At a time when home office setups matter more than ever, video meetings are an everyday occurrence, and most people have a little bit of a content creator or livestreamer in them, it’s important that you sound your best. Whatever you have to say, how you say it is important, and that means coming across clearly, as well.
Dedicated microphones are increasingly becoming the norm (they’re not just for podcasters anymore!), and for good reason, too. The sound quality contemporary USB microphones offer is miles ahead of what we used to expect out of in-built and headset microphones, and it’s easier than ever to upgrade your audio setup with a simple purchase. But what kinds of things make a standalone microphone stand out? And more importantly, how can a humble microphone actively make your life easier?
That’s a question SteelSeries has clearly tried to answer in its new Alias line of dedicated microphones, encompassing the Alias and the Alias Pro. Designed as an easy, all-in-one solution, the Alias range caters to everyday users, streamers and content creators, as well as offering a pathway for people to get far more serious about their audio needs.
The first and most important consideration for when you’re thinking about a good microphone is, of course, the sound quality. While the broadcast microphones of old can very quickly hit price points of multiple thousands of dollars, modern audio tech has allowed contemporary microphones to offer a recording studio-quality level of audio fidelity at much more reasonable prices, and with more practically useful bells and whistles attached, too.
A simple USB-C plug is all it takes to open up the door to professional audio quality. Both the SteelSeries Alias and Alias Pro feature custom microphone condensers, which are reportedly over 3 times the size of other rival USB microphones (1-inch in diameter), and in the world of audio, bigger does mean better. A bigger condenser technically allows the microphone to better capture a wider and more dynamic range of frequencies in your voice, which leads to a much richer and true-to-life sound, full of character and nuance. Hop on a voice call with a mic like the Alias, and the people on the other end of the line will undoubtedly notice the difference.
Noise cancelling technology has also become a godsend in recent years, and when used in tandem with the SteelSeries Sonar software suite, the SteelSeries Alias range can make use of Sonar’s ClearCast AI Noise Cancelling tech. At its most extreme, it can block out a hairdryer running right next to your microphone while preserving your voice, but on a more practical level, it can very easily block out any ambient fan noise, and even the clacking of mechanical keyboards, so you don’t need to worry about changing your setup to cater to the upgrade.
Another must is considering your mic stand, since how it’s affected by the physical world around it can also have a roll-on effect on the audio. The SteelSeries Alias line comes bundled with a shock mount, which helps to absorb the thuds that come from vibrations when you accidentally bang your desk – though it’s important to note that the mic is broadly compatible with other mic stands and arms as well, with SteelSeries releasing its own boom arm in Australia and New Zealand before the end of 2023.
Audio monitoring and the ability to easily adjust things is another clear must when it comes to dedicated microphones. You want things to be so straightforward that you can easily adjust things on the fly, so when someone remarks that they can’t quite hear you, you can quickly adjust the audio gain, avoiding the need to raise your voice, and letting you speak naturally.
Both the SteelSeries Alias and Alias Pro have incorporated these conveniences in a neat little way. On the Alias, it’s through via a “hidden” LED audio meter that shines through the material of the microphone itself, visible only to you on the front of the device, with the gain dial right there on the unit of the core Alias. A big X also shows up when muted, so you can easily confirm as much, and avoid those awkward moments when you start talking and no-one can hear you. It’s a very neat execution that is especially handy when you’re in the middle of speaking, and need to stay focused – being able to monitor and adjust discreetly is a boon for keeping up your professional persona. On the Alias Pro, these features are placed on the dedicated control deck with clear backlit buttons, allowing for the potential for a host to adjust the mic of a guest, or an offside producer to take the reins.
The other key consideration is how your mic interfaces with your computer at the other end of the cord – the software level, and how it can make your life easier there. Being a SteelSeries product, the Alias mics interface with the company’s slick Sonar software interface.
SteelSeries Sonar provides features like 360° spatial audio, voice filters, and an intuitive audio routing and mixing interface to better adjust the audio input and output level of your streaming and communications software, games, and audio devices. Unlike the standard audio mixer on Windows and Mac, it places an importance on games, and there are a number of game-specific presets to start off with.
Once you get comfortable, you can easily personalise and tweak your audio output with the 10-band parametric equaliser, or your microphone input with a 10-band graphic equaliser to bring out the sounds that matter most – you can even apply separate equaliser profiles to your game sound and chat sound.
For those who dabble in live streaming, Sonar also has a dedicated mode for you: Sonar for Streamers. With a quick toggle, Sonar provides an alternative interface which provides a lot of help in more clearly managing and adjusting complicated audio setups. You can set up new audio channels and easily route them (or not) to different outputs and applications like your broadcasting software, Discord, or your games, while also being able to adjust, mix, and mute them all on the fly without needing to leave the window.
If you consider yourself a bit more ambitious than most, or you’re just a little more detail-oriented, the Alias Pro sports a few bonus advantages at the interface and mixing level. The Alias Pro has the added advantage of having an extra suite of controls housed on a separate audio mixer, which allows for more nuanced adjustments via a couple of very satisfying dials, which can also be customised and remapped for various purposes.
On top of this, the Pro is better equipped to handle a larger variety of potential setups above plug-and-play. The mic can be connected to two PC setups simultaneously (for example, if your livestreaming machine is separate to your gaming machine, and you need your voice to be present on both), and the Alias Pro mic itself also sports an XLR input jack and supports +48V phantom power (which are both vital when you start heading into the truly professional space).
For the vast majority of circumstances, especially if these are your first steps into upgrading your audio game, a fully-featured USB plug-and-play microphone that prioritises all these factors, like the SteelSeries Alias does, is all you need to sound like a pro – whether it’s talking to your boss, giving a presentation on a video meeting, addressing your audience on a livestream, or simply talking to your friend and loved ones over voice chat.