Choosing the right podcast equipment can be incredibly frustrating and confusing. Many podcasters suggest poor equipment and setups that don’t fit your needs.
There is no one-size-fits-all or “best” solution. Everyone’s situation is unique and your needs will vary based on the answers to 3 questions:
- What is your budget?
- Where will you be recording?
- How many people will be on your podcast?
To begin, let’s take a broad look at how you can record.
Different ways to record
Many free options exist. For example, you can use your phone and an app like Anchor to record your podcast. However, there are downsides to using free tools:
- Audio quality might be poor.
- They may take control of your advertising.
For reasons like these, I do not recommend using free options.
Software-based vs. Hardware-based Recording
Generally speaking, there are two primary ways you can record: to software or to hardware.
Recording to Software
This entails using either computer-based software or internet-based software.
Computer-based software is typically called audio editing software or referred to as a DAW (digital audio workstation). Examples include free versions like Audacity or paid versions like Audition or Pro Tools (there are a ton and I’m not naming them all).
Internet-based software or software as a service (SaaS) solutions include options like Riverside, Squadcast or even everyone’s pandemic friend Zoom. Usually monthly or annual fees apply to use the service/software.
Recording straight to a software-based solution works perfectly for lots of people. However, I do not recommend using software-based solutions as your only means of recording podcasts.
Understanding the Problems with Software-based Recording
Physical digital recorders (hardware) are dependable. They record via a microphone input directly onto an SD card. At the time of this writing, I’ve recorded hundreds of sessions with my digital recorders and have lost a file once because of a poorly formatted, cheap SD card.
Computers and software are more likely to have corrupt files, errors, or other technical issues. One SaaS recording option I tested lost a podcast interview due to “technical issues” within the first three times of using it. A client recently suffered the same problem using a different SaaS solution. I occasionally run into “unforeseen” issues on the software I use and provide for our clients.
Any type of failure is completely unacceptable. I’ve had amazing interviews over the years with people like rock producer legend, Howard Benson; co-founder of Voices.com, Stephanie Ciccarelli; and even produced an interview with Bill Clinton. Many of these interviews were one shot. I didn’t have another chance to record them.
Think of your favorite interview. Now, imagine you lost it due to a computer or software issue. That’s not something worth risking.
Thus, I recommend using hardware-based setups as the primary means of recording and software solutions for recording the backups.
Again, I don’t know what will work best for your situation but the following options should give you a great start in terms of what you need. At the risk of repeating myself, you need to be able to answer the following:
- What is your budget? Realistic budgets can range from less than $100 to thousands of dollars. For reference, my first set up was about $800 but I had the unfair advantage of being a musician and had some of it already. I know people who use nothing but a $70 USB microphone. My setup now is over $2000.
- Where will you be recording? Is the space quiet or loud? Is it well insulated or echoey? These factors need to be accounted for when buying equipment. Do not underestimate the importance of your space. I recently finished my home office/recording studio and wrote about it here.
- How many people will be on your podcast? Is it just you? You, a co-host, and a guest? Are you all in the same location? Are some of you remote? These factors will also influence choices like how many microphones to buy or if you need mix-minus capabilities.
Reviewing the Equipment
Individual setups and configurations will vary depending on the questions I’ve pointed out. However, most setups will include a variety of the following:
- Digital Recorder/Audio Interface
- Headphones and/or monitors
- Accessories (stand, cables, etc.)
I have used a lot of equipment and you’re receiving my best take based on what’s currently available at the time of writing this.
Factors I take into consideration when creating my audio setup include quality, ease of use, integration into my existing setup, form factor, and the quality-to-cost ratio in addition to the above questions.
Please note, I’m only commenting on audio equipment. If you need video equipment advice, this is not the article you’re looking for.
Last, there are no affiliate links in this article. I want you to choose the best microphone for your needs, not the ones that will give me a monetary kick back.
When it comes to microphones, it is important to consider the difference between dynamic and condenser mics as well as polar patterns (the way/directions a microphone picks up sound).
To keep things simple, understand that dynamic mics are more rugged and directional. They work very well for home podcast setups and less-than-professional environments. They offer quality sound with a higher degree of control over room noise.
Condenser mics are typically more sensitive, more expensive, and are great for professionally sound treated spaces or for working in the field.
The best mic choices will depend on your environment and needs.
Consider any of the following:
Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone
Probably the most recommended entry-level podcasting microphone. Nice sound for the price point. XLR (for plugging into a mixer) and USB (for plugging into a computer) outputs. Trustworthy company.
Personal take: Haven’t used it and don’t have a need for it. However, it’s a great budget option to get started.
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Vocal Microphone
This is the industry staple for live performances. Reasonably priced, high quality, and very durable. This would easily fulfill your podcast needs.
Personal take: Love this mic. I own several and have used them for years for both podcasting and live performances.
Shure SM7B Vocal Microphone
This is another very popular choice used by podcasters like Joe Rogan. It’s a staple in the broadcast industry and has grown in popularity in the podcast space over the past several years.
