The Podcast Equipment Guide
Updated November 28, 2014.
I'm Dan Benjamin. I've been podcasting since 2006. In 2009 I went full-time with 5by5, a geek-focused podcast network, where we make more than 32 podcasts each week. I also run Archer Avenue, a small, focused podcast ad network where we match great sponsors with the best podcasts. As you can imagine, I've spent a lot of time using and testing equipment to find the best gear for creating podcasts. My hope is that you find this guide helpful in creating your own podcasting setup, and that it saves you from making the time consuming (and often costly) mistakes I've made along the way.
If this guide is helpful to you, please consider supporting my work on Patreon.
A Note about The Podcasting Handbook
This article is just a starting point with a focus on the basic gear and software you'll need to podcast at a variety of levels. The book I'm writing, The Podcasting Handbook, will cover these topics in much greater depth, and will expand upon numerous other topics including podcasting gear and the recording process, tips and techniques, creating content, production and distribution, and making money with podcasting. You can subscribe to the newsletter for early access and updates about my progress.
A Note about This Guide
I've split the guide into two main sections, Hardware and Software and further subdivided it into sections based on interest and commitment level (Entry-Level, Intermediate, etc.).
Many of the links below are affiliate links. If you use them when you buy, I'll get a small kick-back, which I will greatly appreciate.
I'm @danbenjamin on Twitter if you'd like to share your comments or questions, and I'll do my best to help.
In previous guides I spent time explaining why I selected the gear I recommend. If you're interested in learning more about these choices, please check out the previous edition. This time around, I've kept it a bit more brief, just breaking down the list into different sets of recommended equipment. Pick the one that most closely matches your interest and commitment level.
A Primer: Dynamic vs. Condenser Microphones
There's really only a couple things you need to know about the two primary different types of microphones: condenser and dynamic.
- Condenser mics are usually less expensive, have a more "live" sound, and pick up a whole lot of background/room noise.
- Dynamic mics are often more expensive, sound a bit "tighter", and only pick up audio that's directly in front of them (your voice, vs. your neighbor's dog).
For this reason, dynamic mics generally tend to be "better" for broadcast work, but they are more expensive and often fall outside the price-range of most beginning and intermediate podcasters. That's OK though, because there are less expensive condenser USB microphone options available for beginners.
I want everybody to podcast! And the lower the barrier of entry into the medium, the better. Fortunately, all you really need to get started is a mic and some headphones. That's good, because most new podcasters out there are hesitant, unable, or unwilling to drop a lot of cash on gear. I was too!
Frequently, though, beginning podcasters may also have less than ideal recording conditions -- noisy rooms, kids and pets running around, neighbors blaring music, lack of acoustic insulation, while still learning good mic technique. Combine that with a poor microphone, and you have a recipe for a less than ideal recording.
Fortunately, there are a number of decent condenser microphones available that won't break the bank. Lots of people like the Blue Yeti because it's affordable and has a lot of built in features, but I prefer the Samson CO1U Pro, which is the same price, and sounds better to me, so it's the one I recommend:
- Samson C01U Pro USB Studio Condenser Microphone ($79) - Stand included
Other entry level mic options you could try:
- Blue Microphones Snowball USB Microphone ($44) - Stand included
- MXL Mics MXL-TEMPO-KR Condenser Microphone ($79) - Stand included
- Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone ($57)
You'll also want headphones:
And if you want to spring for a better stand, check this one out:
Where's The Rode?
I used to recommend the Rode Podcaster, and while I still like it, and while it's the only dynamic mic in the $200 range, I've heard lots of people reporting inconsistent hardware quality, and subsequently having bad experiences with it, so I'm a bit hesitant to keep it on my recommendation list right now. I'll certainly revisit this again over time.
So you like podcasting and want to stick with it? Awesome! A great intermediate mic is the Shure PG42-USB.
The stand I recommend above will still work fine, but if you want a boom, which is wonderful, check out the Heil PL-2T. You should also consider a shock-mount to eliminate vibration.
OK, you're serious now. Maybe you're ready to record a couple of people at once from your studio, or want more than one mic. It's time to upgrade from USB to a standard XLR mic. I really like two microphones in this space, the Shure SM7B and the Heil PR-40. I used the Shure for a couple of years, before discovering and using the Heil. Now, we use the Heil's here at 5by5, and my voice sounds much better through a Heil than the Shure, but I know many people for whom the reverse is true. You should try both microphones and see which one you sound better through.
- Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone ($310)
- Heil Sound PRSM Black Shockmount for Heil PR40 Mics ($105)
Get a pop filter. The one below is the only good one for the Heil PR-40.
- BSW RE27POP ($59)
The Shure has a built-in shock mount and includes two different pop filters, so you'll just need a stand or a boom.
