t miss any messages while gaming. By comparison, normally you’d need something like the Astro Mixamp (listed further down for $130) to do that, which is just a wired headphone amp. Being able to wirelessly transmit a secondary source is way more useful than you might think, because all of a sudden any audio source can be wireless. I no longer carry my phone around the house, because I’ll hear it on my headset if it rings. If the headset is off, audio will go out the line out for connection to external speakers, making the transition from broadcasting to chilling a single button press.
The Arctis 7 has the same drivers as the $300 Steelseries Arctis Pro, so they sound good. The isolation is surprisingly good as well; the firm but soft fitment transmits bass incredibly well, while remaining light on your head even for long periods of time. There’s a 3.5mm TRRS cable that can be plugged straight into a phone – this works even if the battery is dead, which makes them really useful for travelling.
The configuration software is easy to use, has a heap of options, and the firmware upgrade process is smooth. There’s a mic mute button on the left cup, and the mic itself is flexible and retractable. Getting the mic just right for your environment should only take about five minutes, and it’s pretty easy to find levels where you get keyboard sound or just voice. Mixing between chat and game volume is done on the headset, and there’s a 3.5mm output (you read that correctly) on the headphones themselves to plug in a second set of headphones, which you think you’ll never need, until you do. Then you’ll be surprised that someone thought of it. You can actually use this to turn the entire thing into a wireless audio bridge! My range topped out around 30 feet, and they handle interference from microwaves like a boss (unlike the G930 which stops entirely if you heat up some noodles).
I actually just can’t believe these are $150; I’d happily have paid $250. These have become my main PC gaming and travel headphones, and I refuse to give them back.
They are a streamer’s delight, and I for one have not been this impressed in a long time.
Time to get serious:
Audio-Technica ADG1x: $299
Selling point: Sounds great, super comfortable, good mic
These headphones are really, really great. So great, in fact, I bought them twice. With my own money. There are two variants available, an open-back and closed-back version, and I own them both, at nearly $300 each, and with no regrets.
They sound better than anything else on this list, and possibly anything else available for less than $600 that doesn’t need amplifying.
I need to restate this again for avoidance of doubt: ADG1x’s sound absolutely spectacular. I’ve heard things in-game and taken my headphones off to see what that noise in my apartment is. My long-suffering reference headphones, the Denon AH-D2000s, were $1600 when they were new, and they are only slightly better than the ADG1x’s.
They’re so comfortable there is literally no time period of wearing them which will hurt your head. They come with good cabling options and a USB sound card, if you need such a thing (it is not very good so probably just throw it away). The soundstage is open and reproduction is accurate. There’s only one confusing thing about them, and it’s in the way the mic works. It can’t be fully slid out of the way, and the mute button isn’t on-off, it’s push-to-mute. And it’s on the inside, so you hit it with your thumb. I don’t understand this, but it is very easy to use for a quick aside while streaming, so questionable design aside, it sounds good. It could stand to be more directional, as it has a tendency to pick up room noise, but that can be worked around with a noise gate and a limiter in your effects panel, if you have one.
If you have to choose between the open and closed-back models, it’s really down to whether you want to annoy your coworkers. The open back spills sound like a drunk white girl dancing to a cover band, and there is a slight tradeoff in sound quality for going to the closed-back version, but not much. The closed-back version inexplicably trades in the fabric pad cover for something non-porous. I don’t like it. You might. The comfort comes from the four-points-of-contact design that uses your head for suspension, however if you have a small head like our director, you can increase the tension by attaching a rubber band between the two suspension arms, which will will firm the damping nicely.
To re-iterate: if you want a wired headset and value sound quality & comfort for long sessions without fatigue, buy these.
Steelseries Arctis Pro Wireless: $299
Unique features: Crazy amount of connectivity options for any setup
There is no other headset on this list, or in fact anywhere in the world that can do what the Steelseries Arctis Pro.
