Ask three podcasters about which is the best microphone, and you will probably get at least five opinions.
Every podcaster needs a microphone but the choice can be overwhelming. There is no one right answer but there are some clues about what might suit you best.
Here we discuss the questions to consider, but if you just want a simple suggestion you can jump to the end of the article or take a quick peek just below.
Alex DiPalma and Steve Heatherington discussing microphones
The Samson Q2U is a good quality microphone to get started with. Widely available for around $70.
It has the advantage of having both XLR and USB connections.
It is a Dynamic mic and does a reasonable job of rejecting ambient sounds making it useful for home/office settings – ie if you are not in a recording studio.
What a microphone does
Your voice makes the air vibrate and those sound waves arrive at your listeners’ ear. To record your voice we must convert it to digital information that can be stored and manipulated. The mic is our first step in the chain.
When recording spoken word, the best microphones do an excellent job of capturing essential frequencies (the ones we can hear). High sensitivity means we may get more than we require. Low sensitivity means we may miss things.
This is where our first compromise comes in. For the human voice, we need to ensure we can cover the frequencies between just under 100 Hz up to 10,000 Hz. Almost all mics will do this. Recording music requires a wider frequency range than the voice alone. It is also likely to need the ability to cope with significantly higher sound pressure levels e.g. think a band on stage or a recording studio.
Where will you be recording?
Your recording environment affects your choice of microphone.
A recording studio is different to a corner of your living room – can we find a mic that is forgiving about our often less than perfect recording space?
There are essentially two types of microphones – Dynamic and Condenser.
A Dynamic mic is a good choice for home use. It is good at capturing sound close to the end of it and better at rejecting sound further away (ambient sound and background noise).
A Condenser mic is usually more sensitive and will capture a wider spread of frequencies and range of levels, including sounds from within your home/office and even down the street! These are ideal for a very quiet environment that you can control. They are widely used in recording studios and for radio work. They are typically more expensive.
Audio samples of different microphones
Audio Samples of different rooms
How much do you need to spend?
You can start learning to podcast with your phone. The microphone, though small, is surprisingly high quality. The built-in mic of laptops will not record quality audio.
The temptation to buy new shiny things is strong but I suggest you start simple and at the cheaper end until you are clear about your particular needs.
- Under $100 = Samson Q2U
- $250 – Shure MV7
- $400 – Shure SM7B (XLR and needs an audio interface that can supply enough gain)
There are many options out there, along with many opinions. Don’t be in a rush and do your research.
What else do you need?
Mics with XLR connections need an audio interface between the mic and the computer. They will also allow you to boost the signal from the mic to achieve a good recording level.
There are many but typical examples worth a look:
- Scarlett 2i2 by Focusrite – around $100
- Zoom Podtrak P4 (also a portable digital recorder) – around $150
- Audient iD4 – around $200
- Focusrite Vocaster 2 – around $250
Check out this video for a bit more discussion about why and what kind
Look for closed-back over-ear – you may have to hunt around to find your best/favourite option so start low/mid price around $50 eg the AKG K92 or a cheap starter, the Sony MDR-ZX110 under $20
If you are using the XLR connection to an audio interface, you may need to add an XLR cable – a wide range of prices. The more expensive ones seem to last longer, but it is unlikely you will notice a perceptible difference in sound quality.
Mic stand – having the mc about 4 inches from your mouth is good. That probably means you need a mic stand. Make sure it offers enough adjustment but don’t spend too much. A spare in case you do an in-person interview would be useful too.
Start simple and low-mid range price rather than going for the most expensive. You can upgrade when you are clear what you need.
There are many issues to consider, but a Samson Q2U will likely give you a solid start and keep you going for quite some time before considering upgrading. NB it needs quite a bit of gain, so while not essential, an audio interface may help. You can start without and plug it straight into your computer via USB.
Still wanting more detail and discussion – check out this long blog post by Riverside.fm