Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use

featured podcaster   Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should UseSo you want to start a podcast? Well, hold up there. There’s a few things you need to consider first, and though the technical capabilities of modern computers should make this kind of stuff super-easy, the reality often isn’t as simple as it would seem. What’s the difference between microphones? How many people can you record, and how? Read on for the full lowdown.

Microphone

Obviously, your choice of microphone is going to make a huge difference to the sound quality of your recording. All microphones are very much not alike. Here’s 3 basic rules to keep in mind:

Rule 1: Don’t Use The Internal Microphone

If you’re using a laptop, you might be tempted to just use the built-in microphone. The problem with these is that not only do they just sound horrible, they also tend to amplify vibrations and general noises from the internal workings of your machine.

Rule 2: Use Headphones

This should be obvious, but if you use your computer speakers to hear what everyone is saying, it’s going to feed back into your microphone too. Any headphones will do, even ones from your iPod.

Rule 3: Get a USB Mic

You can pick up a cheap analog microphone that plugs into the microphone jack, but these tend pick up electrical interference from your case and other components, resulting in an annoying buzz throughout. USB microphones output digital, avoiding the issue of interference completely.

So What Microphone Should I Get?

On the low end of the scale, a simple USB handheld microphone (Singstar or Rock Band, etc) will usually give you relatively good quality. You’ll need some separate headphones of course, but anything is fine there. Without a mic stand though, you will be holding them yourself, resulting in highly annoying fading in and out as your arms move – something our own Dave is all too guilty of. A lot of these microphones come with basic pop-filters (foam over the head) to somewhat reduce the popping sound from plosive consonants P and B, so for a budget option the quality is remarkably good.

kakraoke headset   Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use

Also on the low end is a USB headset mic, designed for Skype meetings and voice recognition primarily. They can vary in quality, but generally don’t sound as good as handheld karaoke style mics simply because the pickup is smaller. Until this week, I was using one of these – and my voice came out rather tinny. On the plus side, the mic will stayed fixed to your face, avoiding the drifting volume problem, and the headphones are built in.

On the mid-scale, a condenser microphone housed in a shock absorbent casing, with a pop filter, will set you back about $200-$300. I recently purchased a Blue Microphone Snowball, and the quality is fantastic. A slightly higher end alternative is the Samson CO1U.

mics   Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use

You could also opt for a more dedicated hardware style approach – a mixer board, along with a traditional analog mic. If you’re planning on having guests in the same physical location, this is certainly a good option for getting the levels right pre-recording, but otherwise it’s quite overkill – especially when we’re talking about talk radio-type podcasting where it’s down mixed to 64kbs (more on output quality in a later article).

I’ve recorded a simple comparison mp3 here - using my iMac’s in-built mic, a cheap $40 USB headset, and the Blue Snowball.

Platform

Next, you’ll need to make a choice about the platform to bring everyone together, assuming you’ll have more than one person in the recording. If you’re just going to talk by yourself, then skip straight to recording software.

Skype:

For audio podcasts, Skype is undoubtedly the king. Call Recorder ($20) is my personal favourite OSX app for really easy to use Skype recording, which will give you both your own recording and any other sides of the conversation in a separate track. Bear in mind that for group Skype video conferencing you’ll need Skype Premium, which starts at around $5/month.

We’ve already covered other ways of recording Skype calls quite a lot though, so I won’t talk anymore about that here.

Google Plus Hangouts

For video podcasts with more than 2 people, Google Plus is the hot new way to do things. Though there is no native recording capability at the moment, any screen recording software that can also bring in the system audio will do fine. For OSX, iShowU HD is the best, starting at $30 for the basic version.  For Windows, CamStudio is a freeware solution that will give you a standard AVI file to work with but is otherwise lacking in features.

google plus hangout1   Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use

Straight To Software Recording

Although your actual communication may be going on through Skype, you don’t actually have to record the Skype call if everyone records themselves on their local machine, then you combine all the recordings during editing. On the plus side, this gives you much higher quality recording and avoids the random audio glitching Skype sometimes has during a low connection speed. On the downside, this means everyone needs to have a certain degree of technical ability, which isn’t always the case.

For direct recording on the Mac, Garageband is pre-installed on most machines and more than capable – though it can be a bit of a memory hog. For Windows, I’d suggest the free Audacity. Both of these apps will also be used to edit the final recording.

garageband   Starting A Podcast: The Best Recording Equipment & Platforms You Should Use

Redundant Recordings

Once you’ve decided on how you’re going to record, you really need a backup method as well. Run both, because losing an hours worth of audio due to some technical error is incredibly frustrating. We lost one episode recorded over Christmas – one of our best, in fact – due to my Internet cutting out, which in turn caused Justin’s Garageband to go wonky and die. My advice would be this – try to get everyone doing a local, high quality recording of their own voice – ideally, these will be used in the final cut; then have backup recordings via Skype Call Recorder or a similar app with at least yourself, and one other user. That should cover your bases.

That’s it for now. Next time I’ll be writing a basic podcasting editing tutorial using Garageband, but I’ve also written about the ins and outs of actually hosting your podcast using WordPress. As ever, comments are open for questions and feedback, and (shameless plug alert) don’t forget to check out the latest Technophilia Podcast – a weekly NSFW and irreverent look at the week in tech and cool new apps.

