A GUIDE TO PODCASTING: EQUIPMENT PART 1
This is part 1 of 2… To check out part 2… go HERE
We’ve been asked a few times about the equipment we use. There is tons of information on the internet, both good and bad, but we thought it would be good to share with everyone the breakdown we went through. Our hope is that this list will help anyone interested in starting their own podcast and is trying to narrow down the gear side of things.
It should be mentioned that this list isn’t the end all, be all. There are other routes and options you could take. For example, we do not cover any USB audio interfaces, such as the Focusrite Scarlett. In no way should this be interpreted as us saying that isn’t a viable solution. We just decided to go a different route and it didn’t make it into our breakdown; therefore it isn’t in this breakdown.
Now, time to start laying out the options we considered and what we went with. Your choices may be different depending on budget, preference, and/or your comfort level. In this first part we will do an overview of the equipment we considered. In the second part, we will put together some sample set ups beyond what we decided on. Let’s get to the nitty gritty!
Let’s be honest, this is where everyone wants to start…
There a few different types of microphones but for podcasting you will probably be looking at dynamic and condenser mics. Unless you have a dedicated studio or acoustically treated room (read sound proofed), our recommendation is to stick with dynamic mics. While a good condenser microphone may give you a richer sound, it will also pick up much more background noise. Not to say that the dynamic mics will not pick up any background noise but they will be less sensitive to it and more manageable. The listed mics below are dynamic mics and most have good off axis rejection (meaning less background noise). The options:
- Audio-Technica ATR2100 ~$65 If you do any kind of research, this is the number one recommendation for a starter microphone. Solid choice as it can be used with an XLR cable to a mixer/recorder or with USB to your computer directly. In our opinion, this is the best option if you are on a budget as with this mic you can start your podcast by simply adding a computer and software. If it turns out that later you want to go the recorder/mixer route, you have that option. Some would argue this IS the podcast mic as they never upgrade.
- Shure SM58 ~$100 This is an industry standard for live performances, you have probably seen this mic a thousand times, as it’s used everywhere. Great for noisy environments and very durable. Nothing fancy, just a quality mic. These are so plentiful and durable, that you might consider finding a good used example.
- It’s little brother, the Shure SM48 ~$40, should also be considered as a cheaper alternative that is slightly less durable and will do the job.
- Rode Procaster ~$230 This is a broadcast quality microphone which makes it perfect for podcasting. The sound from this mic is slightly warmer and richer plus it’s built like a tank. Also, it has a decent rejection of background noise but not as much as the SM58.
- It’s also available in a USB version, the Rode Podcaster ~$230, which in general we wouldn’t recommend as it is only USB and that is limiting. But if you plan to, or record, straight into a PC/Mac/laptop this might be great option and should sound great.
- Heil Sound PR 40 ~$330 Podcasters seem to love this high end mic and some will go as far as to say this is the holy grail. It’s a dynamic microphone that produces a condenser like sound and has good background noise rejection. From our research this mic will need a good preamp and may not suit all voice types.
- Shure SM7B ~$400 Now we get into professional level broadcast quality. This the microphone the big boys like Joe Rogan and Marc Maron use. Do we need to say more? Maybe just one thing, this mic needs a high quality preamp to really shine.
- Electro-Voice RE20 ~$450 This is truly a professional broadcast microphone. If you walk into a radio station studio, this is probably the mic you’ll see. It is an industry standard in the radio business. Maybe overkill for a podcast… maybe not.
We went with the Rode Procaster. It was broadcast quality, XLR, and middle ground in the price range of the list plus it comes with a good warranty from Rode. The guys all ended up really liking the sound produced by the mic with our various voices. Not to mention, the build quality is awesome. We think it was an excellent choice for us and highly recommend it.
- Mic Stand We started with the Neewer Boom Scissor Arm Stands ~$14. Turns out that while we liked the versatility they provided, the Procaster mics were too heavy for the arm. We had to rig them in place once we set up and the versatility went out the window. It may be fine with lighter mics, such as the ATR2100 or the SM58. The stands we use now are simple On Stage DS7200B Desktop Stands ~$13. Everyone seems to like them and we don’t miss the versatility we had but didn’t have. If you have your heart set on a boom arm, we’d recommend the Rode PSA1 boom arm ~$100 that all research suggests is a quality arm that works very well (it’s just pricey).
- Shock Mount Why do you need a shock mount? It helps isolate the mic from any vibrations. We use the Neewer Black Universal Shock Mount ~$10. This mount, just like boom arm, has some trouble with the mic weight but it doesn’t completely fail. For the Rode mics, if you want something made for these mics, the Rode PSM1 shock mount ~$40 is what you are looking for.
