How to Make Livestreams Sound Good: Easy Options for Better Sound Quality

With stay-at-home orders in full effect around the country and world, many musicians have taken to livestreaming as a way to continue to perform for their fans. And although some livestream services encourage (or require) you to stream through your phone or tablet, that doesn't mean you have to settle for your device's built-in microphone.

In the rush to bring your music to fans, a musician may, for example, just prop their phone up on their kitchen table and hope for the best, leading to virtual performances that can be too loud, too quiet, or with very little bass or treble information coming through at all.

Luckily, there are some convenient and relatively simple ways to improve the sound of your livestream, whether you're a solo musician, a DJ, or an ensemble. It just requires some extra pieces of gear and a little bit of effort.

It's important to note: Some of the limitations in sound quality are due to restrictions Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms put on their services: which can range from limiting audio/video input sources to narrowing bandwidth sizes or requiring mono-only mixes. There are also limitations inherent in your phone, tablet, or computer: from their connectivity options to available CPU.

To get around some limitations, you may have to get creative with third-party software like the free and open-source OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) or other streaming programs. But that's not what we'll get into in our guide.

Below, we're going to run through a few different ways you can easily (and cheaply) improve the sound of your livestreams with some available and easy-to-use hardware.

Option One: Use a Mobile Mic

If you're playing an instrument or singing into a phone or tablet, the easiest way you can raise the audio quality of your livestream is to use an external mobile mic. With options available from Blue, IK Multimedia, Rode, Shure, and other manufacturers, you'll be able to find a mic that plugs directly into your device and immediately offers better sound quality. Some even offer stereo recording.

Popular mobile mics on Reverb include: the IK Multimedia iRig Studio Mic, Blue Raspberry Studio, and Shure MV88

Option Two: Use an Audio Interface

A lot of the best advice about improving livestream quality comes down to the audio interface. If you're not using one already for home-recording purposes, you should rectify that immediately.

Using an audio interface automatically levels-up your livestreamed audio quality because it bypasses the weak, do-it-all microphone on your mobile device and allows you to use external mics and even instrument inputs.

If you're quarantining away from your bandmates or are a solo musician already, all you really need is a two-channel interface with two inputs for a mic and your guitar, or other instrument. If more than one player or singer will be involved in your livestream, you can pair your interface with a multi-channel mixer that gives you even more input potential. More on that later.

How to Use a USB Interface with Your Phone or Mobile Device

If you already have a USB audio interface on hand, you can use that as long as it's class compliant—meaning that it doesn't require additional software or drivers to function. Most modern USB audio interfaces are class compliant, but be sure to check yours before you decide that it's the right piece of gear for your livestream setup.

The next step is obtaining the correct USB adapter for your phone or tablet. So, if you have an iOS device, you're going to need a male lightning cable to female USB adapter. If you're using an android device, you'll probably need a male USB-C cable to female USB adapter, and so on. Regardless of which kind of adapter you need, it shouldn't set you back more than a few dollars.

Another important thing to note is that USB interfaces generally get their power from that USB connection, which is all well and good if you're plugging into a computer with its own power adapter. But if you're using your phone or tablet to livestream, you might find that those devices will lose their battery lives quickly.

Using a Standalone Mobile Audio Interface

If you're more interested in a truly mobile solution without all of the adapters, you're in luck. There are a variety of solid audio interfaces built specifically for use with mobile devices.

One of the best series of mobile interfaces is the "iRig" product line from IK Multimedia. The iRig interfaces come in a few different shapes and sizes and are especially easy to work.

The iRig 2 and iRig 2 HD are both solid choices for solo guitarists in particular, as they each feature two quarter-inch inputs for routing your guitar in and your amp out. For mobile interfaces capable of taking signals from standard microphones and a range of instruments, you can check out the iRig Pro I/O Mobile Audio Interface or iRig Pro Duo 2-Channel Interface, a particularly convenient solution for a vocalist/acoustic player trying to livestream as easily as possible with the highest audio quality.

Option Three: Use Mics, a Mixer & an Interface

If your livestream performance is going to feature more than just you and your guitar—and especially if it features a full band's worth of instruments—you'll gain a lot of fidelity by adding a mixer and a full complement of microphones to your audio interface setup.

As with audio interfaces, mixers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with different feature sets and at varying price points. Mobile-centered mixers like the Roland Go:Mixer and Go:Mixer Pro are favorites of this new livestreaming era—so much so that they're now hard to find.

But if you can also pair a standard mixer along with a USB audio interface for a more expansive feature set, giving you more instrument and mic inputs and more precise control of how everything sounds.

A mixer could also be important to your setup if you're trying to livestream a DJ set, or if you're a synth player trying to perform live with more than one synth or controller.

If you require a mixer for your livestream setup, you don't necessarily need to go after the most robust and expensive option—mixers like the Mackie Mix8 Compact or Behringer Xenyx and Mackie Ultra Compact both come in under $100 USD. And even larger analog mixers like the Yamaha MG10XU can be found for affordable prices.

Lastly, you'll want to make sure that you have at least a few decent mics, especially if you're recording vocals.

Whatever you already have at home—maybe a Shure SM57 or SM58—is already going to be leagues better than your cell phone or tablet mic. But if you want to pick up a mic that's specifically well-suited for vocal performances, you can check out our 5 Best Microphones for Recording Vocals piece. There, we recommend a few mics that handle vocals particularly well, from value buys like the Audio-Technica AT2020 up to prosumer picks like the Neumann TLM 103.

Option Four: Use Your Recording Setup & a Mobile Interface/Mixer

Now, let's assume that you already have a computer-based home-recording setup that works for you, but you want to stream on a platform like Instagram Live, which requires you to record on your phone.

By outputting the audio signal from your DAW into a mobile interface, you can have the sound-quality, mix, and even some of your favorite plugins from your DAW, while transporting the audio into a your phone.

This might be the simplest way of all to get the tone and mix that sounds best to you—so long as you already have a recording setup you like. The iRig Pro Duo 2-Channel Interface or other mobile interfaces and mixers mentioned above could be all you need. With two channels, you can take the stereo mix from your standard audio interface and bring your mix from your DAW to your fans.

Have you found a different solution that works best for you? Let us know in the comments.

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