Podcast Microphones are always a hotly debated topic in our world. Everyone has their own personal favourite, and there’s a lot of debate of what level of quality you actually need to run a decent Podcast.
Lots of Podcasts record with people in different locations, using tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, so connection quality can be more important than your microphone. Others record in-person, so environment and mic technique play a part. However you record, there’s no denying, though, that a Podcast recorded on a decent quality microphone is massively more professional than someone blabbering away on a tinny headset mic.
If you’re looking to up the quality of your kit, we’ve compiled a list of the best Podcasting microphones on the market today. It includes two different levels, Entry Level and High Quality. We don’t go into the realms of the pro mics, because, let’s be honest, if you have the experience to enable you to get the best out of that level of kit, then you don’t need us to tell you what to do!
So, why invest in a good quality microphone? Because it’s the mic that has the biggest effect on the quality of your recordings. It’s the mic that captures your voice and translates it from physical sound waves into digital bits and bytes. A good microphone can cost hundreds of pounds, but luckily there are a few more affordable options for us too.
The microphone that I most often recommend people start off with is the ATR2100 (that’s if you’re in the US – international folks, look a little further down). This is a really versatile little beast, being both XLR and USB, and is a significant quality increase over a cheap headset mic or your internal microphone.
The dual output means that in the early days you can plug it directly into your computer, recording to Garageband or Audacity. Then later on, when you get yourself a mixer or a decent digital recorder, you can change to XLR. The other benefit is that you can backup your recordings by sending to both. This means even if one device crashes/runs out of batteries, you’ve still got a copy of your session.
The ATR2100 is fine for US podcasters, but it’s very hard to get in the UK and elsewhere. Mike Philips did a breakdown of a podcasting microphone called the Samson Q2U, though, and found it to be near identical. If you’re non-US based, like me, then the Q2U is the alternative to the ATR2100. As I’m writing this, the Samson Q2U is actually cheaper than the ATR, so it might be the better option anyway!
Another great thing about these microphones is that they’re ideal for heading out and about, capturing live audio interviews. You can find a guide we’ve written on that subject, and how the ATR/Samson fit into the interview setup here: Face to Face Podcast Interviewing.
When I say high quality, I’m talking as good as anyone would need for podcasting up to 6 figure audiences. The microphones in this section are within the normal Podcaster’s budget, and provide great quality recordings to boot.
The next level up is professional level – those microphones that could happily kit out a professional recording studio. But, at that level, be prepared for some serious cash outlay. Unless you’re making a living from your podcast (and even if you are, really!), the microphones in this section will do the job perfectly.
The Rode Procaster
The Procaster is an absolutely excellent dynamic podcast microphone. The price is definitely creeping up a little now when you include stands and a shockmount, but you’ll notice a significant difference if you compare it directly with either of the entry level microphones above.
This is an XLR microphone, like the MXL990 below, but, being dynamic, it doesn’t need phantom power. That means you can plug it into a 1/4″ jack just as easily as XLR with the right cable, so you have a little more flexibility in how it can be used. Rode have even created an in-built pop filter so you have a little help with your plosives.
If you want this level of quality, but without the extras, then the Rode Podcaster might be the perfect choice. It’s a top-quality USB microphone, a cut above the Blue Yeti below, but of course a price to reflect that. The Rode Podcaster may be the best choice for home recordings, of course, since it’s a dynamic microphone rather than a condenser. Dynamics have a big advantage in more noisy environments – for a reminder on the pros and cons, have a look at the Condenser vs Dynamic section below.
Talking of condenser microphones, at this level you can start to get some decent ones. I personally use the MXL 990 Condenser Microphone for all my recording, and mount it on the JamStands JS-MCTB50 Short Mic Stand. I’m not sure what the RRP is, but I found it for £79 and it’s been worth every penny. This is one of the main microphones in our recording studio, and provides the voice for Podcraft, from series 2 onwards.
Bear in mind that this is an XLR microphone so you need a mixer and/or a top-end digital recorders, but this is something many podcasters get to eventually. As always, I’ve written up a guide to podcasting mixers if you’re looking to go that route. There are definite pros and cons, and they’re not for everyone, but it’s worth investigating.
I recently heard Rob from Podcast411 enthuse about the MXL990 so I’m glad I’m in good company in liking this podcasting microphone.
On the note of microphone stands, if you’re looking for some accessories for your Podcast microphone you could check out a few other articles on this site. For example, I’ve written about microphone boom arms and many other types of podcasting equipment. Just have a look through the links on the right hand-side of the site.
The Shure SM58
I have to mention the podcast microphone workhorse that is the Shure SM58, just incase you’re looking for something that’s more mobile. The SM58 is a handheld mic that’s most commonly spotted at music events, held in the hand of a screaming lead singer. They can be dropped, pounded, drowned and more and still survive, and they’re perfect for anyone that’s looking to do a lot more out and about recording than in-studio.
We use the Shure SM58 along with a Zoom H5 for all of our in-person interviews (find out more about the setup here). If you think you’d like to take your mic on the road, and can budget for a good digital recorder too, then this could be the choice for you. It’ll work just as well in the studio for when that’s the better choice.
