Podcasting Equipment 101: A Beginner’s Guide for Starting a Podcast
Let’s start with a hypothetical scenario, and you can stop me whenever this starts to sound familiar. You have a great idea for a podcast. You’ve workshopped it, bounced ideas off of some trusted friends, and daydream about it during every boring company meeting.
One day, you decide it’s time to take action. First step: you need to get podcasting equipment. So you do some basic Googling on “how to start a podcast” and “podcasting equipment for beginners”. Soon, you’re lost in unfamiliar territory, ridden with insecurity in a sea of new technical terms you don’t understand.
You don’t know anything about podcasting!!! Where do you even start?! The next thing you know, you’ve virtually wandered over to the Asos clearance sale as an anxiety-trigger avoidance technique. Just like that, your podcasting dreams have filed themselves back on the shelf for tomorrow…or next year…or maybe never.
Does this sound like a situation you can relate to? We’re here to help! If you’re new to the world of audio recording and you’re hoping to start your own podcast, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed. If you’re not a “technology person”, then getting yourself acquainted with podcasting equipment may feel like one of the most intimidating parts of the process.
So, get ready, all of you technology-phobes with podcasting aspirations! We’re here to show you how to get your podcast up and running with minimal podcasting equipment or prior technological expertise. In fact, if you’re planning to (a) do a one-person podcast, or (b) record your show remotely with your other cohosts and/or guests, then you can literally get by with just a computer or laptop, headphones, and a microphone. Read this guide, learn everything you need to know, and get that podcast started!
Essential Podcasting Equipment for Beginners
A Computer or Laptop
This first piece of essential podcasting equipment should be pretty obvious — and if you’re reading this, it’s a pretty strong indication that you already own a laptop or computer. If not, it’s a safe bet that you can get access to one without too much effort. You can record a podcast using basically any computer (or even a Chromebook), so this first essential piece of podcasting equipment doesn’t require much of an explanation.
We do have one important computer-related note, however. Your podcasting equipment will require a hardwired connection to your computer. That means that any hardwired equipment you buy will need to have cords with inputs that are compatible with the make and model of your computer. Keep this in mind when you’re looking at the cords or cables that come with your podcasting equipment.
If you Google search “podcast microphones”, you will come across three main types: USB, XLR, and an interchangeable USB/XLR. The terms “USB” and “XLR” refer to the type of cable that is used with the mic, and that gives them some differences in functionality. An XLR mic is the go-to for audio professionals–however, if you’re a beginning podcaster with little-to-no audio recording experience, a USB microphone (or a dual USB/XLR microphone) is probably your best bet.*
(*Unless you’re planning to record with multiple people in the same room — but more on this later.)
Since audio is the bread and butter of podcasting, a high-quality microphone is an essential piece of equipment. Have you ever tried to listen to an old-school AM/FM radio station on a road trip, but the channel kept getting staticky, picking up noise from nearby stations, or the signal was fading in and out? Did you keep the dial set to the radio station with the poor sound quality, or did your sub-par listening experience cause you to leave in search of a better option? Odds are, you did the latter — even if it meant listening to country music when you wanted classic rock.
This is why good sound quality is so important. No matter how engaging your content may be, it’s all for naught if you don’t give your audience an enjoyable listening experience. You don’t want your decision to save $20 on a microphone to ultimately be the reason that thousands of potential listeners subscribe to one of your competitors’ podcasts instead.
Best Choice for Beginning Podcasters with a One-Person Show: A USB Microphone
If you’re going to be the only host of your podcast and looking for an entry-level microphone that is no-frills, functional and easy to use, then we recommend buying a microphone with a USB output. A USB microphone is “plug and play”–meaning that it can be plugged directly into your computer to record your podcast.
Again, USB microphones are rarely used by audiophiles due to their objectively lower capabilities, but as an entry-level solo podcast host, a top-rated USB microphone should leave you very happy with the sound quality of your podcast.