Image credit: Guy with headphones from ShutterStock

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13 Comments -

0 votes

Matt Parker

Hey
I really need some help!The last month or so ive been trying to find the right cardiod condenser mic for podcasting.I own the blue snowball and i like the sound but dont love the sound.I have a semi loud computer fan but the blue snowball does not pick it up so i would need a mic to not pick up too much ambient noise(ik condenser mics are more sensitive blah blahblah but i know there are less sensitive condensers)I have been looking at the at2020,akg perception 220,mxlv 67g and so many others! Please help me figure out which one to get

0 votes

muotechguy

Hmm, I would ask this in MakeUseOf Answers, or check out amazon reviews. Without personal experience of either of those mics, I couldn’t comment. I think that any mic is going to pick up some ambient sound though, even uni-directional ones. Wouldn’t replacing the fan be a better solution??

0 votes

Dan Lyons

If you liked the Blue Snowball then you’ll love the Blue Yeti. Much better sound and still a USB microphone. Simple solution to your fan noise is to move your mic further away from the computer and make sure you set the right recording pattern on the mic so it’s only capturing the noise from the front and not from the sides and back.

0 votes

Lauren

Hi James,
Thanks for the info. Very useful. When you did the recording, did you use just the standard snowball mike, or did you also use things like a shock absorbent casing and/or a pop filter? I’m leaning towards buying a blue microphone after reading your blog, but I’m tempted to go towards the yeti rather than the snowball. I’m planning on recording online lectures, and perhaps interview in the future. Do you think it’s worth the extra $$ to get the yeti instead, or is the snowball just as good? I’m totally new to all this, so any advice is gratefully received.
Thanks,
Lauren

0 votes

James Bruce

For the demo here, it was just standard. However, for actual podcast recording now I have a pop filter too. I can’t really comment on the Blue Yeti since I don’t own one, but it’s fair to assume it’s probably better than the Snowball given that it’s the same company. Personally, I can’t justify the extra price, especially not when I’m downsampling the whole thing to 64kbs podcast quality!

0 votes

Terrence in littleton of “mustberice”

James,

I have been starting a podcast with my wife and me just to talk about life and get stuff out there. At this point it is just a hobby, but I may want to expand it to be a income supplement in a few years or so. We have been doing a recording using “iRig” on my iPhone and feel it has been getting us some good results, (using headphones and built in mic and effects in post).

I want to know what equipment you would suggest before doing to much guest work as my wife and I do have to get cozy to have usable equal sound from the mic.

0 votes

Terrence in littleton of “mustberice”

P.S. I was mainly looking for “mobile” or non- computer based recording as I want the ability to “bring the studio” with me.

Thanks in advance.

0 votes

Alexia

Hmm, not something I’ve tried before actually Terence. Try asking on the Answers forum: http://www.makeuseof.com/answers

I’ll have a look for mobile solutions and see if I can do an article of it, but no promises.

0 votes

BobGarlick

Soem great advice and yes Podcasting Rocks. Here is soem more info on mics.

Never use a condenser mic unless you plan to build a sound studio room with acoustic tiling. Get a dynamic mic and a mixing board to boost the gain of the mic. Dynamic mics need you to speak into them about one inch away from the mic to get a good punchy sound. All background sound (computer fans, fridges, people walking in the house of office) are so quiet that they will not be picked up on the recording. You can pic up a Shure 58 (they are indestructible) and a mic stand for about 130 if you look around. Musicians friend has an amazing deal for a mic, stand and xlr cable for $25 that will sound great if you are on a tight budget. Check out Behringer for your mixer. Quiet inexpensive and great prices.

Re editing. I would recommend Adobe Audition hands down the best editing software out there.

Check out my book review podcast where I talk the writers about business books over Skype to get an idea of a mix minus (look it up) over Skype so that I can have a guest on my show from anywhere in the world. http://businessbooktalk.com/

And Yes Google Hangouts rock know that you can broadcast and record them. If you would like more advice on podcasting then check out http://podcastanswerman.com/ wh is a bit long winded but has lots of great info about podcasting.

0 votes

Mike

is call recorder only for the apple platform or is there a pc version of it?

0 votes

muotechguy

The one i mentioned isn’t Mike, but there are lots of other call recorders designed for Windows specifically.

0 votes

muotechguy

Wow, thanks Bob. Awesome advice and great links I must check out.

I feel a mixer is a bit overkill though, but I realise Shure 58s are the best indestuctible mics – I used to be roadie (lighting rather than sound actually, but hey), and we had flightcases full of those and 57s.

I better look into Audition. If its like the rest of adobe products though, I’m guessing there’s a steep learning curve I just don’t have the time to put in right now.

I really like Hangouts, but my fellow ‘casters Justin Pot and Dave LeClair are afraid they’re too ugly for video…

0 votes

bob garlick

Your welcome Muotechguy.

I was playing around with Audacity a bit and liked it but found the interface and options were lacking. The Auditions software gave me more options for sure but just like photoshop you can use it just for what you need it to do. There are a ton of tutorials out there. Check out this one. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1MosPEVe7Y

I do mostly Audio only podcasts because they are a lot easier and cheeper to produce. Hope you enjoy my shows.