Sounds great: ✓
Myriad of connectivity options: ✓
Even more connectivity options: ✓
Replaceable standard battery: ✓
Compatible with everything: ✓
IT WILL BLUETOOTH PAIR TO YOUR PHONE SO YOU CAN USE IT AT THE SAME TIME AS YOUR PC. Jesus christ Steelseries. You calm down. You’ve made a headset that can literally do anything. There’s even a 3.5mm out on the headset – you read that right – so you can daisy chain a second pair of headphones off them. You can connect with USB as an interface, the transmitter can take multiple inputs of 3.5mm or optical S/PDIF with levels separately adjustable. You can use it with your phone, your xbox, your PS4, your PC. If your microwave had a line out, you could use it with that too. I’m actually angry this exists, because it makes me re-evaluate how stupid any headphone is in comparison. The ADG1x does sound a little better, but that’s a totally fine trade-off for what the Arctis Pro brings to the table.
Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + interface
Selling point: Professional broadcast headset at less than half the price of its competition
Do not buy the BPHS-1 unless you have a mixer/recording interface. This is a professional broadcast headset with an XLR-cabled dynamic microphone, and a 3.5mm TRS stereo cable for connectivity. It is useless to you unless you own the appropriate hardware to connect it to, and even then it’s going to sound worse in your ears than either of the TTGS recommendations. However.
If you intend on running a broadcast from an event, these headsets are brilliant. Solid isolation, plugs directly into your audio equipment, and headset mics that properly mirror the performance of a real dynamic stage mic, for $160 these are a steal compared to competing models like the Sennheiser HME 26-600(4)-XQ going for $550 (which Riot uses at major events).
Nothing more to say. A workhorse designed for getting work done, and will make your life much, much easier if you’re doing live events.
Part 3: Microphones
What use is a phone call, if you cannot speak?
There is no such thing as a perfect microphone, only a perfect microphone for a situation. I have studio recording mics that cost more than a small car, which sit in a drawer because they’re just not appropriate for streaming. What we’re covering here is what’s good for streaming, but be aware that your use case must factor into any decision.
I’m just getting started:
Just use your headset mic. It’s really not worth paying for anything extra until later on, and you already own it so just run with it until it becomes a problem.
I want to do better:
Antlion Modmic: $55
Unique feature: Turns regular headphones into a headset
At $55 this is by far the cheapest, easiest upgrade you can make, especially if you have a quality pair of headphones with no mic. This little magnetised mic flips up and away when not in use and comes in uni or omnidirectional models, and with or without a mute switch. The mute switch is a little useless since it’s kind of difficult to use, but gosh. Unless you spent a lot on a headset, there’s a good chance this mic is better.
It’s more expensive than the V-Moda Boom Pro but works with literally any headphones (rather than just a small subset with a detachable cable), and it sounds better. When we got the modmic, people on the other end of voice chat asked if I’d gotten an expensive desk mic because the sound was that much clearer. The cabling can be messy if not done sensibly, but that’s on you, you lazy sack of crap.
Time to get serious:
If you’ve ever wondered whether it’s worth the upgrade from a headset mic to a real microphone, there’s a sample recording on the Razer Seiren web site about half way down.
In short – yes. Yes it is. No surprises where this section starts either.
Blue Yeti: $89
Selling point: A solid cardiod condenser mic for all applications
A staple of broadcasters everywhere, the Yeti remains on the list once again, because it does what it does really well and cheaply. The community is deeply divided on Yeti quality, but this is largely misunderstanding what it is you’re supposed to do with it. Condenser microphones should be placed close to the source of the sound (with an optional pop filter for those nasty plosives), with the gain turned right down. Not far away, with the gain turned right up, so that it picks up every keystroke, every click, every dog running by your house. Set up correctly, there is no reason most people will ever need to move past a Yeti, but sadly most will never be set up correctly, and people will continue to spend money chasing something that could be rectified by having the slightest idea what they’re doing.
The Yeti connects by USB and also has a pro version that has XLR out, but if you’re reading this you probably don’t care about that. You should strongly consider investing in a $40 shock mount which will get rid of desk vibration noise from slamming the keys angrily typing ‘no peel gg’.