Shop Top-Rated USB Microphones:
Blue Snowball iCE USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone (Amazon, $49.99)
Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone (Amazon, $69.99)
Blue Yeti USB Microphone – Blackout Edition (Amazon, $129.99)
Best Choice for Beginning Podcasters Who Want Versatility: A Dual USB/XLR Microphone
If you’d prefer to buy a microphone that you can grow with, then you should consider purchasing a dual-output USB/XLR microphone. A microphone that can be used with either a USB or an XLR output will leave your options open if you decide that you’d like to add a cohost or occasionally invite guests to record an episode with you. It could also come in handy if you opt to upgrade your recording setup later on as you become more established in the world of podcasting (but more on that below).
Shop Top-Rated USB/XLR Microphones:
Audio-Technica AT2005USB Cardioid Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone Bundle (Amazon, $86.00)
Samson Q2U Handheld Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone Recording and Podcasting Pack (Amazon, $59.99)
Blue 1967 Yeti Pro USB/XLR Condenser Microphone (Amazon, $249.99)
Best Choice for Beginning Podcasters Who Plan To Record In-Person With Cohost(s) and/or Guests
As mentioned above, XLR mics are the choice of audio recording professionals because they are customizable, easy to upgrade, and can be used with or without a computer. However, beginning podcasters with a one-person show don’t need the advanced audio capabilities of an XLR microphone, so starting with a USB mic (or a dual USB/XLR mic) will dodge any unnecessary complications.
However, if you’re an entry-level podcaster who plans to record shows in-person* with other cohosts or guests, then you’ll need to incorporate some additional equipment — and that means you’ll need to opt for XLR microphones. In this scenario, each person needs his/her own XLR microphone (yes, even if you’re planning to sit right next to each other) and you will need to add an additional piece of equipment to your recording setup — an audio interface or a mixer.
*The “in-person” part of this statement is significant because it is possible to record a show with other cohosts and/or guests without the use of an XLR microphone or an audio interface/mixer if you’re not in the same physical location through the use of a conference call platform like Uberconference to essentially record a phone call with the other people on your podcast.
Shop Top-Rated XLR Microphones:
Marantz Professional MPM-1000 XLR Microphone (Amazon, $49.00)
Audio-Technica AT2020PK Vocal XLR Microphone Pack for Streaming/Podcasting (Amazon, $149.00)
Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal XLR Microphone (Amazon, $99.00)
An Audio Interface or Mixer*
*This piece of podcasting equipment is ONLY essential for beginning podcasters who plan to record in-person with cohosts or guests.
An audio interface or mixer allows podcasters who record in-person with other cohosts or guests to combine audio from multiple microphones into a single, high-quality track. Each person recording IRL with you will need their own XLR microphone and XLR cable. (Note: Most XLR microphones will come with an XLR cable — but otherwise you will need to purchase the cable separately.)
One end of the XLR cable connects to the microphone. The other end of the XLR cable plugs into a shared audio interface or mixer. Then, the audio interface/mixer connects to your computer or laptop. This audio interface or mixer is the secret weapon that enables you to combine audio from multiple microphones into one high-quality recording.
An audio interface or mixer has knobs and controls that allow you to adjust the sound of each microphone you connect to it. The device then sends the recording to your computer via a USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt cable. These cords can be purchased on Amazon if the cord you need for your computer isn’t included with your audio interface or mixer.
Fully understanding the differences between an audio interface and a mixer requires a pretty high level of audio production knowledge, and it’s more than you need to know as a beginning podcaster. Your main takeaway should be that an audio interface is the simpler device of the two.
With an audio interface, the recording from each microphone is sent to your computer as a separate track. You can make sound adjustments to the recording from each person’s mic separately on your computer. Alternately, with a mixer, all sound alterations must be made on the mixing board and it is sent to the computer as a single track. This makes the editing process more challenging, which is why beginning podcasters are likely to be happier with an audio interface.
