The Minimalist Mic Rig: Tips for Getting Pro Podcast Sound
Impress (and keep!) your listeners with clear, natural, and consistent sound quality.
Hands up if you’ve ever hit “unsubscribe” to a podcast that suffered from annoying dropouts, distortion or other distracting audio problems. High-quality audio shows your listeners that you take your podcast seriously and they should, too. “Great” sound is subjective, but remember that podcast audio is less about making you sound like a superstar and more about engaging your audience through sound that’s clear, natural, consistent and free of artefacts.
Ready to take your productions to a new level? We’re here to help! We’ll explore capturing professional sound in the simplest podcasting scenario: a single-microphone setup, in a fixed location, in a controlled environment. We’ll dig right in to tips and techniques, so to get up to speed on mic types and pickup patterns, read our introduction here.
Start With Your Space
The acoustic properties of the environment you work in will influence the sound of your recording. Ideally, set up in a small room that’s free from glass, tile and other hard, smooth surfaces that can reflect sound and create echoes. (Stuck in a reverberant space? Adding soft furniture, curtains, and carpeting will help break up those reflections.)
Microphones are extremely sensitive; they’ll pick up extraneous sounds both in the room and through the surfaces they touch. Be sure to turn off fans and noisy light fixtures and make sure your furniture does not squeak or create other unwanted noises.
An All-In-One Mic
If you’re just starting out, you’re probably budgeting for one all-purpose mic. If you choose that mic wisely, you’ll be able to pull off a variety of podcasting setups, from single-host scenarios to group conversations.
For the simplest, most versatile one-mic rig, look for a multipattern microphone that plugs right into your computer via USB. A great all-in-one option is the AKG Lyra, which lets you tailor your focus with four selectable pick-up patterns optimized for sources ranging from single voices to full ensembles.
For those expanding their rigs, AKG makes models for a range of recording situations, from the all-purpose P120 condenser mic to the P170 small-diaphragm condenser, which is ideal for instruments, to the P420 dual-diaphragm true condenser, which features selectable pickup patterns.
Set up your mic in a fixed position. For a single host or one-on-one interview, a desktop configuration is your best bet; secure your mic with a tabletop stand or boom mount. (Avoid using a handheld mic unless you work on location; your movements will add unwanted noise and you’ll capture uneven sound.)
Ready, Set, Record
Begin by dialling in mic levels and positioning yourself in the sweet spot: You want to be close enough that the mic emphasizes you, not room echoes and extraneous noises; but not so close that the mic picks up mouth noises, breathing or boominess. This is caused by what's known as the “proximity effect,” – the exaggerated low-frequency response exhibited by a directional microphone as it gets closer to a sound source. A good starting point is about six inches from the mic. (You can approximate this distance by placing your hand sideways between your mouth and the mic, with your fingers spread apart.)
Next, set an ideal level for capturing clear sound, free of hiss and distortion. Start with the gain turned all the way down, then speak into the mic in your loudest natural voice (less-experienced speakers tend to give about 80 percent here, so you might want to compensate accordingly) and slowly bring the gain up until you see meter peaks around the -10dB range, which leaves some headroom for laughter and other outbursts yet is high enough to capture a clean signal.
It’s time to start recording! It might surprise you to learn that your mic technique is just as important as your mic choice; capturing a natural, consistent sound means being conscious of that sound at all times. Speak naturally, at an even volume level. Many sound issues can be managed through great mic technique: If you’re hearing excessive “plosives” (blasts of air on consonants), try getting your mic out of the line of fire by speaking over it or slightly off to the side. If you’re still picking up plosives, try adding a pop filter. (Tip: You can make your own pop filter by stretching a nylon stocking over a coat hanger or other wire shaped into a circle.) Check out our guide to pop filters, stands and other accessories here.
If your voice sounds too boomy, back off the mic; if you sound distant or echo-y, move in closer. Remember to keep your hands off the mic stand and table to avoid creating extraneous noises.
You’ll need to monitor your recordings in real time, so to avoid feedback, headphones are your best bet here. To avoid hearing a delay in your audio path, look for a microphone like the AKG Lyra that offers “zero-latency monitoring” by offering a headphone jack right on the mic.
Then, it’s all about performing mindfully, listening carefully and trusting your instincts. Incorporating these simple techniques will give your podcasts a professional sound that lets the power of your voice shine through.
Running a Successful Podcast
Your audio quality is just one of many factors that go towards running a great show. In our Step-by-Step Guide on How to Start a Podcast you'll learn everything, from what to call your podcast, to how to upload and publish it!