Dreaming of starting a podcast? Then you've got a lot of work to do. Besides planning content, finding co-hosts and negotiating advertising deals, you've got to get some gear—audio gear. We surveyed 20 podcasts to find out what they use, and we'll explain the results in detail in this post.
My first goal is to cover the gear that podcasters are actually using. I'm not interested in the gear you could use for a podcast—I want to know what podcasters are actually using right now.
Secondly, I don't want a list of gear used by huge companies with a much bigger budget than you have, or audio geeks, who have an entire home studio at their disposal. I've looked for podcasts created by the average Joe—people just like you.
So I went in search of 20 suitable podcasts, whose hosts have been kind enough to share the details of the equipment they use. I listed them at the end of the post, along with a link to their show, and a link to their gear page.
I made a surprising discovery about the audio software podcasters use to record their audio. They use what they have. Just about any audio software you can get your hands on today has the features you need to record a podcast.
So you probably already have what you need:
- If you have a Mac, you already have GarageBand.
- If you have Photoshop, you probably have Adobe Audition.
- If you don't have either, you can download Audacity, which is free.
Each of these apps is commonly used by podcasters for recording audio. Two other apps are used frequently by podcasters:
- Skype, so everyone on the podcast don't have to be in the same room, or same country.
- The Levelator, a free cross-platform app that can enhance your audio "like magic", including adjusting audio levels.
In all likelihood, that's all the software you'll need. Easy!
This is where things get more tricky... and expensive. You obviously need a microphone to record your voice—well, one for each person—but which should you choose? Let me break it down for you.
The two types of mics you'll be choosing from are condenser and dynamic. Condenser mics are often used in recording studios because they pick up sound really well. But if you're in a slightly noisy environment, they'll pick up everything. Literally. And they require more power to do that. (You'll need a mixer with "phantom power"—see below.)
On the other hand, a dynamic mic is more directional, mainly picking up the sound that you point it at—your voice. Either types are suitable for podcasting, but it's interesting to note that the top two mic choices are dynamics.
You also have to make a choice between a mic with a standard XLR connection, or one with a USB interface, designed to be plugged directly into your computer. If you only need one mic, I strongly recommend getting one of the USB models. It will make your setup much simpler—and cheaper.
But if there's more than one person on your podcast, you should consider purchasing standard XLR microphones, and also a mixer with enough inputs. The mixer should have a USB interface (to make it easy to get all those voices into your computer), and if you're using condenser mics, it should also have phantom power. But more on that later.
Once you've chosen your mic, you'll also need a mic stand (or boom), a lead (which may be included), and a shock mount if you choose a condenser mic.
Here's the complete list of 22 microphones used by the surveyed podcasts. The list is sorted first by popularity, then by price. You'll find the best microphones at the top, and the less expensive ones at the bottom. They range in price from $25 to over $300.
1. Heil PR-40
- Type: Dynamic, XLR
- Cost: $316.00 (Amazon)
- Web: www.heilsound.com/pro/microphones/pr-40
- Used by: 7 (Podcast Answer Man, Jontus Media, 5by5, Flight Podcast, The Paranormal Podcast, We Grow Media, Handyguys Podcast)
"The Heil PR 40 microphone boasts the widest frequency range of any dynamic mic in the Heil PR series. The PR 40 incorporates Heil’s sage-like understanding of phasing plug placement, along with the use of a very large (1.5”), low mass diaphragm, and custom magnet metals housed in a specially designed microphone body."