The last in this group is a USB condenser microphone that has been used by Podcasters and general audio producers the world over. It is, of course, the Blue Yeti (US Store / UK Store) which comes in at around £125 (note: currently discounted to under 100 last time I looked…).
The Blue Yeti offers excellent quality audio thanks to it’s condenser capsules and is amazingly easy to use with a plug and play USB connection. This by-passes the sound card on your computer, making sure that you get the best quality recording, no matter what equipment your computer sports.
Lastly, the Blue Yeti comes with it’s own stand, so it’s a good first step if you want to jump in at the high-end and not have to worry about accessories like stands. I’ve written elsewhere about the Blue Yeti and it’s various accessories so feel free to check out that article for more information.
The Yeti might not quite match the MXL990 or the Rode mics for sheer quality, but the ease of use and the fact that it’s entirely standalone make it a really serious choice at this level.
I’m not going to spend too much time here, because, to be frank, it’s not worth the money for most people. The first option is pretty expensive for what you get, and the second is needs a quiet environment and great mic technique. For both, it’s actually very dependent on your voice how good a result you’ll get. But hey, I know you folks love the gear just as much as me, so you’re probably covetting them anyway. Let’s have a look!
The Heil PR40
The Heil PR40 is touted by many high level podcasters as the go-to mic for anyone who wants the best sound they can get. I wont deny it’s a good microphone, but I will say it’s pretty overhyped. The sound quality is good, and it’s a dynamic mic so it’s good in the non-professional environments most of us are recording in, but it’s very expensive for all that… I genuinely think the Procaster or the Podcaster by Rode gives similar or better results, depending on your voice, and it’s way cheaper.
But, it’s hugely popular, and for some people it does create a really excellent sound. So, if you can get your hands on one to test it out, either borrow, or on sale and return, then definitely give it a try.
The Shure SM7b
The Shure SM7b is a legendary mic in the industry. This is one that discerning audiophiles hold in great esteem, one of the best of breed. And yes, it does indeed live up to the hype – it’s an amazing microphone. Again, with the qualifier that, at this level, you should be shopping around and testing them with your own particular voice. Some people will find that even the most revered mic just doesn’t work for them, and a lower cost alternative gives the best sound.
The problem with the SM7B is that it needs a really professional environment. It picks up a LOT of background noise, and it totally unforgiving with bad mic technique. This will pick up all of your lip smacks, breathing, pops and sibillants, and so you need to know how to deal with them all.
Presuming you can do that, though, and you can afford the cost, this is one hell of a microphone.
Ok, I’ve talked a lot about dynamic microphones and condenser microphones above – so what’s the difference?
If you want that extra level of depth to your Podcast, it could be worth going for a condenser microphone, but with some caveats. Condenser microphones work in an entirely different, un-fathomable way, but suffice to say, they introduce a higher level of quality to your recordings. However, and this is key, that only applies in the right context.
The problem is, because of their sensitivity, condenser microphones tend to pick up a lot of background noise. This means you need a nice quiet recording environment to take advantage of the quality they offer. They also tend to be a lot more fragile, so they’re no good for carrying around in your bag.
The other disadvantage is that condenser microphones need external power. This normally comes through a phantom power supply, provided by either a mixing desk, your digital recorder or a battery in the microphone. Digital recorders or mixing desk are good investments themselves as they provide a lot more flexibility, but that’s an extra investment too. To be honest, for most Podcasting setups mixers tend to be overkill.
Essentially, if you want the best quality, but plan to only record from your desk, using a mic stand, in a very quiet environment, then a condenser microphone could be great for you. A good example of an entry level condenser microphone is, from the same company, the Samson C01 Studio Condenser Mic.
Of course, the alternative is a Dynamic Microphone. Dynamic mics are essentially the opposite of everything I’ve described above. They record a narrower range of frequencies, and so can sound a little less rich. They record less surrounding noise, so you have to be right up close to the mic. But, because of both of those features, they can be lovely and quiet, and forgive much worse recording environments.
The two factors that determine what microphone you should go for are:
- Your recording environment
- Your Budget
Buy as expensive a podcasting microphone as you can afford. As with everything, the more you spend, the better the quality you’ll get. But, this only goes up to a point. You will get perfectly good results with the ATR2100, so, if that’s your budget, then start here and move on up.
When upgrading, you can spend hundreds, but you need a lot of knowledge and more professional support equipment to take advantage of the quality offered by something like the Shure SM7B. Save that for a couple of years down the line when you’ve become an audio production guru, and stick with something like the Rode Procaster or the Blue Yeti USB Microphone for now.
The question of dynamic vs condenser microphone comes down to where you normally record and how much kit you want to use.
If you have a nice, quiet regular recording room, then a condenser microphone could be worth buying. You wont be able to take it anywhere easily, and you will need that mixer or digital recorder to provide the power, unless you find a battery powered mic. But the depth of your recordings will be great, and you’ll definitely stand out.
Whatever you choose, enjoy it, and remember that the main thing is, keep on releasing those Podcasts!
A Question For You on Podcast Microphones
What podcast microphones do you use and like? I’d love to hear your feedback – please do let me know in the comments below if you have any of the mics listed above, or whether there are any you think I’ve missed. I look forward to hearing from you.
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