The Best Microphone Setups for Every Type of Podcaster
Tips to help anyone looking to start a podcast by covering audio basics, studio setups, microphone reviews, and input for different styles of podcasts.
The bare essentials for a podcast breaks down to a computer outfitted with some audio editing software, a microphone, something to connect the two devices together, and a space to record in. Here’s a breakdown of all the basic gear you need to take the podcast idea you’ve been formulating and help turn it into a reality.
The Fundamentals of Sound Recording
Before we dive into the sweet gear reviews below, let’s take some time to do some rundowns on a few basic gear choices and audio elements for those who are brand new to sound recording.
XLR vs. USB
The three pin XLR is the essential audio cable. It has been around for ages, and will remain on sets for years to come. The three pins are a ground, a positive, and a negative terminal to relay electricity from one point to another. Higher-end gear, and most audio recording gear in general, will rely on this cable.
Since no home computer that I know of has XLR inputs, you will need a device to bridge the gap between the microphone and the computer. This device is normally an audio interface or a mixer that changes the analog signal from your mic and transfers it to a digital one. These will have options to manipulate the gain (loudness) of your signal, headphone monitoring levels, and audio outs to get the signal to your computer.
You could also bypass using a computer in the recording stage. Instead, go straight for a recorder such as the Zoom H6, which has four XLR inputs with gain control. Then, upload to an editing software later if you really needed to keep the footprint smaller or if you are doing a podcast on the road.
USB output microphones are increasingly popular since they are user-friendly and require less gear in order to record straight to an editing software. In fact, many microphones now offer both USB and XLR outputs already built-in. So, no real advice here. If you have a USB microphone then just plug it in and get started.
Dynamic vs. Condenser
Dynamic microphones are durable, moisture resistant, resilient mics that are great for capturing loud sounds. These mics are a mainstay at live music venues. These microphones don’t require any external power, so plug it in and get to rocking some sweet vocal tracks. This is a great option for anyone podcasting on the road in unpredictable settings and weather.
Condenser microphones, on the other hand, thrive in controlled environments such as studios. They tend to be much more sensitive than dynamic microphones and have a louder output. These microphones do require an external power source, so you’ll want to check out an interface or mixer with phantom power to supply these mics with electricity. Condenser microphones are also normally much more fragile and expensive, so be sure to treat them well. This should definitely be your microphone choice if you want to achieve a higher-end production value on your podcast.
The overwhelming majority of anyone reading this article won’t have access to a studio or the ability to build one in their home. So, the next best option is to make your home the best recording option it can be.
First of all, stay away from large, open rooms in your home. Instead, focus on a small space that you can more easily control. Reduce sound leaks from other parts of your home by recording in a room with carpet, utilizing professional soundproofing, or even just hanging blankets.
If this isn’t feasible for you, the simplest thing you can do to improve the overall sound quality of your show is to quietly sit in the room where you will record and listen intently. Is there an electric hum from some machine in the room? Is the air vent blasting right into a space where you plan to place your microphone? Or are the fans on your computer kicking on? Minimize as much sound pollution as possible and you will find yourself at a great starting point.
You can also invest in boom arms with shock mounts. These will absorb vibrations that could affect your audio, such as vibrations from when you touch items near the mic like a desk or your computer. For some of the microphones listed below, these things are actually a necessity to get them production ready.
If your podcast has multiple people involved, make absolutely sure that one host’s mic isn’t directly behind a different host’s mic. That way you can maintain isolated audio tracks for each host, and they aren’t bleeding into each other’s mics. You will also want to invest in a pop filter for your microphones. A pop filter will make a massive difference in limiting the effects of your plosives, or the popping sounds created by the consonants p, t, k, b, d, and g.
Now that we have covered some of the basics, let’s get into some of the best mics around. If you’re looking for more depth on microphones and their pickup patterns check out this article.