- "I was blown away by the amazing sound that comes out of the Heil PR-40. You may be shocked to learn that it is a dynamic microphone. Once my wife, Stephanie, heard the sound of my Heil PR40, she insisted that I purchase one for her as well." (Podcast Answer Man)
- "I’ve tried numerous microphones over the years I’ve been podcasting, but the mic I always come back to and use for 99 percent of my shows is the Heil PR40. The Heil PR 40 is a great piece of equipment. It’s a dynamic microphone, designed and made by Bob Heil. It works brilliantly for a wide range of professional uses such as recording, live sound, and even commercial broadcasting. According to the tech guys, the Heil PR40 produces the widest frequency range available in a dynamic microphone, but as far as I am concerned it just sounds great. I love the range it’s got, helping to give my naturally tenor voice a touch more bass." (Jontus Media)
- "Dynamic mics work very well in broadcasting situations where you want to isolate a voice and eliminate background noise, but they're more expensive. Condenser mics create a more 'natural' or 'live' sound, but pick up a lot more background noise and require a better mic technique. The Heil PR-40 is a dynamic mic that sounds like a condenser (but without the tradeoffs see below). My recommendation is to spend the extra money and get a dynamic mic. It will make a big difference, and though it'll hurt your wallet today, your listeners will thank you." (5by5)
- "I like the fact the PR40 is a dynamic mic and doesn’t seem to pick up a lot of background noise..Leo Laporte uses this so if it is good enough for him…you’ll want the below shockmount, pop filter & boom arm if you go with the Heil." (The Paranormal Podcast)
- "As I did my research, another microphone received glowing reviews by both Cliff Ravenscraft and Leo LaPorte: the Heil PR40. About $100 more expensive than the Rode, at around $325, the Heil seems to offer “dreamy” voice recordings. But… because it was a professional mic, the accessories add to the price. You need a boom and shockmount as you do with the Rode, but the Heil is not a USB microphone. So you need an interface to get the audio from the mic to the computer, and an XLR cable." (We Grow Media)
- Type: Dynamic, USB
- Cost: $225.56 (Amazon)
- Web: rodemic.com/mics/podcaster
- Used by: 3 (We Grow Media, 5by5, Mac Power Users)
"The Podcaster is ideal for podcasting, vodcasting, YouTube videos, voice recognition software, corporate videos and any production application that requires a simple yet professional voice over microphone. It is also a convenient demo microphone for musicians and songwriters that prefer the convenience of a USB microphone but don't want to compromise sound quality."
- "The Rode Podcaster Dynamic Mic ($230) is the best USB mic I've ever used. It isolates your voice against typically noisy backgrounds (kids, neighbors, traffic, etc.) and requires only basic mic technique. All of my 5by5 co-hosts (except John Siracusa) use this mic, and it sounds great. It plugs right into your computer's USB port, and you don't need an audio interface. You probably won't need a pop-filter, either." (5by5)
- Type: Condenser, XLR
- Cost: $79.99 (Amazon)
- Web: mxlmics.com/microphones/900-series/990
- Used by: 3 (One of Swords, PodCulture, Google-Weekly.net)
"The MXL 990 has a FET preamp and a large diaphragm for truly professional sound quality in both digital and analog recordings."
- "A little bit higher-end condenser mic that we purchased to test out for the show. Very nice mic. It gives a fantastic sound, however it is a very sensitive mic and unless your recording area is completely silent; it will pick up every little sound." (PodCulture)
Type: Condenser, USB
Cost: $108.99 (Amazon)
Used by: 2 (The Amp Hour Podcast, Lean Blog)
Type: Condenser, XLR
Cost: $229.00 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (Rooster Teeth)
10. Apogee MiC
Type: Condenser, USB (and 30-pin iPad/iPhone connector)
Cost: $199.00 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (The #IRchat Podcast)
Designed for GarageBand on iPad, iPhone and Mac.
Type: Condenser, USB
Cost: $89.95 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (The Amp Hour Podcast)
14. Samson C01
Type: Condenser, XLR
Cost: $79.99 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (The Bad Dice Podcast)
15. Sony ECM-MS907
Type: Condenser, USB
Cost: $69.99 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (5by5)
17. Samson Q2U
Type: Dynamic, USB/XLR
Cost: $54.50 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (Go Media Podcast)
Type: Dynamic, USB/XLR
Cost: $35.97 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (Internet Marketing Quick Tips)
22. Memorex MKA301
Type: Dynamic, XLR
Cost: No longer available
Web: Memorex support page
Used by: 1 (PodCulture)
Mixers and Audio Interfaces
If you just need a single microphone with a USB interface, your job is finished. But if you are using multiple microphones, or a mic with an XLR connection, you'll need a mixer (or audio interface).
