If you feel the urge to podcast, you’re not alone. This fast-growing form of entertainment is virtually free of gate-keepers; all you need is a bright idea and some basic audio tools to get started. But what are these tools?
Well, it depends on the kind of podcast you’d like to make. If you’re running a one-person show, you don’t need much. But someone orchestrating a four-person panel requires a more complicated setup.
In the next few paragraphs, we’re going to break it down and make it simple: whether you see yourself making solo podcasts or multi-person panels, you’ll know which tools to buy.
The Single-Person Pod
All you need is the simplest route from your voice to the computer—and that would be a USB microphone, a pair of closed-back headphones, and a relatively quiet room (We’re only going to handle the mic here. You can read about how to make your room sound great in this complementary article if you wish.
With USB mics, you needn’t worry about the technical aspects of podcasting all that much. Sure, there was a time when USB microphones were—let’s face it—terrible. But that time is long ago, even for people on a budget. Consider the Blue Yeti, a popular mic with podcasters and bloggers. At a wallet-friendly price, you’ll get a mic that sounds good for the job. It also comes with a table-stand for holding the mic on your desk.
Want something with the formal look of a professional mic? A mic with a sound tailor-made for the spoken word? Check out the RØDE Podcaster, another great USB mic for the money.
Audio-Technica makes a USB Mic for which I can personally vouch, having used it for multiple B&H articles and one award-winning podcast. However, this is a condenser microphone, more suited for music purposes. It captures a brighter sound than the previous mics, and can sometimes sound too sibilant for a podcast (you’ll need to mitigate any pesky “sssss” sounds in post).
All of these mics are decent, and all of them are dead-simple: Simply plug the mic into the USB port of your computer, plug a pair of headphones into the mic, load up your favorite podcasting software (Audacity is free—and plenty of podcasters use it!) and you’re good to go.
If you want to buy a mic, a clip, a stand, the cables, and a pair of headphones all in one shot, check out the Samson Q2U Podcasting Kit. The mic, which sounds perfectly acceptable for podcasting purposes, is more than a USB mic—you can plug it into external recorders, mixers, and interfaces with its XLR connection.
See, you do have your future to think of: perhaps your podcast will grow from a one-person show to something with a guest. If that happens, a USB mic is no longer viable. You’ll need an interface that can handle two microphones.
So, it might be worth it to purchase a mic that offers XLR outputs too. Here’s where the Samson Q2U comes in handy.
Two-person podcasts can take the form of an interview or a conversation between friends. The multi-person panel, where three or more people speak, is also a widely loved format. For any podcast with two or more people, you’re going to want multiple microphones, or else the audio quality will suffer. Also, it’s incredibly difficult to edit many people speaking on one mic.
So why can’t you just plug more USB mics into your computer? Well, computers don’t play so nice with multiple USB microphones. It might work for a while, but you’ll likely run into stability issues. You don’t want your gear to crash mid-recording!
No, you need an interface for a multi-person pod—a hub that can handle multiple microphones and deposit them as individual channels in your recording software.
Here are some options.
The Rock-Solid choice
Focusrite is a trusted brand in the industry, and the Scarlett models represent its entry-level products. Take the 2i2: coming in at a reasonable price, the 2i2 lets you record two people cleanly, effectively, easily, and with any broadcast-quality microphone you choose. You’ll need a headphone splitter or a headphone amp if you want you and a guest to both monitor in headphones.
You can also level up to the 8i6 for two headphone outs, as well as two inputs for microphones, making the unit great for two-person pods. The 8i6 lets you record phone calls over VOIP straight from your computer, so you can patch-in remote guests relatively easily; this is also an attractive feature to many podcasters.
The Handy Favorite
Zoom’s Handy recorders are exceedingly popular among podcasting pros, and with good reason. Designed to be portable, sturdy, and battery powered, these recorders sound good, and they provide a ton of bells and whistles. You can record straight to a Zoom without a computer, and then transfer files to your computer when you’re finished. They also double as audio interfaces.
If you’re worried about people speaking or cackling too loudly, you can engage limiters that protect you from distortion. You’ll only find one headphone output though, so you’ll need a splitter or headphone amp.
The Classic Look
A buddy asked me recently to recommend a “mixer” for his podcast. I told him to get a Focusrite interface or a Zoom Handy recorder. Like an idiot, he went with a mixer, because it “looked like the real deal.” He could raise or lower the faders like a real engineer! Whoopee!
Guess what: two weeks later he had a problem. He couldn’t separate his guests into separate tracks for editing—all he had was a stereo track.
And this is the issue with most budget mixers. Sure, they give you the look. But unless you never plan to edit, they kneecap you.
People like the XENYX 1204USB for the money—but I wouldn’t use it as an audio interface for podcasting. You’ll only get one stereo track out of it, which will make editing much harder.
If you’re set on something that needs to look the part, check out the RØDECaster Pro. This interface has everything you need to record four people in one easy-to-use package. It also provides the classic look of an old mixer. Another boon: it makes recording audio from phone calls super easy—just pair your smartphone or computer via Bluetooth, and you can bring in the call on its own track and fader.
What mics should I get for the multi-panel pod?
Lots of podcasts, including the Joe Rogan Experience and WTF, use the Shure SM7B. These mics look professional and sound great. Able to take a strong beating, the SM7B doesn’t require power, and it won’t run you a fortune.
RØDE’s PodMic is another good option, for it gives you a nice sound while going easy on the wallet. You can grab four PodMics for the cost of one SM7B—but the SM7B is a classic (everything’s a tradeoff, you see).
If you and your guests want to hold the microphone, as you would on stage, you can’t go wrong with a Shure SM58—this mic is used on stage all the time, and it’ll work just fine for podcasts, too.
Due to space constraints, we’re going to have to leave it here, but doubtlessly there’s more to cover. What’s the best pair of headphones? What other accessories do I need? How do I record a phone-call on a Zoom recorder? If there’s something you want to know, please don’t hesitate to ask in the Comments section!