It wasn’t that long ago that only professionals worried about audio and video production. Now, more of us than ever are creating audio or video content and realizing how important high-quality sound is. That is the exact type of person that the JBL Quantum Stream microphone is meant for.
Like the rest of JBL’s Quantum line, this microphone is partly aimed at gamers. As the name of the mix implies, it’s particularly aimed at gamers who stream on Twitch and elsewhere.
Is JBL correct in assuming there’s a market for gaming microphones as there is for gaming headphones? Maybe, but the Quantum Stream has a few issues that you may need to look past.
Build and Mounting
- Dimensions: 95 x 100 x 245mm (3.74 x 3.94 x 9.65in)
- Weight: 248g (8.75oz)
The JBL Quantum Stream has a nice look, with a sleek black exterior. Once you plug it into your computer, the LED ring at the bottom lights up. It’s a nice complement to a gaming PC, but if you’re not a fan of this aesthetic, it may not appeal to you.
When you first pick up the Quantum Stream, you may have some fears about its reliability. This is an extremely light microphone, especially as USB microphones go. Fortunately, despite the lightweight, the mic feels like you don’t have to be too careful with it.
The Quantum Stream has a built-in stand, which is a little short but will work if you’re looking to use it on your desk. This is far from the only way to use it, as JBL has included a reversible mount that lets you mount it to booms or camera tripods in addition to its own stand.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is a side-address microphone, meaning you speak into the side of it (where the volume knob is), not the top. The top is actually a capacitive button, so if you speak into it as you would a front-address mic like the Shure SM7b, your sound will be muffled.
- Connection: USB-C
- Headphone jack: 3.5mm
- Bit depths: 16-bit, 24-bit
- Sample rates: 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz
The JBL Quantum Stream connects to your computer or other devices via USB-C. A USB-A to USB-C cable is included in the box, but there is no USB-C to USB-C cable. This means if you’re using a Mac or Android device, for example, you’ll need an adapter.
The only other connection on the Quantum Stream is a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the microphone. This lets you hear your voice to make sure everything sounds good before you start recording. There are some issues with how this all works, but we’ll get to that later.
With a normal XLR microphone, you need an audio interface to record sound into your computer. With a USB microphone like the Quantum Stream, it effectively has a built-in audio interface to deliver audio to and from your computer.
The Quantum Stream features 16-bit or 24-bit audio, though in almost all cases you’ll want to use 24-bit for better sound quality. Supported sample rates are 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, and 96 kHz. Technically, higher sample rates mean better sound, but the difference won’t be very noticeable.
Getting Started With the JBL Quantum Stream
Setting up the Quantum Stream is easy. Plug it into your computer, and you’ll instantly see a prompt to install the JBL QuantumENGINE app for Windows. This software is only available for Windows, though the microphone itself will work on other devices.
The app lets you adjust key features of the microphone like the polar pattern and EQ settings. At the same time, it also lets you tweak less essential settings like the color of the LED light strip at the bottom of the microphone.
The QuantumENGINE app also works with other JBL Quantum products, like the Quantum TWS earbuds. This is handy if you have multiple JBL products, as you can manage them all without launching another app.
There are some important settings that you can only change using the QuantumENGINE app, so it’s useful that it nearly installs itself. That said, an extra button or two on the mic for some of these settings would have been nice.
Recording and Controls
- Microphone capsule: Dual 14mm electret condenser
- Frequency response: 20Hz to 20,000Hz
Many microphones, especially in this price range, have a single pickup pattern. This is usually a cardioid pattern, which means that the microphone picks up what is directly in front of its capsule, rejecting sound from the side and rear of the microphone.
The JBL Quantum Stream opts for a dual 14mm electret condenser capsule, supporting two pickup patterns. One is cardioid as mentioned above, while the other is omnidirectional. As the name implies, this picks up sound from all around the mic.
For the vast majority of people looking at a USB mic in this price range, cardioid is going to get the most use. If you’re a single person, all the omnidirectional mode will do compared to cardioid is pick up more of the sound of your room, which you probably don’t want.
If you’re recording a podcast with multiple people but only one mic, the omnidirectional mode could be useful. Just keep in mind that this doesn’t create a stereo track, so while it will pick up voices from around the room, they’re still recorded in mono.
There is a single knob on the front of the mic that lets you adjust the volume of your headphones if they’re plugged in. Pushing this button in and adjusting it will raise and lower the gain of the mic, adjusting the level of the recording. You can also quickly mute the mic by tapping the top of the mic, handy for Zoom calls or streaming.
In cardioid mode, sound quality is good as long as you’re not more than a few feet away from the front of the microphone. Omnidirectional, on the other hand, seems to pick up every bad characteristic of the room you’re in. Considering most of us don’t have acoustically treated studios to record in, this can be a major issue.
Microphone Audio Sample: Cardioid
Microphone Audio Sample: Omnidirectional
If you’re streaming on Twitch or even doing a video call, chances are good that you don’t need to hear your own voice. This means that whether you plug your headphones into your computer or the headphone jack on the bottom of the mic, it will sound fine to you.
On the other hand, if you’re recording a podcast, you probably want to hear how your voice sounds to make sure everything sounds okay. If you listen through the software you’re using to record, there will be a significant delay. Latency-free monitoring is why JBL included a headphone jack on the Quantum Stream.
Having the volume knob for monitoring directly on the front of the mic is useful. The only issue is that before this works at all, you need to enable it in the Windows-only QuantumENGINE software. Even worse, it’s difficult to find this setting, as JBL opted to call the feature Side Tone.
If you’re a broadcast professional, you probably know the term “side tone.” For anyone else, this term makes far less sense than “direct monitoring,” a term often used by audio interface manufacturers. Considering the market for the Quantum Stream, this is an odd choice.
The name of the feature isn’t much of an issue. What is much more of an issue is tying it to the Windows-only app. This immediately reduces the usefulness of the Quantum Stream, as this is the type of feature I frequently turn off and on, depending on what I’m doing.
A simple button on the mic to turn direct monitoring—or even better, a dedicated volume knob—isn’t uncommon on other USB mics, even lower-priced models. Why JBL didn’t include that feature here is baffling.
Should You Buy the JBL Quantum Stream?
The JBL Quantum Stream doesn’t offer mind-blowing sound quality, but in cardioid mode, it sounds similar to other mics in this same price range. The omnidirectional mode is useful, but be prepared to deal with a few options in post-production.
If you need a better microphone for streaming or video chatting, the JBL Quantum Stream will do the trick. Assuming the gamer-style LED lights appeal to you, it can make a great addition to your battle station.
That said, the Windows-only software that is required for key features like enabling direct monitoring is a major drawback. If you use a Mac or need a more general-purpose mic, look elsewhere.
JBL Quantum Stream
$79 $100 Save $21
- Sounds good in cardioid mode
- Multiple mounting options are handy
- LED lighting effects look nice
- Light but sturdy feeling
- Windows-only JBL QuantumENGINE required for key features
- Omnidirectional mode doesn’t sound great