Download: MP3 (50.8 MB)
Update: I updated this gear guide in Episode 32: Podcasting on a Budget. Check it out!
There are a lot of things you’ll need to buy if you want to start a podcast. In this episode, I talk about why a great microphone is an essential investment for your show, and how much you’ll need to invest if you want a great setup that will set you apart from other podcasters.
My goal was to create a comprehensive podcasting equipment guide. I don’t talk about every microphone, interface or pre-amp available, but I cover the essential pieces of gear you’ll need to get started.
Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins:
- A great microphone is the most important piece of gear you’ll buy.
- To stand out from other podcasts in a crowded market, you have to provide great content and high quality sound.
- Great sound quality makes your show easier and more enjoyable to listen to.
- Buying used gear is a great way to stretch your budget.
- When deciding which interface to buy, consider how many mic inputs you’ll need.
- Always, always, always use a pop filter.
- Wear headphones to avoid causing echo from guests in your recording.
- If you’re serious about making a great podcast and growing your audience, don’t settle for the cheapest option.
- 0:46 Sarah asks: “What is the level of sound quality that you consider the minimum to start?”
- 0:53 Justin asks: “What’s the single most common mistake people make when starting a new podcast?”
- 0:58 Cory asks: “Is it more important to just get started and iterate, or to get started right?”
How to Stand Out in a Sea of Podcasts
- 1:19 There are two kinds of podcast listeners:
- People who have been listening to podcasts for awhile. They are experienced with navigating iTunes to find and subscribe to shows, and they already have favorite shows they listen to every week.
- People who are new to podcasts. They may have recently heard about podcasts because of breakout shows like Serial.
- 1:57 There are thousands of other podcasts vying for your listener’s attention. To stand out, you have to provide great content, but you also need to have good sound.
Great sound quality makes your show easier and more enjoyable to listen to.
- 2:09 Attention to sound quality shows your listeners that you take podcasting seriously, which means they will take you seriously and be more likely to invest time listening to you.
A Great Microphone Needs Less Post-Production
- 2:35 Most recordings can be improved with post-production (noise removal, EQ, Compression, etc), but a great mic will require less post-production.
A great microphone is the most important piece of gear you’ll buy.
- 3:15 Cheaper mics just don’t sound as good. They often have harsher high end; they sound brittle and don’t have a good low-end (bass frequencies).
- 3:31 A lot of people ask me, “What’s the minimum I can spend to get started?” I don’t want you to just meet the minimum. I want you to invest in good gear and sound great.
If You Have a Small Budget, Consider Buying Used Gear
- 3:55 I understand that not everyone can spend $800 on a podcasting setup. When I started podcasting, I was using a $250 Shure PG42 USB mic, but I wish I had invested in a better mic right away.
- 4:22 If you have a small budget, I recommend checking out Guitar Center’s used gear online, or checking your local music store for used gear. Save the receipts in case anything doesn’t work, and buy from reputable sellers who offer returns.
Buying used gear is a great way to stretch your budget.
Should I Buy a USB Mic, or a XLR Mic?
- 5:05 If you’re just starting out, and you want to spend the bare minimum, there’s a USB mic called the Blue Yeti ($129) that will give you decent results. If you want to go a step up from that, I’d recommend the Rode Podcaster ($215).
Should I get a Dynamic or a Condenser mic?
- 6:11 A dynamic mic will give you more mid-range warmth and has better off-mic noise rejection, so it won’t pick up as much of the room sound or background noise.
- 6:27 A condenser mic will give you more detailed recordings, but since they are more sensitive than dynamic mics, they also pick up more room echo and background noise.
- 6:52 Dynamic microphones are usually a better choice for podcasting. If you’re interested in learning more about dynamic vs condenser mics, check out 10 Statements on Condenser Microphones vs. Dynamic Microphones.
- 6:59 I love and recommend XLR microphones for podcasting. The microphone I use is the Shure SM7B. They cost $350 new, but I got mine used for around $250. The SM7B sounds great. It’s the microphone that everyone on the seanwes network uses, and Michael Jackson used it to record vocals for the best selling album of all time (Thriller). I’d say it’s a good enough mic for podcasting!
- 7:46 Another great XLR mic is the Heil PR-40 – $329. The PR-40 sounds a little brighter than the SM7B, but it’s a great mic used by many professional podcasters.
