Podcast How-To Guide: Microphones, Headphones, Hosting, and More
This is a short guide to what I’ve learned about podcasting gear in preparation for the launch of the Django Chat podcast.
At the highest level all you need are a microphone to record your voice and a way to input that audio into your computer for editing and publishing. But there can be many, many steps along the way.
The most important piece of equipment is the microphone but any attempt at research quickly becomes bogged down in technical terms. The two most important concepts to understand are XLR vs USB and Dynamic vs Condenser.
USB vs XLR
USB microphones are an all-in-one solution that plug directly into your computer. No additional gear needed. However they are not very durable, contain lower quality hardware overall, and are not customizable. The end result is usually lower-quality sound but also lower cost and higher convenience. If you are just starting off with podcasting, a USB microphone is a good choice.
An XLR microphone is more complex to setup and more expensive but results in superior sound. At a minimum you will need an audio interface to connect your XRL microphone to your computer via a USB cable, but it’s also common to have pre-amps and additional gear as needed. If you want the best sound and aren’t afraid to learn a little bit about audio recording, invest in a XLR microphone setup.
Dynamic vs Condenser
Dynamics are the practical choice that can easily sound good but often don’t sound great. They minimize background noise, room echo, and aren’t that sensitive to vibrations like typing on a keyboard. However the overall sound can be somewhat duller and more muffled.
Large-diaphragm Condensers pick up much more sound and with the right configuration and recording environment can have the best sound. But they are very unforgiving and pick up background noise, room echo, and vibrations easily. In ideal recording environments, this is the best choice.
Small-diaphragm Condensers are often used for live stage vocals and are somewhere in between dynamics and large-diaphragm condensers. They offer forgiveness like a dynamic due to their supercardioid pickup pattern, but can have better sound.
So it’s all about tradeoffs. If you have a recording studio setup and some money to spend, go with a large-diaphragm condenser. But for most podcasters either a dynamic or small-diaphragm condenser option will result in the most consistent high-quality sound.
The Blue Yeti Nano ($99) provides good sound, a USB connection, a stand, and two setting options. It is a condenser microphone so it will pick up some background noise but if you use its cardiod setting (the default for audio work) this is minimized considerably.
A slightly better albeit more expensive option is the Rode Podcaster ($220) which is dynamic USB microphone meaning it will not pick up background noise like typing on the keyboard as easily as the Blue Yeti.
Ready to step your quality up a notch? It’s time to consider XLR-connected microphones. The first option is the Rode Procaster ($230) which is a dynamic, broadcast-quality microphone that comes with a 10 year warranty. Use this for awesome sound if you don’t have access to a truly quiet recording environment.
If do have a nice recording environment then the industry-standard is the dynamic Shure SM7B ($399) microphone which is commonly paired with a Cloudlifter CL-1 ($149) for 25+ dB of additional gain since it is so sensitive. You can learn why the Cloudlifter is recommended in this YouTube video.
An audio interface provides both power via a pre-amp and a USB connection to the computer. There are a ton of options here in the ~$150 range.
My choice is the Scarlett 2i2 ($160) which uses hardware (rather than finicky software).
Want even better sound? Add the DBX 286x Microphone Pre-amp & Channel Strip Processor ($200) which provides much more customization around the incoming audio and the ability to remove background noise. The flow then would be microphone to DBX 286x to Scarlett 2i2 and then to your computer. Phew!
Most microphones will benefit from a pop filter which reduces the “pop” noise a sensitive mic will pic up from the air generated by “P” and “B” sounds. Be aware that the most popular pop filter on Amazon, the Dragonpad while only $10 does not fit the base of the Blue Yeti stand well. I ordered that first and then had to order the Auphonix 6-inch Pop Filter for Blue Yeti ($20) which does actually clamp onto the Blue Yeti stand correctly.
The Stedman PS101 ($47) is an even nicer pop filter but over twice the price.
Boom Arm & Shock Mount
If you have the space for them, a boom arm will provide much more positioning freedom so you can speak at the right angle/distance than a desktop stand.
Many podcasters swear by the Rode PSA1 $100 for its durability and ease-of-use.
However the Neewer Adjustable Microphone Boom is only $14 and works just fine albeit without the same sturdiness of build.
A shock mount which minimizes vibrations is a further upgrade. I like the Rode PSM1 Shock Mount ($42).
Expensive XLR cables don’t make much of a difference versus cheaper ones. The main consideration is length: something around 6 feet is the most length to get but you can go shorter or longer as needed.
The LyxPro 6 Foot XLR cable ($12) is what I use because they are cheap, thin, and hold up well.
You need a way to hear your awesome vocals, right? A good headset can be found for over a hundred dollars but you can easily spend way, way more.
One of the very best options, the Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphone ($80) is also among the cheapest. It provides good sound and a high degree of comfort.
If you want to step it up a notch the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x ($129) provides a bit more oomph in the treble range.
Want to spend more? People absolutely rave about the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H6 ($345) though I haven’t tried them myself yet!
What if you’re recording on the go or don’t have access to a dedicated office for your podcast? You can still receive a professional sound it turns out.
The Audio-Technica BPHS1 Broadcast Stereo Headset ($199) is a dynamic microphone that is easy to pack up and removes the need to speak directly into the microphone while also typing or moving around. This has been a huge issue for me and I may end up using it as my default microphone even when I’m at a dedicated desk.
You can connect it directly to the small, battery powered Zoom H5 Portable Recorder ($280) which accepts two inputs (up to four with an accessory) and records onto a SD card you can then plug into your computer. If you need more inputs the Zoom H6 ($400) accepts four inputs (up to six with accessory).
Ok so you’ve recorded and edited your podcast. How to make it available for all the podcast services like iTunes, Spotify, and the rest?
A podcast host will host your audio files for you and generate an RSS feed that you can then point iTunes, Spotify, or whomever at. These days most podcast hosts also provide additional analytics and increasingly offer ways to automate ads in your podcasts, too, similar to Google AdWords network.
Personally I prefer SimpleCast ($12/month and up) which has an easy-to-use UI, analytics, monetization options, an embeddable audio player, and the ability to create a customizable website. There are many other options available and at this point I don’t see much difference in pricing or features between the major hosts. Just pick one and move on!
And that’s it. Buy a good microphone to record, get the audio into your computer, do some basic editing, and then find a host for your content that will make it available to all the major podcast streaming services.
For a newcomer, the Blue Yeti Nano ($99) is all the gear you need. If you want to step it up a level in quality but still have the convenience of a USB microphone, the Rode Podcaster ($220) is an excellent choice.
Each microphone needs a USB audio interface like the Scarlett 2i2 ($160) and will sound even better with the additional DBX 286x Microphone Pre-amp & Channel Strip Processor ($200).