The biggest decision you need to make is how many channels the mixer should have—in particular, the number of inputs. Count the number of microphones you'll need, and allow for growth. You'll need a mixer with at least that number of channels.
Your mixer should also have a USB computer interface. Each one listed below does. And if you're using condenser mics, make sure you choose a mixer with phantom power. Again, everything on this list (including the tiny Icicle) is suitable.
Here's the complete list of 15 mixers and interfaces used by the surveyed podcasts. The list is sorted first by popularity, then by price. You'll find the best at the top, and the less expensive ones at the bottom. They range in price from $40 all the way up to $950.
- Channels: 16 (8 high–gain mic/line, 4 stereo balanced inputs, 18 direct outputs)
- Cost: $299 (Amazon)
- Web: alesis.com/multimix16usb20
- Used by: 4 (Rooster Teeth, The Bad Dice Podcast, Google-Weekly.net, Handyguys Podcast)
"Designed with low–noise analog electronics, the MultiMix 16 USB 2.0 mixer lets users take advantage of 100 studio–grade 28–bit digital effects. Whether used for mobile or studio recording, the MultiMix 16 USB 2.0 mixer makes recording high–quality audio to your computer fast and easy."
- "Look for the following features: USB connectivity that is compatible with the iPad and the Apple camera connection kit; at least two main mix outs so I can sent to my recording device and a second out to Laptop for live streaming; Aux channels to allow ‘Mix-Minus’ recording to Skype; at least four XLR inputs with Phantom Power + extra channels for other audio sources." (The Bad Dice Podcast)
- Channels: 12
- Cost: $336.57 (Amazon)
- Web: usa.yamaha.com/products/music-production/mixers/mw/mw12cx
- Used by: 2 (PodCulture, Flight Podcast)
"The new MW USB Mixing Studio series mixers give you everything you need to turn your computer system into a complete, full- featured, high-performance home recording studio. The new MW uses a single cable USB =connection to interface with your computer, for bi-directional audio data transfer. It gives you comprehensive signal input and mixing features in a compact size"
- "We use conversations on Skype for recording and run the audio through a Yamaha MW12C USB mixer that feeds raw wave audio into a solid state Zoom H2 or Zoom H4n recorder. Audio is recorded locally on a PC as a backup. That raw audio is first imported into Levelator and then later into Adobe Audition or Audacity for editing. You won’t see the benefits of our editing process until all our hosts have synchronised their means of input." (Flight Podcast)
Cost: $299 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (Jontus Media)
Channels: 4 mic/line inputs, 2 with Class A FET high impedance inputs
Cost: $299 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (We Grow Media)
Cost: $179.99 (Amazon)
Used by: 1 (Go Media Podcast)
Cost: no longer available
Used by: 1 (One of Swords)
Many podcasts also use portable recorders. Some use them to record face-to-face interviews. Others prefer a simpler system, which means less things can go wrong. Still others like to record their podcasts on the go. Portable recorders are not a podcasting requirement, but you may find one handy.
It's possible to use a smartphone for this purpose, either with the built-in mic or a higher-quality external one. (We covered some microphones for iOS in our article Top 30 Devices and Interfaces for iPad Audio.) Interestingly, none of the surveyed podcasts seem to be doing that currently.
Here's the list of six portable recorders used by the surveyed podcasts. Again, it's sorted first by popularity, then by price. They range in price from $60 to $270.
1. Zoom H4n
- Cost: $269.99 (Amazon)
- Web: zoom.co.jp/english/products/h4n
- Used by: 5 (Jontus Media, INTERCUT, Flight Podcast, The Paranormal Podcast, Internet Marketing Quick Tips)
"Its onboard X/Y stereo condenser mics are arranged with the right and left mics on the same axis. This design ensures that the mics are always an equal distance from the sound source for perfect localization without phase shifting. Frequency response remains uniform throughout your recording. The result is great stereo recording with natural depth and accurate imaging every time."
