Do-you-need-a-dynamic-microphone-or-Heil-PR40-podcasting

The quality of your podcast production may be a criterion people use for choosing their podcasts, but how much does it really matter? Dynamic microphones are also praised as the best microphones (with the Heil PR40 being the “golden standard”). But is this really the kind of microphone you should consider?

Challenging the Podcasting Assumptions

This is a special miniseries to challenge the ideas podcasters have accepted as truth for years. Some will stand up against the challenge while others crumble, and some will reveal new options you may have never considered.

Does audio/video quality actually matter?

There are over 300,000 podcasts in iTunes now (not all active). You’ll find a variety of audio and video quality levels. You don’t have to sound amazing to be in iTunes, but some other podcast directories—like Stitcher—do have quality requirements.

How important—really—is your production quality for having a successful podcast?

What affects production quality?

There are potentially three production-quality areas of focus for podcasts:

  1. Audio quality (audio or video)
  2. Lighting quality (video)
  3. Video quality (video)

For each of these areas of production quality, the podcasting gear you use has the greatest impact—not the software or editing skills. There are many kinds of gear people use to record audio or video podcasts.

  • Studio equipment
  • Smartphone or tablet
  • Webcam
  • Built-in computer microphone
  • Telephone conferencing

Each equipment option has its own advantages and disadvantages. In general, you’ll find that more convenience has lower quality and lower cost, and higher quality has less convenience and higher cost—but there are some powerful alternatives that break this generality!

When it comes to video, the most expensive camera will be worthless if you’re not well-lit.

You can enhance just about anything with software, but how well you can enhance it depends on how well it was recorded. “Garbage in, garbage out” still applies. You can spray-paint garbage and surround it with scented candles and beautiful landscaping, but it’s still garbage—just “enhanced garbage.”

Does the audience care about quality?

The most important thing to your audience will always be your content. There are some successful podcasts that have terrible production quality. But the audience keeps coming back for the content or the personality presenting the content.

Where your audience will care about your quality is when its lack becomes distracting. For example, a quiet or muffled microphone may sound okay in a quiet office with noise-canceling headphones, but it may be completely unlistenable at fast speeds or in a noisy environment (like driving or mowing). Consider all the ways people consume podcasts and ensure you provide a great experience.

Think about how the entertainment industry performs. It’s common to see high-quality productions fail for lack of a great story (content) and story-telling technique (presentation). But it’s also common to see productions with great content and presentation struggle to gain an audience because of poor production.

When you’re competing for an audience (depending on your perspective on competition), you don’t want anything working against you. Your quality could be a major reason someone will chose another podcast over yours.

How to improve your quality

Remember this production-quality waterfall:

  1. Audio quality
  2. Lighting quality
  3. Video quality

Practically, this means your microphone(s) will be the best thing to upgrade first.

Audio only

If you’re producing an audio-only podcast, follow the chain of devices from your microphone to improve the quality.

The microphone’s connected to the preamp, the preamp’s connected to the mixer, the mixer’s connected to the compressor/limiter/gate (effects), the effects are connected to the EQ (equalization), the EQ’s connected to the output, and the output’s connected to the recorder.

If you don’t have all of those pieces in your audio chain, adding or upgrading them may improve your quality.

Video

It doesn’t matter how high-definition your camera is, if you’re not visible or poorly lit, no one can appreciate the camera’s quality—or maybe even see you!

If you need a cheap lighting kit with a lot of light output, look at the Fancierstudio 3800-watt kit (2 softboxes, 1 hairlight) or the ePhoto 4500W kit (3 softboxes). These kits are cheap in every way, but they put out a lot of light for under $200! (I recently bought the Fancierstudio 3800-watt kit and will have a initial video review soon.

For a camera, your webcam will be probably the worst quality (though the HD webcams, like the Logitech C920 can be quite good!). You may already have a great camera in your smartphone. If you want the best video quality, look at a dedicated camera like a Canon DSLR (what I use) or an Canon HD camcorder.

Conclusion: production quality is important!

Your best investment will always be to continuously improve your content quality and presentation skills. But if your production quality is bad, you’ll have to work really hard to attract and keep your audience.

Is a dynamic mic (especially the Heil PR40) really the best?

Let’s dig into a controversial subject in audio quality! You’ll hear most podcasters say to only get a dynamic microphone. A lot of podcasters will also praise the Heil PR40 as the “golden standard” podcasting microphone. You may be surprised at some of the truth!

What’s the difference between condenser and dynamic microphones?

There are a few styles of microphones with über-technical differences in how they capture sound. For our sake, let’s look at the practical side.