Voice is captured well, but it’s important to recognize that the Yeti was designed to capture /everything/. It was designed in a time when USB condenser mics literally didn’t exist, and so it functions pretty well for most use cases. What this does mean however, is that it wasn’t designed specifically for streaming, that’s just something we use it for. If this will only be used to pick up your voice at close range in front of a PC, consider..
Razer Seirēn X: $99
Selling point: A condenser mic specifically for streaming
The Seiren-X is what happens when you design a mic from the ground up for streaming. The diaphragm itself has an internal shock mount, it’s light, it’s small, and it packs away easily.
But most importantly, it has no controls. This is important, because 99% of condenser mics are set up incorrectly. By removing the controls, it forces the user to position it an appropriate distance from themselves, and in doing so, makes an immediate improvement in the vast majority of users. The first time I fired this up, people on discord asked if I had a new mic. Even heavily compressed, it still sounded far better. It has permanently displaced the dynamic mic I was using on account of its clarity, and excellent ability to filter out background noise.
For $99, this is a much easier choice than the Yeti.
Rode NT-USB: $168
Selling point: A spectacular condenser mic that always sounds great
Rode has an amazing tradition of making great condenser mics, but don’t let this one fool you – it’s not a USB version of the classic NT-1A (which I own), it’s the USB version of the NT1. The outside may look the same but the internals are all new. This doesn’t necessarily make it better, just more fit for purpose. This is a great mic for speaking with multiple people, recording guitar, or playing and singing. As for the split over the Sieren, that’s really down to taste, but the Rode is tasty. Very tasty. And it comes with a pop filter. And it looks very cool. And it sounds really warm. I really like this mic and recommend it to anyone. I’ve done that twice, and so far two out of two people have been incredibly happy, even the one with an extremely noisy room fan (??) which doesn’t seem to be a problem for some reason.
Behringer XM8500: $20 + interface
Selling point: 95% as good as a Shure SM58 at a fraction the cost
This is the last thing anyone would expect to see here, but hell, we’re doing it. Behringer makes cheap copies of well-known equipment. This is a dynamic mic for $20, or you can get a Shure SM58S for $110, and most people can’t tell the difference. It will put up with being shouted in, and transmit the bass in your voice well. Again, add a limiter in software and you’ve got a sweet vocal sound.
Obviously this doesn’t cover the cost of the audio interface required to pick it up, but if you have one already, or are buying into it cheap, this is absolutely the best value for money. I’ve tested all of the mics mentioned here, and I still use a Behringer XM for streaming.
Antlion Modmic Wireless: $129
Unique feature: Make your headphones a headset, but without wires!
It’s like the original modmic, but wireless! The wireless modmic has a USB dongle that uses a special low-latency bluetooth connection and has a field switch that lets you pick up the room or just yourself. I’m honestly considering using this as a wireless handheld mic. It uses the same flip-up magnetizing mount as the Modmic, but comes off completely if you want it to.
If you’re prepared to do hackery, you can also get it working with your Android phone, which makes for some pretty badass mobile streaming.
Rode NTG1: $250 + interface
Selling point: Sounds great without having a mic visible in frame
The only shotgun mic mentioned here, the NTG1 is very good at capturing sound directly in front of it, making shotguns a prime choice for broadcasters. It will capture some off-axis sound, but gosh, it’s just really sweet. The sounds are sweet and accurate. You don’t have to have a mic right in your face either. It is also the only mic listed that requires +48v Phantom power, so if you don’t have an audio interface capable of providing phantom, then you won’t be able to use the NTG1.
Rode has the best after-sales service of any mic company I’ve ever dealt with, and spent some time helping me debug a problem that turned out to be with a Canon camera, just because I had a Rode mic connected to it. Mark, if you’re reading this, thanks for your effort.
Rode is pronounced ‘road’, not ‘roadie’, by the way.
I use an NTG1 in my portable rig and it’s spectacular for interviews or small groups. It’s the most expensive of the TTGS group, but if it’s a natural sound you’re after, you can’t beat it.