- "Unlike some podcasters who recorded directly into their Mac or PC, I prefer to record into a digital recorder. My choice is the Zoom H4N digital recorder.
I looked at the Roland R-05 Digital Audio Recorder but settled on the Zoom because it felt more robust. This was important because I needed something that I could cart around in my bag for recording in the field. I also tested the onboard condenser mics in the store before I bought and just loved the sound. It’s warm and rich and I’ve got some great clips using it. I didn’t buy the additional kit that you can get for the Zoom H4N; instead, I bought a cheap mini-tripod to have on my desk and angle the recorder just so I can see it." (Jontus Media)
- "In the future I might replace the Zoom H4N. That’s probably the technical spot in the chain that could be improved. The mic preamps in the H4N are not that good, and the sound quality might benefit from a better preamp. But that will be down the road, once we get better at podcasting." (INTERCUT)
- "I really like this recorder because of its high customer ratings, its versatility, onboard mics with ability to use professional XLR mics as well, its quality sound, and relatively low price!" (The Paranormal Podcast)
- "If you podcast and are anything like me, you live in fear, deathly afraid that you’ll finish an hour recording of an exclusive hard to get interview, and then for some reason your computer crapped out and did not record. Not to sound strange, but I just got sick to my stomach thinking about this. That is why every serious podcaster needs a portable recorder, and this one is the best. This is guaranteed to be my next purchase before anything else on this page." (Internet Marketing Quick Tips)
2. Roland R-05
- Cost: $183.68 (Amazon)
- Web: rolandus.com/products/details/1077
- Used by: 2 (The Bad Dice Podcast, Podcast Answer Man)
"The compact R-05 is easy to use, affordable, and packed with big-ticket features that raise the bar in its price class. Experience crystal-clear 24/96 capture, enhanced recording and editing features, and extended battery life (over 16 hours per charge)."
- "I bought this amazing bit of kit, not to take out and record on location, but to remove my laptop from the recording set-up unless it is used to bring audio in or take it to a live stream. Since day 1 the major issues that cropped up now and again were always software based. The laptop would crash, the software would freeze, or even record a whole show then not be there after a save. Added to that I had a laptop in front of me while recording which means noises from the fan, typing and playing with the mouse and also a distraction of emails popping up and all the other things that draw your attention away." (The Bad Dice Podcast)
- "If there was one piece of recording equipment that I could not live without, it is the Roland portable digital recorder... It is small enough to fit into your pocket and the audio quality that it records is simply amazing. It is entirely possible that one could produce a podcast with this single piece of audio equipment... It’s perfect for sound seeing tours with its two onboard condenser mics which record in an unbelievable stereo sound that makes you feel as though you are right there with the person who is recording the sound seeing tour.This recorder is also great for a face to face interview." (Podcast Answer Man)
Here is a list of the podcasts referenced in this tutorial. Check out their gear pages for more details, and listen to the podcasts to see how the gear performs.
- Mac Power Users (podcast), (gear)
- Podcast Answer Man (podcast), (gear)
- Jontus Media (podcast), (gear)
- The Bad Dice Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- Google-Weekly.net (podcast), (gear)
- Internet Marketing Quick Tips (podcast), (gear)
- The #IRchat Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- Handyguys Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- The Go Media Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- Light Grey Art Lab (podcast), (gear)
- The Amp Hour Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- One of Swords (podcast), (gear)
- 5by5 Network (podcast), (gear)
- INTERCUT (podcast), (gear)
- Flight Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- The Paranormal Podcast (podcast), (gear)
- Lean Blog (podcast), (gear)
- We Grow Media (podcast), (gear)
- Rooster Teeth (podcast), (gear)
- PodCulture (podcast), (gear)
I'd like to thank these podcasters for doing the world a favor by being open about their gear. This post would not have been possible without them.
Are you a podcaster? What gear are you using? Let us know in the comments below.