Updated October, 2020. As the podcast space continues to grow, the audio industry is doing its best to meet the needs of producers everywhere. Even my setup has undergone an overhaul in the past few months.
The following is an update to one of my longest running articles to date. If you’ve done any amount of research, you already know tons of solutions and recommendations exist. The goal of this article is to help you understand what equipment you need and the options you have. It’s not to tell you exactly what to buy. If you have additional questions, hit me on Twitter or submit them through my contact form. All the best!
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 a few 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.
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 Zencaster, Squadcast or even everyone’s new 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 primary 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 close to 500 episodes 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. I recently tested out a SaaS recording option and lost a podcast interview due to “technical issues” within the first three times of using it. I recently had a client suffer the same problem using a different SaaS solution and I’ve had friends lose entire episodes because their computer-based software crashed mid-episode.
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 personally use and recommend using hardware-based setups for recording podcasts and software for editing them.
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 just over $2000.
- Where will you be recording? Is the space quiet or loud? Is it well insulated or does it have an echo? These factors need to be accounted for when buying equipment.
- 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.
Personal note: My setup has changed a lot over the years and plenty of equipment exists that I’ve used and like, not used but still know is good, or dislike for a number of reasons.
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 podcast studio setup include quality, ease of use, integration into my existing setup, the space it takes on my desk, and the quality-to-cost ratio in addition to the above questions.
Finally, I’m only commenting on audio equipment. If you need video equipment advice, this is not the article you’re looking for.
Reviewing the Equipment
Individual setups and configurations will vary depending on the questions I’ve pointed out. However, most good home studio setups will include a variety of the following:
- Digital Recorder/Audio Interface
- Headphones and/or monitors
- Accessories (stand, cables, etc.)
When it comes to microphones, it is important to consider the difference between dynamic and condenser mics. Dynamic mics are more rugged and directional. Condenser mics are typically more fragile and sensitive. Many people suggest condenser mics over dynamic mics, but I disagree with this for a few reasons. The main reason is that most consumer-grade condenser mics pick up EVERYTHING. Unless your recording area is a professional sound booth or you have a very nice, directional condenser microphone, a condenser mic will pick up creaky chairs, computer fan hum, cars driving by outside… you get the idea.
Dynamic mics are perfect for recording in less than ideal settings like home studios. They offer quality sound with a higher degree of control over room noise. If you decide you really want a condenser microphone, make sure to get a good one.
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, but know it’s good.
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 2 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 radio industry and has grown in popularity in the podcast space over the past several years.
Personal take: This is my current microphone. Love it but it would have been overkill when I started. Other downfall is it needs a lot of gain (non-techies, think volume).
Shure MV7 USB Podcast Microphone
This is another piece of equipment that came out right at the time of writing this article. Think the sound of an SM7B but with an XLR/USB option and built-in effects.
Personal take: I haven’t used this personally and don’t think I will because I already own a Shure SM7B. That said, I think this is a great option for someone who wants the “legendary” broadcaster sound but with USB capabilities.
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. Purposely bought it for our on-location client work with higher-profile guests. 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.
Digital Recorders/Audio Interface
Now you need a way to capture your audio. You also need a way to send your audio to your computer if you are interviewing a remote guest.
This topic can be more confusing than the other pieces of equipment because there are so many options and variables. In the hopes of keeping it simple, I’m only going to cover devices that act as both a digital recorder (the means to record your audio) and audio interfaces (the means to share said audio with your computer and the people you’re talking to).
Consider any of the following:
Zoom PodTrak P4 Portable Multitrack Podcast Recorder
This device came out right at the time I was rewriting this article and I was able to get my hands on one. It’s a 4-input digital recorder with solid preamps, ability to record phone and computer calls, and up to 4 dedicated headphones outputs for monitors.
Personal take: This is the device I wish existed when I started. It handles all entry-level podcast recording needs with medium to high-quality capabilities and a great price point. This is lining up to be my official entry level podcast recorder.
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. I still use them occasionally on-location 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. 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. Very easy to use after the initial setup and incredible sound due to aspects like the quality preamps.
Rode RODECaster Pro Integrated Podcast Production Studio
This is one of the more recent podcast-specific devices that has been released. Seems like an excellent option for beginning to intermediate podcasters. Plenty of options and features to make your process better.
Personal take: I have never used this device but have heard great things and it has solid reviews.
Zoom PodTrak P8 Portable Multitrack Podcast Recorder
This is an even newer device from Zoom specifically designed for podcasters that looks to rival the RODECaster. Many of the same features with a slightly lower price point.
Personal take: Honestly, I have no idea. 🙂 This product just released at the time of me writing this article. That said, I prefer Zoom products over Rode. The above H series was very good to me and I suspect this device would be the same.
Note: Don’t forget an SD Card. I’ve had good luck with the Transcend 16GB SDHC Class 10 Flash Memory Cards.
Bonus Note: If you’re a videographer, a digital recorder like the Zoom H series or Sound Devices MixPre is a great addition 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 more neural and clean 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. Nice, accurate sound.
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” or 8” woofer + 1” tweeter.
Personal take: I own and use the 5” woofer version of these 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 seemed 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 thoughts: 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.
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
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, plus I work in audio full time.
Happy podcasting and don’t forget to check out my personal show where I interview amazing people about their careers and principles of success. 🙂
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