Behringer XM1800S 3-pack: $40 + mixer interface
Selling point: 95% as good as a Shure SM58 at a fraction the cost
Again, surprises. You can get a 3-pack of dynamic behringer mics in a road case for $40. They sound near-indistinguishable from mics 6x the price and it doesn’t matter if they get lost, stolen or broken. You will need a mixer interface for this because by default, audio interfaces will attempt to assign channel 1 to Left and channel 2 to right. If you have two casters, this will pan one full left and one full right. You do not want this. Get a mixer that has a USB connection. Get a $5 colored foam wind shield to pretty it up if you want.
Audio-Technica BPHS-1: $160 + mixer interface
Selling point: Professional broadcast headset at less than half the price of its competition
The only repeat-appearance on this list, the BPHS-1’s dynamic microphones are great for casting because they’re attached to your head and they deal with variation in speech volumes very well. Again, given the nature of why you’d buy these, a mixer is a must.
Remember, sometimes professional doesn’t mean ‘the very best quality’, it means ‘the best effort:reward ratio with minimal screwing around’.
Neewer Boom Arm Mic Stand: $13.50
Whatever mic you choose, get one of these. They cost basically nothing, they mount to practically anything, and they’re awesome. Surprisingly durable considering it costs less than a good sandwich; we’ve bought 3 of them and will definitely get more in the future. Plenty of options too, with models containing USB cables, XLR cables or have integrated pop filters. And if you don’t like it, put it in a cupboard somewhere – you will find a use for it.
Part 4: Audio Interfaces
The sound of silence (with some mild hissing).
Your computer already came with a sound card so more than likely you don’t need another one. That’s all an audio interface is – a really fancy sound card with some special bits. That said, when you do need them, you really need them. Here’s where to look when you find those use cases.
Just starting out:
Don’t bother. You don’t need it.
I want to do better:
Astro Mixamp Pro TR: $130
Unique features: Tonnes of connectivity and two full-quality balanceable output channels
You may have gotten the wrong impression earlier – I don’t hate Astro. In fact, I’m thankful every day that they made this little gem of a thing. It is more expensive than the TTGS options presented here, but it works with your existing headset AND it’s a headphone amp as well, which Sennheiser users will appreciate.
Connectivity is spectacular. It’s a USB audio interface of its own, but it’s also got secondary 3.5mm and optical ports, as well as an Aux in that you can hear in your headset but doesn’t get recorded to stream. Add in the ability to daisy-chain them to create a private voice loop between adjacent mixamps and you’ve got a seriously powerful tool.
If you’re prepared to get a little weird, split the TRRS combo jack out, add a multi-out headphone amp on output, put a passive mixer on the input, and you’ve just made yourself a very cheap casting rig using just consumer equipment, thanks to the mic sidetone.
Or if you want to stream your Xbox One/PS4, you can hook the audio output from that up to the aux input so you can listen to the game live while still getting your PC’s notifications and alerts, and use your headset mic. We ran this setup just to prove that we could, and liked it so much that the model Astro sent us keeps being ‘liberated’. If you do plan to use the Aux input, pick yourself up a $10 Ground Loop Isolator, as running it from the same base power source as your secondary input can produce a mild buzz.
Note to self: Buy another Mixamp.
Time to get serious:
Behringer U-Phoria UMC202HD: $99
Selling point: Cheap reliable USB interface
I bought two of these. With my own money. They’re cheap, effective, clean, and have been a great way to have a redundant pair of interfaces when running multiple production boxes. There are a couple of sets of drivers to choose from, and I did have some issues getting the right versions running at first, but after that it’s very difficult to argue with. Regardless of anything, they also look quite cool when you put two on top of each other.
Presonus Audiobox 22VSL : $169
Don’t mistake this for the cheaper Audiobox USB; despite incredibly similar appearances and feature lists, the 22VSL is the one you want, and yes it is worth being $70 more. If you only need two inputs, this is the way to go. The mic preamps are warm and delightful, construction is rugged but still really pretty. Although Virtual Studio Live is no longer a thing, the VSL Audiobox is still a great interface at a reasonable price, and really good for picking up a mic or two. It’s also 2×2, meaning two input channels, two output channels, so there are options for some cool monitoring solutions.
