Picking the right recording equipment
Podcasting has a low barrier to entry. Technically, you can record and edit everything on a phone, but that tends to lend itself to more disposable content, as the effort put into producing the podcast reflects the value to the audience.
Whether podcasting is a new hobby or a business endeavour for you, a little investment early on will set you up for success later.
We’ve listed products below we feel will fit the most common use cases, at three levels: starter, intermediate and expert. What tier you pick might depend on your experience, your budget, the particular challenges your podcast faces, or your goals.
None of the product recommendations carry affiliate links, so we’re making them purely because we think they’re the best tools for the job.
A quick roundup of terms
A microphone is something that picks up your voice and sends it to a device to record. Some mics have in-built recorders, which are great for podcasting on-the-go, but we’ll cover mics that connect to a computer via USB (the same way you might connect a webcam) or XLR (a larger three-pin connector used mostly in pro audio gear).
Headphones let you monitor the sound from your microphone or your editing software, and are essential if you’re recording remotely, as you’d use headphones to hear the other person’s voice as well, so their voice isn’t coming through your speakers and being picked up by your mic.
The term “plosive” is often used in audio, but while the wider term covers vocal sounds like hard Ts, Ks, Ds and Gs (“tuh”, “kuh”, “duh” and “guh”), when we talk about plosives in podcasting, we’re mainly referring to the popping P sound in words like “pepper” or the rushing of air with certain words that start with H or W+H.
Microphones are sensitive to wind noise, so short bursts of wind created by plosive sounds sound unpleasant and unprofessional when recorded. To solve that problem, always have a pop shield, pop filter or wind sock (they basically amount to the same thing) attached to your mic. Some fit snuggly over the microphone head, while others are placed between the speaker and the mic. They’re just a piece of fabric with an attachment, and are inexpensive, but vital.
If you use XLR to connect your mic to your computer, you’ll probably use a USB audio interface, which is a device that turns the analogue signal picked up by your voice and turns it into a digital signal that the computer can read. USB audio interfaces can usually take in more than one input, many allow you to control the gain (input volume), and some allow mixing between different inputs.
You are not your podcasting gear
We’ve named these tiers “Starter”, “Intermediate” and “Expert”, purely for simplicity. The gear you use does not equate at all to your level of expertise or value as a podcaster. If you’re producing compelling audio with a USB mic from Amazon and a pair of earbuds, and your listeners love what you do, only consider a change if you feel it will help you up your game… or because it’s your hobby, and you like nice things.
With all that said, let’s dive in.
For the podcaster recording a one-mic show or interviewing guests remotely, a USB mic, a pop filter and a pair of headphones are all you need. If you plan to work with a regular co-host over the Internet, you can recommend this setup for them too, as you can get started for under $90.
We recommend the following:
- Fifine USB microphone with stand (around $50)
- AKG K52 monitoring headphones (around $25)
- Generic microphone pop filter (around $12)
To record, attach the pop filter to the mic stand, plug the microphone into an unused USB port on your computer, plug your headphones into your computer’s headphone jack, and make sure the inputs are correctly selected in your recording software (we’ll cover this in more detail later).
The Fifine is an inexpensive way to get started, but if you’re ready to up your game, here’s what we recommend:
Røde make a selection of excellent audio equipment. The NT1-A linked above comes with a heavy stand and a shock mount, which eliminates some of the bass-heavy banging noises that come from putting your hands on the desk while recording. It also comes with its own pop filter and an XLR cable to plug into your USB audio interface.
The PreSonus USB audio interface has space for two mics, connected via XLR input. Instead of connecting the mic directly into your computer, you’ll connect your mic(s) to the USB interface, and connect your USB interface into your computer, and record as normal.
The benefits to using a USB audio intercase are that if you have more than one person with you in the room, you can use two mics and you can separately manage the volume of each speaker. You can also record onto separate stereo channels and mix them later.
The other big benefit to upgrading to an XLR and USB setup is that it frees you up to try a wider range of microphones. USB audio intercase typically also provide something called phantom power, which you’ll need if you’re using a condenser microphone via XLR.
Condenser vs dynamic microphones
Without getting bogged down in the science, condenser microphones pick up more background noise but typically sound brighter in tone, whereas dynamic microphones work best when directly addressed (speaking directly into the part you’re supposed to speak into), and sound warmer in tone.
Dynamic mics tend to be more rugged, but they’re a little less sensitive in the levels they pick up. They may need to have their gain (input volume) boosted in order to pick up more sound. However because condenser mics can pick up more room town, they can sound a little more echoey if you’re further away from them, and they also require a tiny trickle of power to make their circuitry work. This is called phantom power, and is provided by most USB audio interfaces. If you have a USB condenser mic like the Fifine, power is provided to the mic via USB.
If you’ve hit the ceiling of the intermediate tier or you want an even more professional broadcast sound, or you want to produce podcasts around a table with a number of other speakers, here’s what you can add to your setup.
The Heil PR40 is a longstanding favourite of audio professionals. It’s a dynamic microphone (as opposed to the condenser types mentioned in the previous setups), so it has a warm broadcast tone (helping you sound more professional), excellent background noise rejection (perfect if you don’t have an acoustically treated room) and high build quality, so it’ll stand up to a lot of use. However, it has a low sensitivity, which means you may need to up the gain (input volume) in your USB audio interface.
If you find you’re having to boost the signal even further, this will add unwanted noise to your recording, so consider adding a Cloudlifter to your setup. This device uses the phantom power provided by your USB audio interface and converts it into input gain, without adding extra digital noise.
The Rødecaster Pro is a relative newcomer to the podcasting setup, but provides the maximum amount of flexibility for practically any podcast recording setup. With this device, you can plug in up to four XLS microphones, and give each contributor their own headphone output. You can also take calls via USB, standard headphone jack or bluetooth, so people can call in to your podcast via Discord, Skype or a phone number you give out. The Rødecaster Pro also provides effects to improve the sound of your vocals and cutting down on the amount of post-processing, and you can play audio in via a set of customisable pads. This means you can produce your entire podcast episode as live, but if you need extra control, you can send each channel’s output into your audio recording software and add effects separately.