Simple Setups for Recording In-Person, On-Location Podcast Interviews

Get more candid, meaningful content by recording interviews in person, with this recording setup.

simple setups for recording in-person

While the world seems to be moving towards more virtual interviews, the face-to-face chat is still one of the best ways to really get to know someone. When you're recording in-person, you can really tease out individual stories and personal experience.

And, that's not to mention the fact that you don't need to rely on internet connections, as well as your guest's environment and equipment (and knowledge of how to best use it!).

Sure, recording in-person comes with its own potential issues and obstacles. But these can be minimised by opting for the simplest kit possible.

In this article I'm going to cover one of the easiest ways to record an interview in the field, really concentrating on a balance of ease of use and quality. This means I won't be talking about complicated iPad, USB mic, mixer setups, but just the most simple, reliable, cost-effective method I know of, and one that I use all the time.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for the best quality interview kit you can get, then be sure to check out my Gold Standard In-Person Podcast Interview Equipment series here.

Recording On-Location Vs Studio or Online

First off, a quick qualification of what we're talking about here. There are three main places where you might record an interview:

  1. Online, recording remotely
  2. In your standard studio, recording in-person
  3. Out in the field, recording in-person

If it's the online recording you need help with most right now, then check out the best tools on the market for recording remote conversations.

If it's a studio setup you're after, take a look at our ultimate guide to podcast equipment, as well as our guide to sound treatment.

How to Be an Ace Interviewer

Learn how the Pros draw out the best interview, every time.

Check out The Podcast Host Academy

If it's the on-location setup you're most interested in though, then that's what we'll cover right here.

Recording on the move requires a few particular things.

  1. Light and portable – you need to be able to carry this kit around, so out go bulky mixers, heavy microphones and unwieldy stands.
  2. Noise isolation – you might well be recording in a noisy environment so you need to be able to get the mic up close to the speakers' mouths.
  3. Simplicity – this needs to be point and shoot. You wont have the space or the time to spend 10 minutes setting everything up and testing it works.
  4. Quality – just because we're on the run doesn't mean we'll put up with bad quality audio. It needs to work!

Luckily, there's a great setup that meets all of these criteria, and it's not even very expensive!

The Best Equipment Setup for Recording In-Person

Let's get straight into it – here's what you need to record a great in-person interview.

  1. 2 Lavalier or lapel microphones
  2. A decent, lightweight digital recorder, or, your smartphone
  3. A Headphone Splitter
  4. (optional) A 3.5mm jack extension cable.

Let's look at these in turn – the why and the what.

Rode Smartlav Plus lavalier microphone

The Microphones – Lavalier or Lapel Mics

The most important part is the mic – this is what captures your voice and turns it digital after all.

No doubt, if you're already Podcasting, you'll have a decent microphone at home. The issue is that most mics are big, bulky, sometimes fragile and usually in need of a stand.

Lavalier (also known as lapel) microphones are the ones you see clipped to a speaker's shirt buttons or collar. They're tiny little microphones that sit about 6 inches below your mouth and do surprisingly well at isolating your voice.

Lapel microphones definitely fit our needs for being light and portable. They tend to be not more bulky than a little set of earbud headphones – just a wire with a 1 or 2cm bulb on the end really.

They're also good for our second requirement: noise isolation. Because they sit so close to your mouth, you'll be a lot louder than the background noise. You'll get a bit of the background for atmosphere, but you'll be nice and clear to the listener.

What Lavalier Microphone Should I Buy?

I'm going to keep this simple and only recommend one lav mic – the Rode Lavalier Go. This is a great little mic and it's very affordable. Here is our full review of the Rode Lavalier Go. Just a quick heads up that we use an affiliate link here, so we'd earn a small commission if you were to buy through it – though at no extra cost to yourself.

If you want to explore some other lavalier options though, here's our full roundup.

Record a remote team podcast on your phone

Want to Record With Your Smartphone?

We're seeing more and more smartphone recording options on the market nowadays.

Our favourite mobile setup here at The Podcast Host is to use two Rode Smartlav+ mics plugged in via the Rode SC6 splitter.

This will record your audio directly onto your phone, which can be a very handy and convenient setup. It offers a decent level of sound quality too, when paired with a good recording app (see the options for iOS and Android right here).

For a premium-level sound quality though, it's worth considering using a dedicated digital recorder.

The Digital Recorder

Good digital recorders don't cost the earth and they make up a pretty useful part of a larger Podcasting kit setup anyway, so it's often worth having one for other reasons too.

Digital recorders let you plug in external mics, but they also come with their own built-in mics, too.

On that question, why not use the internal microphone on your digital recorder? Well, because that defies the law of noise isolation. A digital recorder sitting on the table between you is miles away from the course of both of your speaking and so you'll be quiet, drowned out and bad quality. You need those lavs.

I've written about digital recorders extensively elsewhere on this site, so I won't labour it, but my recommendations for a budget-but-quality setup are either the Zoom H1 or the Tascam DR-05x.

There are definitely more powerful (and more expensive) digital recorders on the market, that'll let you plug in XLR mics instead (like the SM58). Again though, that's all covered in our Recording In-Person Gold standard Interview kit series.

Sticking to our current setup though, we now have some lavalier microphones and a digital recorder – how do we connect them together?

The Microphone Splitter

A big barrier to great quality face-to-face interviews can be trying to share a mic with your guest. However, that isn't an issue with our lav mic and splitter-based setup.

A splitter is nothing more than something that lets two 3.5mm jacks go into one 3.5mm input (ie; your recorder). It just ‘splits' the input, allowing use by 2 devices. These cost next to nothing and you'll find a range of splitters on Amazon, or in any decent music store. You can even find some, like the Belkin, that can take 5 inputs, so if you have enough lavalier microphones and enough guests, you can have a huge round-robin and include a range of people.

Here's our guide to using lav mics with your Zoom H1 digital recorder.

The optional extension cable mentioned above comes in at this stage too because sometimes the cables on your lavalier microphones won't quite be long enough to allow you to sit at a comfortable distance from your interviewee – especially in this era of social distancing. Just use an extension cable and you can sit as far away as you like and still achieve great audio quality.

An Example Final Setup

A Podcast interview recording setup

The picture opposite shows an example setup using an old Sony Recorder that I still break out from time to time (one of the smallest and lightest I've ever found that still does good audio) plugged into two lavalier microphones.

If you connect everything up like this, sit the recorder on the table and the lavalier microphones on each person's shirt, you'll be recording amazing quality interviews in no time.

Of course, this setup comes at a trade-off. What we gain in convenience, low-cost, and portability, we lose a little in flexibility. The chances are, you'll be recording each speaker on the same audio track, which can sometimes give you a bit of volume level consistency issues.

If this is a concern for you, and you have a bit more budget to dedicate to your on-location setup, then check out our Recording In-Person Gold standard Interview kit series. We cover the more premium options right there.

And remember, we've got loads of equipment setup tutorials, as well as weekly live Q&A sessions inside The Podcast Host Academy. We'd love to see you in there!

47 thoughts on “Simple Setups for Recording In-Person, On-Location Podcast Interviews

  1. Why can’t you plug that setup into a smartphone? What keeps it from working? Does this record the audio on only one track?

    1. Hi Tim, good question.

      I’m afraid smartphones generally need a special jack to work with a 3.5mm microphone, so this setup wouldn’t work with one. You do get mics that work with a smartphone, such as the Rode Smartlav, but the splitter doesn’t have the right type of 3.5mm jack to make it work.

      You can tell a smartphone compatible jack as it has an extra black band on the metal part. It’s called a TRRS jack and has 3 sections on the tip. This is because smartphones usually only have headphones plugged into the input, so, as well as the stereo headphone connection, it needs an extra connection on that jack to accommodate the microphone connection at the same time.

      Saying that, you do get adapters which allow you to plug a normal 3.5mm mic into a smartphone, by converting it to a TRRS connection. Such as this adapter. I’ll be honest, I haven’t tried that myself so can’t absolutely guarantee it’ll work, but I don’t think there’s any reason it wouldn’t. I think I might give it a shot now, though, since you’ve got me thinking!

      Thanks again for the question Tim – hope this helps.

