Which Microphone Should I Use for Podcasting?

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Question:

John asks, "What microphone should I use for podcasting? Should I look for dynamic or condenser and what models do you recommend for someone getting started?"

Answer:

I believe John heard me talking about this recently on the MyMac Podcast #438 where I began to answer this question for Guy and Gaz.

For podcasting, I strongly prefer dynamic microphones over condensers. Both can work if used properly, but in the end you'll generally have an easier time with dynamics. The radio broadcast world has standardized on dynamic mics for the past handful of decades, too, and for good reason: most radio and podcast studios aren't exactly "good-sounding" rooms, and a properly-used dynamic mic naturally focuses on the signal pushed into it as opposed to condensers which tend to pick up a lot of ambient sounds, too. 

Blue Yeti

The trick is that regardless of which mic you use, you'll need to employ some microphone technique. And by that I mean you want to be able to get right up close to the mic when you're talking in order to give you a nice, tight, recorded sound. Remember, your listeners will be hearing this in their own (potentially bouncy) environments, and that means you don't want to force them to listen to your bouncy-sounding room behind you, too. And if they're using headphones, they really don't want to hear your clangy room while trying to listen to your voice. The issue here is that getting up on the microphone requires you to be able to adjust the microphone's gain to compensate. You don't want to be up close only to have an over-driven sound. So you need some way of adjusting the input gain (that is, the amount of signal the microphone sends through). With most USB mics the only control you have is in the Sound System Preference pane, and while that can be good enough I tend to prefer a knob that I can adjust as I'm talking, but perhaps that's just because it's what I'm used to using.

Now that we've got the basics out of the way let's get to picking a microphone. Based on what I've said above (and to make it easy for all of us) it would seem we want an all-in-one dynamic microphone with on-board gain control that plugs in via USB. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, that doesn't exist (please comment if you know differently!). Nearly all USB-based microphones are of the condenser variety and that means we're forced to make a compromise. If you don't want to compromise you'll have to get a standard, XLR-based, dynamic mic and some sort of mixer or USB audio interface like the Shure X2u. In my main podcast studio this is the route I've gone, and I use a Heil PR 40 as my main microphone plugged in through a Tascam US-1641 USB Interface.

RØDE Podcaster

That said, there are two microphones that I've found over the years that work for me when I'm on the road and want to just have an all-in-one USB solution. The first is the RØDE Podcaster (US$229 from Amazon), a dynamic mic that also has headphone passthrough (which allows you to hear sound from the computer as well as your own voice directly from the mic). The one thing the Podcaster lacks is gain control — you have to do this in software and it works, but it's not perfect. Still, it's an excellent-sounding mic and I've done many podcasts from noisy/bouncy hotel rooms with no one the wiser.

The second option that I like is the Blue Yeti (not to be confused with the Yeti Pro, which is good for other applications, just not this one). Available for $93.22 from Amazon (and listing for $149) this is considerably more affordable than the Podcaster, but the Yeti is a condenser mic. However, it has an on-board gain control as well as an option for a very tight pattern that makes the Yeti an excellent podcast mic. It, too, has a headphone passthrough just like the podcaster. The Yeti has become my preferred travel companion simply because of its gain control. I don't like the sound quite as much as the Podcaster, but the convenience wins out for me. With the right tweaking I can usually make it so that most listeners can't tell the difference.

One other trick I'll mention that's helped us with Mac Geek Gab over the years: use a noise-gate (I use an outboard noise gate in the studio, and when traveling I use a software-based noise gate in Audio Hijack Pro as part of my recording chain). The point of a noise-gate is that it completely mutes your signal unless you're talking, which is great if you've got a Skype-based co-host or guests. No reason for people to hear whatever background noise you might have in your room while someone else is speaking.

Good luck... and happy recording!

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Each week Dave Hamilton and John F. Braun provide some great troubleshooting advice to listeners of the Mac Geek Gab podcast. Here with MGG Answers we share some of those tips with the rest of the world!

Comments

Steve Sheridan

Good post Dave and I agree with your recommendations.  The only thing I would add is that if you do use a noise gate, be careful with the settings.  I’ve heard more than one podcast (not yours) where the beginning of each new spoken phrase is clipped by the end of the gate which can be annoying for the listener.

Scott Siegling

Great advice, I agree with Steve above about the dangers of over-use of the noise gate, which is usually partnered with a compressor. I’m a little rusty on my microphone science, but don’t dynamic microphones have a proximity effect which heightens the bass response in a way that condensers don’t? Which generally results in a more pleasing, rounder, DJ-type vocal sound.

iJack

I use an Audio-Technica AT897 shotgun condenser mic, which I picked up for (video) film-making.  It’s advantage is that it has a very narrow field of ‘hearing,’ so extraneous sound is largely not recorded.  I also use it in a shock mount on a boom pole, to eliminate any ‘table vibration’ making it’s way to the final recording.  The boom angle is adjustable, so I am not forced to lean over a table mic, and can even stand up to record, when I feel like it.

I listen to what I am saying through an Audio-Technica M30 headset – a bargain at about $60..

Depending on how serious you are, you cannot beat good equipment.

Dave Hamilton

@Steve — Great point. Setting the noise gate (or expander) is an art in and of itself, and perhaps is a good topic for a future article!

@Scott — You’re right: many dynamic mics do exhibit the “proximity effect” where you can get a rounder/lower sound the closer you are to it. It’s yet another reason I prefer dynamics. Condensers, for the most part, are usually built to be “flat” (because they can be).

@iJack — Agreed 100%. Good equipment is the right place to start. It makes it SO much easier to get a good sound.

Aaron Dowd

Great advice here. Don’t forget to add a noise gate, EQ out below 80hz and also around 2k, and you can export the final files in garageband as 64kbps podcast; they’ll still sound good and they won’t be large files, which is important if you don’t wanna pay big bandwidth charges.

Shameless plug: if anyone would like me to edit their podcasts, I’m available. I’ve been doing it for a few shows lately and would like to do it full time. Find me at Aaronplayingdrums.com!

Jon Buscall

I’m a big fan of the Heil PR40 and use the Røde for voicing over video screencasts.

The great thing about the Heil is that it has a lot of rejection BUT it takes some time and practice to get good mic technique with this mic.

I’ve found that adding a mic preamp to the chain is essential to get a warmer sound to the Heil. I use a DBX 286s which isn’t that expensive but well worth it.  The Warm Audio WA12 is outstanding but four times the price.

I’ve put a full overview of my system here: http://jontusmedia.com/podcasting-gear/

Christina Maria

Thank you for the excellent information. Question… have you tried the RØDE Podcaster with the Tascam to improve gain control? And is it a viable combination?

Dave Hamilton

@Christina—The RØDe Podcaster has its own, built-in USB interface, which means it has its own Analog to Digital converter inside of it. The Tascam US-1641 in this case would be redundant because IT acts as the A-D converter.

The Tascam ONLY takes XLR and 1/4” analog signals as input, and the RØDE Podcaster only outputs USB, making the two mutually exclusive devices, at least in terms of getting the Podcaster’s signal into the Mac.

Does that help or did I confuse things more? Sorry… it’s early! smile

Christina Maria

@Dave, no confusion, you explained it perfectly smile I was thinking the onboard gain control of the RØDE could be disabled and substituted with the control of the Tascam; swapping out one interface for the other, so to speak.

But, I failed to think that through, not considering I’d be creating a circus of analog to digital redundacies… oops! Thanks so much for explaining!

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