What Equipment Do I Need to Start a Podcast?
Podcast Equipment can be overwhelming. Let's start with microphones, and the differences between them. And never buy a Blue Yeti.
(If you already have a Blue Yeti, please watch this video on mic placement.)
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. 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 (one directional) 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 Samson Q2U microphone is the mic I send to all of my new clients. It has the versatility of both XLR and USB connections. And this particular model comes with a windscreen and desktop tripod stand. It also has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom, 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: $69.99
The ATR 2100x microphone is the "cousin" of the Samson Q2U above. Same XLR/USB options. But if your computer does not have an (older) USB-A port, you'll want to spend the extra $10 for this one. It comes with a USB-C to USB-C cord, useful for newer computers, particularly newer Macs. Headphones will cost you extra, but you can always use cheaper corded ones if you're tight on cash. Audio Technica ATR 2100x (mic only)approximate price: $79.99
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. I have one of these on my desk for conference calls and quick recordings in my office when I'm not in my full studio.. Retail price: $250
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.
People often ask me which mic I use. This is it, the Shure SM7B. It's been used by everyone from Michael Jackson to Eminem. You'll also find it in many professional radio studios. If you're in the market for an expensive, high-end dynamic microphone, this is my favorite. 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." Proximity effect 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. If you buy this, get the full shock mount package. Mic price: $450 Package price $500
Alternative, ElectroVoice also makes an RE-320, which is a scaled down version of the RE-20, for about $100 less.
Now, let's take a look at other podcast equipment you might be interested in, in addition to microphones.
The Logitech Brio Webcam is my go-to. It can record in high resolution, depending on your setup. But what I really love is that it comes with its own software, that will allow you to zoom in and out and move the shot up, down, left, and right.
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: $10-$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 I use one with my Shure SM7B. Approximate retail: $150.
Or the Cloudlifter CL-2 will work for two microphones. Approximate retail: $250
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: $130.
If you want to feed two microphones into the same computer, you can use the Focusrite 2i2, Approximate retail: $190
In Person Recording With 2 Or More People
If you are recording with guests or co-hosts in person, there are several recorders I recommend.
The Zoom Podtrak P4 allows for up to 4 XLR microphone connections, recorded on separate tracks, onto an SD card. This is ideal for field recording, and is very portable to bring anywhere. You can also plug in to an outlet in your dedicated recording space. One thing to note. The manufacture of this (and the next) recorder is Zoom. This is not the same company as the virtual meeting software that gained popularity during the pandemic. Approximate retail: $150.
Next up is the Zoom Podtrak P8 - this is essentially a studio-in-a-box. It has up to six microphone inputs and nine "sound pads" to playback clips, sound effects, and intro/outro music while recording your podcast. It also has a USB connection to connect to remote interviews, and a phone connection as well. You can transfer your audio to computer via USB-C. It does run on 4 AA Batteries though, so you'll want to have rechargeable ones or a good supply. Approximate retail: $500
Finally, the Cadillac of podcast recorders -the Rodecaster II. I have been using the original Rodecaster (which you can get for $600 if you want to save a few bucks) for years. Not only does the Rodecaster have multiple (programmable) inputs, it offers microphone processing, which, when you select the one that matches your microphone, will mimic the audio enhancement that radio DJ's enjoy in professional studio. It has two USB-C connections, Bluetooth, and more. If you have a healthy budget for podcast equipment, this is the way to go. Approximate retail: $700
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 others. 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, Buzzsprout and Simplecast. Note: I am an affiliate partner with Simplecast, and it's where I host my clients' and my shows.
Remote Recording Software:
Zoom should be a last resort for your meeting software. You should only use Zoom if your guest can't or won't get anything below to work on their computer. This could happen if they aren't tech-savvy, or if their office has certain websites blocked. Zoom is great for meetings, but bad for podcasting:
- Zoom records remotely, so if either side of the conversation has a "blip" in their connection, their audio will drop.
- Zoom can't handle two people talking at once, which causes the audio on one side to duck, or drop out. This is especially common during laughter.
The three platforms above record on each participant's machine locally, then upload the audio to the cloud after recording. This means that connection hiccups won't be reflected in the final recording. Also, each computer is recorded on a separate track.
Also, as long as all parties are wearing headphones, there won't be a need for "echo cancellation," which will cause issues with your audio if more than one person speaks at once.
Hopefully, everything here gives you a start on the equipment to buy to start a podcast. If you have further questions, you can always reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.