Podcasting has been experiencing a renaissance lately, and for good reason. Podcasts can be about a wide variety of topics, from Apple to sports, comedy, storytelling and so much more. It’s a great time to get into podcasting because the barrier to entry is so low and you don’t have to break the bank to buy a totally workable setup.
Some of the greatest podcasts in the iTunes Top Charts are regularly recorded using sub-$100 to $300 mics. Whether you want to gain influence in a community or nerd out about the latest iPhone, a podcast is a great place to do it.
That’s why I want to show you how to set up a podcasting rig for under $300, and include some great insights along the way.
Microphones: condenser versus dynamic
Your audio is only going to be as good as your weakest link, so it’s important to start with good mic technique and a good microphone. You may have heard about all sorts of different mics, but for our purposes we’re going to focus on condenser and dynamic microphones.
A condenser microphone is very sensitive due to the way it’s built. This type of microphone usually has an incredibly even frequency response and picks up detail nicely. It can handle loud noises very well.
Just remember that extra sensitivity comes at a price. Condenser mics usually pick up a ton of background noise, including people outside or in other rooms, low-end rumble from air conditioning, and a lot more. If you’re in a perfect situation (such as a studio or really quiet room), a condenser is worth buying because of its crisp sound. Otherwise, you might want to consider a dynamic mic.
A dynamic microphone is typically a live mic. You’ll usually see these at live shows because of their durability and their ability to accept loud sounds. A dynamic mic is great for a podcaster because you have to be close to it for it to pick up your voice. The great part about that is that it doesn’t pick up background noise nearly as much as a condenser would. You have to be careful with dynamic mics, because they certainly don’t always sound as even as a condenser. But in a lot of instances, they are good enough for recording voices. They also work in many other situations, such as recording guitar, drums and even recording the president. For these reasons, dynamic mics have become staples in the studio.
For our budget, I’m going to recommend one good condenser mic and one good dynamic mic. Also, these will be USB mics, so you won’t have to worry about buying an audio interface, XLR cables or a mixer.
For a condenser, I recommend the Blue Yeti. I’ve had such good experiences with Blue Microphones in the past, this was a no-brainer. The company makes beautiful microphones. Not only are they constructed well and great-sounding, but they look good too. You can find the Yeti for around $120, and sometimes even sub-$100. The great thing about the Yeti is that it has selectable polar patterns, which means the mic can record in front of you, in the front and the back of the mic (if you have a person on either side of it), or in 360-degree omnidirectional mode, which records all around the mic (in case you have a large group of people you need to record). It also has a mute button, and more importantly a headphone jack. The headphone jack lets you hear yourself coming through the microphone, which really helps determine if you’ve got a good recording early on.
For a dynamic microphone, I’d recommend the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB. I’d love to recommend the Røde Podcaster because I really love Røde Microphones as a brand, but the Podcaster line has taken a dip in quality recently. The Audio-Technica can be used as a live mic or a USB podcasting mic. As I stated before, because it’s a dynamic microphone, it’s great for rejecting outside noise. It has a pretty even frequency response, a headphone jack for monitoring yourself, and doesn’t break the bank at just $40!
Remember to focus on your situation when it comes to selecting a mic, and choose the one that’s best-suited to your recording location!
Headphones and accessories
If you’re using a condenser mic, there are two accessories that are crucial for use: a pop filter and a shockmount.
A pop filter screens out the plosives in your voice. A plosive is a P or a B sound that makes a short burst of air and can really ruin a great recording. The pop filter I recommend is the Samson PS01. It’s only $25, and it does the job perfectly. You can attach this to any microphone stand, place the pop filter in front of the mic, and you’re ready to go.
For a microphone stand, I’d recommend the On-Stage MS7701B. This boom stand is perfect because it can get out of the way, and has a little bit more flexibility than a desktop stand. You could invest in a fancy desk-mounted boom arm, but it’d be a little too pricey for our budget.
If you’re using a condenser, you’re also going to want to buy a shockmount. Shockmounts range from $20 to $50 on the low end, and are important for keeping noise and rumble out of your recordings. They absorb any shocks to the stand, and help the mic produce a great recording. I won’t recommend a specific one here because they’re typically pretty unique for each mic, so make sure to find the right one for your mic before buying!
Having good headphones is important to your overall podcast rig, because it’s helpful to be able to hear everything you’ve recorded accurately. Sennheiser has been making great headphones and other products for a long time, and I’m going to recommend the HD202 II model. At just $23, these headphones are a steal. They have a decent frequency response, and are comfortable if you’re going to be wearing them for extended periods of time. I’ve loved the HD 280 Pro headphones for some time, but these 202’s at under $25 make perfect sense for this budget.
GarageBand and Pro Tools First
We have our microphone, accessories and headphones — so now what? The last thing we need is a place to record it all. For this I’m going to recommend two programs that are perfect when it comes to recording, editing and mixing podcasts.
The first is GarageBand, which is made by Apple. GarageBand is great for dealing with a few tracks of audio, and it will also help anyone looking to get a head start on learning Apple’s pro product, Logic. GarageBand is easy to record into, and has some great features when it comes to mixing voices. It comes with a number of built-in audio plugins for EQ, compression and more. It also supports the Audio Units plugin format, so you can get some heavy-hitting processing if you’re looking to spend a little more money.
The other program I recommend is Pro Tools First. Avid’s Pro Tools recording software has long been the industry standard. Pro Tools First is a stripped-down version of the company’s flagship program that allows you to record (16 tracks), edit and mix all your audio. They even include more than 20 plugins to process your tracks (including EQ, compression and more). I find editing and mixing audio is easier in Pro Tools, but I think the most important thing to do is learn one program very well (keyboard shortcuts, what each knob is, etc.) and be proficient in that program.
I’d recommend trying out both, and seeing which program fits your needs best.
The ins and outs
Rogue Amoeba also makes some fantastic software. For a long time, I’ve used their Piezo app, which is perfect for recording Skype calls with two people. Since we have a good amount of money left in our budget, I’m actually going to recommend Rogue Amoeba’s higher-end and more fully featured software, Audio Hijack. You’re sure to get a ton of use out of this program.
What Audio Hijack does is allow you to route audio from pretty much anywhere into a host of other locations, including recording right within the program. You can take audio from Skype, iTunes, the web and a number of other places and route it wherever you need it to go. Think of it as a virtual patch bay for your audio.
After you’ve plugged your mic in via USB, recorded your audio and dropped it into your editing and mixing program of choice, you’re all set to ship your podcast to the world!
Breakdown of pricing
So where did we end up with all the components I’ve recommended? Let’s take a look at both the condenser and dynamic mic packages: