Choosing Microphone(s) for podcasting
This post is not for audiophiles. I love me a good talk about compressors, valve preamps, and all things audio geek but if you are expecting that, you will not like this post because you will feel I am talking down to you.
This post is for journalists and storytellers who want something that works and does not break the bank.
Let’s get started. I will make some assumptions about you. You want to start producing audio but are overwhelmed with the information you find about choosing microphones. I feel you, because it can be confusing. The short answer to the question “what mic should I buy to start producing a podcast?” is “it depends”. You will want to choose differently depending what kind of production you have in mind, but read on and you will see there is an option that can get you started and be very polyvalent.
Producing a solo podcast
This is the kind of podcast in which only you talk. The quintessential solo podcast is Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Just Dan and his voice talking about the Mongols for 14 hours straight (it is so good you don’t want it to end).
If this is the kind of production you want to start, you are in luck. All you need is a dynamic mic with a USB output. Let’s stop for a second here, and remember this because it will save you a lot of frustration: get a dynamic mic and not a condenser one. Did I lose you? Don’t worry, I am going to give you two options:
ATR2100 (around 80 bucks): this mic produces professional results and plugs directly into your computer. You need to buy a pop filter if you want to record in the right position (more on proper recording later).
RODE Podcaster (229 bucks): basically the same as the 2100 in a nicer looking package. Audio nerds will cry anathema at this, but believe me: no one will notice a difference between these two microphones. The only advantage is that it comes with its own pop filter. If I were you, I would save the 150 bucks and buy a recorder instead.
Never, I repeat, never get a condenser mic like the Blue Yeti. Condenser mics are different beasts, great for recording singing voices, or cinema voice-overs in a professionally treated room. Dynamic microphones are also much more resilient, you can throw them against a wall (I have tried) and they keep working for years.
The technique for a really good recording with any of these two microphones is fairly simple. Get 5 cm (2 inches) away from the microphone and speak normally. Use headphones with a good volume so you hear yourself loudly, otherwise you will speak louder than necessary. Remember what I said about using a pop filter? With the ATR, if you get that close to the mic, every time you say a word with ‘p’ on it you will get what we call a a plosive. I am amazed at how many professional podcasts don’t take care of this. A plosive on a car hi-fi sounds very loud and can ruin the listening experience so be careful.
Interviews are a natural fit for podcasting, and today you can get anyone un the world with an internet connection as a guest. A fine example of this kind of remote interview is Tim Ferriss with Casey Neistat.
You need the same setup as for a solo podcast and a magic little tool called Zencastr. Just send the link to your guest and press record. Zencastr will produce an audio file with your conversation that is well mixed and levelled so you only need to edit out the parts you don’t like and publish.
When you are together with your guest in a quiet-ish room, you can record a pretty decent interview with two ATRs (or RODEs). You can plug them to your laptop, assuming it has two USB ports, or you can use a recorder with mic inputs.
Tim Ferriss uses a recorder with two dynamic mics when he interviews someone in his living room. The result does not change whether you record into the laptop or use a recorder but the later can be more practical and portable. I personally prefer to use the recorder when I interview someone, because it gets out of the way and lets you focus on the conversation.
Getting a recorder will multiply your options when reporting and allow you to add soundscapes to your podcasts. There is a no-brainer choice when getting an entry level podcasting recorder: the Tascam DR-40. This baby allows you to plug two microphones to it and has a really nice stereo mic as well.
Remember the 150 bucks you’d save by getting the ATR? You can spend 115 in the Tascam and it will greatly expand your options. For example, If you want to interview someone on the move, like someone you meet at a conference, you can use the ATR, hand-held and plugger to the Tascam. I have seen people do that and the result is pretty good. If you want to record the atmosphere of the conference, you can use the stereo mic to get a soundscape you can later add to the mix.
This is it. With two ATRs and the DR-40 you have all you need for almost any kind of podcast production. This combo currently costs $275 in Amazon. It is not the flashiest gear but believe me, it is way more than enough to achieve a professional result.
A final note about Gear
I have spent lots of money over the years buying music and recording gear and I can tell you audio gadgets are like wine. The difference between a $3 dollar bottle and a $10 one is noticeable to everyone, but the difference between the $10 and a $1000 one is noticeable to a just few folks. Another thing I have learned is that the limit to good sound is almost never imposed by the gear you buy but what you do with it.
Have fun recording!
I am not affiliated in any way with any of the products I endorse here, nor are the links to Amazon associated to any affiliate program. This is just gear that works.
If you would like to have more posts like this for other aspects of audio publishing, offering one or two free or inexpensive options for recording, editing or publishing please respond to this post and ask me anything.
If you are looking for a great platform to publish spoken audio, you may want to try TapeWrite. It is kind of like Medium for audio, minus the famous founder and the VC money.