What's the best podcast microphone right now? It's always a hotly debated topic in our world. Every podcaster 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.
What's the Best Podcast Microphone?
In my opinion, the best budget level podcast microphone is the Samson Q2U. For higher budget, and even higher quality, look to the Rode Procaster. Then, if you're going pro, I'd recommend the Shure SM7b.
Here are all of our favourite podcast mics by level: Entry Level, High Quality, and Pro. You’ll find all the detail on each level below. But let’s start with a quick overview – look beyond to find out why.
- Entry: Samson Q2U
- Entry: ATR2100
- Entry: Rode Smartlav+
- High: Rode Podcaster/Procaster
- High: Blue Yeti
- High: MXL990
- High: Shure SM58
- High: AKG Lyra
- PRO: Heil PR40
- PRO: Shure SM7b
- PRO: Rode NT1-A
- PRO: Electro-Voice R20
Why is a Good Podcast Microphone Important?
It seems obvious, but it’s a relevant question – why bother investing in a good podcast microphone?
Lots of Podcasts record with people in different locations, using tools like Skype and Google Hangouts, so connection quality can be just as important as 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.
After all, 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 dollars, but luckily there are a lot of much more affordable options.
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Entry Level Podcast Microphones
Don’t let the term “Entry level” put you off – I only recommend good quality kit! These are relatively cheap, though, and very easy to set up, so they’re well suited for beginners. But, I know many a veteran podcaster that still uses this kit, even years down the road.
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The microphone that I often recommend people start off with is the Samson Q2U. This is a really versatile little beast, being both XLR and USB. It’s also a significant quality increase over a cheap headset mic or your internal microphone.
The dual output (XLR & USB) means that in the early days you can plug it directly into your computer via USB, recording to Garageband or Audacity. Or, use that USB mic to run a Skype call, or a Zoom chat.
Then later on in your journey, when you get yourself a mixer or a decent digital recorder, you can change to XLR, which is just the type of cables that pro audio equipment uses. 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.
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An alternative, and very similar mic, is the often mentioned ATR2100. There's not much to tell between the two, though, and the Samson is usually cheaper, so it's all down to cost on the day.
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 below.
Read more: Face to Face Podcast Interviewing.
3. Rode Smartlav+
The Rode Smartlav+ is a lavalier or tie-clip mic, specifically built for smartphones, so it works like a dream on any modern phone with a 3.5mm input (or a 3.5mm > lightning adapter for new iPhones). I love this little mic for two main reasons:
- It's tiny! You can have it in your bag ALL the TIME, for just-in-case interviews.
- It still sounds good. For a miniscule little package, it sounds great.
Even better, the Rode Smartlav+ can be bundled with the SC6 adapter to plug two, yep a pair, of mics into one Smartphone. So, with a pair of Smartlavs and one SC6 adapter, suddenly you have an on-the-go in-person interview kit that's smaller than your wallet!
This is one of the best podcast microphones around, just because of that – it's versatility – and the fact that it means you're always ready to capture great content. Just bumped into Prince Harry in the street? Well, whip out your smartlavs and grab a great quality interview on exactly what it's like to be that famous for no particular reason.
High Quality Podcast Microphones
These microphones are as good as anyone would need for podcasting up to six or seven 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 equipment. That’s the microphones that could happily kit out a pro 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…), the microphones in this section will do the job perfectly.
My pick of the podcast microphones at this level is the Rode Podcaster, a USB alternative to the Rode Procaster. It's very hard to get them right now, though, so go with it's sister mic, the Rode NT USB, which is a similar mic and akin to the pro-level NT1-A we list below!
The Rode Podcaster is an absolutely excellent dynamic podcast microphone. This is what we use in our podcasting studio right now.
The price is definitely creeping up a little when you include stands and a shockmount, but you’ll notice a significant difference if you compare it directly with any of the entry level microphones above.
The Podcaster is a USB microphone, like the Blue Yeti below, but, it’s a dynamic mic, while the Yeti is a condensor. If you want to know the difference, look further down the article. The upshot is, though, that Dynamic mics are better if you’re not in a treated recording studio. They pick up less background noise, and are more forgiving in your average study or office, which is what most of us record in!
If you like the look of the Rode Podcaster, but would rather opt for an XLR mic so you can plug it into things like mixers or digital recorders, then check out its sister mic – the Rode Procaster.
The next in this group is a USB condenser microphone that’s one of the most popular podcast microphones in the world. It is, of course, the Blue Yeti, and it comes in at around £100 / $100 (note: currently discounted to less last time I looked…).
The Blue Yeti offers great quality audio thanks to it’s condenser capsules and is amazingly easy to use with a plug and play USB connection.
One of the biggest advantages, though, is it’s range of recording patterns. It offers settings for solo recording, two-person face to face recording, and group recording. So, it’s flexible and can adapt to just about any situation. Bear in mind that to get the best quality, you need to be quite close to the mic, so prepare to get pretty cosy when you’re recording 2 people, or groups.
