Starting your podcast adventure often starts with an idea, but getting it into production is a whole different story:
- what kind of microphone do I need?
- how much will it cost me?
- what should I plug into my computer? Where do I plug it in?
- why do I always plug things into my USB port on the wrong side first?!
And these are only the first questions that will come to your mind... Today, we'll clear your horizon regarding hardware interrogations. A quick note before we start: all the links in this article are non-affiliated, we recommend the hardware we have tested from dealers we use ourselves.
This is #1 in a series of articles dedicated to how to start your podcast adventure. To learn more, read let’s talk #2 software, #3 file format, and #4 communication.
Let's start with what's bugging all of us: the obscure terms that are known as XLR, jack, and USB.
You know it, and you use it every day: the USB port. This type of connector is used on your computers as well as on your phones, and several types do exist.
Overall, the benefit of a microphone or any device connected via a USB port (such as a soundcard, or a USB microphone) is that you plug it in and it works almost by itself (“plug & play”). This is the main benefit of using microphones that connect directly to your computers via USB, a choice that seems almost obvious when starting in the podcast game.
Another major advantage of this type of connection is that there are plenty of ready-to-use packages that contain a microphone stand and suspension, and a pop filter (a small stretched cloth to install in front of the microphone to avoid too aggressive sounds such as "p" for example) for less than 60€. A small investment to start podcasting with good material.
You also know the jack connectors: chances are you've used headphones or a headset microphone in your life. The jack is this kind of metal rod with one or more black lines (one line for mono sound, two lines for stereo), allowing you to connect devices and broadcast sound in an amp or headphones. As for the XLR, it is a format created for a more professional purpose, with a kind of round plug with three metal connectors in the center.
Both types of connections require an additional device to be connected and used when recording with a computer:
- an external soundcard, for example, that connects to your computer via USB and then allows you to retrieve the sound from the connected microphones via jack or XLR
- a portable recorder, like the well-known Zoom H series, most of which are compatible with jack and/or XLR microphones.
These are the three main possible types of connection for your microphones and it's up to you to pick the best one for your project: "plug and play" with USB - or being able to connect several microphones with a jack or XLR using an external audio interface. The only (small) disadvantage of a USB connection is that you don't have many settings available to play with, other than built-in software settings (volume, balance between bass and treble)... You’ll have to rely on the software of the microphone manufacturer or your recording software.
The quality of a microphone does not rely only on the type of connectors it uses but also on its manufacture. Some microphones will pick up the whole room sounds (omnidirectional), others pick up only what is in front of them (cardioids), or even only at a very short distance (super-cardioids). There are microphones for all budgets, regardless of the type of connector, and in all sizes (handheld microphones, lapel microphones...).
If you need to be guided for the purchase of your microphone(s), don’t hesitate to contact us directly with your project, we will advise you accordingly. You can also ask your questions on the discord server of our association where you will be given plenty of options. Or you could follow the guide...
The equipment you will need changes depending on the configuration of your podcast. Here again, you can have several participants in the same room or record remotely. Here are some examples of simple and affordable setups to get you started.
You're recording your podcast at home: you're looking for a microphone that allows you to record yourself easily. Go for a complete USB pack with a microphone, a stand, and an anti-pop.
Here's one we tested that does wonder for 60€: the t.bone SC 420 USB Desktop-Set.
You will find plenty of these types of sets at a wide range of prices. This specific model allows you to start at a lower cost by having everything at your disposal and start recording immediately. It is a cardioid microphone, useful to avoid recording the sound of the computer's blower, your pets running around, or the various sounds of your environment.
Do you want to record yourself on the go, without carrying a laptop around? Opt for a device from the ZOOM range: ZOOM portable recorders.
The ZOOM series is wide and offers light and simple interfaces that operate on rechargeable or cell batteries. All have a built-in microphone and some allow you to connect more or less additional microphones depending on the model, for example in the situation of an interview (where we definitely advise you to have one microphone per participant in order to obtain optimal quality and facilitate editing).
If you want to host a podcast with several people around a table, you'll need an interface that allows you to connect several microphones, ideally one per participant.
A mixer or a ZOOM (H5 to H8) will do the trick. The key is to be able to connect all your microphones to a single interface, which will be connected to the computer to record the sound of everyone participating in the podcast. Some mixers and ZOOM devices allow you to record each microphone on separate files, which will make your life much easier when editing.
Recording yourself is one thing, but you also need to hear each other or the sounds integrated into your show. You can use the equivalent of a soundcard, but that is working oppositely.
The Behringer HA400 allows everyone to plug in their headphones. The advantage of this interface is that you can hear exactly what the soundcard is recording, so you can check in real-time the quality of your sound and change your settings if necessary (to avoid unpleasant surprises when editing). An indispensable little item to detect sound saturation, for example, when a microphone is too loud, which is impossible to erase in post-production. This particular device allows you to connect up to four headphones, and if that's not enough you can connect them in series to connect even more headphones.
If you are alone at home and the rest of your team is recording remotely, you can refer to the paragraph "1. Alone at home" as the advice will apply to each speaker. It is not necessary to have all the same microphones, but microphones of equivalent quality will be a big plus to even out the sound and diminish a “recording remotely feeling”.
To record your tracks, here are three simple and free options, ranked by quality and simplicity of use (again, we know and use these services!).
#1 - Zencastr: create your account, your room (recording room, one per recording), and share the link with other members of your podcast. They will only have to type their name or nickname and authorize access to their microphone.
- the recording method used by Zencastr erases the risk of sound loss when your internet goes down, and as long as the microphones of your speakers are good quality, the recording quality will be good as well.
- your guests or team will not need to create an account to participate, only you to set up your registration session.
- at the time we are writing this article, Zencastr only works on computers with Chrome, Edge, and Brave browsers.
#2 - If you have a Discord server, you can use it to record your sessions. You will need to invite the Craig bot on your server and have it come to your chat room.
- Craig can record in different formats and will create one file per speaker. They will be sent to you a few minutes after ending the recording.
- your speakers can join you via the Discord application on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.
- the only requirement is that participants create an account and join your server.
- remember to use Discord from the software version, and not from the browser-in app, as the quality of your sound would suffer greatly.
#3 - The online discussion software Mumble is a bit dated now but works very well and allows you to create one file per speaker.
- all members present on the server can record the conversation, a nice safety net in case of Internet failure of a participant.
- the recording quality is good and if you record in .ogg, your recording will take up very little space on your hard drive.
- your participants can join you via the Plumble (Android) or Mumble (iOs) application.
- the only thing you need is a server. You can create one (free and paid options are both available) but it will require some technical knowledge, quite difficult to handle if you don't know how to use it, and much less intuitive for your guests. Each speaker will have to create an account and log in to your server.
Still used by some podcasters, we recommend avoiding it as this software aged badly. The sound quality is catastrophic and the software is too unstable to produce qualitative recordings.
Any other questions? We have a full team of volunteers ready to answer any of your burning interrogations. Our Discord server is also open - don’t be afraid of the French there, they’re nice and speak English too! Lastly, we also have a variety of other articles for you to browse. Cheers!
- we have recorded a podcast showcasing different options to record, with a list of hardware as well as the cost depending on your configuration: https://www.vodio.fr/vodiotheque/i/6234/atelier-podcast-3-quel-materiel-pour-quelle-utilisation/ Unfortunately, it is in French only but you can find recommendations of material to try out in the description of the episodes.
- download Discord: https://discord.com/download
- to invite Craig: https://craig.chat/
- download Mumble: https://www.mumble.info/downloads/