      Colin

  2. I have found this article (recording face to face to useful).Thanks. Please where can I buy the lavalier microphones extension cables please

  3. Just getting into audio/video and have a few basic questions:

    – Our equipment is 2x AT899 lavalier mics; new Tascam DR-70d audio recorder; Canon 70D dslr; Adobe Audion and Premier Pro. We’ll be doing much more 2 person audio interviewing than video interviews.

    – We just got the equipment and are toying with it. 90% of what we’ll do will be 2-person interviews with subjects sitting next to each other. I’ve been reading and it looks like we want to record in mono. Each person’s lav will be on a separate channel.

    Questions:
    1) Is mono what we want to record in for interviews? Seems like it but double checking. Also, setting the mic input on the field recorder to “center” instead of left or right. Is that what we need to do?

    2) this new Tascam records beautifully. The omnidirectional mics are picking some low level or muffled portions of the vocals of the other person. Is that a problem since we’ve got each person mic’d?

    3) I haven’t explored much with dropping these tracks in Audition. Do I just drop each audio track into a separate track in Audition, tweak each at will, and save as one sound file?

    Sorry these are rookie questions. Getting up to speed on terminology too. Please advise on challenges you see. Any help you can offer is welcomed 😉

    1. Hey Todd, thanks for getting in touch. Let’s see if I can help:

      1. Yep, definitely. No need for stereo on a Podcast ever really, except if you’re doing something pretty unique. I tend to record myself on one channel (left) and other people on the right, but not all recorders offer that chance. If your recorder doesn’t, then just keep it center and you can turn it to mono in post-production.
      2. It’s not really a problem, as long as you’re using both mics in the final output. The person’s main audio will override that that is recorded from the other mic. It’s not really possible to isolate each person if you’re sitting opposite each other with Lav mics anyway. Are you finding it’s harming the quality?
      3. Yes, that’s it exactly 🙂 Just keep each person on a separate track and you can then process them as needed, with EQ, compression, etc.

      Not rookie question at all Todd, all great stuff. The main challenge in that type of situation is background noise. A little background noise for athmosphere is fine (called actuality in the radio biz) but too much is obviously a bad thing, drowning you out. Just keep an ear out for annoying noises like squeaking chairs, air con or jangling keys. They’re the ones you can ignore when you’re in the situation, but which hugely show up on recordings. Let me know how you get on!

  4. This is a brilliant and helpful article . . . so excited to get out there and starting recording some podcasts. Thanks for the help and the information.

  5. Great article.

    I am probably a bit paranoid that something might happen with the recording during an interview (ie. stops, doesn’t work)

    If you were to have a “backup” recorder while using this setup, what would you recommend?

    Another digital recorder running at the same time?

    1. Hi Erlend, I think we all suffer from that paranoia now and then eh. The best thing is to have two recorders, so one running as a backup. But if you don’t have two recorders – and they can be pretty expensive to buy – then you can use your phone. Most smartphones nowadays have really decent audio recorders in them, so you can sit it on the table and leave it running. Or you can go one step further and use ‘smart lav’ microphones to record a backup interview through your phone. Hopefully that gives you a few ideas, and let me know how you get on if you decide to try any.

  6. GREAT article! Thanks so much for the advice! I just ordered the Zoom H1 and 2 Audio Technica ATR-3350s for my new aviation podcast, Why We Fly. I recently published the first 4 episodes which I recorded at home, but I need a setup like this to record interviews with other pilots in the field. I just didn’t know what specific equipment to go with. This should work great! Thanks again!

  7. How do you keep each person on a separate track when you are using a splitter cable? Won’t the sound be “mixed” onto the recorder?

  8. Hi, Colin,

    Just found the article–thanks for all the great info and especially the links! That is how I aspire to present info to interested parties.

    Quick question: do you have any experience with wireless lavs in the prosumer range? I would like to be able to do interviews while moving about, walking, etc.

    Thanks!

    1. Hey Thomas, thanks for the contact.

      Yes, this is definitely something work thinking about if you have the budget. And that budget needs to be pretty big… I haven’t tested that many, but from what I’ve found so far, low-cost products in the wireless area can be really bad. There are options to get wireless lavs for low 100s, but they can be really variable.

      The ones I’ve used are from Sennheisser – very similar to this: http://amzn.to/1PUrwvH – and around that cost. Now considering that’s actually just for one microphone, you can see it’s pretty costly.