Mackie ProFX8v2: $200
Selling point: A reliable USB mixer with plenty of I/O and onboard FX
If you’re recording more than one host at once, you need to seriously think about getting a USB mixer/interface. “But wait”, you ask in a fervored tone, “more than one? Those interfaces have two inputs”. You are correct, they most certainly do. But you should know that no modern streaming programs have the ability to split those up as separate inputs – they want to treat them as the Left and Right of a single Stereo input. This is a much more difficult to solve problem with no easy solution, except for a mixer. Like this one. The ProFX8v2 has some nice effects on board, and works instantly with any PC or Mac with no drivers to install. Great bit of kit.
Yamaha MG10XU: $200
Selling point: Small footprint USB mixer
Pretty much the same as the Mackie. Simpler to operate, way fewer controls, so if you’re less technically-minded this could be a better choice. The inputs are all XLR/TRS-compatible so if connectivity is important to you then this might be a priority. Technically it has two more channels, but 99% of people who buy these will never fill out their channel budget. No sliders, so it’s more space efficient, although that makes it harder to get a read on levels on the fly. That said, it’s unlikely that you as a broadcaster will be actively adjusting levels constantly, so it’s definitely targeted more for self-produced users than the Mackie which is more of a professional rig.
A massive chain of Astro Mixamp Pro TRs: $130 x5
Unique features: Local voice communications across multiple PCs
Hear me out. Again, this might be unexpected to most, but it’s one of those things how actors use hemorrhoid cream on their puffy eyes – “one weird trick”. Using the included ‘voice chat’ link cables on Mixamp Pro TRs creates a very simple local voice chat loop, and it’s all in hardware so it’s instant. If you ever have a need to broadcast more than one voice source, say hosting an event, or if you’ve got people on a LAN but only one PC broadcasting, using Discord / Teamspeak creates a weird echo and makes it incredibly hard to hear everything well or capture it. And, if you’re picking up broadcast feeds from multiple computers using XSplit’s Local Broadcast feature (or NDI) you’d usually get janky scene switching audio delay issues when it cuts over, but using the Pro TR’s voice chaining it works seamlessly. Buy as many as you need (and keep a spare one for yourself that just happens to accidentally come home with you for your PC).
Part 5: Lighting
A Candle In The Dark
All photography, and video is just really fast photography, is based on light. Lots of fancy equipment can work around suboptimal lighting, but you can get great shots on any gear with the right light. Here’s how to get it right the first time.
Just getting started:
Seriously just point some lights, any lights, at a wall. Light should be delivered to the subject from the same direction as the camera. That is, it should always be bouncing off the subject and then back towards the camera. Never point any raw light directly towards a camera. Trust me on this.
I want to do better:
The CN-160 represents the second-best value for money in this article, with the best being the other Neewer product, the mic boom arm in section 3. It makes light, and quite a lot of it. Sure, the construction is cheap, and there’s no AC adapter, but it can take a whole mess of different types of batteries (Panasonic CGR-D16S, Sony NP-FH70/NP-FM55H/NP-F550, 6xAA), and there’s an AC adapter available. It drops off after about 8 feet but that’s fine; you’ll probably never be that far from a camera anyway.
Time to get serious:
Neewer 18” Ringlight Kit + stands: $160
Selling point: Lots of light from a single source, makes your eyes cute
Ringlights make your eyes really super pretty and anime-like. Melonie Mac and OMGitsfirefoxx both use diffused ringlights and you should too. For regular PC-on-a-desk streams, this is all you’ll ever need; a soft, omni-directional-seeming light source with a nice spread. The stand will take up some space so you may need to mount them to a desk.
I use these lights for both streaming at home, and for live events. They’re bright enough to give you great coverage at close range, but not so bright you’ll be overwhelmed. There aren’t any brightness controls, but with diffusion at 1.5 feet, they’re totally fine. You will need to cut the diffusers significantly in order to fit them over the barndoors, but it’s worth it.
Between the incredible value for money, and the minimal space requirements, it’s difficult to not just recommend these to everyone.