Both the Heil and Shure will fit just fine in its shockmount on the desktop stand I've listed above, but they'll be even better in a boom, and like most mics, they fit pretty much every boom. I love the PL-2T, below.
Heil also makes a smaller-profile boom, which we now use in the 5by5 studio:
Both booms come with a desk clamp, but for a more permanent (and more elegant) solution, you can flush-mount it with a DT-1 Flush Mount:
Because these are XLR (instead of USB) mics, you'll need hardware to connect them to your Mac or PC in order to record. The first piece of hardware you'll need is the preamp, and they vary widely in prices. If you want to start small, consider this mic pre-amp:
If you have deeper pockets and want something amazing, there's a big jump:
- Sound Devices USBPre 2 ($880)
You'll need a cable to route each of your mics into the audio interface. Pick the length you need from the list below:
- Sendt 6 Foot XLR Male / Female Microphone cable, 24 AWG ($8)
- Sendt 10 Foot XLR Male / Female Microphone cable, 24 AWG ($9)
- Sendt 15 Foot XLR Male / Female Microphone cable, 24 AWG ($10)
It's also time to step up to high quality studio monitoring headphones. I'm not a headphone expert, but these are the industry standard monitor headphones for a reason, and we have a bunch of them here at 5by5. I can wear them all day without any discomfort.
If you think you'll have multiple people together, you will also need a headphone amplifier.
You will also need a TRS cable to split out the signal from the mixer to the headphone amp (pick your length):
- Monoprice 3-Feet Premier Series Stereo Phono Male to Male Cable ($7)
- Monoprice 6-Feet Premier Series Stereo Phono Male to Male Cable: Electronics ($8)
- Monoprice 10-Feet Premier Series Stereo Phono Male to Male Cable ($14)
A Note About Buzzing
Now that you've spent some real money on good hardware, you should consider upgrading your power strip to a power conditioner. Plug all of your audio gear as well as the computer(s) you use for recording into it directly. This will eliminate that buzzing you've been hearing and can't trace.
In case you're rack-mounting your gear, they make the same thing in a rack-mount option:
If you want to record more than two sources simultaneously with a more granular, input-level control over each track, you'll need a true mixer like the ones below from Mackie (which talk to your computer over FireWire).
These mixers also allow you to process and send the audio back to your guests (a process called mix-minus which prevents remote guests from hearing themselves in a loop). Keep in mind that to do things right, you'll need a dedicated computer for each guest. This setup is outside the scope of this guide (it will be covered in the book), but I explain this setup in greater detail in Episode 75 of The Afterdark Podcast on 5by5.
We have both an 8-channel and a 16-channel Mackie at 5by5. The Mackie 1620i served us well for many years, but we've recently switched to the UA Apollo, described in the next section.
- Mackie Onyx 820i 8-channel Premium FireWire Recording Mixer ($450) - allows 2 remote guests
- Mackie Onyx 1220i 12-channel Premium FireWire Recording Mixer ($650) - allows 2 remote guests
- Mackie Onyx 1620i 16-channel Premium FireWire Recording Mixer ($950) - allows 4 remote guests
If you have a newer Mac, it probably doesn't have FireWire, so you'll need the adapter to convert from FireWire to Thunderbolt. It's outrageously expensive, but the cheap copies won't work well, and you'll wind up just buying the Apple version later anyway.
I found that the pre-amps in the Mackies (and most of the other gear I tried) didn't push enough gain to the gain-hungry Heil PR-40's, and left little headroom for attenuation. Additionally, because we do a lot of live streaming and to eliminate as much post-production work as possible, I wanted to get the best signal possible from each host and guest. To do that, I put a DBX 286s Microphone Pre-Amp Processor in between each mic (or dedicated Skype computer) and the Mackie. You'll need a TRS cable for each channel, as well.
- DBX 286s Microphone Pre-Amp Processor ($200)
- Monoprice 3-Feet Premier Series Stereo Phono Male to Male Cable ($7)
Over the last few years, as I've been working to streamline the 5by5 studio and our recording process, I wanted gear that could expand to handle any of our needs, eliminate the stack of DBX's we had in our rack, and be able to control the audio inputs via computer screen to allow for separate studio and control-room recording.
The answer is my current favorite piece of audio equipment, the Universal Audio Apollo, a rack-mounted mixer/DSP/Real-Time UAD processor combo that has changed how we work here in the 5by5 studio.
- Universal Audio Apollo DUO Core ($2000)
The 18x24 interface connects to your Mac or PC via FireWire (there's a Thunderbolt option as well), and combines hi-res analog recording with onboard UAD Processing and real-time plug-ins, with up to a sub-2 millisecond latency. It has 4 microphone pre-amps, four standard inputs, 8 line outputs, pre- and post-fader monitoring, works with Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, Cubase ... it really has everything. If you're really serious about building a higher end podcasting studio, you owe it to yourself to check out the Apollo.
