Technology: Microphones for podcasting
Technology: Microphones for podcasting
Arguably the most important element of any podcasting setup is the microphone. What makes a microphone for podcasting special?
Podcasting at the moment is big business, and it’s not just amateur aficionados who fancy themselves as radio presenters who are giving it a go. Even before the spread of Covid-19 began to impact worship services, podcasting was enjoying record popularity. The main audience is often the younger generation; in some Europeans countries more than half of 18–24 year olds regularly listen to podcasts. This is an audience that can be hard to attract with conventional means. Furthermore, the format is also entirely flexible. An episode can be five or 50 minutes long, depending on what the content warrants, and this typically has the benefit of keeping engagement levels high throughout. And as podcasts are mainly consumed on smartphones, any downtime in a person’s day could potential lead to them tuning in. It’s not surprising that they are proving successful for hosting discussions on both business and personal topics.
Much like livestreaming, extending your worship activities to include regular podcasting that can be consumed at leisure can be a very effective way of increasing engagement with the congregation when away from normal services. Now, with the spread of Covid-19 limiting and affecting in-person activities, podcasting has become even more appealing.
There are several pieces of equipment required to start putting together and publishing podcasts. These include a microphone, computer, audio interface, pop shield, headphones, audio editing or recording software, and a publishing platform such as Apple Music or Spotify. For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on capturing audio. What makes a microphone suitable for podcasting and what’s the appropriate investment for a first-time purchase?
If you’re just starting out, practically any microphone can suffice as a test subject. Most computers and smartphones have built-in mics. These can be great if you want to start practising how to put together an episode but, when it comes to others listening in, a better-quality solution is almost certainly required. A traditional, professional microphone is your best bet at getting a great-sounding podcast and is an essential piece of equipment if you are serious about continuing.
Microphones can be confusing at first look – there’s a dizzying array of options to choose from and they come in all shapes and sizes. It’s not necessary to have a specific type of microphone before you can jump into podcasting. That said, there certainly are some attributes that make certain models more or less suitable.
Firstly, consider how you will be using the microphone – what is the format of the podcast? Will you have a group of speakers sat around a table in a quiet room discussing a topic, or will you be out and about, interviewing people in their own environment? Dynamic and condenser microphones excel in different situations. Condenser mics tend to be much more sensitive, which gives them a by-product of exacerbating any poor room acoustics. Dynamic mics tend to mask poor environments, but are less capable of capturing dynamic nuances. When people think of podcasting, the image they have in their mind is often quite similar to a radio studio setup, with a large diaphragm mic mounted to a boom-style arm. If you have a lot of background noise such as computer fans and HVAC units where you will be recording the podcast, a dynamic mic will likely be the better choice.
You also will probably be able to buy a cheap dynamic microphone for less than a condenser equivalent, but consider that a condenser could potentially be positioned to capture multiple speakers from a single unit.
“There are no inherent technical limitations for any microphone to be used in a podcasting setup,” explains Audio-Technica’s Gary Boss. “The real question is how they sound. Typically, purpose-built podcasting microphones will be dynamic mics to help minimise background noise and create a radio-style vocal signature. However, if you have a good room, condenser mics can offer exceptional vocal intelligibility and detail. Many of these mics also live in a studio music recording space. A good mic is a good mic.”
When it comes to keeping setups simple, opting for a USB microphone is a sensible starting point. A USB mic is essentially a microphone and audio interface in one. Plug it into a computer and away you go (depending on whether drivers are required for your computer to “see” it). The downside is less flexibility. Any adjustments will have to come from the software on the computer rather than the interface, unless the unit boasts physical control on the mic itself. The alternative would be a mic with an XLR connector and, while these are typically known as more “professional” models, there are no specific features that make this the case.
If you have multiple people recording together, you will probably want to avoid USB mics and have a little more control over the individual signals. However, this means that you’ll also need to invest in an audio interface or mixer to hook up multiple XLR microphones.
With buying options on the market that hit almost every combination of features imaginable, the biggest consideration tends to be price. A cheap microphone can be purchased for under US$100, while top-class models extend into the thousands.
Sound quality among non-audio professionals is often underappreciated. When it comes to podcasting, aside from the content of the discussion, it’s one of the only production tools at your disposal. There are no flashy images to distract the audience. To create a truly professional product, the quality and intelligibility of the presenters and guests must be top-notch. “Sound quality should be the biggest deciding factor,” agrees Boss, “as long as the product will fit within your budget, interface with your setup and is made by a reputable manufacturer.”
Here is a selection of different models from popular microphone manufacturers split into two category’s: those for first-timer users and for those taking the next step.
Audio-Technica’s AT2020 A US$99 condenser microphone that can also be purchased with a built-in USB interface (AT2020USB+). Boasts iOS compatibility for direct recording to an iPhone or iPad.
Blue Microphones’ Snowball A very compact cardioid condenser USB mic with dual-capsule design. It’s a great choice if you are recording your podcasts on-location and need a very potable solution.
Røde Microphones’ NT-USB A USB interface-equipped version of Røde’s popular NT1 condenser microphone. The NT-USB offers zero-latency headphone monitoring and includes a pop-filer that attaches directly to its stand.
Samson’s Meteor A visually unique microphone designed with aesthetics in mind. The device is USB-equipped and includes an on-board volume selector and mute button.
Sennheiser’s Memory Mic Designed for video podcasting from a smartphone, the Memory Mic can be clipped onto a speaker like a lavalier mic, making it ideal for situations where freedom of movement is important.
Antelope Audio’s Edge Go Dubbed a “smart” USB mic, the Edge Go includes Antelope’s catalogue of vintage mic models to enhance and change the sound, as well as its Synergy Core effects processing platform.
Apogee’s MiC 96k The MiC 96k will be at the upper end of practically everyone’s budget when it comes to podcasting but promises uncompromising audio quality and recording up to 96kHz sample rate.
Audio-Technica’s BP40 A large diaphragm broadcast mic made for radio. The BP40 includes a switchable 100Hz high-pass filter to provide extra pop protection and produces a natural, condenser-like sound.
Audix’s USB12 A miniaturised USB condenser microphone tailored to recording voice and acoustic instruments. In contrast to the other models on this list, the USB12 is a gooseneck mic and can be positioned close to the speaker, without visually getting in the way. If your podcast is recorded alongside an audience, a gooseneck model could prove more effective.
Blue Microphones’ Yeti Offers a multi-pattern pickup and on-mic zero-latency headphone monitoring, as well as built-in volume and mute controls. It has an integrated USB interface.
Samson’s C01U Pro A 19mm large-diaphragm condenser microphone with built-in headphone jack and zero-latency monitoring. The C01U promises studio-quality sound and possesses a bigger and better feature set than its other USB models.
Shure’s SM7B A broadcast-quality professional studio microphone suitable for any application. The unit doesn’t include any functionality such as on-board headphone monitoring but excels in audio capture quality.