To get started podcasting, you don’t need any fancy equipment. Refer to my article on the absolute basics of recording a podcast to get started. In that article, I show you how a disposable microphone connected to your computer is really all you need to launch your podcasting career. Audio quality is somewhat lacking with a low-end microphone, in part because cheap microphones are notorious for picking up all kinds of room noise (which often includes the computer fan noise). Audio clarity ultimately suffers and it becomes vital to seek out better quality tools. After you get the basics figured out, there are several things you can do to improve the quality of your podcast, without breaking the bank.
Three specific hardware components are needed to record quality spoken audio tracks: a microphone, phantom power and a compressor/limiter. In general, you get what you pay for when you buy audio gear. The cheap stuff does not sound as good as the expensive stuff, but there are varying degrees of cheap and expensive resulting in smart compromises within your budget limitations. Without making a large quality trade off you can get a decent sounding audio setup for about $200.
For a variety of reasons, you want a large diaphragm condenser microphone. Using a condenser microphone results in warmer more accurate representation of your voice than using a dynamic microphone. Condenser mics require an outside power source, which is why phantom power is listed as one of the three requirements here. To get a microphone radio pros consider acceptable, you need to spend somewhere between $300-500 dollars. On the other hand, we’re recording everything in a podcast with the intent of compressing it to MP3 format, so using a much more pocketbook friendly alternative should work just fine. Behringer offers their C-1 Studio Condenser microphone for about $50. If your budget is larger than the $200 I’m working with for this article, your microphone is the place you should choose to spend more.
Mixing Board and Compressor
This article has gone through several versions because audio recording gear changes over time. While the original version of this article recommended using the Behringer UB802 mixer and a now-discontinued compressor (which I still use regularly), I’m now recommending the Pyle Professional Audio Mixer. The Pyle mixer includes a compressor and other digital effects, which keeps the amount of gear you need to a minimum.
A mixing board might seem like overkill at first, because all you’re doing is connecting one microphone, but with some experience, you’ll quickly discover uses for the extra channels on the mixer. The Pyle Professional Audio Mixer makes a great choice for filling the mixer/phantom power dual-role. Pyle also sells several other mixing boards with more inputs, but the one recommended here has enough input options to allow you to expand your setup to accommodate things like a second microphone, outboard gear like a turntable or CD player, or patching in telephone recordings before passing the signal to your PC recording software. Based on my research in updating this article, you can currently find the Pyle Professional Audio Mixer for about $99.
A decent compressor is something you don’t want to be without. Compressors are used to keep the change in volume between quite tones and loud tones less dramatic and effectively prevent you from recording sounds at a level capable of distorting the waveform. The compressor sits between your microphone and line-in on the PC. In the configuration we’re talking about here, you connect the microphone to the mixing board, which acts as both the power source for your microphone and includes a compressor. Standalone compressors come with a wide range of features at prices ranging from $50-1000. The Pyle mixing board includes fairly rudimentary compression, but as an entry level solution on a budget, it does the job nicely.
To make all the necessary connections, you’ll need a few accessories. At the very least you need a desktop microphone stand, an XLR microphone cable, a patch cable with male ends and a USB cable to connect to your computer. The stand is for the mic. The XLR cable connects the mic to the mixing board. One patch cable connects the mixer to the compressor; the second one connects the compressor to the adapter, which in turn connects to the line-in on your sound card.
A microphone stand shouldn’t run you more than $15. The combined cost of the cables will be roughly $30, if you buy 5-foot lengths, based on my own shopping experiences.
Here’s the gear rundown: