How to Get Great Sound from Your Microphone

If you aren’t happy with the sound quality you’re getting from your microphone, there are a few easy adjustments you can make to ensure you’re getting the best sound possible every time you record.

Photo by Panos Sakalakis on Unsplash

If you want to get the best possible sound from the mic you already have, there are three main things to pay attention to while recording:

  1. How far away from the mic you are. Two to six inches away from your mic with a pop filter in between is the sweet spot for most mics.
  2. What your input gain level is set to. You control this either on the mic, your audio mixer or interface, in your computer’s audio settings, or in your recording software. Aim for getting peak input levels coming in around -12db, or 75% of maximum on your input gain meter.
  3. How much background noise and echo there is in your room. Quieter rooms with fewer hard surfaces will give you cleaner sound.

If you try all three things and you still aren’t happy with the sound quality, it might be time to upgrade to a nicer microphone.

Don’t worry if you don’t have much experience with microphones: the setup process is fairly simple if you only want to record yourself and maybe a friend occasionally. I’ve got some recommendations for affordable professional microphones based on 5 years of experience listening to podcasts made with a variety of different mics.

If you prefer to stick with a USB microphone, the best I’ve come across is the Rode NT USB mic. It costs $169 new but will give you a great sounding raw recording.

One of the benefits of buying a nicer microphone is that you can get one that is less sensitive to any sounds not coming from directly in front of it. The best mics for solo podcasting are mics with cardioid or hypercardioid pickup patterns.

Image courtesy of the SoundSpaces blog

Personally, I use a Shure Beta 87A mic ($249 new) and the raw recordings sound great, even with my apartment’s heater/AC on and a small fan running about 5 feet away from my desk. This has a lot to do with the pickup pattern that the mic has (hypercardioid). Using the techniques I listed above, I get clean audio that sounds great without much processing.

Because the Beta 87A is an XLR mic instead of a USB mic, I had to buy a USB audio interface — the Focusrite Scarlett Solo — to convert the analog signal from the mic into a digital signal that my computer can record. This interface costs $100 new and comes with the added bonus of being a pretty good headphone amp for listening to podcasts and music.

You can also get a USB interface that works with up to 4 microphones at a time, the Behringer U-Phoria UMC404HD ($99), or the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 ($299). There are also more affordable U-Phoria interfaces if you only need one or two microphone inputs, and here’s a full list of the other gear I use and recommend.

If you’re not ready to invest in a better mic just yet, that’s ok. I’d suggest learning how to remove background noise from your track, and then the basics of EQ, compression, and limiting.

Learning the basics of processing audio in your editing software will allow you to improve the audio quality of your raw recordings and fix minor errors like background noise or a recording that sounds too thin or too bass-y.

If you’d like help finding tutorials about audio processing in your editing software, just leave a comment or send an email to aaron@simplecast.com and let me know which program you use to record and edit your audio.

Hope this was helpful. Please let me know if you have any further questions, and happy podcasting!

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