- 8:14 If you’re looking for an affordable XLR mic, you can’t go wrong with a Shure SM57 or SM58. They sell new for $100, but you can find them used online for half that price. Pair a SM57 or SM58 with a simple USB interface (like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2), and you’ve got a great sounding, affordable recording setup.
Mics for Video or Recording On the Go
- 9:08 I occasionally get asked about recording audio “on the go”. I’ve been using the Rode Videomic Pro ($215) for recording video interviews with my Canon T2i DSLR camera. The Rode Videomic Pro is a small shotgun microphone that sits on top of the DSLR and replaces the camera’s built in microphone (which does not sound good at all). It won’t give you amazing sound quality, but it’s pretty good for the price, and works fairly well for interviews. You can also buy a small adapter that will let you use it with your iPhone (which makes for better audio for your Periscope videos). If you do want to use it with your phone, buy this bracket, this cell phone mount adapter, and this hot shoe adapter to mount the Videomic Pro to the bracket or any other standard tripod mount. You might also like this handle.
- 10:03 If you need to record with multiple microphones on the go, the Zoom H4N ($199) is a great option. This is a small, handheld device that has 2 microphone inputs plus a built-in condenser mic on top.
- 10:23 If you need more than two mic inputs, get the Zoom H6 ($399) instead. The H6 has 4 mic inputs in addition to the built-in condenser mic.
- 10:52 I don’t have much experience with using lav mics, but they’re commonly used on stages, and they can work pretty well if you’re out and about recording interviews.
- 11:13 Sean McCabe uses the Rode Lavalier ($249) for most of his home video shoots, and it’s a great sounding lav mic.
- 11:30 One of the seanwes community members mentioned that he uses the Rode Smartlav ($80), which is a more affordable option for recording to an iPhone. I took a listen to the audio, and it wasn’t as high quality as the Rode Lavaliere, but it’s more affordable and convenient for mobile recordings.
- 12:08 I came across another system that I wanted to mention. I can’t speak to the audio quality, but the GTD Audio G-622H 200 Channel UHF Professional Wireless Microphone System ($169) might be something to look at if you need 2 wireless mics.
- 12:53 If you decide to get a XLR microphone, you will need an interface to convert the analog signal from the mic into a digital signal that your computer can record.
- 13:12 Most interfaces connect to your computer via USB, and the smaller ones use USB for power as well.
When deciding which interface to buy, consider how many mic inputs you’ll need.
- 13:30 Things to consider:
- How many mics will you be using at the same time? If you’re just going to be recording yourself, an interface with one or two mic inputs will work fine. If you’re going to be recording multiple people in the same room, you’ll need an interface with four or maybe eight mic inputs.
- How many headphone monitoring channels will you need? Most interfaces offer one or two headphone monitoring ports (so you can listen to yourself while recording, or run your computers audio out through your interface). If you need more than one or two headphone jacks, you may want to invest in a headphone amp that you can plug additional headphone lines into.
- 14:15 I recommend buying an interface that offers 24bit or 32bit recording. This is the standard for most newer interfaces, but some older interfaces only record in 16bit, which will give you lower quality recordings. Go with an interface that offers 24bit recording instead.
- 14:37 The interface that I’m currently using is the Scarlett 2i2 ($149). It’s USB powered, has two microphone inputs, and a single headphone jack. Quick note: most interfaces will give you phantom power (or 48v), which is used to power XLR condenser microphones. If you’re using a dynamic microphone, you won’t need to use phantom power (in fact, make sure it’s turned off before you record).
- 15:38 If you need more mic inputs (or headphone jacks), you’ll want to go with the Scarlett 18i6 ($349). This has 4 mic inputs and 2 headphone jacks.
- 16:19 If you need an interface with 8 mic inputs, get the Scarlett 18i20 ($499).
- 16:37 Even though this interface has a higher price than the others I’ve listed so far, I wanted to mention the Apollo Twin ($899). It’s not cheap, but if you want to invest a little more money and get a fantastic interface, take a closer look at it.
Cables, Stands, Pop Filters, and Other Accessories
- 17:06 If you go with an XLR microphone, you’ll need an XLR cable to connect your microphone to your interface. I use the Monoprice 15ft XLR Cable ($10). It’s affordable and works great.
- 17:39 You’ll also need a mic stand. I use a normal microphone boom stand like the Samson Mic Stand ($20), which works fine with my Shure SM7B.
