You may not need to spend thousands on multiple pieces of audio equipment to get a good-sounding podcast. Here are modern solutions.
Audio equipment has significantly matured since I first talked about bare minimum equipment in my early few episodes. Back then, I still recommended a microphone and mixer. Today, the options are a lot simpler and more versatile!
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Basic: solo and VoIP
In the simplest form, all you need to make an audio podcast is a microphone and recorder. You could use the mic built into your smartphone (which is better than the mic on a phone headset). With some good technique and a low-noise, low-reverb environment, you can get decent results.
But if you want to be serious about your show, I really recommend you get a dedicated microphone. For starting out, I recommend the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB.
While this certainly is the best USB microphone, I think it's the best for most starting podcasters (and a better choice than the Blue Yeti or Snowball).
- It's USB for connecting directly to your computer
- It has a built-in 3.5 mm headphone jack for monitoring your own voice. And if you set your PC's output to the ATR2100-USB, you'll hear audio from your USB through the same headphones.
- It sounds good.
- It's a cardioid mic, so it picks up less side audio.
- It also has XLR so that if you ever upgrade to professional audio equipment, you don't have to throw away your mic.
- And the ATR2100-USB has a lifetime warranty!
Because of that lifetime warranty, I still think the ATR2100-USB is a better choice than alternatives. But sometimes, the nearly identical Audio-Technica AT2005USB or Samson Q2u are more affordable or available in other countries.
With nothing but this microphone and your computer or mobile device (with a USB adapter), you can easily record solo shows. Many apps and services, such as Ringr, Zencastr, Ecamm Call Recorder for Skype, Pamela, and such will let you record both your own voice and a remote participant—even into separate tracks!
It's possible to combine multiple USB microphones, especially with Spreaker Studio for Windows and macOS, but this gets more complicated and it's when you would want to consider further upgrades.
Intermediate: multiple people and same location
When you need to start mixing multiple participants, especially in the same location, that's exactly what a mixer is for.
But mixers often come with complications, such as routing and recording. Plus, low-cost mixers mix all channels together into a single stereo channel, so you can't take advantage of multitrack recording.
That's why a mixer might not be the best next step. Instead, consider a professional digital audio recorder. I recommend the Zoom H4n Pro or especially the Zoom H5 or Zoom H6.
These devices are actually simple enough that you could record directly into them with their own built-in microphone or included mic capsule. You can even use them as a USB microphone connected to your computer or mobile device (Elsie Escobar, cohost of She Podcasts and The Feed – The Official Libsyn Podcast, does this for her podcasting)!
But where the H4n Pro and especially H5 and H6 stand out as an intermediate solution is that you can connect multiple XLR microphones (as well as 1/4″ or 3.5 mm lines) to mix and record in multitrack—without a computer! Plus, these recorders can be powered via batteries or an AC power adapter, so you can have extreme portability and a small physical footprint.
You can use inexpensive XLR microphones, theATR2100-USB/AT2005USB/Q2u, or even connect high-end professional microphones, like the Electro Voice RE320.
There's a whole lot these recorders can do, especially the Zoom H6. So I'm thrilled to announce the availability of my new Zoom H6 for Podcasters course! This is designed for the H6, but most of the information is applicable to the H5 as well. This course teaches all about configuring the H6 for podcasting, choosing the right mic capsule, and even shows how you can accomplish multiple mix-minus outputs without a mixer! Zoom H6 for Podcasters will be available on August 15, 2017, for only $79, but you can preorder it before its release and save $10!
Advanced: high versatility and portability
If you want much more versatility in your podcast setup, but you still don't want to compromise portability, a new champion option has arrived!
The Sound Devices MixPre-3 and MixPre-6 do come with a high price: $649 and $899, respectively. But one of these could easily replace a mixer, multitrack digital audio recorder, multitrack USB audio interface, and multichannel analog limiter! Thus, it's the about the same value, but the MixPre-6 still packs more features. And their physical footprint is almost as small as a book! I recently got to borrow and record a video review of a MixPre-6, and I think the MixPre-6 and MixPre-3 are almost perfect! With a few tweaks (that could be very likely), I might be replacing my Behringer X1832USB mixer, Behringer MDX4600 compressor/limiter/gate, Zoom H4n, and multiple USB audio interfaces with a tiny MixPre-6!
So while the Zoom H6 requires a little hacking to get a mix minus (and I show how to do it in Zoom H6 for Podcasters), the MixPre-3 and MixPre-6 make it easy. And the Zoom H6 can only be either a recorder or an interface, but the MixPre-3 and MixPre-6 can be both a recorder and interface simultaneously!
So for someone like me, with multiple pieces of audio gear, multiple power plugs, multiple ground loop isolators, and a spaghetti of cables and adapters, a single MixPre-6 could connect to my microphones and VoIP devices with ease! The only thing it can't do—that a Zoom recorder can—is be a microphone.
What's right for you?
It's easy to spend way too much money on features you may never use in your own podcasting. (Such was the case for my friend and fellow podcaster from Cincinnati Joe Taylor, host of On Faith's Edge. He recently downgraded from a mixer to a Zoom H6 and has loved it!)
I used to hate getting new shoes when I was a kid. My mom would make me try a pair on both feet and walk around in them. Then, she would have me stand still while she would squash my toes with her thumb as she felt how much room there was to grow into the shoes.
Shopping for podcasting gear needs to be kind of how my mom shopped for my shoes. Consider what you know you truly need and add a little margin to account for a growth.
That's why I will never recommend a USB-only microphone: there's no room to grow! If you have a USB-only microphone, you have to replace it when you want to use professional audio equipment.
These options may not give you the ultimate flexibility of a high-end mixer with multitrack interfacing and recording, but they are great minimums—both in price and size—with room for expansion.
Listen to “When to Upgrade Your Podcasting Tools” (episode 232) for more thoughts on picking the best podcasting gear for future growth and when you should upgrade.
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Learn everything about using a Zoom H6 for podcasting in my new video course. I cover settings, connections, mix minus, USB interfacing, and more!
Zoom H6 for Podcasters will be available for $79 on August 15, and you can save $10 if you preorder before then! If you join Podcasters' Society, the Zoom H6 course is included, along with several other courses, at no extra charge!
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