Podcasting is still on the rise, which means it isn’t too late to jump in and start your own. Who knows? You might find that you love it as a hobby, and if you can grow a large enough listenership, you may even be able to earn a respectable income from it.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves yet.
While it’s true that you could probably sit down and record a podcast right now with the devices and accessories you have on hand, the resulting audio would be substandard — and these days, you can’t build an audience on substandard podcast quality.
Want to boost your podcast quality? You’ll need better equipment. In this article, we’ll cover the best options for Hobbyist and Enthusiast podcasters. Feel free to start with the cheaper offerings and only upgrade when necessary.
Obviously, you can’t host a podcast if you don’t have a microphone! The good news is, you have no shortage of options across all budget ranges. The bad news is, there are so many options and specifications that you may be overwhelmed.
Let’s keep things simple. You only need to know two things.
Condenser or Dynamic
Mics fall into two categories: condenser and dynamic. Broadly speaking, condenser mics have better sound fidelity but are more sensitive to environmental noise whereas dynamic mics pick up sound from a single direction but tend to produce a flatter sound. You can learn more in our comparison of condenser versus dynamic microphones.
For a podcast, you need good sound quality but not necessarily great sound quality. I only recommend getting a condenser mic if you’re also willing to build a recording closet with lots of soundproofing. Otherwise, you’ll be happier with a dynamic mic.
USB or XLR
The other thing to consider is how you’ll record the mic. USB microphones (digital) plug in directly to your computer, allowing you to select them as audio input sources. XLR microphones (analog) plug into a mixer, and then the mixer plugs into your computer by USB.
If you’re hosting a solo podcast, get a USB microphone. They tend to be cheaper, they’re easier to set up, and they’re less susceptible to electrical interference (i.e. less likely to buzz). If you’re hosting a podcast with multiple participants on set, then get multiple XLR microphones, plug them into a mixer, and use the mixer as your audio source.
Hobbyist USB/XLR Mic: Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB
I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to podcast but isn’t sure if they’ll stick it out for the long haul. It’s a dynamic mic with a cardioid pattern (what does that mean?) that picks up your voice and ignores everything else in the room. It also has a headphone jack that lets you monitor your speaking with no delay.
But the key feature in the ATR2100-USB is that it supports both USB and XLR connections. If your podcast grows to include more hosts, or if you start another one with multiple hosts, then you can switch to XLR without buying a replacement mic. There’s also a bundle including the ATR2100-USB and a pop filter and mic stand.
Enthusiast USB Mic: Rode Podcaster
The Rode Podcaster — not to be confused with the Rode Procaster! — is arguably the best dynamic USB mic you can get without strangling your wallet. The sound quality is balanced and excellent. It also has an internal shock mount (won’t pick up handling sounds) and an internal pop filter (though you should still buy an external one). And like the ATR2100-USB, the Podcaster has a headphone jack for immediate monitoring of mic output.
Enthusiast XLR Mic: Heil PR40
The Heil PR40 is expensive but for good reason: it’s the holy grail of USB podcasting microphones. It has an insane frequency range for a dynamic mic, resulting in a rich and full-bodied sound that you’ll love. And it doesn’t pick up any background noise.
Microphone Mixer: Behringer Xenyx Q802USB
At this price, you won’t find a better mixer interface. The Behringer Xenyx Q802USB boasts six input channels, two of which support phantom power — most competitors in this range only support up to two total input channels. It outputs to USB, so if you have multiple podcast hosts, all of your mics get mixed together as one audio source for your computer.
While it’s certainly possible to record your podcast episodes with mic literally in hand, I don’t recommend it. Not only is it uncomfortable, but the mic will probably pick up stray sounds as your hand fidgets and repositions throughout the recording. Plus, you’ll want to interact with your computer while recording, whether to jot down notes, search Google, etc.
I only recommend boom arm models with a retractable scissoring mechanism. These hit all the right points: you can position them however you want, you can adjust them on the fly while recording, and you can close them up when you aren’t recording.
Hobbyist Boom Arm: Neewer Compact Mic Stand
When you’re just starting out, don’t worry about getting a fancy mic stand. You just need one that’ll clamp to your desk and is strong enough to hold up your mic even when fully extended. That’s why I recommend this one by Neewer, which is compact when collapsed but extends up to 2.5 feet. I’ve had mine for years and it doesn’t disappoint.
Enthusiast Boom Arm: Rode PSA1 Mic Stand
When you get into serious podcasting — producing at least one episode every day — then you’ll want a heavy-duty mic stand that can withstand regular abuse. The Rode PSA1 is prohibitively expensive for most, but the build quality is as good as it gets. It also has a dual-axis swivel mount that’s smoother than butter, allowing for true comfort in positioning.
Microphone Pop Filter
Pop filters may not seem like a big deal, but this tiny purchase could drastically improve your podcast’s audio quality. A properly-fitted filter prevents bursts of air (e.g. when saying words that start with “P”) from hitting the mic and causing a pop.
Don’t be fooled by the marshmallow covers that slip directly on a microphone’s head. These can be somewhat effective, but because they’re still in contact with the microphone itself, they can never fully eliminate the noise. A real pop filter should sit a few inches away.
You can’t really go wrong here. Most pop filters cost less than $10, and they pretty much all look the exact same: a circular frame with two soft mesh screens, a metal gooseneck that twists and turns however you want, and a screw clamp that attaches to any kind of mic stand. I bought this InnoGear because it has the highest rating on Amazon and it hasn’t disappointed in two years.
A good pair of headphones plays several important roles in a podcast:
- Dialogue is clearer (e.g. when interviewing over the internet)
- No audio feedback between speaker and microphone
- Better results when editing your episodes
You might think noise-canceling headphones are ideal in this situation, but that’s not quite true. What you really want is a pair of noise-isolating headphones with a flat, middle-of-the-line equalization across all sound frequencies. Do NOT use a bass-heavy pair (e.g. Beats by Dre).
Hobbyist Headphones: Sony MDR7506
The Sony MDR7506 may not be the prettiest set of headphones you ever buy, but it’s comfortable and exceedingly good at dampening outside noises. It’s not perfect, mind you, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a similar quality set for this price. The MDR7506 also comes with a soft carrying case and a 1/4-inch adapter, so you can plug into a mixer interface (for example).
Enthusiast Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x
The Audio-Technica ATH-M50x has ranked among the best headphones for several years now, and I’m not just talking about “podcast headphones.” It’s insanely good no matter what you’re going to listen to, so much so that even audiophiles love it.
Although the ATH-M50x is most often recommended for its noise isolating capabilities, I recommend it for its wide frequency range and all-around balance across that entire range. The fact that its cups can swivel 90 degrees and its cable can detach are just cherries on top.
Tips for Hosting a Successful Podcast
Whether or not you have the optimal equipment, remember that creating a podcast isn’t as easy as hitting Record and seeing what comes out. To maximize your chances of success, I recommend checking out a few of our other resources on this topic:
- How to host a podcast from start to finish
- Making your podcast sound as good as it can be
- Streamlining podcast audio editing with Audacity
And even when you do have all the right gear and tools, there may be times when you need to record an episode away from home (e.g. you’re traveling and stuck in a hotel, or meeting up with an interviewee at a public cafe). For that, see our tips on recording podcasts with a mobile phone.
What does your podcast setup look like right now? What’s next on your list in terms of equipment upgrades? Did we overlook any great alternatives? Let us know in a comment!