Condenser microphones capture a very wide range of frequencies (high and low tones). They also often capture a wider area of sound: often omnidirectional (all the way around the microphone), or can easily capture distant sounds.

Dynamic microphones usually capture a slightly smaller range of frequencies than condenser mics. They often have a more narrow area of sound: usually end-fire and cardiod (meaning primarily the area from the end of the microphone), as well as a greater falloff for distant sounds.

Other kinds of microphones

Besides studio microphones on a stand or boom, you could also find lavaliere (or lapel) mics, shotgun mics, surface mics, headset mics, and more.

Each microphone has its place depending on your needs. For example, shotgun mics are best to position out of the camera frame, away from the audio source.

Which microphone has the best quality?

This is actually a misleading question because different voices, environments, and goals require different microphones. What may be the “best” microphone in one situation could be the worst in another situation. For example, you may sound the best with a condenser microphone in your closet, but if you record video, the microphone may cover too much of your face and the closet may be horrible for video.

I’ll leave the full quality debate to more experienced audio engineers. But here are some general guidelines.

The particular microphone model for your needs depends heavily on your budget and your own voice. But let’s challenge one of them!

Is the Heil PR40 really the “golden standard”?

If you listen to any other podcasts about podcasting, you’ll most likely hear the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB and Heil PR40 praised as the microphones to get. The ATR2100-USB for starting out, and the PR40 for when you have “arrived.”

The ATR2100-USB / AT2005USB (essentially the same microphone) rightly deserve the recommendations, though the Samson Q2U is a great competitor with the same features!

But how about the Heil PR40? Now that I’ve experienced many other dynamic microphones, I think the Heil PR40 is overhyped, primarily because of its massive endorsement from two people: Leo Laporte and Cliff Ravenscraft. I highly respect both men for what they’ve done in podcasting and I applaud their success (Cliff is a true close friend and lives not far from me!); I’m not here to say their advice is bologna. But I have discovered a problem with so many podcasters going through the same blanket school of thought.

When I listen to podcasters who use the PR40, I hear the same range of audio “enhanced” and everyone’s voices are sounding too much alike—and too much like a radio DJ. Many voices will also have problems with sibilance (the “S” sounds) being too harsh.

Before you rush out to buy a Heil PR40 just because someone else recommended it, I think you should try your own voice on it, if possible. Or save a little and get a more standard microphone like the Electro Voice RE320 (watch my video review of the RE320).

Conclusion: a dynamic mic is usually the best

There is no absolute rule on audio because every voice and environment is different. But in general, a dynamic microphone will be better for most audio podcasters recording from their home or office without a sound-proof studio. But for video podcasting, you should really consider a completely different style of microphone, such as a shotgun, lavaliere, headset, or even a condenser in some cases.

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About the Author
As an award-winning podcaster, Daniel J. Lewis gives you the guts and teaches you the tools to launch and improve your own podcasts for sharing your passions and finding success. Daniel creates resources for podcasters, such as the SEO for Podcasters and Zoom H6 for Podcasters courses, the Social Subscribe & Follow Icons plugin for WordPress, the My Podcast Reviews global-review aggregator, and the Podcasters' Society membership for podcasters. As a recognized authority and influencer in the podcasting industry, Daniel speaks on podcasting and hosts his own podcast about how to podcast. Daniel's other podcasts, a clean-comedy podcast, and the #1 unofficial podcast for ABC's hit drama Once Upon a Time, have also been nominated for multiple awards. Daniel and his son live near Cincinnati.

15 comments on “Does audio/video quality ACTUALLY matter? Is a dynamic mic REALLY the best? – TAP174

  1. DellDigital says:

    Great Episode Daniel esp like the info on microphones and find your comments on ‘voice’ interesting.
    Have to say (feels like admit) I recently did sell my Heil PR 40 yep…Gosh I Sold it. Why did I do that?

    Here is my story if its any help to others reading:
    Well a fair amount of my reason was based on the very same reality of comments you have made about the mic.
    I purchased my first PR40 a long time ago based on general comment and all the positive comment from other podcasters.

    I remember when it arrived I was so excited about my new future sound “The Magic Wand” had come to my door 🙂

    I
    set it up, put neutral settings in place on my mixer and waited for the
    magic to happen…I was SHOCKED at the result!
    It was totally horrible
    in sound imo, even worse was how ‘POOR’ I found its rejection, it was
    picking things up from all over the place!

    Now that’s an amazing
    thing to say…as most people have nothing but positive comments about
    the microphone’s sound and also its ability for rear rejection. BUT I
    think we have to take into account that people also do not say what a
    troublesome microphone this can be…its just not the thing to be seen
    saying in podcasting circles about a Heil PR40 is it?

