Contrary to the assumptions you’ve probably made, there are many questions to ask yourself while attempting to find and secure the best podcast microphone. According to Heather Brooker, Emmy Award-winning Journalist, host of Webby Award-winning podcast Motherhood in Hollywood, and BlogHer Back-to-School expert, it all comes down to three things: budget, longevity, and user-friendliness. For example, a quick Amazon.com search for “podcast microphones” delivers an overwhelming 2,000 results that you’ll probably get tired of browsing after two or three pages.
“One quick way to narrow that down is with your budget. If you know you don’t want to spend more than $100 on a microphone, you can narrow down your options very easily. That being said there are many microphones that will get the job done that are less than $100,” says Brooker. “How long and how often do you plan to podcast? If you are looking at releasing a podcast episode every day, it may be worthwhile to invest in something a little more high-end that can handle that kind of workload. If you only plan to release one episode a month, then you can save a little money and get something more cost effective.”
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Additionally, don’t forget to account for how tech-savvy you are, not what you wish you could be. Plug-and-play options are best for beginners though in general, Brooker says most podcast microphones are user-friendly and can plug into a USB connector or XLR. “The XLR microphones are typically used in professional recordings and a USB can easily connect to a computer.”
Once you’ve decided on a microphone, accessory choice is equally important. For instance, Brooker uses a microphone arm (aka “suspension stand”) that attaches to her desk. “I like that I can move it around easily and adjust to my height and comfortability. However, some people prefer the standard desktop mic stands that don’t move,” she says. “If you use an arm, you run the risk of it creaking or making a noise if you move it during a recording. With a standard desktop stand that risk is minimal.”
She also highly recommends a windscreen and/or a pop filter to “make your sound more rich and minimize the popping sounds from the letter ‘p’ and extra wind noise from your breath.”
Once your microphone and accessories arrive and are set up for use, remember to take good care of it. Of course, quality podcast microphones will last a very long time. Brooker has been using her AT2005’s for almost five years (and through 200 podcast episodes) and they’re still in great condition.
“If you can, set them up then leave them alone. Don’t move them around if you don’t have to,” she suggests. “But if you do set up and tear down your podcast after each episode, place the microphone in its carrying case and gently wrap the cords for storage. The microphones will outlast the cords in some cases but if you take good care of both, they will last a very long time.”
At the same time, let’s keep it real—sometimes a seemingly good purchase turns out to be a terrible one, especially if you’re a newbie. Sound quality, an essential ingredient for podcasting in general, is often the first sign that you should return and replace a microphone. “If you’re listening to a show and it sounds staticky, or tinny, then that podcaster probably needs to update their microphone or cords,” says Brooker.
Keep in mind the three main types of microphones typically used in the podcasting world as you shop: omnidirectional, unidirectional, and cardioid. “As its name suggests, an omnidirectional microphone is designed to pick up sound from all sides of the mic, meaning that a speaker can talk into the microphone from any direction and it will be able to capture the sound. Unidirectional Microphones are microphones that only pick up sound with high gain from a specific side or direction of the microphone. If a user is speaking into a unidirectional microphone, they must speak into the correct side, normally called the voice side, of the microphone in order to get good gain on the recording. Cardioid Microphones are microphones that pick up sounds with high gain from the front and sides but poorly from the rear.”
Set yourself up for success by listening to sound samples as you peruse different microphones to notice the difference in tone and quality. From there, you can decide which one you like best. Brooker also suggests playing detective to find out which microphone your favorite podcaster uses. “They must be your favorite for a reason, and I bet having a good quality microphone is a big part of that,” she adds.
If you’re on a tight budget, here are a few podcast microphones that don’t sacrifice quality for a lower price.
“My first microphone was an Audio-Technica AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio XLR. I didn’t have an audio box to connect the XLR into, so I bought an XLR to USB cord so I could connect it directly to my computer,” says Brooker. “I loved the rich sound from this mic and still use it from time to time when I do voice-over work.”
“However, for the conversationality of podcasting, I found [Audio-Technica] to be too sensitive. It picked up everything from a gentle sigh, to my neighbor taking out the trash. I soon switched to the Audio-Technica AT2005USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone,” she adds. “This mic gave me the ability to use either the XLR plug in or the USB. So, it’s versatile and the sound quality is great. I’ve used this mic for years and never had any issues.”
For those who prefer an XLR mic, the Shure Cardioid Dynamic Mic PGA48 is just $39 and made with a Cardiod pattern that excels at blocking background noise and enhancing audio from the “source” or you and your guest.
The GLS Audio ES-58-S Dynamic Microphone is another affordable option ($25) and comes with an on-off switch, though you’ll want to keep accessory purchases in mind since this is just a microphone.
The Blue Snowball iCE USB Cardioid Mic is another popular option that will only set you back $50 with a “custom condenser capsule” made with Skype and Facetime calls in mind.
Watch Podcasting 101 with Heather Brooker
About Nikki Brown
Nikki Brown is a bonafide Jersey girl and the Editorial Director of BlogHer. When she’s not creating content or connecting with our community, you’ll most likely find her taking way too many pictures of her cats or curled up with a book. She’s also pursuing a Master’s degree in Creative Publishing and Creative Journalism at The New School, so try to keep up by following her on Instagram @missnikkibrown.