There’s a lot to think about before buying equipment. For example, why you’re doing the show, podcast name and artwork, target audience, release frequency and editing workflow. BUT, if you wanna know what to expect after thinking through those things, what’s below should get you started.
This is the #1 question I get and probably one of the top things you’re thinking about. And you should. Having a good microphone will solve a lot of audio quality issues. The other thing that will help is controlling for as many environmental variables as possible. Stuff like open windows, an AC or refrigerator running nearby, typing and tapping sounds, and vacuum cleaners revving up will annoy you during editing.
Anyway, about microphones. I’m gonna give you one recommendation because it’s the one I’ve used. If you have cohosts, I encourage you to get them on the same page early. If their microphone sucks, the show sucks. Don’t have a sucky show. Nobody likes that.
The ATR2100 is one of the most recommended podcast microphones out there. I’ve used it for over four years now and have had no issues.
It’s a great mic that’s decently priced. You have the option to plug it into your computer or run it into more advanced audio equipment, which means it can grow with the show and save you money later.
One of the things I love about this microphone is the pickup or polar pattern. You can think of this as the area around the mic where it picks up the most sound. The ATR2100 is great at picking up what’s in front of it, while ignoring a lot of the sounds that come from the sides and the rear. This is great if you’re in a room with echo or recording in-person with others (that have similar quality mics). If you choose not to go with the ATR2100 or the next recommendation, I encourage you to look for one with a cardioid pickup pattern. Learn more about that and the other patterns here.
To get the most out of this mic, you need to be directly in front of it. As soon as you start moving away, around and upside down, your voice drops off fast. Here’s an unedited sample I recorded so you can hear how I sound on it:
Electro-Voice RE20 (Warning: It’s not cheap and not necessary for beginners or even the experienced.)
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a high-end microphone I researched for a while before purchasing. I don’t recommend buying this if you’re starting a show. You may not even need it if you’ve been podcasting for a while. For me, it was a gift to self after five years of podcasting. The audiophiles will notice the difference in clarity and warmth right away. It’s also a bit more forgiving if you move around while talking. Check out the clip below to hear how it sounds with me recording in my living room.
You should buy a wind screen (the foam microphone cover) and/or pop filter. Both help with softening plosives (you know them when you hear them). When I’m recording at home, I use the pop filter only. When I’m traveling, I bring the wind screen since I may not have a place to connect the pop filter.
Depending on your setup, you should consider a shock mount to prevent your microphone from absorbing vibration from whatever surface the mic stand is on. I’ve used this one, which screws onto most mic stands. The most common vibration I’ve experienced is from typing and my knee accidentally bumping the desk.
If you do plan to frequently type while recording, I suggest having your microphone elevated using a boom arm. A note of caution that some of the boom arms contain external coils that will produce a metallic vibration if you tap your desk or hit a plosive too hard. They also don’t move where you need them to be as easily.
I went from the one linked above to the Rode PSA1 boom arm and had zero issues. It’s $100, but I’ll pay a premium for things that will save me time later. What I like most is how easily it connects to and doesn’t damage a table or desk and how smooth it swivels, raises and lowers. There are no external coils, which makes me happy. If you’re just getting started, this may be overkill. Your best bet is to record a few episodes and then reassess whether this will help your workflow.
USB Audio Interface (Not required if using a USB mic)
An audio interface is a device that converts an XLR/analog signal to the digital one needed to record onto your computer. Otherwise you’re stuck looking at the end of a cable and wondering why it’s round and has prongs inside. Again, if your mic plugs directly into your computer, this is optional!
I’ve been using the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Interface and it’s worked like a charm. This one is good for two mics, but you can find versions that will take more if needed. It’s easy to travel with and doesn’t require you have 16-11 cables. All you need is one mic…and the USB cable that’s included. You can even plug headphones in if you have the Stereo to 1/4-inch jack.
Editor’s Note: In order to pick up both mics in your recording software, you will need to record in STEREO instead of MONO. This will pick up one mic on the left and the other mic on the right side of the track. Noting this because when you play back, you will hear one mic only in one ear and then the other mic in the other ear. This is why!
Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype ($)
For recording our Skype calls, I use Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype. It outputs a file that can be uploaded into any audio editor. Please note that it’ll be you on one track and however many other folks are on the recording on the other track. This can be a pain if you get people talking over each other since it’s difficult to edit any one person out with the voices on the same track. I’m hoping one day it splits out all voices onto separate ones. But for now, we endure.
I currently use Squadcast to capture the best audio for myself, my cohost and guests aka remote interviews. It’s a browser-based program that allows recording to be done locally or on each person’s computer then automatically uploaded to the cloud for easy access. You can download the vocal tracks directly from the Squadcast site. If you’re doing solo shows, this service is unnecessary since you can record directly on your computer.
Since the files are being recorded locally, the sound quality stays high vs. dealing with the hiccups and degradation that happens over Skype. Squadcast has a few plans that allow you access to both the .mp3 and .wav files.
If you’re like “what the hell is all this wav and mp3 quality stuff,” think of it this way: the .wav file is the purest version of the recording, while the .mp3 file has been altered (compressed) to reduce file size.
The average human ear won’t notice the difference since we’ve been living in an MP3 world for so long. To put it in perspective, CD tracks (remember those?) were .wav files. If you’re a music purist or audiophile, you probably notice that they sound more crisp than the MP3’s we hear today. Things just ain’t the way they used to be!
But if the file starts at a reduced quality (.mp3), then you have to edit and re-save as a .mp3, you reduce the sound quality twice. Again, the average podcast listener won’t notice. But if you’re like me, you hear the little things.
I’ve also noticed an uptick in folks using Zoom.us to record their shows. It’s already very popular for video meetings, webinars, etc. However, I do notice a different in a slight difference in audio quality.
For recording self only or post production (editing after recording), I use Audacity. It’s free, but like any audio editing software, it has a learning curve. If you want to produce quality audio, you’ll need to figure out this or another program (GarageBand, Adobe Audition). I use it to remove background noise, stitch the show together when there are technical difficulties, modify volume if one of us talked really low at some point, etc.
I have not worked with any other program, but can say that if you’re a beginner, go with what feels the least intimidating. For those with Macs, GarageBand may suffice.
Auphonic ($ possibly)
I also use the Auphonic leveler. There’s both a desk/laptop and web version, but if your internet connection is slow, the latter takes forever. I like it because it automatically levels the tracks so one voice doesn’t sound louder than the other. It also does some noise removal and other foundational tasks. Look into it if you want a faster way to handle the basics. The one pitfall is that if you have a consistent background noise (air conditioner), it may get amplified in certain spots depending how it mixes with your voice. Best advice: Remove the background noise unless you absolutely need it!
I suggest you have a notepad handy or doc open while recording. You’ll want to write down time markers where weird stuff happens (i.e. connection drops temporarily) so you can easily find the problem spots during post-editing. This will save you the struggle of having to listen to whole shows to figure out what needs to be edited out. However when editing, I encourage you to start from the end of your show and work your way back to the beginning so the time markers stay true.
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