Podcasting Equipment Guide (2009)

Figure 1 Dan Benjamin, “broadcasting” circa 1976.

Update: There is an updated version of this guide available here. I recommend following the newer, more complete guide rather than this one.

I’ve loved broadcasting my whole life. When I started my first podcast back in 2003, I was hopeful that it would turn into something I could do for fun, and maybe earn a little bit of extra cash. Today, almost 4 years later, I make a large part of my income from podcasting (I co-host Rails Envy, Tack Sharp, and the EE Podcast, as well as a few upcoming projects), and screencasting (at PeepCode).

This article is a major update (a rewrite, actually) of my original Podcasting equipment guide. I’ve tried a lot of gear and learned a lot since I wrote that article — I’ve been recording something almost daily for the last 4 years. While most of my recommendations in that article are still valid, I wanted to publish this update to share what I’ve learned.

So, if you’re thinking about podcasting and have no idea where to start, if you’ve tried recording using your computer’s built-in microphone and realized just how bad that sounds, and if you’re ready to get serious about creating great audio, you’re in the right place. My hope is that this article will assist you in building a recording rig that suits your needs and meets your budget.

I’ve split up my recommendations into 4 levels based on budget:

  1. Beginner
  2. Entry level
  3. Mid-Range
  4. Prosumer

Of course I realize that my recommendations won’t work for everybody, but I hope that you’ll find some of the information and links useful.

If you decide to buy any of this gear, consider clicking the links below. I’ll make a few bucks through the affiliate programs, and you’ll help put my kid through college.

OK, here we go.

Beginner (Under $100)

If you’re new to this, if you’re just starting out, or if you’ve been asked to be a guest on a show, there are probably a few things you should consider before you buy anything

  • You may not be sure if podcasting is right for you
  • You probably don’t want to spend much money
  • You might not have excellent mic technique
  • This may be a one-time thing

Fortunately, there’s still a good solution for you.

Figure 2 Plantronics .Audio 655 USB Multimedia Headset.

Beginner hardware

  • Plantronics .Audio 655 USB Multimedia Headset ($30 from Amazon). I now only recommend one device for beginners, and this is it. It’s the perfect multi-purpose all-in-one podcasting starter kit that’s compatible with both Mac and Windows, works well with Skype and iChat, has surprisingly decent audio quality, and doubles as a nice set of headphones for music and gaming.

In the past, I’ve recommended various USB mics with a low price, but those can turn out to be a dead end in that later, if you decide you want to do more recording, you’ll want to step up to the mid-range or prosumer level setups like the ones I’ve listed below. The USB mic will no longer be useful to you, and you’ll have wasted $100, while the headset will still be good for music, games, and casual recording or audio chats.

Beginner software

  • GarageBand is probably already installed on your Mac. It’s part of the iLife suite ($80) from Apple, which is well worth the price. It does a nice job for both recording and editing podcasts when you’re just starting out.
  • Audacity (free) is a cross-platform solution that handles audio recording and editing very well, but without the kind of refinement and support you’d see in a commercial product. Since it’s free, you can try it in addition to GarageBand and see if you like it.
  • Levelator is some of the most amazing audio software I’ve used. Just drop a supported audio file (like .wav or .aif) onto Levelator, and it’ll make it sound amazing, just like magic.

You’ll spend a bit more time editing with these tools, but you’ll save money initially.

Entry level ($200-250)

If you’ve already been recording for a short time and want to step up, or if you’re willing to spend a bit more money starting out to get a better end result and save some time in the editing process, this is the section for you.

Figure 3 M-Audio Fast Track USB II audio interface.

