What Mic and Other Equipment Do I Need to Podcast?
Before I launched my first podcast, I spent hours googling microphones and other equipment. I’m not a huge tech person. I just wanted someone to tell me exactly what I needed. But I kept reading conflicting advice. Or, I’d see someone ask an equipment question in an online forum, and they’d never get a straight answer, just a lot of, “Well, it depends…” And sometimes it does depend. But sometimes you just want an answer! So on episode five of Podcasting Step by Step, I share the exact hardware and software I use to podcast and why. These products and services will likely work for you, too.
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To start a podcast, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on mics and mixers. In fact, do not worry about mixers at all. Those come in handy when you have a live show and want to add in-the-moment music and sound effects, but to record a solo or interview show, you do not need a mixer.
What you need for a solo show
Editing/recording software, and
Podcast media host.
You’ll also need a computer on which to edit, but I’m guessing you have that, or at least have computer access. Technically you can also create a podcast on your phone these days via apps like Anchor, but it’s much easier to edit and mix your episodes on a computer (and services like Anchor do not have everything you need to produce a great sounding show).
Let’s break down your equipment needs.
There are several different kinds of microphones. The two most popular for podcasting are dynamic and condenser mics. The biggest difference? Condenser mics are more sensitive and pick up all the sounds around them, including noise you don’t want showing up in your episode.
I started out with a Blue Yeti microphone because so many podcast articles and blog posts recommended it. This was not a great choice for me because the Blue Yeti is a condenser mic, and I’m often recording in a city with neighbors on the other side of the wall, people coming in and out of the building and other noise.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a recording studio, choose a dynamic mic with a cardioid polar pattern. A polar pattern just means where the microphone is picking up sound. A cardioid mic picks up sound mostly from the front and a little on the sides, which is what you want for your podcast.
I switched from the Blue Yeti to the Audio-Technica ATR2100, which is one of the most popular mics out there. At around $65, it sounds great and comes with a stand to make recording easier -- you don’t want to hold the mic and risk handling noise getting into your recording. Plus, it can just be awkward.
If you buy that mic, sometimes it’s bundled with other accessories like a windscreen. That’s the foam covering that will go over the head of the mic to prevent plosives -- those harsh ‘p’ and ‘b’ sounds that happen when you say words like ‘Paul’ and ‘boy’ into the microphone.
With a dynamic mic, you need to speak close to it, but not too close, or you could have those plosive problems and sound muffled. Speak about a fist away from the mic and, if you’re having problems with plosives, try speaking off to the side of it instead of directly into it.
Another great benefit of the ATR2100: it’s both a USB mic and XLR mic. USB simply means you can plug it right into your computer. XLR means you can plug the mic into something else, like a digital recorder, via a cable. It’s great to have both of these options.
Recording multiple people in the same room
Why would you want to record into a digital recorder? If you have two or more people recording in the same room, they will each need their own mic and you can’t easily record with two mics into your computer. You’d need to plug them into a digital recorder or some kind of interface, and you’d use XLR cables to plug them in. That’s what makes the ATR2100 such a great mic -- it has both USB and XLR options. (You can technically record more than one person using one microphone, but your sound quality will suffer. If you regularly record with more than one person in the room, make sure everyone has their own mic).
If the ATR2100 is not available in your location, the Samson Q2U is pretty much the same thing and is even cheaper at around $60. I just ordered one myself because I’ve heard such great things about it. (I said I wasn’t that into tech before, but I guess podcasting has made me a tiny bit more excited about it. Or at least excited about what it enables us to do)
Recording and editing
If you don’t have a guest, you can record right into your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW), and edit there, as well. The most popular DAW is Audacity and it’s free. I use Adobe Audition because you can do more with it and it’s more flexible. This DAW costs $20.99 a month (teachers/students get a massive discount). All DAWs have a learning curve and I wanted to start with the software that I would get the most out of in the long run.
As I mentioned earlier, if you have more than one guest in one place, you’ll need a way to plug in all their mics. I recommend the Zoom H5 or H6 to record multiple guests. Even when recording solo, a number of podcasters prefer to record directly into a digital recorder because they say it’s less risky than recording into a computer that could crash. Having said that, I like keeping it simple and plugging my USB mic directly into my computer and recording there.
Remote interview recording options
If you’re doing a remote interview, that is, you are in one place and your interviewee is somewhere else, you need a way to record them through your computer.
There are several ways to do this. For me, Skype is the easiest solution that offers good quality audio. I Skype my guests and record both sides of our interview using software called Ecamm Call Recorder, which is Mac only and is a one-time cost of $39.95. If you are a PC user, you can use Amolto Call Recorder, which is free or has a premium version for $29.99.
When you’re starting out recording, you can use whatever headphones you’ve got. But when it’s time to edit and mix your episodes, consider investing in headphones that let you accurately monitor the audio you’re listening to. Look for over-the-ear headphones labeled ‘studio’ or ‘monitor.’
