Podcasting Equipment Guide (2011)

In December of 2009, after about 5 years of podcasting as a hobby, I took a leap of faith, launched 5by5 Studios, and started broadcasting and podcasting full-time. It's been an amazing ride so far, and I'm glad to be able to share what I've learned about podcasting, videocasting, and audio recording here, with the 2011 edition of the Hivelogic Podcasting Equipment Guide.

If you find this guide useful, please consider a small donation which will help support me and everybody at 5by5 Studios. Many of the links below are also affiliate links, so using them when you buy helps us out too.

You can message me at @danbenjamin on Twitter with your thoughts, questions, and comments about this article.

Microphones

Your mic is probably the most important part of your setup. This piece of equipment has more of an effect on the overall quality of your recordings than any other device. If your budget is limited, spend your money here.

Many people ask me if they should get a dynamic or condenser mic. Dynamic mics work very well in broadcasting situations where you want to isolate a voice and eliminate background noise, but they're more expensive. Condenser mics create a more "natural" or "live" sound, but pick up a lot more background noise and require a better mic technique. The Heil PR-40 is a dynamic mic that sounds like a condenser (but without the tradeoffs see below). My recommendation is to spend the extra money and get a dynamic mic. It will make a big difference, and though it'll hurt your wallet today, your listeners will thank you.

A note about USB mics: You can get great dynamic and condenser USB mics at affordable prices, and they don't require a pre-amp or audio interface to connect to your computer. The downside is that when you decide to upgrade to a more professional setup, you'll need XLR mics, and that means you'll have to upgrade to a new mic.

Broadcast microphone recommendations:

  • The Rode Podcaster Dynamic Mic ($230) is the best USB mic I've ever used. It isolates your voice against typically noisy backgrounds (kids, neighbors, traffic, etc.) and requires only basic mic technique. All of my 5by5 co-hosts (except John Siracusa) use this mic, and it sounds great. It plugs right into your computer's USB port, and you don't need an audio interface. You probably won't need a pop-filter, either. You will need a mic stand or boom. I recommend getting the Rode Podcaster Studio Kit which includes the mic, boom, and shock-mount for only about $100 more.
  • The Rode Procaster Dynamic Mic ($230) is the same exact microphone as the Podcaster above for the same price, but it uses an XLR interface instead of USB. This means you will need an audio interface to connect it to your computer, but you'll also have a nice upgrade path going forward. There's also a Rode Procaster Studio Kit ($320) that includes the boom and shock mount.
  • The Heil PR-40 ($320) is the best broadcast mic I've ever used. I use this mic every single broadcast day at 5by5, as well as for voice work, narration, and screencasting. It's an incredibly versatile mic for this kind of work, providing the feel and tone of a condenser mic with all the benefits of a dynamic mic. You'll need to feed it a lot of gain though, and of course it's an XLR mic which means you will need an audio interface to connect this mic to your computer (and maybe a preamp as well). You'll need good mic technique to use this mic, and it would also benefit from a pop-filter as well. Best. Broadcast. Mic. Ever. Regardless of which stand or boom you get, I also recommend the Heil SM-2 Shockmount ($100).

Affordable/Portable microphone recommendations:

  • The Samson Meteor Mic USB Studio Microphone ($100) deserves honorable mention here. The Meteor is a really impressive, portable, USB driven condenser microphone with built-in zero latency monitoring. It sounds very warm and has the live feel people love about condenser mics in a compact, portable package. It's beautiful, and gleams with a brilliant retro style like something out of Metropolis. This is currently the only USB condenser mic I'd recommend.
  • The Logitech ClearChat Comfort USB Headset ($32) is a great USB headset mic, perfect for Skype interviews, mobile recording, or when you just don't need or can't afford a high quality mic.

Microphone Accessories

Mic Stands and Booms

Headphones

You need a good set of headphones when you're recording. You need to monitor yourself as well as hear your guests, and you want to do this without sound leakage, where the audio you're hearing in your headphones (other people, sounds, music, your own voice, etc.) gets picked up and recorded by your mic. Typical headphones and iPhone headsets won't cut it. I don't like in-ear headphones for recording work, so I don't have any recommendations for them.

  • The Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones ($85) are the best headphones I've ever used, and many people consider them to be the standard cans for audio work. The perfect marriage of comfort, weight, honest sound reproduction, and price. I wear them every day for hours at a time and they feel great.
  • If you prefer open-back headphones (which make it easier to hear environmental sounds at the expense of some sound leakage), try the AKG Acoustics K-240 Semi Open Studio Headphones ($99), considered by many to be the other standard headphones for audio work. They sound great, but to me they don't feel as comfortable as the Sony MDR7506s, but many people I know swear by them.
  • If the Sony MDR7506s are too pricey for you, check out the Audio-Technica ATH-M30 Professional Headphones ($43). They sound good, aren't too heavy, and feel pretty good.

Audio Interfaces

If you bought an XLR mic, you need to plug it into an audio interface to record with it on your computer. The audio interface translates the signal from the microphone into either USB or FireWire. USB is more compatible, and most USB audio interfaces will support monitoring (so you can hear yourself, critical to develop good mic technique), making lag mostly a non-issue. FireWire is usually reserved for prosumer-level and above, because it's higher bandwidth and there's never any lag.

Mixers

Here at 5by5 we use a mixer rather than a smaller audio interface like those listed above because we're typically recording multiple (3 or more) audio streams simultaneously and record them as individual tracks. We also need to provide a mix-minus feed back to our guests, and only a mixer can do this. Mixers also provide much greater control of the audio, allow for multiple routing paths, and a whole lot more, especially important for doing live shows where level matching and riding the faders matters.

When it comes to mixers, I'm only interested in the kind that can simultaneously record multiple tracks, one per input, and are designed to connect directly to a Mac or PC. Of the very few that do this well, I prefer Mackie Onyx line of FireWire mixers.

  • The Mackie Onyx 820i ($400) is an amazing mixer with eight channels, three mic preamps, and two auxiliary sends (meaning two mix-minus feeds). This will do everything you'll want until you need more mic inputs or more auxiliary sends.
  • The Mackie Onyx 1220i ($600) has 12 channels, four mic preamps, and two auxiliary sends.
  • The Mackie Onyx 1620i ($820) is the king of FireWire mixers. It's the one we use at 5by5 for everything we do. It has 16 channels, eight mic preamps, and 4 auxiliary sends. It's the best.

Miscellaneous Hardware

Podcasting Software

  • For multitrack recording and editing, nothing beats Apple Logic Express. There's a learning curve, but once you put in the time, you'll be amazed at how quickly you can edit and produce your show. Sure, you could spend $400 on Apple Logic Studio, but with Express, you'll have more than you need for podcasting.
  • Lots of people swear by Pro Tools, which is available from Amazon and sells for $590. I used it for years before switching to Apple Logic with great success. It's available for both Mac and PC, and would be my second choice for multitrack audio editing on the Mac, and my first choice on Windows.
  • For single track recording, we use Sound Studio 4 ($59). It's reliable, easy to use, and affordable.
  • If you're on a Mac and have a tight budget, an application like Apple Garage Band will do the job, though we prefer Apple Logic (see below). If you go this route, be sure to run Levelator on your exported files.
  • Audacity is a free audio editor for Windows, Linux, and the Mac. Again, run Levelator on your audio file when you're done.

Streaming Software

That's a Wrap

Broadcasting is a big territory with lots of room for different ideas and opinions about gear, software, and technique, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to know.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it's been helpful to you.

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