      On the plus side, this is what the BBC use to film interviews out on location, so you know it’ll do the job in your own context! Just like you, they need something that allows totally free movement, doesn’t get in the way, etc.

      Hope that helps!
      Colin

  9. Does this set up easily load onto your laptop?
    How do you assess the recording, cut and paste it once it’s been recorded? I use Screenflow.

  10. Thanks for the info!
    I have onequestion: is power an issue?
    In particular, if I have two condenser mics that need power from the recorder, is it going to be a problem? Is it more likely to be ok with dynamic mics?

    I see that your example used ATR3350s (condensers), but they take batteries, which might be a factor.

    Thanks so much!

    1. Hi there. It depends on which recorder you’re using? Something like the Zoom H5 is equipped to supply phantom power to 2 condenser mics, but this wouldn’t be possible with the H1 (unless it’s self powered mics like the 3350s, as you point out)

  11. Hi there, Thank you for this great information! I have a couple questions for you…

    1. I have purchased the Blue Snowball mic and I also have audacity..I have been able to record straight into audacity with my Blue mic but i dont have a digital recorder. Is this an ok process?

    2. I am doing my first interview with a local artist and am a little nervous because i am not sure if the blue microphone will be sufficient for both of us. Any tips you might have?

    1. Hi May,

      1. Yes, absolutely.

      2. If you have the Blue Snowball iCE then it’ll be a little cosy as you’ll both need to sit close together and talk into the front of the mic. If you have the regular Blue Snowball though, change the polar pattern setting to ‘omnidirectional’ and you can both sit on either side of the mic.

      Hope that helps!

  12. Hi Colin – thanks for all this, very interesting stuff.

    Can you advise please … I’m a journalist and I have an idea to conduct interviews while walking around the golf course (as one does). If I were to put a lapel / lavalier microphone on the Talent … how close would I need to be for my voice to be heard on the microphone? And given wind and suchforth… what do you think about that in terms of sound quality? Or should I stump up for wireless transmitting device(s).

    1. Hi Matt. You’d ideally want to use two lav mics for this to make sure you’ll always be heard. An ideal setup would be two ATR3350 lav mics running into the Zoom H5 – though you can also use something like a Zoom H1 (with a 3.5mm input) if you run your lav mics through a splitter.

      Sounds like an interesting venture doing the golf course interviews. Is it golf pros you’ll be speaking to?

      1. Well – only nearly two years since I’ve bothered to give you a reply. Sorry Matthew – I flat out forgot and just continued to forget. Only remembered because I was idly Googling myself. Ha. .

        But thanks so much for your detailed Reply. I’ll take that very much on board. And let you know how it goes. .

        To answer your question, not golf pros per se, but professional sportsman who like to play golf. It’s everyone’s second game.

        Thanks again.

        Cheers, Matt

  13. I found this article to be super informative. I’m a TOTAL newbie to this and basically just went to Amazon and ordered everything that you linked to, haha.

    One question though – do you have a recommendation for what recording software to use? Audition vs Audacity vs Garageband?

    Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!!

    1. Hi Tara. I use both Audition and Audacity. Audition is a hugely flexible and powerful programme, but it’s also pretty expensive. If your podcast is predominately spoken word content (not like a documentary or audio drama style show) then I’d go with Audacity. You can always upgrade to something like Audition or Reaper further down the line if you feel you need to!

  14. Hi Colin,

    Thanks for the article, it’s very useful for newbies like me 🙂

    I intend to record one-on-one interviews in a room that has echo but no background noise. I would then like to use the recording in a speech recognition software.

    I tried to use a digital recorder (Philips DVT6500 Voice Tracer) but it didn’t work because the quality wasn’t good enough to get the software working properly.

    Do you think your setup would work in that case ? Or should I try an array microphone like this one https://www.acousticmagic.com/products/voice-tracker-ii-details/ ?

    You might not be able to answer but I am trying just in case 😉
    Thanks for your help !

  15. I can see how that setup with the lapel mics and digital recorder is ideal for noisy environments (i.e. coffee shops, outside, etc.). But if I’m on the road, I plan to be in someone’s home or office. In that case, would a cheaper solution be to buy an omnidirectional mic and plug it straight into my laptop (or smartphone)? Thanks.