Entry level hardware

  • M-Audio Fast Track USB II audio interface ($120 from BSW, B&H) is a nice audio interface that connects a mic (via XLR cable, below) to your computer via USB. It’s compatible with Pro Tools, which I’ll talk about more later.
  • Audio-Technica AT2020 mic ($100 from Amazon, BSW, and B&H) is a great entry-level condenser microphone. BSW offers it along with a great set of headphones, which are the ones I recommend below.
  • Audio Technica ATHM40FS Studio Headphones ($60 from Amazon, BSW and B&H) in case you’re not buying the AT2020 from BSW above, where these are included for free.
  • The On-Stage Adjustable Mic Stand ($10-13 from Amazon or BSW) or for a bit more, the On-Stage Adjustable Mic Stand with Mini-Boom ($20 from BSW, Amazon, or B&H) are both nice desktop mic stands.
  • Get either the Shure PS 6 Pop Filter ($18 from B&H) or the Nady Pop Filter ($18 from Amazon). They both are basically the same, and neither is amazing, but you’re still trying to save money, right?
  • Monoprice Premier Series XLR Cable ($8 for a 6-foot and
    $10 for a 10-foot) is an amazing cable for the price. I’d get the 10-foot. It’ll last you forever, and work with every mic you own.

Entry level software

  • For Mac OS X, get Freeverse SoundStudio 3 ($80). It’s great audio recording and editing software that’s straight forward and reliable.
  • PC users should stick with Audacity at this level.
  • Don’t forget Levelator.

Mid-Range ($500-$750)

All right, this is where it starts to get fun. You’re more serious now, and you’d like to upgrade. Here we go.

Figure 4 M-Audio Fast Track Pro audio interface.

At this level, I recommend that you consider getting more professional audio editing software. There are many great options, like Apple’s Logic Express 9, Adobe Audition, and Digidesign Pro Tools.

A note about Pro Tools and Hardware

I use both Digidesign Pro Tools and Apple’s Logic Express 9. They are both awesome. One thing to note, though: if you are interested in Pro Tools, which is still the industry standard, you need to know that it’s only compatible with certain audio interfaces.

So if you’ve decided to go the Pro Tools route, you’ll need to decide if you want to get a great (and affordable) audio interface now and buy Pro Tools 8 M-Powered separately (or later, which is what I did), or save some money and get a good (but perhaps not great) audio interface with Pro Tools 8 LE bundled along with it. This is important, because there are different versions of Pro Tools compatible with different audio interfaces, and which one you get now will determine what you’ll need to get later.

I recommend getting the great audio interface now, and buying Pro Tools 8 later for one important reason: you may later decide to upgrade your audio interface to something even better than what I recommend here, and a lot of the prosumer M-Audio gear (and some professional gear, like Mackie mixers) is compatible with Pro Tools. Taking this path means that upgrading your hardware later on won’t affect your software purchase.

Mid-range hardware

At this stage, you may already own a good audio interface, mic, or boom. Fortunately, most of these items are compatible with one another, so you can upgrade on a piece-by-piece basis.

If you want to try Pro Tools and get a decent audio interface:

  • Get the Digidesign MBOX2-MINI with Protools LE 8 for $299 from BSW.

If you’re not into Pro Tools (or might want to try it later), get a great audio interface right now:

  • Get the M-Audio Fast Track Pro 4×4 Mobile USB Audio/MIDI Interface ($200 from Amazon, BSW, and B&H) is a great audio interface with plenty of headroom and multiple inputs.

Now the rest of the gear:

  • The Rode Procaster mic ($230 from Amazon, BSW, and B&H) is an affordable dyanmic mic, great for voice work.
  • You also need a nice boom. Just trust me and get the Heil PL2T Boom ($95 from BSW and B&H). It’s the best boom in the business. It comes with a nice clamp to attach it to your desk, but if you want to get fancy, you can pick up the Heil FL2 Flange Mount ($25 from BSW and B&H and bolt it to your desk. If you want to make a bigger hole in your desk, get the Heil Sound DT1 Flush Mount ($30 from BSW and B&H) and flush mount it just like the pros do.
  • Get a good set of headphones. I really like the Audio Technica ATHM40FS Studio Headphones ($60 from Amazon, BSW and B&H).
  • The pop filter you (should) already have will work fine, but I really like the BSW RE27POP Pop Filter ($40 from BSW), which will also fit your next mic (see below) perfectly too.
  • A Monoprice Premier Series XLR Cable ($8 for a 6-foot and
    $10 for a 10-foot) will be just as amazing with this setup.
  • At this point, I’d consider a shockmount, which will help eliminate vibration from your desk or in case you bump the mic like I always do. If you’re getting the Procaster, get the Rode PSM1 Shockmount ($40) to go along with it.