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.
If you want to look at another very similar option that we’ve been playing with lately, the Shure MV5 is definitely tickling our fancy. It’s a bit cheaper than the Yeti, and a lot more portable. By that, I mean it doesn’t feel like a brick in your bag, like the Yeti!
Talking of condenser microphones, at this level you can start to get some decent ones. The MXL990 was the first condensor mic that I owned, and I loved it. I used it for all of my recording, for about 2 years. It’s ridiculously good value at about £70 / $70 and it was worth every penny at the time. Even though it’s a condensor, it was decent in a normal office room, not picking up too much of the room noise. So this is a good choice if you have a reasonably quiet space, and you’re looking for a rich sound on a budget.
Bear in mind that this is an XLR microphone, like the Procaster above, so you need a mixer and/or a top-end digital recorder. 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 and Libsyn enthuse about the MXL990 so I’m glad I’m in good company in liking this podcasting microphone.
I have to mention the podcast microphone workhorse that is the Shure SM58, just incase you’re looking for a high quality mic that’s more mobile.
The SM58 is a handheld mic that’s more commonly spotted at music events, held in the hand of a screaming lead singer. They can be dropped, pounded, drowned and still survive, and they’re perfect for anyone that’s looking to do more out-and-about recording than in-studio.
We use the Shure SM58 along with a Zoom H5 or Zoom H6 recorder 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, mounted on a stand, for when that’s the better choice.
8. AKG Lyra
A new addition, just released in late 2019, is the AKG Lyra. This is a strong competitor to the Blue Yeti, in that it has very similar features, from polar patterns to an in-built stand.
The AKG, to Matthew's ear (read the AKG Lyra Review here for examples), sounds better than the Yeti, but it is a little more expensive, so you'd expect so. If you're willing to put up a little more cash than the Yeti, but not as much as the Podcaster, then the AKG might be a good choice.
Looking for a Microphone Stand?
On the subject of microphone stands, if you're looking to mount your Podcast microphone, I've written about microphone boom arms here.
Professional Level Podcast Microphones
At this level, we're starting to look at some serious cash. These are microphones that wouldn't look out of place in a pro recording studio after all. I would say, seriously, this is overkill for nearly anyone, even if you're broadcasting to millions. Take Tim Ferriss for example – millions of downloads per episode and still mostly recording on an ATR2100 or an SM58, last time I looked.
Here, our first option is quite expensive for what you get, and the second 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 coveting them anyway. Sometimes you just want a treat! So, let's have a look.
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 a bit overhyped.
The sound quality is good, and, being a dynamic mic, it's a great fit for 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 they're 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 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.
The Rode NT1-A popped up as a surprise entry in our gear stats survey last year, and turned out to be the most popular high-end podcast microphone amongst our respondents. It’s not surprising, really, when you hear the quality it offers, combined with a relatively low price for a mic at this level: £160 / $220.
The NT1-A is a super-low noise XLR microphone, with a really rich sound behind it. The pack comes with a shock mount and a pop filter, so all you need is a mic stand and the recording system (recorder or mixer) to get it up and running. If you really want to go pro, and you’ve got a mixer/interface to link it to, then this could be a great starting point!
12. The Electro-Voice R20
The Electro-Voice RE20 is a mic with a very loyal following… If you know an Electro-Voice fan, you know it!
But, it's with good reason. The EVs are certainly amongst the best microphones in podcasting, or the world of audio in general!
Those who love the EV speak fondly of the rich tones, the depth, the resonance. If it suits your voice, then there's a body to the recordings that's as memorable as it is undefinable.
You'll pay for it, of course. The EV microphones are NOT cheap. But they're world class equipment and justify the cost. If you'd like to read more about the mic, and hear some samples, then you can read our Electro-Voice RE20 review here.
Dynamic Microphones vs Condensor Mics for Podcasting
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 the Samson C01u, and that's USB by default.
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.
For a deeper dive on this, see our article on Condenser Vs Dynamic microphones.
How to Choose your Mic
The Short Answer
Good quality, good value & flexible (for both computers AND mixers/recorders):
High quality, XLR mic (for mixer/recorders):
The Long Answer
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 Samson Q2U, so, if that's your budget, then start here and move on up.
Don't forget the Rode Smartlav+, too, if you do a lot of on-the-go recordings with people in real life. By that, I mean in-person, not the industry standard online call! The Smartlav+ is so portable and versatile that there's no excuse, any longer, to miss out on good content.
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 Podcaster USB microphone, if you can afford it (alongside mic stand & shock mount!) or the Blue Yeti for now if you can't.
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 we have a full run-down on the wider podcast equipment you can buy if you start thinking about things like mixers, recorders or stands.
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A Question For You on Podcast Microphones
What podcast microphones do you use and like? I'd love to hear your feedback – Tweet me and let me know what mic you use. Look forward to hearing from you!