FancierStudio F9004SB 3x Softboxes + Greenscreen + stand: $139.99
Selling point: Some seriously powerful lighting from further away
There’s no question that a trio of softboxes will give you the best look out of anything here, but they are massive, and you will need to learn how to arrange a lighting solution or things will look not quite right for reasons you don’t quite understand. But, with the included green-screen and rack, it’s difficult to argue against this if you have room for it.
You probably don’t have room for it though.
Fovitec 1200-bulb LED panel set: $560
Selling point: Tunable for exactly your needs
These panels are great, especially if you know people will be taking photos with phones or some other device with no ability to adjust color temperature. Small, mobile, and with two sets of LEDs between 3200K and 5500K, they offer a clean field that’s just as easily bounced off a wall. You could diffuse these if you wanted, but most might not bother. These have the best combination of portability, results and space usage anything on this list, with a price tag to match.
Part 6: Camera
Seeing Is Believing
Webcams exist. Here are some you can consider.
Before we start, some of you are going to say ‘but there are no DSLRs on this list’. That is correct. By and large, using a DSLR as a webcam, while feasible (in fact I’m doing it right now) is so much more trouble than it’s worth. You need external power, then you probably need a firmware hack (eg MagicLantern, NikonHacker) to disable power management or get a clean HDMI out, then you need to get the settings right, and get your workflow set up, etc etc … don’t ask. If you have to ask, it would be too difficult for you.
Try to use a Canon DSLR as a webcam. More trouble than it’s worth. The only exception to this is the Canon SL2 which has a clean HDMI out and power-off-disabling in the firmware.
Just starting out:
Logitech C920: $70
Selling point: Good optics, despite shitty software
There is nothing to say about the C920 at this point. It’s been the default industry standard for quite some time and nothing has changed. It is the best value for money, and will do an adequate job.
I want to do better:
Razer Kiyo: $78.99
Selling point: Has a light, has not been abandoned by the manufacturer
Logitech has utterly abandoned people who want control of their webcam. Razer has not. Fully integrated into the new Synapse 3 software, it’s easy to control your gain and exposure settings, which are absolutely critical to tailoring your camera to your lighting setup.
If you’re lucky enough to still have a copy of Logitech Webcam Software 2.81 you can probably extract better performance out of your C920, but since they’re purging it from the web, you’re probably out of luck.
The Kiyo’s light is kinda useless unless you’re in some pretty severe darkness, but overall, it’s become my main webcam.
Time to get serious:
Sony HDR-CX405: $179 + capture card
Selling point: Is a cheap video camera
This is an amazing value for money camera. I own two of these for studio-only close-up cameras and they’re super impressive. Power from USB, clean HDMI out, good low light performance, wide aperture, good zoom. Not the most features in the world, but it’ll output 1080p60 and has enough customization for most people.
GoPro Hero4 Black: $350 + capture card
Selling point: Creates a unique look and feel
Unbeknownst to most, GoPros actually make really good webcams. Their onboard microHDMI output is clean and aside from the regular low-light performance issues that all action cameras suffer from, they produce a really interesting look that will differentiate you from the crowd. The Hero4 is the last to have a dedicated microHDMI port – you’ll need a USB-C to HDMI cable if you want to use the 5, but as yet they have not been released.
Sony FDR-AX33: $750 + capture card
Selling point: Great performance out of the box
Sony video cameras have been good for a long time and this is no exception. Solid video quality and used by many professional youtubers on big channels. Light, small, hardy, and easy to mount. Definitely worth considering.
Canon VIXIA HF G40: $1059 + capture card
Selling point: Good optics, good quality
The HF G40 is a solid consumer camera. It doesn’t handle low light particularly well and can get a bit grainy, but there’s fine control and lots of configuration options. Good lens, great optical zoom, and the 58mm ring makes it easy to mount accessories. Check out 2mgovercsquared for an example – her Vixia set up is tight.
Canon XA30: $1799 + capture card
Unique features: Two XLR ports for shotgun or handheld mics direct into the camera
The XA30 is the professional version of the Vixia, and has professional XLR audio options, allowing the mounting of shotgun mics or handhelds which is really great for interviews. I’ve used these for LoL World Championships, Intel Extreme Masters, Pokemon Go streams and my own streaming – recommend for ease of use and workflow.
