Podcast equipment purchasing is intimidating! There are an infinite number of options out there, and lots of terminology to wade through. Let's start with some microphone terminology.
USB vs XLR
These are the two ways to connect a microphone to your computer or other recorder. USB is pretty self-explanatory - simply plug the microphone into your computer, and record directly into it. On higher-end microphones, you'll find an XLR, or 3-pin, connection. These often plug directly into field-recorders, mixers, or studios. If you want to record into your computer, you'll need an additional piece of equipment to convert from XLR to USB (more on that later). Finally, some microphones are versatile and come with both XLR and USB connections.
Dynamic vs Condenser
This is the next most important factor when choosing your microphone. A dynamic microphone is built to record more of the voice going into it. This means it picks up less background noise - like cars driving by, kids in the next room, loud neighbors, etc. A condenser mic is often more expensive, and will sound great in a very well treated, high-end studio. But for most situations, such as home or office recording, I almost always recommend a dynamic microphone. Side note: The Blue Yeti is a very popular podcast microphone, but because it's a condenser, it makes the vast majority of podcasters sound bad.
Side Address vs. End Address
Some mics are designed for you to speak into the end of. Some are designed for you to speak into the side of. Make sure you know how your microphone is designed to optimize your sound!
Pickup Patterns: Cardioid vs Bi-Directional vs. Omnidirectional
When choosing podcast equipment, know your microphone's "pickup pattern." Think of a 360-degree field of "vision" around the mic. Omnidirectional microphones will pick up everything around it. Remember, this includes background noise in your room. In some cases, a group of people who can only use one mic may gather around it, but everyone speaks at a different volume. This is often a nightmare for post-production (or your editor). A Bi-Directional microphone will pick up audio from 2, opposite sides of the microphone. Again, I only recommend this strategy if your budget or technical setup only allows one mic for a two person show. I almost always recommend a Cardioid (or more extreme super-cardioid) microphone.
Some XLR microphones require what's known as Phantom Power. This means it needs to be powered by the mixer or recorder it's plugged into. You may see "24v" or "48v"on a button on your mixer. Turning that on is necessary to run the mic. Phantom Power does not mean it needs to be plugged into a wall outlet.
OK, now let's look at some microphones!
The Shure SM48 microphone is a tank. Most roadies will tell you it's virtually indestructible, so it's a great mic to take with you on the go. If you're on a budget, this is an outstanding mic for a low price. HOWEVER, this only has an XLR connection. It will work great into a recorder, but to go into a computer, you'll need to convert XLR to USB. Honestly, by the time you buy a box to do that, you're better off with one of the two combo XLR/USB mics below. Shure SM48 approximate price: $39.99
The Samson Q2U microphone is almost interchangeable with the ATR2100x. This model is slightly older, so slightly less expensive. And this particular model comes with a nice pair of headphones to plug into it, if you want studio quality headphones. I should note that both of these microphones have a 3.5mm headphone jack in the back, so any old pair of headphones with a standard jack will work -from "dollar store headphones" to the ones that come with iPhones, you know, before they changed the jack. Samson Q2u with headphones approximate price: $79.99
The Audio Technica ATR-2100X microphone is one of the two microphones I routinely send to clients. It has the versatility of both XLR and USB connections. Many of my clients plug it right into their computer and are good to go. Or, they can take it on the go with a portable field recorder. ATR2100x approximate price: $99.99
R0de is an Australian microphone company known for their high quality products. The Rode Podcaster is a dynamic USB microphone, at a middle-of-the-road price point. This will be a good choice for you if you want a direct USB connection, but a higher quality microphone. Approximate Retail: $230.
The Shure MV7 microphone is designed to be a middle-of-the-road selection. It's for those who want a high-quality, XLR or USB, dynamic microphone, but can't swing the pricey top-of-the-line SM7B. This mic was just released, and I have not tried it yet, but Shure is a company I trust implicitly. Retail price: $250-$300.
The ElectroVoice EV RE-320 microphone is a slightly more affordable version of it's cousin, the RE-20, below. The RE-20 is THE microphone found in radio stations, but the RE-320 is designed to be pretty close to the same idea. Cardioid Mic with XLR connection only. Approximate retail price: $300.
People often ask me which mic I use. This is it, the Shure SM7B. (Fun Fact: It's the same model Michael Jackson recorded the Thriller album on). If you're in the market for an expensive, high-end dynamic microphone, you really can't go wrong when deciding between the Shure SM7B and the Electrovoice EV RE-20. It really comes down to personal preference, and which mic you think your voice sounds better on. I love this microphone. Approximate retail: $400.
The ElectroVoice RE-20 microphone is THE microphone found in most professional radio studios, and about the most expensive dynamic microphone on the market. It's heavy, and has technology built in that eliminates "proximity effect," which causes your voice to get quieter and less "bassy" when your mouth drifts away from the mic. Podcasters often have trouble deciding between this mic and the Shure SM7B. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. I've used both and like the way my particular voice sounds on the Shure better. You really can't go wrong with either.