When it comes to audio-editing software, your options are almost unlimited. If you ask somebody what they use and why, you'll likely find that they have a fairly strong opinion about it. Wars have started over weaker opinions.
Audio editing software can be unecessarily complicated, so it's important to ask yourself how you'll be using it. Do you need advanced editing and audio processing features, or do you just want to record and produce a two-track podcast with intro and outro music? Will you be doing lots of post-production and editing, or do you prefer live-to-tape? Are you editing one show a week, or producing five shows a day?
The kind of show you record will help determine *how* you record it. I've outlined a few examples below, along with options for how you might edit and record your shows.
The Two-Person Skype Call
This is the most typical scenario. You call up a co-host or guest via Skype, and record the call with special Skype call recording software. Then after you're done recording, you open the audio file in an editing application, clean it up, do some post processing, add your intro and outro music, and publish the show.
Here's what I recommend for this scenario if you're using a Mac:
- Record both sides of Skype calls with Ecamm Call Recorder ($30)
- Edit and produce shows with GarageBand (Free)
Here are my recommendations for Windows:
The Double-Ender (Two or More Skype Callers)
When you're recording a show that has more than one co-host or guest calling in, like the 5by5 show DLC, instead of recording the entire call yourself (though you might still want to do this as a fallback), each host or guest (including you) records their own side (or "end") of the conversation locally and shares the resulting file with you.
This method guarantees the best level of audio quality, because everybody is recording their own microphone thereby avoiding bandwidth limitations, Skype issues, and other potential problems. You then re-assemble the conversation locally, with each person's audio file as a track in your audio editing application.
The result is a great sounding podcast, but there are a few caveats you'll have to consider:
- You're placing a burden on your guests by requiring them to record and upload their own track.
- It's extra work and time for you, because you will need to wait for the uploads and downloads before you can start editing or publishing. This can take hours or days depending on how connected and commited your co-hosts and guests are.
- You will have to deal with audio-drift, which happens because every computer records at a slightly different clock speed, and one track will get ahead of the other. A local recording of the entire conversation can be used as a reference point to help re-sync them.
Those potential issues aside, this setup is a great way to produce a high-quality podcast, and for many people, it's all they will ever need.
If you want to ensure high quality audio without a placing any burden on your co-hosts or creating the additional post-production work for yourself, it might be time to consider the Advanced or Professional setups described above along with a multi-track recording application like Apple's Logic Pro X or Avid's Pro Tools.
At this level, you'll also want to setup dedicated computers to record each remote guest, rather than relying on double-enders and a single machine. This setup is outside the scope of this article (but will be in the book). I describe it in a bit more detail on Episode 75 of The Afterdark Podcast on 5by5.
At 5by5 to record and edit our shows (which are multi-track recordings, streamed live, we generally use Apple Logic Pro X. It's not without its bugs and idiocyncracies, but it's an affordable and reliable solution, and it's getting better with each update.
There are plenty of options for multi-track audio recording, but you don't have to spend a lot if you have a Mac. GarageBand is a perfectly good solution and costs nothing. Logic Pro X and Pro Tools 11 are having a nice war, and there are still other options like Adobe Audition available. Here are my top three:
- GarageBand (Free) - Mac OS X
- Apple Logic Pro X ($199) - Mac OS X
- Avid Pro Tools 11 ($575) - Mac OS X and Windows
There's a bit of a learning curve for both Logic Pro and Pro Tools, but if you're serious about podcasting and produce a lot of shows, it's well worth your time to learn.
Live-streaming while you record is a great way to include your listeners in the fun of the recording process. It lets you interact with them in real-time through the use of chat rooms, IRC, and Twitter, and there's no better way to include them in your shows.
There are a number of moving parts you'll need to setup in order to live-stream your show, including special software on both a local machine where you are as well as software on a high-bandwidth server on the Internet.
Describing the live-streaming setup process is out of the scope of this article but will be fully explained in the book, but here are some recommendations:
On the server:
- Icecast (Free)
On a Mac:
On a PC (I haven't used this software but have heard good things about it):
- SAM Broadcaster ($300)
As an alternative, you can use an expensive, dedicated hardware solution that takes the output from your mixer or computer and streams it to your hosted Icecast server:
- Barix Instreamer ($380)
I really hope that this guide is a useful tool for you to use when creating your own podcasts. Podcasting and Internet broadcasting is still a big, new territory with lots of room for different ideas and opinions, and the more I learn, the more I realize how much more there is to know.
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. I hope it's been helpful to you. And be sure to stay tuned for updates about the book by subscribing to my newsletter.
You can also follow me (and ask me questions) at @danbenjamin on Twitter.