    This is
    what I found with the PR40. Its a great mic but so very difficult to
    handle.
    Getting the settings just right for this microphone is not easy,
    well for me and my voice it was not.
    The mic has a pronounced base to
    it yes, but also its massively sensitive in the higher mid and high
    end.
    Its almost as sensitive as some non dynamic microphones. Thats the
    reason why I found its rear rejection not so good.
    It took a long time
    around three weeks of fiddling for me to get that balance between an
    acceptable high frequency response and low rejection and have the mic sounding and behaving in a manner I was happy with.

    My voice
    has some base to it already, but the difficulty with this mic is it
    grabbed any and all of my sibilance and breath noises to a significant
    degree. That sensitivity simply made it hard to handle in its use. Yes in the
    end I got it right but it remained a difficult mic to use for me. Whats
    incredible was that I found one of my tube condenser microphones
    more easy to handle and produced better rear rejection…no I am not
    kidding. The mic in question was / is the Behringer T47 I started using
    it and it took over from the PR40 as my main mic.

    It was better for my voice and that’s the key point here as you also said.
    Do
    not get a microphone purley based on what others have to say about it.
    If its a
    microphone in common use then well it will be a good / reasonable microphone for the
    most part.
    BUT is it going to be good for you?
    Is it going to be good for your voice and your main vocal frequency and tone?
    Is it going to be good for your setting and use?

    People would be far better off to not just ‘assume’ the PR40 or any other microphone is going to be the one ‘The Magic Wand”

    Do what you can to get talking into one or two and see how they stack up.
    If its a low end microphone budget you are on, well probably its not required.
    I
    would say without doubt the best mic with the best sound and the best
    value right now is still the AT 2100 or 2005 as you can buy it knowing
    it performs well. You then need to use the correct mic technique to get
    the best sound from it for your voice in question. Yes mic technique
    and mixer settings will make a very big difference with any microphone
    and the AT 2001 is no acception.

    Your recent and excellent mic
    review of the RE320 reminded me of some videos I had seen in the past on
    the RE20 and the RE320 I went back and reviewed the video on youtube
    and took your comments into account on the RE320 This led me to look at
    this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjuMi3koYEY where to some
    degree the pro caster was compared to the RE20 and the RE320

    I
    wanted a new mic (Dynamic) and considered the RE320 so set out to get
    my hands on the RE20, the RE320 and the Procaster. result being, the
    RE20 was too low on the bottom end, the RE320 very very nice but again this one a little too sensitive for my higher end tones. The Rode Procaster sat as
    suggested in this video right in the middle. So now I have the Rode
    Procaster as part of my mic collection.

    Reason for the info
    above…it shows how its good to use others video and comments to ‘guide
    you’ but when the chips are down and you are shelling out a few hundred
    dollars…use the mic hired, borrowed or how ever you can get your hands
    on it and test the mic out for real. You then know what you are going
    to get, what you need from the mic and can the mic deliver what is
    required. Its not what people say thats important…its what you require
    that is the most important thing about a mic purchase. So plan your
    purchase and get it right. This is going to save you time and money for
    sure!
    Thanks Daniel for yet another great episode.
    David.

    1. Thanks for the great information, David!

      I think many of the prominent PR40 users get really close to the mic, which allows them to turn down the gain and reject more background noise. But this results in a stronger proximity effect and boosting the bass. That’s why I like the Electro Voice Variable-D filter that reduces that effect.
      I haven’t gotten to review the Procaster personally, yet, but I like what I see and hear from it. I know that Erik Fisher uses it on Beyond the To-Do List.

    2. Carl Valeri says:

      Thanks for sharing David. I think many times we want to take the simple road when selecting a mic and go with what has become accepted. Selecting a mic has become much like shopping for shoes. You really don’t know how they feel until you try them on. It the case of the mic you really don’t know how it will sound until you try them.

      Daniel did a great job on this episode and has raised many questions in my mind concerning my next microphone.

  2. Popeye says:

    I considered spending hundred$ on a mic, but then bought a cheap as chips SM58 and a pop filter. I run the mic through a budget compressor / limiter.

  3. Ryan says:

    Hi Daniel,

    I appreciate the podcast, and have found a lot of your episodes very useful, but I think you’ve missed the mark a bit with your microphone segment here. I am a professional recordist, with twelve years of film, television, and music experience in both studio and on-location settings.

    Specifically, I disagree with your conclusion that dynamic microphones are in most cases preferable to condensers for the application of podcasting. The concerns about environmental noise are valid, but far better (and less costly, even) methods exist to address it.

    First of all: reducing the environmental noise itself is almost always less costly than buying equipment, and *always* more effective. A passable mic in a quiet space will turn in a better recording than even a great mic in a noisy space. The cost of a case to put your computer in is going to be less than the difference between a mic that works and a mic that offers a meaningful improvement. A makeshift cubicle of hung moving blankets (the kind you get with a UHaul rental that sell for about $10 each in department stores) can go an astonishingly long way toward neutralizing a room.

    Second: used properly, a strongly directional condenser will produce *less* environmental noise than a dynamic. You need to gain the signal from a condenser far less than a dynamic, so if you position it well and have dealt with your environmental sounds as best you can, you have a much better chance of picking up your voice and leaving out more of the atmosphere. The best mic I’ve come across for the specific purpose of low noise floor is the Rode NT1A, which retails around $300 (I wouldn’t say it’s a stellar vocal mic, but it’s functional enough, and exponentially preferable to the similarly priced PR40).

    To use an example I expect is comparable to a lot of podcasting situations:

    a semi-frequent setup I’m called on to record in is what’s called a junket, where a talent sits in a hotel room and a series of journalists are paraded in to conduct brief interviews with him or her for a few hours. Hotel rooms aren’t the greatest of controlled environments, but aren’t disastrous either, and the setup needs to be able to accommodate many changing voices with one gear chain. My preferred approach to such a setting is to hang a shotgun microphone (I use a Sennheiser 416, which is probably not worth the investment if you’re not looking to make a living from recording things, but its relevant-to-this-topic characteristics here are that it picks up a wide range of frequencies relatively evenly in a highly directional pattern) from a booming mic stand (these start around $40 at retail, can be less if you live in an area that makes heavy use of Craigslist) about two feet above the subject’s head, pointed slightly in front of the mouth in a comfortable seated position. This gets me a strong vocal signal from each speaker with acceptably low noise for the standards of professional broadcasts.

    You’re quite right that there’s no one universally best setup or microphone for all circumstances, but there’s probably *no* controlled-environment (and yes, your home that isn’t a purpose-built studio counts as a controlled environment) circumstance in which a dynamic — even an expensive one — is the optimal choice for any human voice.

    I’d also specifically caution against Rode’s NTG series, which you mentioned in the show. I’ve had RF pickup problems with several NTG-3s. This might not be an issue if you live in an area without a lot of radio signals flying around, but worth being aware of for those in cities.

    The Cliff’s Notes:
    -A $100 SM58 in a good room with $75 worth of treatment will sound much better than a $300 PR40 in a room with none.
    -If you can afford to spend a moderate sum on the mic alone, a condenser with a tight directional pattern is a better bet than a dynamic you have to eat and pump the gain on.
    -Moving blankets are great cheap acoustic treatment.

    1. TAPKAE says:

      Second for the Rode NT1. It’s dizzyingly better than the PR-40 for vox. I used an old one for my podcast, and perhaps the slightly less shimmering sound is better suited for all voice programming where there is no need to “cut” through anything.

  4. Wendy Holloway says:

    What’s the best microphone if I’m filming a cooking technique?

    1. Great question, Wendy! This would probably be a headset mic, since you’re actively moving around and you would need the microphone closer to your mouth.

  5. TAPKAE says:

    This will save me from having to write it all over again. For those of you who want to know what a dissenter’s opinion is on the PR-40 and its Fanboys. I know, podcasting heresy.

    http://jontusmedia.com/which-microphone-should-i-use-for-podcasting/#comment-952225250

  6. Daniel Ortego says:

    With respect to ‘gear’ I believe good audio is the single most important element of a podcasters’ set-up. After listening to your show I agree with your comments about those more ‘popular’ mics.  From there its right into a quality microphone preamp or in my case, an integrated channel.

    Regards,

    1. Totally! I’ve seen some great YouTube videos with great video quality, great content, but horrible audio and it was sad.

  7. Daniel,
    Thanks for the review! I am currently using the Blue Yeti for podcast but it still doesn’t sound right to me. Based on your article and the comments here sounds like I need to be even more intentional about my recording environment! Though it is almost completely quiet and I am in a small room with carpet, the audio STILL sounds too big and not as clean. Should I add another piece of equipment rather than just connecting the Yeti directly into my computer?

    thanks again!
    Jeremy

    1. Hi, Jeremy!

      How far do you speak from the mic?

  8. Laoise says:

    How about a lapel mic that you can plug into your iPad, desktop or smart phone do they exist?

    1. Hi, Laoise!

      Yes, those work well for video shows, but they’re not good enough for audio only. You can connect almost any lav into mobile devices with a TRRS splitter. Or, get the Røde SmartLav+, http://amzn.to/1O8yCaI, which connects directly to the audio port without an adapter.

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