Personal take: This is my current microphone podcast studio mic. I love it but it would have been overkill when I started. One downfall is it needs a lot of gain (non-techies, think volume) so you’ll need a digital recorder with good preamps or a device like a Cloudlifter.
Sennheiser MKH 416-P48U3 Moisture-Resistant Shotgun Microphone
Fantastic mic if you’re looking to go condenser. Industry standard. Great option if you can’t have the microphone close to the person talking.
Personal take: I own this mic and like it a lot. I originally bought it for our on-location client work with higher-profile guests. Now I use it frequently for field recording. It’s expensive, but worth it. Also great for video work.
Sennheiser EW 112P G4 Camera-Mount Wireless Omni Lavalier Microphone System
This is a great choice If you need a wireless/lavalier option for documentaries or other situations.
Personal take: Again, I bought a pair of these for on-location client work and they did not disappoint. Also great for video work.
DPA 4060 Omnidirectional Stereo Mic Kit
These are a lesser known, excellent microphone pair commonly used in a variety of settings. Great for field recording, capturing instruments, and as lavalier mics.
Personal take: I purchased this kit for stealth field recording. They have a low profile so I can attach them to my backpack and capture the sound of my surroundings. Way more discreet than carrying around a giant shotgun mic and furry windscreen!
4560 CORE Binaural Headset Microphone
These are similar to the DPA 4060s except they are worn as a headset in-ear to capture sound the same way the human ear perceives it.
Personal take: I purchased these for field recording as well and they are quickly becoming my new favorite microphone. I should note that they are hard to find in the US. I had to order mine from a store in Germany.
Digital Recorders/Audio Interface
Now you need a way to capture your audio (i.e. digital recorder). You often also need a way to send your audio to your computer if you are interviewing a remote guest (i.e. audio interface).
This topic can be more confusing than the other pieces of equipment because there are so many options and variables. Talk with the manufacturer if you aren’t sure it will work with your setup.
Consider any of the following:
Zoom H5 or Zoom H6
Zoom is a great option for people getting into the space, specifically the H series. The main difference between the H5 and H6 is that the H5 has two XLR mic inputs and the H6 has four XLR mic inputs. Also, avoid the H4. It has a few serious design flaws that the H5 resolves.
Personal take: I own both and they served me well for several years. However, if you need a device to connect to your computer for remote interviews, better options exist. I still use them for on-location recordings but prefer other, higher-quality recorders.
Sound Devices MixPre-6 II 6-Channel / 8-Track Multitrack 32-Bit Field Recorder
This device is described as “for independent filmmakers, field recordists, and Ambisonic enthusiasts who need pristine audio capture of up to four microphones.” Great build, design, and sound quality.
Personal take: This is my primary recorder for in-studio interviews, the way I listen to music, and how I video conference with other people. It’s also my primary field recorder.
I was originally intimidated by this device and it spent a few months in the box before I attempted to use it. Despite being a bit more complicated than something like the H6, I love it. There is a learning curve but it sounds incredible and is very flexible.
Zoom PodTrak P4 Podcast Recorder
This is another Zoom device specifically designed for podcasters that looks to rival devices like the RODECaster with many of the same features with a slightly lower price point.
Personal take: This is the device I wish I had when I started. It’s the device we provide for all of our clients. It’s dead simple to use, versatile, and has a surprisingly good sound for the price point.
RODECaster Pro and Pro II
Popular device for many podcasters. Seems to work fine for many people.
Personal take: I haven’t used this device, have no reason to, and don’t want to. I never liked the RODE products I have used and it’s developed into an unfair bias against the company. And remember (before I get a bunch of comments from RODE fans), these are my opinions. You don’t have to listen to them (and I don’t have to like RODE). 🙂
Note: If you’re a videographer, many of these suggestions are great additions to your equipment for capturing audio. Make sure your choice can fit into your existing setup.
Headphones and Studio Monitors
You need a way to listen back to your recordings for editing and proofing. Again, tons of options here. If you’re on a budget, purchase nice headphones first because they will be the most useful for recording with a remote guest or in the field and when listening back.
Factors to consider when choosing headphones include accurate sound portrayal and comfortability. You probably won’t want wireless headphones or Beats by Dre. Both run the risk of coloring or misrepresenting the sound of audio. Instead look for something with a clean and flat audio response.
Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones
A broadcast industry favorite for years. Used by many greats.
Personal take: I haven’t personally used them but know of countless positive experiences.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x Monitor Headphones
Great for studio mixing and tracking as well as DJ monitoring. Sturdy design and changeable cord.
Personal take: I own these and really like them. Very comfortable to wear for hours at a time. Not a complete flat sound response but I’ve never had an issue with them.
Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro 250 ohm Closed-back Studio Mixing Headphones
Another high-end option for sound monitoring.
Personal take: I haven’t used these but several audio pros I follow love them. When it’s time for a new pair, I’ll be trying these out.
