Updated: Jun 20, 2019
You’re going to have a pretty difficult time recording your new podcast if you don’t have the right microphone.
You might be thinking, “my phone has a mic so I’m good, right?”
You're not wrong, but if you’re going to record a podcast that sounds good and makes your listeners want to come for more, then the answer is most likely “no.”
“Ok, so which mic do I get?”
Before we dive into which mic is best for your setup, let’s talk briefly about a couple of different types of microphones...
Mics come in many different flavors, but the most common are these:
There are loads of other kinds of microphones (like lavalier mics and shotgun mics) that you may see recommended for podcast recording, but these are typically better suited for professional recording since they require a more sophisticated setup. Plus, there are better ways to spend your podcast seed money than on really expensive microphones.
Let’s start with Dynamic Mics. When you see a singer on stage and they’re holding a mic in their hand: that’s 99.99% a dynamic mic. Dynamic mics are built like tanks and are meant to be used in live recording settings. They’re also, coincidentally enough, a favorite among broadcasting studios around the world.
These mics can handle very loud sound sources and are less sensitive than their condenser microphone cousins (which we’ll get to in a minute), so they’re ideal for recording setups where you might have a slightly higher noise floor. If you’re recording in an apartment, outside, or pretty much anywhere that isn’t a studio, you should absolutely consider using dynamic microphones.
If you’re recording in an apartment, outside, or pretty much anywhere that isn’t a studio, you should absolutely consider using dynamic microphones.
There are a mind-boggling number of different Condenser Microphones out there, and that’s mostly due to the fact that they’re well-loved in the music recording industry. Most recording studios have more condenser mics than any other type of mic.
Condenser mics are meant to record very high-quality audio, and one way they do that is by being more sensitive to sound. When used properly, a condenser mic can give your voice a full-bodied depth like you’d here on an NPR or Radiotopia podcast. And even though they’re slightly more complicated to use than their dynamic cousins, they can carry you from amateur to pro-status in no time.
As I’ve mentioned already, condenser mics are inherently very sensitive so they might not be great choices for environments with background noise. And because of their construction they also need to be handled with a little more care, so if you like to record remotely or you don’t have a dedicated setup for your podcast, they might not be your best choice.
One final note on condenser mics: they need a little extra juice (read: voltage) to work. I'll spare you the mind-numbing circuitry lesson—just know that whether you’re using a mixer or an audio interface, you’ll want to double-check that it has what’s called “Phantom Power.” Basically, phantom power is an extra +48 Volts that gets sent to the microphone so that it can actually record sound properly.
(Be sure to check out my blog post about mixers and audio interfaces for more about those!)
When used properly, condenser mics can give your voice a warm tone and full-bodied depth.
So now you know that your 2 best options are dynamic microphones and condenser microphones. Let’s dive into some actual mic recommendations!
If you’re recording in a slightly noisy environment or if you like to record on-the-go, a dynamic microphone will be your best bet.
Dynamic Mic Recommendations:
For a budget option, I recommend the Behringer XM8500 for $20.00. It’ll get the job done without busting your wallet, and it’ll last a long time.
For a more advanced option, I recommend the Rode PodMic for $99.00. This mic is literally built for podcasters and it will not let you down.
Finally, for a true professional option, I recommend the Electro-Voice RE20 for $399.00. Beloved in the broadcast community, this microphone is a vocal recording veteran.
Now, if you know you’re going to have a more permanent setup for your podcast and your environment is pretty quiet, a condenser microphone is the way to go.
Condenser Mic Recommendations:
For a budget option, I recommend the Behringer C-1 for $50.00. It's a fantastic entry-level condenser mic, especially at its price point.
For a more advanced option, I recommend the Audio-Technica AT2020 for $99.00. Many home musicians buy the AT2020 as their first mic. It’s a workhorse mic and an absolute bargain for its price!
For a true professional option, I recommend the Rode NT1-A for $220.00. This is a favorite among hobbyist and even professional recording engineers. It's extremely low-noise and it was designed for vocal recording—perfect for podcasters wanting a pro sound!
And there you have it! A quick breakdown of the differences between dynamic and condenser microphones along with some recommendations for each. Now that you’re armed with this newfound mic knowledge, go forth and record a great-sounding podcast!
Think of this section of the blog as the "bonus features" on this metaphorical DVD.
USB or nah?
I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are microphones out there that can plug straight into your computer’s USB ports. "Genius" you might say, and it kind of is!
If you’re recording a solo podcast, or you’re only going to have conversation with people over Skype, this could be a feasible option.
Otherwise (i.e. if you’re going to have a multi-person setup) you’ll greatly benefit from getting a traditional microphone that connects to a mixer or audio interface. Connecting 4 USB microphones to your laptop will lead to either 1) you running out of USB ports for all your mics or 2) your audio recording software getting extremely confused.
Dynamic microphones, being often designed for live performance situations, can often withstand plosives (or the puffs of air that people let out when we say “P” and “F” sounds). But most condenser mics (and a few select dynamic mics) are not built to withstand plosives, so they do best when paired with a pop filter.
Pop filters don’t need to be expensive—in fact you can even build your own if you’re so inclined—but they’re well worth the few extra dollars. Think: listening to lots of plosives over the course of a 30+ minute podcast can get very annoying from a listener’s perspective.
Pop filters are also a great way of making sure your guests don't gradually lean closer and closer to their mic, thus throwing off your recording levels. Set a pop filter 3-6 inches from your guests' mics and stop worry about fluctuating volumes!