- Pop Filter Why do you need a pop filter? It breaks up the air that causes plosives which are “pops” caused by like P’s and B’s in speech. Neewer NW(B-3) 6″ Round Shape Wind Pop Filter ~$8 While the Procaster technically has an internal pop filter, we felt that an external pop filter is a) extra protection and b) keeps the internal one cleaner from say involuntary spit.
In our case, we decided to go analog with a mixer. Mostly we wanted the quick and easy control a mixer provides with tactile knobs and buttons. This is especially helpful in that we run 3-4 mics and everything can be set quickly with a mixer. Not to mention, we are old school that way. But… if you are a one man show, or maybe even two man, you can go straight into a digital recorder. An even cheaper route, if you are a one man show, might be to go with a USB mic and straight into a computer and mix with software. If budget is a concern, you can definitely start there. Eventually though, I think most people will end up upgrading to include a mixer. It is also handy for remote guests as you can do a “mix-minus” set up, which sends your remote guests the audio minus their voice to avoid the echos or delays. So, here is some info and options for mixers:
- Behringer Xenyx Q802USB ~$80 This is a great smaller mixer to start with as you may never need more. If your podcast consists of only one or two hosts (or a host and onsite guest) this mixer stills has enough room for a mix-minus. Plus, it has 3 band EQ and USB out, which gives you the option to go straight into a computer from the mixer. The features to money ratio is pretty nice.
- If you don’t need the USB output, there is a cheaper version: Behringer Xenyx 802 ~$60. Same deal.
- Mackie Mix Series Mix8 ~$75 This is the equivalent to the Behringer above but with slightly less features such as no compression knob (which you may or not use) and no USB option. You pay a bit more for less plastic and the Mackie reputation.
- Behringer Xenyx 1202FX ~$99 & Xenyx QX1202USB ~$130 Essentially the same mixer but the second one includes USB output, if needed. Tons of features including EQ, effects, compression (on QX1202USB) and plenty of inputs. These are very good bang for the bang mixers when you need more inputs.
- Mackie Mix Series Mix12FX ~$120 Again the equivalent of the above Behringer but more compact and better build quality with nice preamps. This also has no USB option. This thing is compact! Has EQ, effects and plenty of inputs.
- Mackie PROFX8V2 ~$200 & Mackie PROFX12V2 ~$250 These are a step up from Mackie. Features galore! Mixer has sliders, effects, a multi-band graphic EQ, very nice meter and USB output. If you don’t need or know how to use all the options, this may be overkill. The difference between models is 8 vs 12 channels.
- Mackie 802VLZ4 ~$200 & Mackie 1202VLZ4 ~$270 The classic Mackie style, no non-sense, mixer. These come with their premium Onyx preamps, are “built like tanks” with a steel frame (not plastic or aluminum) plus sealed pots/knobs. If you will traveling with your gear, one of these might be worth it.
We went with the Mackie Mix12FX for the price, brand, size, and because we needed at least 4 XLR mic inputs. It was a close call between that and the Behringer 1202FX (since we didn’t need USB). In the end, I think we picked the brand reputation. Would be nice to have the better meter from the pricier mixers and sliders instead of knobs but we like it and the build quality appears pretty good. Plus, the preamps are pretty clean.
There are few ways to go about actually recording your podcast, but we decided early on that we wanted a mixer and to record to an external recorder. If you are on a budget or just testing the waters, as we have mentioned before, you can go straight into a computer and record it with software. Seems a good number of people eventually upgrade to the external digital recorder. There are horror stories floating around of laptops dying or crashing mid recording and losing the recording. It also helped that we already had experience with external digital recorders because we already had one on hand. So, that made the choice simple. Here are some options:
- Zoom H1n Digital Handy Recorder ~$120 The H1 has been a handy recorder for a while, this is the updated 2018 version, and as far as we can tell it works the the same as the older one (link below). This is a very compact recorder that records good sound but only has an 1/8 TRS input. Meaning you will need an adapter to go from the mixer to this guy. It does have built in stereo mics that could come in handy in a pinch but we only recommend that under dire circumstances.
- Zoom H1 Digital Handy Recorder ~$80 The previous version, which was discontinued, but can be had for a cheaper price and will do the same job you need just fine.
- Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder (2016) ~$200 This recorder provides you with 4 channels (2 XLR/1/4″ and a stereo 1/8 TRS), of which you will probably only need 2. The good news is that 2 of the inputs are XLR/1/4″, meaning you can plug 2 XLR mics straight in or go from the mixer stereo outputs to these. So, if you prefer recording to an external recorder but want to skip the mixer, you can. The new H4N’s preamps are also cleaner than the older ones.
- Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder ~$270 This would be another step up from the previous. It has the 4 channels (same as H4N) but can be expanded to 4 XLR with an add on. It has better controls, cleaner preamps, plus separate line out and headphone out. One this recorder’s best features might be that it can be powered via USB (with say a portable power bank).
- Tascam DR-40 Portable Digital Recorder ~$180 Another option that is an equivalent to the H4N with 4 channels but only 2 for external mics via the XLR inputs. The saving grace of this recorder is that it can record a safety track. Meaning that if your audio peaks, you will have a back up at about -6db.
As mentioned earlier, the choice was simple as we already had one handy, the H4N. We now have an older Zoom H4N and new version H4N. For podcasting, we think this is the way to go. The preamps are clean enough and it has enough inputs to record the podcast without the mixer, if we had to.
There were other miscellaneous pieces of gear needed but we did’t put too much thought into these. So, the options here might be slim and you may have different preferences. Something like a headphone amp, you may not even need depending on your situation. This is some “other” stuff we purchased that you may or may not need.
- Headphone Amp We went with the simple and cheap Behringer MicroAMP HA400 ~$25 . It is a no frills headphone amp and we didn’t feel we needed anything more for a podcast. If it’s just or maybe two of you, you may not need this.
- Assortment of misc cables You will need cables, that is a fact. How many and what kind? That is a much harder question to answer. It all depends on the equipment you are running. If you are just going with an ATR2100 to a laptop, you just need a USB cable (which might even come with the mic). If you are going mic -> mixer -> recorder, you will need at least 3 cables. It only grows from there. You’ll need to assess your set up. We, also, don’t really feel you need some high end Mogami cable for podcasting but if you want to go that route, go for it.
- XLR Cables We are currently using Cable Matters XLR cables and have some AmazonBasics XLR cables. Both seem to working fine.
- 1/4″ Cables Believe we are using these Monoprice 1/4-Inch TS Male to Male (these are mono, you will also need a stereo TRS 1/4″ if you are using the headphone amp). You’ll need a second pair to go between mixer and external recorder, if using one.
- Other Cables There are other cables like 1/4″ to XLR and 1/4″ to 1/8″ for example, that you might need depending on your set up. Can’t get into all those as it’s impossible to know your set up. YouTube, Google, and Amazon might be your friends here.
- Case If you need a sturdy case to store and transport everything in, we are currently use this guy: Seahorse 920F Wheeled Carry-on Case ~$120. It fits just about our whole set up for for 4-5 people, we really like this case and it’s awesome. The same brand makes different sizes and the Amazon brand of these style cases is also well reviewed.
For this category, you can probably use whatever you have, if you have something (at least to start). It might not be ideal but as long as you can hear what you are recording it’s a start. Ideally, you will want something with a flat response. Meaning that they won’t color the audio, at least not too much, so you accurately hear what you are recording. There are a ton of headphones and everyone has their preferences, there is no way to cover all those. Find what works for you. For now, these are all staples of the audio and video industries:
We use all 3 of these and they’re all pretty great. Sure you can spend more or less but in our opinion any one of these will serve you well. They have a relatively flat response and are proven in the audio field. Most people will be very happy with any of these.
So, let’s wrap this up…
There are quite a few ways to get going with your podcast in relation to equipment. We covered the options we explored but there are many other options. In our opinion, what we have listed here may not be the end all but they are pretty safe bets.
You can start with just a simple budget set up by getting the Audio-Technica ATR2100, running it via USB to your laptop, recording via software, and monitor with some earbuds. Simple. If want to step it up a bit with one of the other XLR mics and better audio to your laptop, you will need an audio interface like the Focusrite Scarlett. Which we didn’t cover but using an analog to digital interface is a good solution for a lot of situations. Or if budget permits, you can go the with a bigger set up like XLR mics to mixer to recorder, followed by some editing in software. Even bigger is if you want to add hardware compressors or dedicated hardware preamps or hardware effects to your audio chain for “better” sound. Which we also didn’t cover for the same reason as before. Point is, there is more than one way to do things.
On our end, we all agreed that audio quality was important to us and it’s part of the reason we went with a bigger set up but let’s not kid ourselves… content is king! You don’t have a show without content. Decent audio with great content is greater than great audio with boring content. So, do yourself a favor, figure out the who’s and what’s of your show before you focus too hard on the gear. Once that is squared away, it should better inform your decision on gear.
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