Mid-Range software

  • If you’re a Mac user and not already set on Pro Tools, try Logic Express 9. I love it.
  • If you want to use Pro Tools and have an M-Audio device, both Mac and PC users can consider getting Pro Tools 8 M-Powered ($235-250 from BSW, B&H, or Amazon).
  • Adobe Audition 3 for Windows ($340 from Amazon)
  • Audio Hijack Pro is fantastic Mac OS X software, useful for recording multiple streams of audio from a variety of devices or software, allowing you to route them back and forth to each other.
  • Although tools like compressors and normalizers within the more professional software at this level might offer more customization, I think Levelator is still incredibly handy and fast.

Prosumer ($750+)

You’re serious now, and ready for some serious gear. Let’s do this.

Figure 5 M-Audio Fast Track Ultra audio interface.

Prosumer hardware

  • The M-Audio Fast Track Ultra High-speed 8 × 8 USB 2.0 Audio Interface ($295 from Amazon, BSW, and B&H) is a fantastic audio interface with no lag and a lot of headroom. For voice-work, I prefer it to a mixer for a small professional studio.
  • The Joe Meek threeQ ($250 from B&H and Amazon) preamp is the biggest secret to sounding great with any mic. It’s amazing to me that more people don’t know about this thing. It has tons of amazingly clear gain (more than enough to drive the PR40 or even my old mic, a Shure SM7), optical compression, and a nice EQ all built in. It’d be a steal at twice the price. If you get this, you’ll also need a 1/4-inch TRS cable to connect it to your audio interface.
  • Hands down, the Heil PR40 Dynamic Microphone
    ($325 from BSW and B&H) is the best mic I’ve ever used. It’s simply awesome. If you’re serious about sounding good, just go get this mic. You’ll be blown away.
  • The Heil SM2 Shockmount ($100 from BSW and B&H) eliminates vibration even if you bump the mic like I sometimes do. And yes, it looks really cool, too.
  • I recommend the awesome BSW RE27POP Pop Filter ($40 available only from BSW because they make it). An alternative to the BSW RE27POP is the hideous, bulky, and more expensive Popless VAC-PR40 ($55 from BSW and B&H).
  • Get the Heil PL2T Boom ($95 from BSW and B&H) if you don’t already have it. Don’t forget the flange or flush mount.
  • Even at this level, the Audio Technica ATHM40FS Studio Headphones ($60 from Amazon, BSW and B&H) work just fine.
  • The Monoprice Premier Series XLR Cable ($8 for a 6-foot and
    $10 for a 10-foot) work well here, too.

Prosumer software

  • If you’re a Mac user, consider either Logic Express 9 or Logic Studio 9. Logic Express and Studio at the core are the same product, but Studio comes with additional software (more information here).
  • Both Mac and PC users should consider Pro Tools 8 M-Powered for your M-Audio audio interface ($235-250 from BSW, B&H, or Amazon).
  • Adobe Audition 3 for Windows ($340 from Amazon)
  • Audio Hijack Pro is great for recording multiple streams of audio (like those from Skype), with advanced routing using Soundflower.
  • Is Levelator still useful at this stage? You bet.

It’s a Wrap

Hopefully this article has been useful to you. Audio recording is a big territory with lots of room for ideas, thoughts, and opinions, and the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Please feel free to add your comments below and share your recommendations, experiences, and tips.

More articles in the Archive →