Whether you do it for a living or just for fun, podcasting shouldn’t require a truckload of gear. If producing podcasts is something you do regularly, whenever you darn well please, or only in dreams, you should be able to achieve great results with a short list of wisely chosen essentials. So, let’s talk essentials, those things that qualify for a podcaster’s everyday carry kit.
Until some brilliantly crazy individual invents a throat-to-USB interface for connecting your vocal cords directly to a computer, you’ll have to rely on traditional technology to get your spoken words converted to electrical current. Obviously, you need a microphone—at minimum, a mic that can plug straight into your recording device. USB microphones such as the Apogee Electronics HypeMIC and Shure’s MOTIV MV51 work with Mac/Windows computers and iOS devices, and offer fancy features such as analog compression (on the HypeMIC), DSP tone presets (on the MOTIV MV51), and internal analog-to-digital converters, plus vital functions such as adjustable level and headphone monitoring. Without proper headphone monitoring, you risk being unaware of audio problems in the recording process. It’d be quite disheartening and/or angering to find out after recording your podcast that much of it was distorted. A USB mic is a fantastic solution for solo podcasts, but not so much when it comes to sessions with two or more people.
For podcast scenarios in which you will be accompanied by one or more guests, one mic per person should be considered mandatory (unless you’re willing to seriously compromise audio quality). Since most audio recording applications only allow one USB input device at a time (and exceptions tend to be complicated), shy away from USB mics for multi-person podcasting. Instead, you’ll be better served by traditional analog microphones. Some solid choices include the classic Shure SM7B, the Electro-Voice RE20, and the RØDE PodMic—all feature dynamic capsules well suited to speech reproduction, and cardioid polar patterns with excellent off-axis rejection to minimize bleed. Once you have several mics and the requisite XLR cables, the next issue to address is setting them up.
No matter how many people the podcast will feature, I suggest setting up a pop filter for each mic. Doing so will help tame those strong plosives (popping sounds from “p” and “b” words) and result in a dynamically smoother sound. Plus, they can keep you from positioning yourself too close to the mic. Check out models such as the PFSS-55, from Auray, and the PS-1 Pro-Shield, from Avantone. As you may already know, those pop filters must attach to something… a mic stand!
Although most USB microphones include small desktop stands, most lack the functionality to hold a pop filter, and can’t get the mic good and close to your mouth unless you’re really leaning in. The QuikLok A-495 and On-Stage MS7411TB are prime examples of short stands that can sit on a tabletop and still provide versatile placement via boom adjustment. However, if you want to do it just like the pros on popular shows, go for a broadcast boom arm. Auray makes a two-section arm—available with or without an integrated XLR—that can clamp on to the side of a desktop and let you extend and rotate the arm with ease. Now, with the mics set up, your next concern is getting them into a computer (or mobile device).
An Audio Interface
Although the aforementioned USB microphones have built-in USB audio interfaces, a separate multi-channel audio interface is necessary for routing several analog microphones into your computer or mobile device. IK Multimedia’s palm-sized iRig Pro DUO handles two mics and boasts Mac/Windows/iOS/Android compatibility, whereas the Mac-/Windows-compatible Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 accommodates four mics and has dual headphone outputs. Another option is the RØDECaster Pro, RØDE’s slick, all-in-one podcast production studio, which packs four mic preamps, four headphone outputs, powerful DSP, high-tech support for integrating calls, an onboard SD card recorder, and much more into a handy tabletop form factor. Yes, you can use it as a standard USB audio interface, too!
As I mentioned earlier, proper headphone monitoring is essential when recording podcasts. Why not use speakers? After all, there are many people who say things like, “Impudent mortal! Mere cans can never fully match the soundstage and impact granted by a glorious set of speakers!!!” Well, soundstage and impact are not the issues here… the potential problem is bleed. Follow me through this signal flow… The mic picks up your voice, sends it to your computer, which then sends it through your speakers into the room where you and the mic happen to be. See the problem? The mic will then also capture the sound coming from the speakers, leaving you with problems such as comb filtering, lots of background noise, and the always-terrible feedback loop.
Choose the right type of headphones, and you’ll avoid those traps while simultaneously listening to the quality of your signal in optimal isolation. To achieve that isolation, most people recommend circumaural (over-ear), closed-back headphones for their comfort and separation from ambient sound. Specimens like the HD 280 from Sennheiser, Sony’s classic MDR-7506, and the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x are more than qualified for the job! Of course, there should be one pair of headphones per person.
Audio Processing Tools
If you won’t be streaming your podcast live, perhaps you’d prefer to polish it up after recording. If so, you should have something that permits intuitive editing and sonic enhancement. Issues such as excessive background noise, lack of vocal clarity, and inconsistent signal levels can plague a podcast and send your listeners to someone else. Assuming you already have an audio editing application or digital audio workstation on your computer, a stellar addition would be iZotope RX Elements. This specialized restoration software includes four plug-ins that run in any host compliant with AAX Native, AudioSuite, RTAS, Audio Units, or VST formats, and offers powerful removal of clips, hum, clicks, and noise. Aimed at user-friendly vocal production, iZotope’s Nectar Elements also operates as a plug-in (like RX Elements), but features EQ, compression, de-essing, and more via simple slider controls. If you don’t already have a DAW, your choices are numerous. Garageband or Logic Pro by Apple, Pro Tools from Avid, PreSonus Studio One, and Steinberg Cubase Elements are several of the many capable programs available.
In summary, a solo podcaster’s kit should include a USB microphone, a pop filter, a recording device, and a pair of headphones, while a multi-person podcasting setup should have multiple analog microphones with cables and stands, several pop filters, a multi-channel audio interface, a recording device, and enough headphones for all subjects. Strongly recommended for every podcaster’s daily essentials are potent audio processing software, proper hydration to minimize annoying mouth clicks and lip smacks, and a pen and pad for jotting down ideas. So, get your gear, get in the zone, and produce your next podcast. Drop a comment or two to let us know what equipment you rely on!
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