- 18:41 I would recommend the standard boom stand for most people, but if you want to invest a little more money and get something nice, you could go with the Heil Sound PL-2T Overhead Broadcast Boom ($120). This is a swiveling boom arm that attaches to your desk, and is very convenient for moving the mic around to any position you want. Many professional podcasters use these, and I’m hoping to invest in one soon as well. If you do purchase a broadcast boom arm, you’ll want to be sure to buy a shock mount for your mic to absorb any vibrations from your desk that might travel through the arm and cause noise in your recordings.
- 19:50 I recommend avoiding any stand that sits on your desk. They may cause your mic to pick up any vibrations (caused by typing or bumping the desk), which will cause thumps in your recordings. A shock mount for your mic might alleviate that, but I recommend using a standard boom stand or the broadcast boom instead.
Always, always, always use a pop filter.
- 21:07 A pop filter diffuses and prevents plosives and sibilants, and lets you get closer to the mic which will make your voice sound more rich and warm and gives a sense of intimacy to your recordings. The Nady Pop Filter is $10 on Amazon and is a no-brainer.
- 22:07 I plug my computer and pre-processor into a Furman Power Conditioner ($55). A power conditioner cleans and filters noise and hums that might come through your computer or interface’s power supply. You might not need one of these, but if you hear a hum or buzz in your recording that you can’t eliminate, try a power conditioner to see if it helps.
- 23:24 You may have heard about the DBX 286 ($200) before. The DBX 286 is pre-amp, compressor, de-esser, and noise gate. It’s a pre-processor used by many professional podcasters (including Sean McCabe, Dan Benjamin, and many others) to improve the sound quality of raw recordings. If you are brand new to audio, you’ll need to invest some time in learning how to use the various controls of this unit, but if you want to get even better sound out of your XLR microphone, it’s a great investment. If you decide to buy a DBX 286 or any other pre-processor or pre-amp, you’ll need to buy a cable to connect it to your interface.
- 26:18 Headphones are really important for both recording and editing. If you are talking to someone over Skype and you aren’t wearing headphones, the sound will come out of your speakers and get recorded in your track which will cause a really annoying echo (and ruin your recording).
Wear headphones to avoid causing echo from guests in your recording.
- 26:46 The headphones I use and love are the Sony MDR-7506 ($85).
- 27:42 If you want to spend a little less, there are a lot of other options, including the Sennheiser HD-280 ($69) and the Panasonic RPHJE120K Earbuds ($6) (fine for listening, but not for mixing).
- 28:52 After you buy your recording gear, you’ll need to use some kind of software to record audio.
- 29:06 If you have a Mac, Quicktime is an easy way to record an audio track. It should already be installed, so you can open it up, select your mic or interface and be good to go. You might also have Garageband included in your Mac, and that works fine for recording audio as well.
- 29:17 Audacity is a free program that works on both Mac and Windows. Here’s a short tutorial on how to record an audio track in Quicktime or Audacity.
- 29:22 If you’d like to spend a little bit of money on a real DAW (digital audio workstation), Reaper is a good affordable option (both Mac and Windows, $60).
- 29:34 I use and love Logic Pro X, and there’s also Pro Tools or Adobe Audition. These programs are more for the audio professional, someone who is going to be doing a lot of editing, mixing and mastering. If you plan on learning and doing the post production yourself, you should invest in one of these programs.
Recording Skype Conversations
- 29:55 If you’re going to be interviewing someone or talking to a co-host over Skype, there are a few options for recording Skype calls including Ecamm Call Recorder (for Mac), and MP3 Skype Recorder (for Windows). I recommend that each person on the call record a track on their computer and then send those to the person responsible for editing (this is called a “double-ender”). You should also record the audio from the Skype conversation to have as a backup.
My Recommended Setups
- 30:53 If you’re looking for the most affordable option, I recommend the Blue Yeti USB mic with a pop filter. This will cost about $140 (not including the stand).
- 33:35 The setup that I’m currently using is the Shure SM7B, a Scarlett 2i2 interface, and a DBX-286. I invested around $500 for this setup (buying everything used), but it sounds great.
If you’re serious about making a great podcast and growing your audience, don’t settle for the cheapest option.
- 31:36 Wait to start recording your podcast until you’ve saved up enough money to be able to buy the gear you want. You’ll thank yourself later, and your listeners will too.