This is another area that’s up to your preference and budget. Studio monitors are helpful for listening back to your audio when you’re sick of wearing headphones or for enjoying the latest lofi chillhop workflow beat.
Yamaha H Series
This is a bi-amplified monitor designed for accurate sound reproduction. Popular sizes include a 5”, 7”, and 8” woofer + 1” tweeter.
Personal take: I own and use the HS5s and HS8s every day. As you can imagine, I’m a bit of an audiophile between producing podcasts and being a musician. I listen to music and podcasts constantly and I have only positive things to say about these speakers.
Mackie CR Series
This is a smaller, entry level monitor. Has decent reviews and seems to get the job done for people on a budget.
Personal take: I’d avoid these. I had a pair of these and they died in less than a year. Something was wrong where the headphone jack worked but the speakers only played sound for a second when powering on/off. It’s a problem multiple people seem to have. I ended up pitching them.
Lots of choices here as well and we all have different needs. The following are some of the general categories you’ll want to consider.
Auray BAI-2N Two-Section Broadcast Arm with Internal Springs
This is a boom arm stand intended to be clamped or drilled into a desk. Comes with an extension if needed.
Personal take: This is my primary stand. I like it because the build quality is strong, even for heavier mics like the SM7B, but I don’t need to drill holes in my desk to use it. The extension comes in handy as well.
O.C. White ProBoom Ultima Gen2 Ultra Low-Profile Adjustable Mic Boom without Mount
Quality, low-profile boom arm for podcasters who want to keep the microphone out of the way.
Personal take: I don’t know much about this one to be honest but saw Sarah Dietschy recommends it on her “Your Laptop Webcam SUCKS. Do This Instead.” video. Looks like a good fix for specific needs.
Note: It does not come with a base to mount it to the desktop.
Cheap Boom Arm
If you type in “microphone boom arm” into Amazon, you’ll get a bunch of options for less than $20. Will they work? Probably.
Personal take: I have two of the $15 Neewer brand boom arms that attach to a desktop. They are pretty cheap and have a short reach but they got the job done for while I was on a budget. No shame.
AirTurn goSTAND Portable Microphone Stand with Telescoping Boom Arm Kit
When portability is the main objective, this is your stand.
Personal take: I had a gig where I needed to be in New York for a few days that required I had my equipment on me at all times. This was the boom stand I used and it worked perfectly for what I needed it to. Better stands exist for home setups but this is great for traveling.
Knowing which cables to buy is dependent on your setup. Overall, there are no “bad” choices but some are clearly superior to the rest. If you have the money to spend, Mogami Gold Studio cables are one of the best brands. You will likely need some combination of cables similar to these:
- 3.5 mm to ¼” audio cable
- 3.5mm audio cable
- XLR mic cables
- ¼” speaker cable
- ¼” insert cable
- Stereo Y-cable
- Mpow Ground Loop Noise Isolator for Car Audio/Home Stereo System with 3.5mm Audio Cable
- Sabrent USB External Stereo Sound Adapter for Windows and Mac
- Sabrent USB Type-C External Stereo Sound Adapter for Windows and Mac
You have so many options. I’ve had great luck with the SanDisk Extreme SDXC line BUT always consult the manufacturer recommendations for your device.
Anker is a no brainer when it comes to power, battery, and charger needs. They have a variety of products to fit the bill. I bought the 747 Power Bank to pair with my MixPre 6 in the field and the thing is a complete boss. I went out on 5 different one-hour long sessions and only used about 2 dots from the battery.
Again, so many options here. I have the Think Tank Airport Essentials bag for hauling everything and the K-Tek Stingray bag for field recording. Another company I want to test out is Nomadic.
Cloudlifter CL Series
This unit is a simple solution for increasing your gain and improving your sound.
Personal take: I recommend these to all of my clients starting podcasts and I personally own the Cloudlifter CL1 and the Cloudlifter Z. I anticipate Cloud Microphone and their Cloudlifter series quickly becoming a major player in the podcast space. The owner of the company, Rodger, understands the science of audio better than anyone I know.
Start with the Cloudlifter CL1. Its sound, quality, simplicity, and cost make it a no-brainer. Go with the Cloudlifter Z if you are more experienced and really want to dial in your personal sound.
ESI MoCo Passive Monitor Controller
Channels two different audio sources to a single set of speakers and controls the volume for said sources.
Personal take: I have a unique setup where my MixPre 6 ii acts as my audio interface and powers my studio monitors. Instead of trying to connect the monitor straight to the 3.5mm stereo output on the MixPre, the MixPre plugs into the MoCo and the MoCo connects to the speakers. Again, it’s a unique setup but it works perfectly.
You have a lot of options and you can get as crazy as you want. I love the setup I currently have but it’s taken many years to get to this point—despite the fact that I work in audio full time.
I also wrote an article specifically on field recording if you want to learn more about that kind of recording.
Still have questions? Message me on LinkedIn or send me a message via the contact form. I’ll see what I can do.