I started out using Bose noise cancelling earbuds because that’s what I’ve been using for years in my personal life. The noise cancelling is brilliant for traveling on noisy planes and trains. But for podcasting, the active noise-canceling feature distorts the way you hear the recording because it cancels the high and low frequencies. You need to hear those to accurately clean up your audio. You also shouldn’t edit or mix your episodes using wireless headphones because they will compress the audio so it’s easier to transmit what you’re listening to from your phone to your headphones. It’s also best to avoid mixing with Beats headphones because they add bass to what you’re listening to.
I’m now using Senal SMH-1000 Closed-Back Professional Monitor Headphones, which cost $75. They were recommended to me as quality, closed-back headphones that fit snugly against your ears provide the isolation needed to prevent headphones from leaking sound.
In sum, You want to monitor audio in the purest way possible so you can hear the flaws and clean up properly. Best practice: Edit and mix your audio with studio headphones and not ones that add bass, cancel noise, or are wireless. But don’t sweat it if you can’t afford new headphones right now. Get started and upgrade your equipment when you can.
Why you need to wear headphones
When you’re recording remote guests, you and your guests need to wear headphones. If you don’t, you can have audio bleed, where your recording software will pick up your guest’s voice coming out of your speakers and cause echoing. Wear headphones to prevent this and make sure your guest does, too.
Another reason to wear headphones: so you can hear noises that will be obvious on the recording, but that you might not hear during the interview if you’re not wearing headphones. Noises like your guest typing or shuffling papers or something else that will sound really annoying on a podcast. If your guest is making distracting noises, kindly tell them to stop so it doesn’t show up in your show.
Podcast Media Host
After you’ve recorded all your elements, you’ll clean up your recordings in your DAW, getting rid of hiss and other unwanted noises, leveling out the volumes of the speakers, etc, and then editing for flow and getting rid of obvious mistakes and things like ‘ums.’ Then you’ll package everything together how you like it with options like an intro and outro, music and sound effects, and ads. When you’re ready to put your podcast out into the world, you’ll need a media host.
What is a podcast media host? Great question. A media host, like Libsyn, which is what I use, gets your podcast out into the world. When you upload and publish a new episode, you’re doing this through you media host, and they push out your content to podcast directories, like iTunes.
That’s right, iTunes is only a directory, you don’t upload your shows there. Once the directories refresh with your new episode, your favorite podcast listening app will pull that new content and deliver it to your subscribers. This all happens via RSS feed. Have you ever subscribed to someone’s blog? It works the same way. You’re creating a syndicated show that people subscribe to.
If you have a website, you may have the option to use that site to host your podcast, but I would not do that. You’ll likely run into bandwidth problems. Plus, website hosts are not podcast experts.
A good podcast media host offers things like
Support from people who understand podcasting and can help you with questions and tech challenges;
Stats about your show;
Premium content options, like an app for your show; and
A podcast player for your website.
Not all podcast media hosts offer all those things. I use Libsyn, which does, and I’ve been very happy with them. Libsyn Plans start at $5 a month. The $20 a month plan is great for weekly podcasters and gives you all the stats, like download numbers and listener geographic location.
Should I have a website for my podcast?
I mentioned that Libsyn offers a basic website for your show. I’d highly recommend having a website for your podcast, where you can include supporting content like show notes, an about you page, audio, and contact info. This is a useful resource for your current listeners, can help you attract new ones, and it also makes you look more professional to potential guests and sponsors.
Many podcasters use WordPress, which is free. I use Squarespace because I think it’s much easier to design a beautiful site when you have no coding or design skills. You can also get a G Suite package with it, that’ll give you an email address that matches your website, which is a nice touch. And this also gives you access to features like Google Calendar, which makes it easy to invite guests to be on your show, and Google Drive, where you can store all your audio files and other content.
Optional podcast products
Pop filters. These help dampen those harsh plosives I mentioned earlier. They can also help you maintain a consistent distance from the microphone. The foam cover that I mentioned earlier for the ATR2100 might be all you need and only costs a few dollars.
Shock mount. A shock mount for your microphone can help minimize unwanted sound getting picked up by your mic, like bumping your desk.
Boom arm. Many podcasters like using boom arms, which give them control over where their microphone is located. With a boom arm, they can raise their mic out of the way of their hands and position it exactly where they want. I don’t have a shock mount or boom arm. I’m often living out of a suitcase and I don’t have space to cart around all this podcasting equipment. But if I did have a proper studio, I’d add these items.
Descript editing software. This is podcasting’s best kept secret. When you upload your audio to Descript, it creates a written transcription. And you can edit your podcast by moving the written words around rather than by merely editing the sound waves. This makes editing so much easier. At this point, you can’t clean up your audio or create a fully produced show on the Descript platform, but it’s brilliant for editing your show. I’m using the Classic Version, which will be discontinued in May of 2019. The reason I haven’t switched to the new version yet is because they haven’t yet implemented all of the Classic version’s features for Mac users. But I will switch in May (1 because I have no choice and 2 all the features should be live then). I wouldn’t want to edit my shows without using Descript. Fun fact: It’s founder, Andrew Mason, also created Groupon and Detour, my favorite, yet now defunct, travel app. And you’ll often see him working tech support, which I think is rather cool.
So that’s a round up of my favorite podcasting equipment, and a few extras that other podcasters I know love to use.