Now, let's take a look at other podcast equipment you might be interested in, in addition to microphones.
A "pop filter" can come in handy for hard consonants, also known as "plosives." Some letters, like "P" and "B," create a little puff of air when said out loud. For a demonstration of this, hold your palm in front of your mouth and say the word "pizza." You'll feel that puff of air. That same puff of air can be unpleasant for a listener. Now, each speaker/broadcaster/podcaster has a different level of "plosiveness" in their speech. Two ways to mitigate this are to speak into your mic at more of a 45-degree angle, or to get a cheap pop filter that will mitigate most plosives. Some mics have them built in, but I like having that extra level, as I tend to speak rather...plosively. Approximate price: $15
A Cloudlifter CL-1 is a way to "boost" your microphone if you feel the levels are a bit too low. What's nice about this is that it boosts the microphone without boosting all of the ambient sound in the room. This may be a nice choice for you, depending on your setup. Approximate retail: $150.
As I mentioned above, if you want to record an XLR microphone into your computer, you'll need a "go-between." I use the Scarlett Solo by Focusrite. Simply plug your XLR microphone into the Scarlett, and on the back side, the Scarlett will plug into a USB port on your computer. There are other models to accommodate more microphones if you have multiple speakers feeding into your computer. You can also plug headphones into the Scarlett, and/or run the Scarlett's output to speakers. Approximate retail: $110.
If you need podcast equipment to record on-the-go, the Zoom H4N Recorder allows for two XLR microphone connections, recorded on separate tracks, onto an SD card. This is ideal for field recording, and is very portable to bring anywhere. There is also a built-in microphone at the top of the Zoom H4N, which you can aim at a sound source in a pinch. However, good XLR mics, like the Shure SM48's above, will get you optimal sound with this recorder. Approximate retail: $200-$250.
If you're super-serious about creating a high-end podcast, I cannot more highly recommend the Rodecaster Pro "mobile studio." It is the single best podcast equipment investment I've made in my business. The box is fairly portable and can be brought to different places. It has FOUR XLR inputs for microphones, in addition to inputs for USB, TRRS (phone), and Bluetooth connections. You can record to your computer via USB, or record to a Micro SD card popped into the back of the RCP. Each track can record separately, allowing you to easily edit podcasts when people are speaking over each other. It also has an 8-button "pad" that you can use to play intros, outros, and other sound effects as you are recording your show. And finally, the radio geek in me loves that you can add "processing" to the microphones to beef up the sounds of voices. It even has presets for all the mics made by Rode, as well as the RE-20 above. Approximate retail: $600.
Finally, let's look at some additional software and websites that will be useful to you.
Like a website, a podcast must be hosted, or "live" somewhere. This is where you will upload your audio, show notes, and artwork. You'll do a one-time setup to connect your host to all the podcast apps you'd like, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. Note: It is free to be on the apps, but you'll need to pay for your host, usually starting around $15/month. Three popular hosts are Libsyn, Blubrry, and Simplecast. Note: I am an affiliate partner with Simplecast, and it's where I host my clients' and my shows.
In a perfect world, we'd always be in the same room as our guests. But they may be a world away. And in this age of COVID-19, it's safer to not be in the same room. Fortunately, technology has evolved to the point where, through, remote recording, we can sound like we are in the same room, particularly if each guest is on a microphone. The very best quality way to do this is by what's called a "double ender." Each participants records themselves locally, then the host/producer/editor puts each track together into one podcast. But that's not always feasible. I use a platform called Squadcast - which records everyone's audio locally through Google Chrome. There's no software to install, and because the audio is recorded locally, then uploaded, any internet buffering or hiccupping is not in the final product. Squadcast also runs backups, recorded over the internet, in case of any user error.
Some podcasters record over Zoom or Skype, and while Zoom's new "enable original sound" feature is helpful, these recordings are generally at lower quality and will not have you sounding your best.
Remote video recording is now coming to the fore as well, with platforms like Streamyard and Riverside.FM, which I'm currently experimenting with. While video on the internet is massive, a word of caution: There is a certain intimacy to audio. It gives us a break from the "Brady Bunch squares" of constant Zoom meetings. And you can take audio in places video can't go. And audio is much easier to edit. Video is tempting, but I highly recommend growing your audio chops before tackling video.
Update: I am now an affiliate partner with Riverside - which allows you to record video of up to 8 guest, AND stream live to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can find my referral link here: http://bit.ly/jagriverside
CONTACT ME FOR HELP!
Finally, I'm always available to chat with you about your podcast - whether it's still in the idea phase, or it needs some constructive criticism. Find me on social media at @JAGinDetroit, send me an email at JAG@JAGinDetroit.com - or book a call with me, here.
Disclaimer: Links to microphones and other equipment on this page may be affiliate links.