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

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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Disclosure

This post may contain links to products or services with which I have an affiliate relationship and may receive compensation from your actions through such links. However, I don't let that corrupt my perspective and I don't recommend only affiliates.

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.

3 comments on “Do you REALLY need passion? Is consistency THAT important? – TAP173

  1. Great episode DJL, because as many of you in the podcast space explain, podfading when you don’t stick to a consistent schedule is almost imminent. One thing with the podcasts I’ve hosted in the past were being consistent. In a news-based niche, trying to capitalize on the news can be great, until other things get in the way. With my current podcast, I’m setting consistent release times and I’m starting to see consistent numbers and some steady (slow, but steady) growth. I find I was initially doing the podcast (at first) the same day as a release and there was no rhyme or reason to it. Now that I’ve found a good MWF (two of the shows I produce and host myself) format, listeners are starting to become aware they are released on certain days and they’re already downloading the episodes before I even hit the social media blast on Twitter, Facebook and G+. This series has been fantastic. For some reason, I feel like I’m coming off as a fanboy with listening live and incessant commenting, but this series REALLY is helpful, even to those like me who think they’ve got some of the timing stuff figured out.

    1. With a MWF schedule like that, what do you do when you travel?

      1. I always travel with a computer in case news breaks. I’m generally internet connected when I need to be. But I’m starting to make sure I have content in the hopper ready to go. An example is this coming week. I’m going to North Carolina for a wedding for about 5 days. During that time, I’ll have two shows to release. They’re already done. Just plug them into wordpress and auto post when the time comes and hit social media the days they auto post. It’s something I actually did when I traveled on my old show long before I’d ever heard of the John Lee Dumas, who I’ve actually only listened to once.

        So I have Friday (of this week), and Monday (of next) already loaded and ready. Wednesday is the only show that’s recorded and released the same day, but that’s actually another show within my podcast. We record that show from a radio station in Iowa as part of our podcast, so that’s the Wednesday show. The only problem that can come up there is little tech knowledge at the station, so I use Audio Hijack to get the audio off the live stream (which can be risky at times, no the studio doesn’t seem to want to record the show for us unless they absolutely have to).

        I’m trying to build up non-timely shows (since my offseason is interview based) to have ready to drop in within a two week period and then have the ability to move shows based on relevance. On Monday, I’d already released a podcast and was waiting for Friday to release a big name interview. Then there was a hire at a Division I wrestling program (new head coach). So I’ve got that person as Friday and bumping the previous guest show to Monday. I don’t actually publish the show on blubrry until I know my order, so I’m not saying “Episode 61” when it’s actually 62 or 60.

        I also have the Roland ready to roll if I need to do things on the road. I always travel with my computer, even though I might not turn it on.

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