      1. I’m just trying to figure out the best solution for my purposes. The more affordable, the better (so long as it’s not a big tradeoff in quality). Is this digital recorder + 2 lapel mics a good budget solution for interviewing remotely but in a quiet space (i.e. someone’s home or office)? In my home studio, I have the ATR 2100. I could bring that on the road but then I would need a 2nd mic (either a 2nd directional mic so we each have one or an omnidirectional condenser mic that we could share) since passing a single mic back and forth for an hour interview doesn’t work. Also, since this article was written a couple years ago, have there been any tech advances such that I can use my iphone to do the recording vs buying a separate digital recorder?

  16. Thanks for this article, Colin! It’s super helpful. I’m wondering: could I use a lavalier for the interviewee and use the internal mic from my Zoom H4N for my own recording? (Instead of 2 lavaliers?) Or will the sound of our voices be totally different/weird?

  17. Thank you for the article. If I have a setup such as this:

    – Zoom H4N PRO
    – 2 Audio-Technica ATR3350 Lav Mics
    – 3.5 mm Stereo Jack Splitter

    Is it possible to record each mic on a separate track so that I can edit each voice, independently, in case someone coughs or something? I can’t see how this is possible since most recorders, like the Zoom H4N Pro, only take one 3.5mm input. Would I have to buy a 3.5mm input -> XLR adapter for each mic and user the H4N’s XLR inputs to achieve this? Is there some odd trickery I can do with the 3.5mm input to have one voice on the left stereo track and the other voice on the right track? Any help would be much appreciated.

    1. Hi Marvin, what you’ll want to do is connect each lav mic to the XLR/combo ports via a mono 3.5mm to 1/4″ adapter. That way you’ll be recording both mics on their independent tracks.

  18. Great article. I’ve got an additional tip for your readers that I think they’ll find helpful.

    Rather than using a regular splitter for your lavalier mics, the Hosa YMM-261 splitter cable (less than $6) can split them into a left and right channel so digital recorders with stereo inputs (like the Zoom H1 and H2N) can record one person on the left channel and another on the right channel.

    This allows you to edit each channel in post production. Just make each of the left and right channels into their own mono channel. Now you can adjust the gain if you’ve got a quiet talker.

    There’s a tiny bit of cross-talk between the left and right, but it’s slight enough that It’s worked great for me.

    I’m probably not allowed to post links here, so just search Amazon for Hosa YMM-261 3.5 mm TRS to Dual 3.5 mm TSF Stereo Breakout Cable.

    By the way, great blog. Just discovering it for the first time.

  19. Thank you guys. This article helped me a lot.
    I got the Zoom H1N , a splitter and 2 Boya M1 mics.
    There are on my way to me. I’m quite optimistic.
    cheers.

  20. Hello!

    You cant use the regular lavilar mics with the smartphone but can the Smarlavs be used with a regular recorder?

  21. Thank you for a very good article! I have two questions:
    1. How do I set this up for three persons?
    2. This article is written i 2016, is it still up-to-date? Or are there news elsewhere we should know about?

    Kindly, Åse Tynning, Norway

  22. I’m having trouble finding a splitter. They all seem to be dual head phones (output) or a microphone and head phone.

    I’m assuming I need a splitter that takes two microphones.

    I was looking on Amazon.

    The link in the article seems to point back to this page, so I wondered if you could point me in th direction of a good splitter, please?

    Thanks for such a great article.

    Andrew

  23. Hi, I’m echoing a question that a couple others have asked. This article mentioned getting a multi splitter if I wanted to attach additional lav mics, but I haven’t been able to track down the Belkin option referenced and Amazon seems to mostly have headphone splitters. Can you suggest a splitter for 3 or more mics? Thanks. From just browsing casually on your blog, it’s very practical, detailed info.

  24. I’d like to use my ATR2100 that I already have in my studio, plugged into my computer. Then should I get the Lav mic for my guest and plug that into my computer as well? Do I need some sort of splitter, do I need 2 set’s of headphones? What are headphones even for?

    I don’t have a recorder but I have my computer + laptop

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