Sony HDR-CX405 …. again?: $179 + capture card
Selling point: Is cheap camera
Yes, again. These are cheap enough you can afford to buy them in bulk and just throw them anywhere. They’re pretty flimsy and will take nearly no punishment, but if you want additional shots for not a lot of money, it’s good value.
Part 7: Capture cards
Gotta Capture ‘Em All
If you’re using a camera with HDMI out, or capturing from a console, you need a capture device to get that signal into the computer. They generally use USB3, Thunderbolt or PCI-E, but not always..
Just getting started:
Xbox App / PS4 Remoteplay: Free
Obviously these are alternatives to capturing your console gameplay via a capture card, and neither of these help you with a camera, but they’re both excellent for trying out whether or not you want to console stream. And they have the added bonus of running over the network so no additional cabling. You can view some comparison videos on my youtube channel.
I want to do better:
Elgato HD60: $89
Selling point: Is a cheap capture card
The cheapest option, the HD60 can happily capture 1080p60 on USB2, but there’s a catch – it does onboard h264 compression to get over the USB2 bandwidth limitation, so the signal is about 650ms delay. You can also inject 3.5mm audio if your audio source is separate, but be aware – if your signal comes through in 5.1 you may not be able to capture it as the Elgato will not downmix it to stereo.
Beware – the Elgato drivers will only support one device per machine. Don’t buy two, they won’t work together. This issue exists on the HD, but the HD60S and HD60Pro support up to four per machine. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Pricing varies wildly depending on what’s on sale any given month.
Razer Ripsaw HD: $155
Unique features: Solves the console-streaming-audio-monitoring problem
The Razer Ripsaw HD is a huge improvement over the original. Featuring a USB-C connection on the device side, and a fantastic software-side upgrade that tells you what video signal you’re receiving (so you can select it in OBS/etc), it’s just overall more stable, quicker to set up, and has input/output options that make it super easy to stream with a PS4/Xbox and get all your audio monitoring needs taken care of. You can plug your mic and headphone straight into it! Super easy. A+, huge improvement, love mine.
Elgato HD60 Pro: $159
Selling point: Is PCI-E, has low latency
Like the HD60, except PCI-E and with no delay. Can use up to four at the same time, if you use this special driver, although be aware it’s not on the main software branch so updates are sparse. Good quality, and worth considering if you want internal, which if you’re only ever running from a desktop PC, may be worth doing. The HD60-S is available as well at the same price point, but works better than the standard HD60 because it uses USB3.
Time to get serious:
Blackmagic Intensity Pro 4K: $190
Selling point: Targeted towards power users
A more serious internal capture card than the HD60 Pro, the Intensity Pro 4K does, as the name suggests, support 4K capture. Blackmagic can be more finicky than Elgato but overall the results can be more professional depending on your workflow. The drivers are definitely more stable as well.
Magewell XI100DUSB-HDMI: $300
Selling point: Driverless and stable
I know there are already several external USB capture cards on this list, and this one is nearly double the price of the others, but if you need a high-quality device that works anywhere with no drivers and need it to be reliable and stay sync’d, this one’s your ticket. Magewell makes really good stuff, and because of that it’s expensive. There is no pass-through on this, it is designed for capture – making it ideal for cameras.
Elgato Cam Link: $129
Selling point: Specifically designed for camera capture for streaming
One of the cheaper cards on the market, the Cam Link is well-sized and is specifically designed to take your camera input. The serious USB bandwidth it consumes makes it difficult to stack – only one per USB controller is supported. This is a good option if you only need one cam, or you know you have multiple controllers on your machine.
The Magewell Pro Capture Quad (or X4) is a four-input HDMI capture card. This means you can capture four simultaneous sources at once. You might assign one port to a Spectator client, one to a host, one to an analyst desk and one to shoot the crowd. You might put three cameras on the desk and swap between shots of individual people. Who knows! But you’ve got options. Because it’s Thunderbolt 3, it’s easy to get a laptop you can plug it into, or if you want to plug it in at home, a PCI-E Thunderbolt 3 card is $20. This is a core component of a Studio In A Box and should not be ignored, as stacking the cheaper options can get messy.
