My background: I do podcasting, digital recording and have done low-power community radio. I also used to sing in bands, have done 13 records between 1985 and now, one of those records was on Warner Brothers.
And many people who hear my current podcast, FREEDOM FEENS Podcast say it’s the best-sounding podcast they’ve ever heard. So I pretty much know my way around recording at all levels, from high-end commercial studios down to the cheapest D.I.Y. home recording setups. As a result of all this, a lot of people ask me for advice on the best low-budget gear for home recording, filmmaking, podcasting, and radio. I’ve addressed home recording HERE and HERE, and filmmaking HERE and HERE.
So today I’m going to offer my suggestions for podcasting and low-power radio microphones and mixers….
The first suggestion I’d make is DON’T USE LARGE CONDENSER MICROPHONES for podcasting or radio.
They’re really too sensitive unless you are very experienced and want to spend WAY too much time on everything like I do. Yeah, I use ’em, but I have 30 years experience recording, and I spend 12 hours editing every podcast. Because I’m a perfectionist. Unless you have 30 years experience recording and want to spend 12 hours editing every cast, SKIP THE LARGE CONDENSER MICROPHONES! I know they’re tempting, they look very “studio.” Large condenser microphones used to cost about 10,000 dollars, and only major studios had them. Now they make clones in China that cost about 100 bucks and look nice, sound pretty good (if you know what you’re doing!), but they’re WAY TOO MUCH WORK for the informal nature of most podcasting and radio.
They’ll pick up you scratching your face, touching your shirt by accident, and they’ll pick up the truck going by outside. I know that “all the cool kids are doing it”, but I’ve listened to all the cool kids’ podcasts and radio shows, and they’re filled with background noise! Again, SKIP THE LARGE CONDENSER MICROPHONES!
Large condenser microphones can get AMAZING sound if you really know what you’re doing and if you work your butt off at it. (I use them to record our intros and outros, and for paid voiceover work, but not for day-to-day podcasting.) If you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t work your butt off at it, they’ll sound awful. If you don’t know what you’re doing and if you don’t want to work your butt off at it, you want microphones that sound pretty good all the time with little effort.
Large condenser microphones are also extremely fragile to bumps, power surges, moisture and static.
I have two suggestions for low-budget microphones for podcasting and radio that will get you a MUCH BETTER sound than what most people get out of large condensers.
The first is the Zoom H2 for under 150 bucks. It’s a “studio on a stick”, I use it to record my end of the Freedom Feens podcast, in stereo, and it sounds amazing. This is literally ALL you need, besides a computer and ideas, to record a podcast.
I recommend getting a mic stand of some sort for it. I made this dedicated table stand,
directions are HERE.
I use the Zoom H2 to record my podcast, and I edit it later before uploading. But it can also be used as a microphone and signal processor (it has a tiny amount of perfect built-in compression) to be used as a pass-through microphone for live radio.
You can set the sensitivity of the mics, from zero to 120. I believe the default is 120. I recommend setting them at 100 (and do NOT turn on the attenuation switch) for podcasting in a quiet room with a speaker with an average voice volume.
If you have more than one person on your cast and you’re in the same room, the Zoom H2 has front and back mics. By default, only the front mics are on. But if you look at the manual, you can change the settings to have both sets of mics on. In this mode, it can be set to record to quad or to stereo. Set it to record both front and back mics, recording to stereo. Then put it on the little screw-in table stand between you two on a table Put a folded up T-shirt under it to prevent vibration from the floor from reaching the Zoom, then don’t bump the table. Should sound good. Do a test.
I generally record with the Zoom about 9 inches from my mouth. That seems to get the best sound. Also helps if it’s in a room with a lot of fabric and not a lot of wood or plaster walls. Actually inside a closet with lots of hanging clothes is really really good.
If you want to get a little more fancy than a Zoom H2, and/or if your podcast is more than one person, you might want to get some good solid non-condenser mics and a small mixer and record into your computer. The following setup will also be good for live community radio as well as per-recorded podcasting.
Get Shure SM58 microphones, one for each person who does the podcast. SM58s are pretty much what’s on the stage of every club you’ve ever been in. They’re really good for the price, they’re practically indestructible, and they get a good sound every time. Large-diaphragm condenser mics can get a GREAT sound, but it’s hard. Again: if you don’t pay way too much attention to them, to the room, and to the mix, they sound way WORSE than dynamic mics like the SM58.
They have a very “radio” sound, as you can hear here: Shure SM58 test. (The SM58 doesn’t start being used until 2 minutes and 10 seconds in)
SM58s pretty much pick up what’s right in front of them and that’s it. They isolate you (which you want) and reject outside sounds (which is also good.)
You’ll want windscreens which fit over the end of the mic and reduce “popping” sounds. Here are five for ten dollars. Get five, even if you only get one mic. They wear out.
You might be able to find SM58s cheaper somewhere for less than 99 bucks each, but don’t buy them used, used mics smell, and often have other issues.
Note: We still use the above set-up for our weekly Sunday live show, talking and recording via Mumble And the low-tech solution pictured below for phone calls:
But for the weekly Wednesday non-live podcast, as of Feb 30, 2012, Michael is podcasting with a different mic (a Nady RSM-4 ribbon mic):
and a different mixer/USB input. Neema started using a Nady RSM-5 ribbon mic on March 14, 2012. Details are in the video below, and if you go to YouTube, there are links for the gear with the video.
If you do a solo show, I’d use the inexpensive pre-amp/USB interface shown above in the video. (Links on the YouTube page for the video).
If you have more than one host, I’d get this inexpensive mixer/USB computer interface.
I wouldn’t worry about recording more than two tracks even if you have more than two hosts, just do stereo in Audacity, plug your SM58s into your mixer (turn off the mic power switch on the mixer, dynamic mics do NOT require phantom power), do a mix with one voice in the middle, and the other two a LITTLE to the left and a LITTLE to the right (like one at 10 PM and one at 2 PM.)
If you have a smooth “radio voice” without a lot of dynamics, you probably don’t need a compressor/limiter. But if you have a lot of variation of volume in your natural speaking voice, it would help. You can make a conscious effort to change how you speak, but I’d use the technology instead. Trying to get someone to change the way they’ve spoken their whole life is going to squelch their free-flowing talk and make them spend energy worrying about how they speak, rather than what they have to say.
I recommend the 70-dollar ART Tube MP Studio V3 Microphone Preamp and Limiter with Presets:
Make sure you have the phantom power on it OFF for your mics unless they’re condenser mics. Only condenser mics need phantom power. Dynamic mics (like the SM57 and SM58) and ribbon mics don’t need phantom power, and can actually be harmed by it.
Here’s a demonstration of it on YouTube:
Whenever I’m searching for gear these days I do a search on YouTube. Pretty much anything is reviewed on there, with audio examples.
That’s my bear-bones easy gear recommendations for podcasting and radio. However, if you really want to get fancy and spend a lot of time getting things perfect, Neema and I did a post on how we record. If you DO want to use large condensers AND do a lot of overkill, check it out (I use the Zoom H2, Neema uses a large condenser, and we both do a lot of overkill.) There is also some other stuff there, about sound dampening and just podcasting and radio in general that might be useful.
–Michael W. Dean
Note: if you do low-power or pi-fi radio and want to re-broadcast the Freedom Feens podcast (many stations do), feel free, and there are links to download all episodes: Episodes 1-39 DIRECT DOWNLOAD
Episodes 40-current DIRECT DOWNLOAD. Please post a comment here if you do. Thanks!