Microphones for Beginner Podcasters
Samson Q2U USB/XLR Dynamic Microphone
This dynamic microphone is a great way to get your podcast started. It comes with all the accessories you need to jump straight into recording right out of the box, and it’s extremely affordable at just $50 online. The kit comes with the microphone and a small stand that’s perfect for a desktop. It also includes a windscreen that is extremely handy should you ever need to take your show out into the elements, as well as all the necessary cables for hooking the mic up into the computer.
This is a great choice for anyone looking to do a solo podcast. One of the most appealing aspects behind this mic is that it has both a USB and a XLR out, which you can actually use simultaneously should you want to record on separate devices. Remember that if you are going to solely rely on XLR (which is almost always better quality) then you will need to invest in either a mixer or a digital recorder. The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (3rd Gen) is a great option for two hosts that I have used personally.
The Blue Snowball USB Microphone
One step up from their iCE model and slightly more expensive than the Samson Q2U USB, this microphone comes with an adjustable tripod. It also features a cardioid mode suited for recording a podcast, a cardioid mode with a -10db Pad to record louder sounds with higher fidelity, and an omnidirectional mode that will pick up sound equally from all directions. If you are looking strictly for a condenser microphone over a dynamic mic then this will be a good beginner option for you.
This mic is also ready to use straight out of the box, and it’s one of the more well-known, low-cost choices for recording podcasts. This is a good start for beginners, but to use this mic and get rich tones out of it the user must be rather close, from personal experience. I would rather go with the Samson microphone overall for this reason. Skip this mic unless you are absolutely strapped for cash.
Semi-Pro Podcaster Microphones
Blue Yeti USB Microphone
For those looking for something more serious, this mic is a fantastic option and is by far the most popular choice for people looking to create a podcast. In fact, I purchased a set myself for my parents who at one point hosted a radio show and decided to start their own podcast at home. These mics produce great results, are easy to use, shipped production-ready, and are still affordable.
This microphone also includes a tabletop stand, but if you are looking to take it to the next level you can always purchase a Blue Radius II shock mount and a Heil PL2T boom stand. These accessories will help you achieve a more comfortable experience and will also improve your sound quality. This mic has gain control, a mute button, zero latency output, and consists of a tri-capsule array of three condensers. Some audiophiles may knock this microphone, but for a mid-level mic this will definitely get the job done.
Rode Podcaster USB Dynamic Cardioid Broadcast Microphone/ Rode Procaster
Rode has a rich history of creating quality microphones, and now they bring that history with them as they dive directly into the podcast market. It even has a sibling, the Rode Procaster. Essentially the Podcaster utilizes USB so that it can connect directly into your computer, while the Procaster uses an XLR. In order to use the Procaster you need an audio interface, but you can find a multitude of other uses for this mic outside of your podcast with this purchase.
The Podcaster is going to be more expensive than the Blue Yeti and only comes with a USB cable and a ring mount. So, you will need to purchase either a desktop stand or a studio boom/shock mount to get this production ready. The Rode PSM1 shock mount is a solid option for this microphone, as the mic is slightly larger and needs a decently sized mount to hold it. This of course will raise the overall cost of choosing this route, so that’s something to contemplate. The Podcaster has a headphone out so you will have zero latency monitoring, offers excellent sound quality, and doesn’t require phantom power. It also has a built-in pop filter, and it’s a dynamic microphone so it will perform well in home studios or any area that is not soundproofed. This is a notch above the Blue Yeti in quality, but the overall cost difference may make the Blue Yeti a better option.
Professional Podcaster Microphones
Widely regarded, supported, and loved, this microphone will give you top-notch quality for a professional-sounding podcast. The only pitfall to this microphone might actually be that it too good, as it picks up background noise or any plosive sounds that may come up. So, I suggest a nice, quiet studio setting for this microphone. Also definitely attach the A7WS windscreen that ships with the mic.
This mic is sturdy, built like a tank, has an incredible frequency response of 50 to 20,000 Hz, and it has gorgeous clarity that’s great not just for your podcast but for any vocal endeavors. Note, however, that there is no shock mount for this microphone. Invest in a pole arm or mic stand if this is the microphone you decide to purchase. I have personally been talking about starting a film podcast with a few friends, and if we have the budget these will be the mics we use.
HEiL Sound PR-40 Dynamic Studio Microphone
This is a great choice for a dynamic mic. It’s slightly cheaper than the Shure SM7b, and it’s honestly one of the more aesthetically pleasing microphones to make this list. It features a frequency response of 28Hz to 18kHz and is balanced at 600 ohms. This mic does have an available shock mount with the Heil Sound PRSM-B, and also pairs nicely with the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom.
This microphone will give you the same quality the big budget podcasts have, and that’s because they are most likely using this microphone as well. It would be very difficult to feel disappointed by this microphone.
Add-Ons: Finish Out Your Podcast Kit
Sony MDR-7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones
This industry classic has near-flawless reviews from thousands of people who chimed in with their love and admiration for these headphones. I am actually writing this article with a pair of these incredible large diaphragm headphones on right now. I’m celebrating the 50th anniversary of Black Sabbath, and they sound better than ever. These headphones don’t actually go fully around your ears so that might be a deal breaker for some, but they are very comfortable and offer superb sound quality.
Rode Rodecaster Pro
This podcast production studio comes complete with four headphone inputs that have customizable volume knobs for each hosts and four XLR inputs with phantom power. It also houses eight soundpads to program custom sounds, a microSD card slot, a touch screen, and offers Bluetooth in and out. It even double checks with you when the power button is hit to make sure you actually want to turn off the mixer, to prevent you from losing any valuable recordings. This machine is incredibly impressive and will take your podcast to the next level.
A Microphone for Every Type of Podcast Setup
Let’s discuss the different types of podcasts you might pursue, and explore some tips for each one.
The Solo Podcaster
Grab a microphone like the SM7b, attach it to a boom arm, slap on a pop filter, and set it all up in a room with the least amount of noise. Then attach an XLR from the microphone to an audio interface, then into your computer. Boom, you have a high-level-sounding podcast that can rival the pros.
Double the microphone setup from the solo pod setup and make sure the two guests are not facing directly across from each other. This will limit the audio bleed of one guest’s voice into the other one’s mic.
Or, if you are rolling on an extremely low budget, you can use the Blue Yeti. The Yeti records on both sides of the mic, so in this case you would actually want to sit directly across from each other and share the same microphone to record audio. Use the USB out to go directly into a computer, thus eliminating the extra cost of the interface. Just be extremely careful about not talking over each other if you use this method. It isn’t the most professional of settings obviously, but you can make it work for an extremely low cost.
Multiple Guests Podcasts
For more than two guests, you’ll definitely want a mixer to control each individual mic input level and to adjust each person’s headphone levels. The Rodecaster Pro above is a great solution for this.
I also would recommend placing everyone in a curve so the guests can see each other. This limits the possibility of any guest bleeding into another guest’s mic. I highly recommend using shockmounts if the guests are all sharing one table. Shockmounts will minimize any vibrations that could accidentally find their way into your audio files.
If you are completely run and gun, I would suggest using something like the dynamic Samson Q2U. Run it into a Zoom H6 audio recorder, and then dump the files to edit on a computer later. The dynamic mic will be durable, more resistant to weather, and won’t need any phantom power to operate.
Oh the other hand, if the show takes place in a controlled environment with a table I would most likely go with the Blue Yeti. Run a USB out of the Yeti straight into your laptop and you are ready to roll. You could even use the fact that this mic records in both directions to your advantage. Place the side of the mic facing the audience and adjust it to pick them up. A nice room tone/crowd noise will add to the live feeling of your podcast.
Cover image via Soifer.
Looking for more advice on podcasts and editing audio? Check these out.