If you don’t have Thunderbolt 3, but have TB1 or TB2 ports like many Macbook Pros, this unit is wonderful. They’re small, light and can capture up to 1080i60. You read that right – no 1080p60. The drivers can also be questionable, as you need to tell it /exactly/ what format it’s receiving, and what framerate, and what interlacing. If you get any of these wrong, you get no picture. These two things push it off the main list and onto the Honorable Mention list, but I keep two in my broadcast travel box just in case.
These HDMI duplicators do exactly what you think they do. One port in, two ports out. I have an array of them behind my TV heading into a secondary HDMI switch so I can stream consoles without replugging anything. Always leave one in your gig bag, just in case. And the lights come on when they get a valid HDMI signal so if you think your patching is off, you can test!
Part 8: Laptops for encoding
I’m going to break the pattern here because we’re delving into hardcore territory – Streaming Laptops.
This sounds crazy, but hear me out. Many people have a laptop and a computer, but very few people can justify (or have space for) two computers.
A second computer with a capture card will almost always produce better results than streaming from the computer you’re playing from. To do this effectively, you run your broadcast program on the computer you’re playing from, but assign the output to a secondary monitor. Plug this monitor port into your capture card on the second machine, and set up a broadcast program on there that’s ONLY taking in the capture card. This way, you’ve effectively split off your encoding entirely to one machine, leaving it free to do all the hard work.
I’ve tested my own laptops, and here are the results with the most effective encoding settings. More will be added here as people and companies donate them for testing purposes. Laptops and settings listed here is the best a device is capable of, that conforms to Twitch standards.
Tests were performed with an Elgato HD60 taking in a 1080p60 video feed, encoded with XSplit. It’s important to note that any time a machine hits thermal throttling, the CPU is creating too much heat, and is forced to reduce it’s speed. This can produce inconsistent results if it seesaws on and off thermal.
- Download this video.
- Install XSplit
- Set canvas to 1920x108p60 @ 6000kbps
- Add video to scene
- Set video to loop when finished
- Select an encoding method (x264, NVENC, Quicksync, VCE)
- Stream to a channel
- Visit inspector.twitch.tv
- Verify that bitrate and framerate are stable
- Visually verify that channel playback is smooth.
- Repeat for all other encoding types. For x264, you need to determine the highest working encoding quality.
Ratchet down settings in the following order to find the best working stream quality:
1080P -> 720p
6000kbps -> 4500 -> 3500 -> 2500
If still unacceptable at 720p30@2500, throw your laptop into the ocean
Razer Blade (2016)
Intel Core i7-6700HQ @ 2.6ghz (boost to 3.1ghz)
– x264 Superfast, 65% cpu, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps
– QuickSync, 45% cpu 1080p30 @ 6000kbps
– NVEnc, 45% cpu 1080p60 @ 6000kbps *best*
Apple Retina Macbook Pro (2015)
Intel Core i7-4870QU 2.5ghz
– x264 Veryfast, 75% cpu, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps (thermal throttling, 1.6ghz to 2.3ghz)
– VideoCodecEngine, 25% cpu, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps, 2.5ghz
The Retina MBP is by far the worst thermal offender, although VCE uses the AMD R370X to do its encoding, which is why the CPU usage is far lower.
Intel Core i7-6600U @ 2.5ghz (3.0)
– QuickSync, 65% cpu, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps, thermal throttling to 2.5
Apple Mac Mini (2014)
Intel Core i5 @ 2.6ghz
– Apple H.264, 75% cpu, 1080p60 @ 6000kbps
MUST DISABLE STRICT CBR OR JANKY KEYFRAMES WILL GIVE YOU A SEIZURE
Each of these options and pieces of hardware have pros and cons. When it comes to broadcasting, there is never any ‘best option’, only the one that best suits a particular use case or budget. There are many ways to send your message to the world, but if you want to get it right the first time, take what you’ve learned here and use it to guide where your money is spent, to make sure you get the best value.
All prices in USD and listed at Amazon.com
Thank you to those who provided additional suggestions and contributions: