As someone who has been involved in podcasting for almost a decade and who podcasts as a full-time job now, I often get asked for recommendations for podcasting equipment for beginners. I wish I had a good quick answer for that, but I don’t. That’s because there is a lot to consider first. But before we get into the equipment, first dispose of any ideas that podcasting is like what you see on TV shows like God Friended Me. Just no.
What kind of podcast?
Is this going to be informal for a few friends? Are you going for a wide audience? Are you planning on commercializing it? Are you podcasting for your business or organization?
Where will you record it?
At your desk? In the car? On the go? Coffee shops? At a podium or lectern? In a lot of different places?
Who will you record it with?
Are you making a solo podcast? Are you doing a podcast with a co-host? A group of people? The same people or a changing panel?
How will you record it with them?
If you’re recording with other people, will they be joining you in your office? Via Skype or other remote service? In a car? Outside? On the road?
How much is your budget?
You can spend almost nothing up to thousands of dollars, although a decent setup that can last you through several advances in expertise can be had for a couple hundred dollars.
How long do you think you’ll be doing this?
Are you not sure if you want to make a commitment? Are you looking to experiment? Or do you plan on doing this years with a regularly scheduled show?
Let’s start with the simplest and easiest setup with equipment you probably already own. Say you just want to try recording yourself and see if you have what it takes. For that you can simply use your current smartphone. If you have an iPhone, the earbuds that come with it have a microphone built in. They also come with the Voice Memo app. Boom, you have a recording. Yes, t hat’s a bit barebones.
The next step up is to use an app-based podcast service like Anchor. This is an all-in-one service that does it all. They record your podcast, host, distribute it, and even promise to help you monetize it (if it gets popular enough), but of course it’s all within their ecosystem. So if you’re okay with being limited to Anchor’s users as your audience, that might be the way to go. If that’s the case, you’re still using your iPhone or iPad to record.
You may want to eventually upgrade the quality of your recording on your iPhone or iPad, in which case you can get a Lightning connector microphone. I recommend either the Zoom iQ7 or the Shure MV88, between about $100 and $130 as I write this. They’re a little pricy for such specialized gear, but don’t be tempted by the cheap microphones. They won’t sound any better than your earbud microphones so they won’t worth the money.
Let’s say you’re looking for something that will sound better than just recording into your phone, but you still want to be mobile. In that case, you want a portable digital recorder. While there are all kinds of expensive feature-filled recorders out there, if you’re just going to be recording yourself, then the Zoom H2n ($140) is perfectly fine for you. If you will be recording yourself and another person, the Zoom H4n ($200) can be used by itself, but it also has inputs for two XLR microphones. And if you need to record more than 2 people remotely, Then check out the Zoom H5 ($250), which has four XLR inputs.
You can probably tell I like Zoom digital recorders and I do. They’re easy to use, sound great, have good strong batteries, and connect easily to your computer.
Of course, if you have a laptop computer, you can always bring your desktop mikes and an audio interface and so on, so read on for that.
You can spend anywhere from a little bit to a lot for a microphone. The first step is to consider what kind of connection you will make to your computer. The most basic connection is the standard USB you already use for printers and scanners and other devices, and if you get a USB microphone, you won’t need any other equipment to connect it to your computer.
There are many very good USB microphones available. Blue makes some very good ones, from the very inexpensive Blue Snowball ICE ($40) to the slightly more expensive Blue Snowball ($55) to the Blue Yeti ($100). The difference between the ICE and regular Snowball is that the regular version has three different modes, with the cardioid mode being better for podcasts. The Yeti is a professional quality microphone with a USB connection.
However, at this price range, I prefer the Audio Technica ATR2100 ($67), partly because it offers both USB and XLR connections for maximum flexibility. Plus it sounds very good for such an inexpensive microphone. This is the microphone I still use everyday to records hours and hours of podcasts.
There are more expensive microphones in the multi-hundred dollar range that are worth every penny, but since this is a list for beginners, I will save those for another time. The microphones listed above will suit most podcasters for a long time.
Once you have a microphone, you’ll need something to hold it. Most inexpensive microphones come with a small stand, which can be okay for using it on-the-go, but you’ll quickly want something more stable and more isolated from vibrations at your desk. Otherwise, every time you rest your hand on the desk, for example, the vibration will be transmitted to the microphone as a sound.
You can get boom stands for very little cost. I started with the NEEWER White Broadcasting Studio Microphone Suspension Boom Scissor Arm ($14), which has a spinning clamp style attachment. It doesn’t reach as far as some and while it won’t hold a heavy, expensive microphone, the generally lightweight inexpensive mics are fine.
A better boom stand is the RODE PSA1 Swivel Mount Studio Microphone Boom Arm ($99). While this is a jump in expense, it’s also a jump in quality. It has a much longer reach, is much more stable, has smoother action, and has a much better method of clamping to the desk. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s balanced in such a way that it has a minimum weight for the microphone. If the microphone is too light, it will continually rise up into the air.
You will also need a shock mount for the stand to further isolate vibrations and just to hold the microphone. It has to fit the microphone you use because the weight and diameter will vary. Some microphone manufacturers offer shock mounts made for their mics, but there are also generic variations available. For my ATR2100 microphone, I use the Symphaudio PSM-1 Universal Microphone Shock Mount, which is no longer available), but the Dophee Condenser Microphone Shock Mount is nearly identical and is only $11. These are virtually commodities, so just make sure you get the right diameter for your microphone.
The final element in this area is a pop filter. Certain letter sounds are called plosives and they pop in audio recordings. A pop filter goes between your mouth and the microphone to catch the plosives (as well as anything that inadvertently comes from your mouth while speaking) and smooth out the sound. Like the shock mounts, some manufacturers make filters specifically for their microphones, but an inexpensive generic filter will usually do fine. A barrier filter works best for podcasting. I use the Dragonpad USA 6” Microphone Studio Pop Filter with Clamp ($8.50) and it clamps right on to the boom arm and adjusts to where I want it.
Once you have a microphone, you need to get the analog audio signal into your computer, usually via a USB connection. The ATR2100 microphone and the Blue microphones have USB connections, but if you want a little more flexibility and control, plus the ability to plug in more than one microphone at a time, you’ll want an audio interface.
If you purchased a Zoom digital recorder, it will also work as a pass-through audio interface. If not, you can get a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 2-microphone interface ($160). This interface allows you to adjust the gain of two microphones independently. One of the benefits of a dedicated audio interface is that it makes your sounds better with dedicated digital-analog conversion circuitry and microphone preamps.
At the next level, you might be interested in a mixer, which would allow for more than two microphones or other inputs and adjustments, but at another level of complexity.
Of course, you’ll need to hear your recording as well, especially if your podcast includes people joining you via Skype or FaceTime. Again, you can start with any fairly decent headphones, but I would recommend against earbuds or other headphones that don’t close over your ears. The problem with open headphones is sound leakage, meaning that whatever you’re hearing in your ears will end up on the recording, layered on top of your voice and creating an editing nightmare.
If you’re looking to buy some good headphones, the Sony MDR-7506 ($80) are industry standards and comfortable. You’ll want to make sure whatever headphones you get are comfortable for long recording and editing sessions, so be sure the padding is sufficient.
My current preferred headphones are Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones ($130), which have a long, replaceable cord, are comfortable, and sound good.
Good cables are a must. If you have an XLR microphone, you’ll need XLR cables. I suggest getting several of different lengths, especially if you think you’ll sometimes record on-the-go. Depending on how your desk is setup, I’d suggest at least a couple of 3-footers, so you’re not always unplugging everything when you have to record away from your desk. Don’t buy the cheapest cables as cheap cables can leave noise in your recordings because of insufficient shielding. Sweetwater Sound makes professional audio gear and can be a good source of reliable cables.
Some podcasters prefer to record only to hardware because they’re afraid of software crashes that delete their recordings. Often these are longtime podcasters who remember buggy early software running on hardware that could barely keep up. This isn’t as much of a problem anymore.
Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba is amazing Mac software that lets you route audio to and from various sources, manipulating it along the way like a good audio engineer with a mixing board. Their companion software Loopback is invaluable for additional routing capabilities. Explaining how it works would take too much time here, but I’ll write a separate post outlining my recording and editing workflow that will have more details.
For free, cross-platform software, Audacity can’t be beat. It’s not the easiest interface right off the bat, but once you figure it out, you can easily make very good recordings that you can either do simple edits with here or export for more extensive editing elsewhere.
You could edit your podcasts in almost any audio software, including Apple’s Garageband, but if you’re going to be doing this for a while, consider getting either Adobe Audition or Apple Logic Pro X. Audition is part of Adobe’s Creative Suite ($21/month standalone or as part of a bundle) and Logic ($200) is standalone. They are pricey and have a steep learning curve, but there are plenty of YouTube tutorials to help you figure them out and make editing out noise, boosting sound, and generally making your podcasts listenable so much easier in the end.
It’s technically possible to record and edit your podcast on an iPad and a key reason for that is Ferrite Recording Studio, which gives you many of the same editing abilities you get using Logic or Audition on your Mac or PC. Not all of them, mind you, but enough to get you pretty far along.
Forecast is another key piece of Mac software that makes preparing your podcast for distribution easier. It does the simple job of taking your final edited file and compressing it down to the most efficient size, adding metadata and cover images, and chapter divisions. It’s been in an open beta for two years, but has been stable for nearly all of that time.
How to record, edit, and distribute a podcast
As I mentioned above, the equipment is only the beginning. The real work comes in figuring out the distribution. If you move beyond an all-in-one service like Anchor, you will need someplace on the internet to store the audio files for download, some place to list it, a way to alert listeners of new episodes, and more. There are many ways to accomplish this, but in a future post, I will share how we do this at SQPN.