Closed Back Headphones
You probably already own one (or several) pairs of earbud headphones, but those won’t cut it for podcasting. Closed back (over-the-ear) headphones are an absolutely essential piece of podcasting equipment — so don’t skimp on this one and think you can get by with those free earbud headphones you got on the airplane.
Unlike basic earbud headphones, closed back headphones allow you to hear what you really sound like while you record your podcast. This gives you the opportunity to make adjustments to your voice on the fly. Wearing closed back headphones will also help you to isolate your voice and block out outside noise.
After recording, your closed back headphones will come in handy again when you listen back to your audio. Hypothetically, it might seem perfectly fine to listen to your podcast recording using earbuds or via your laptop or phone speakers, but listening through closed back headphones will allow you to do a much better job of editing the audio of your podcast. You’ll be able to more accurately gauge balance, sound levels, and “audio bleed”, a term for background noise that was picked up on your recording.
Shop Top-Rated Closed Back Headphones:
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones (Amazon, $49.00)
Sennheiser HD 598 Cs Closed Back Headphones (Amazon, $149.95)
Sony MDR7506 Professional Large Diaphragm Headphones (Amazon, $89.95)
Essential* Podcasting Equipment: Headphone Amplifier
*This piece of podcasting equipment is ONLY essential for podcasters who plan to record in-person with cohosts or guests.
Just like your microphone setup, your headphone setup is going to be more complex if you plan to record your show in-person with other cohosts or guests. First of all, you’ll need a set of closed back headphones for each person participating in the recording. Then, you’ll need to add a headphone amplifier, like the Behringer HA400. This device connects all of the sets of headphones, boosting the audio signal while splitting it into separate channels. Each set of headphones will be plugged into the amplifier, and then the amplifier can be connected to the audio interface using a TRS cable. Finally, the audio interface connects to your computer, as explained above.
The following items are non-essential (but very useful) add-ons that you may want to purchase for recording your podcast. It is worth noting that many of the microphones linked above (and many podcasting microphones in general) come in packs or bundles that include some or all of this equipment. Opting for a bundled podcasting starter kit can be a great way to get a deal on these products.
A shock mount attaches to the base of your microphone and is designed to help eliminate any sounds of movement that could transfer from your mic stand sitting on the table in front of you. If you decide to purchase a shock mount, make sure to check that it will fit your specific microphone make and model, as sizing can vary. If you’re going to be recording in a location that is subject to any type of vibrations or movement, adding a shock mount to your recording setup could be very effective in improving your audio quality. Don’t want to buy a shock mount? There is another option of an add-on that can help eliminate your recording from picking up sounds of movement: a boom mic stand.
Boom Mic Stand
Many mics come with a stand that allows you to set up your mic on a tabletop. but you may find that your recording is picking up unwanted noises from movements on your desk. Attaching your microphone (with or without a shock mount) to a stand with a boom arm can help you avoid that issue.
If you find that your podcast recording is picking up movement noise and you’re able to have a permanent podcast studio setup in your home or another location, then a boom mic stand is a great option. However, if you need to easily transport your recording equipment on a regular basis, then you might want to try out a shock mount first to see if it fixes the sound issue.
A pop filter reduces or eliminates the “popping” sounds, or little bursts of air leaving your mouth, that occur in natural speech. (This is usually associated with saying words with letters like P, T, or K.) These little bursts of air can overwhelm a microphone, resulting in an unpleasant listening experience for your audience.
Depending on the shape and size of your microphone, you may prefer using a windscreen instead of a pop filter. A windscreen has a similar effect to a pop filter, minimizing those unwanted noises from bursts of air in your podcast recording.
Just like the other add-ons mentioned above, pop filters and/or windscreens are common items to find included in podcasting equipment packs or bundles, so you may not need to buy it separately.
Now you know exactly what it takes to record a podcast! Don’t worry if some of the podcasting equipment we covered feels a little intimidating. After a few weeks of podcasting, you’ll forget that there was ever a time when you didn’t know how to use a pop filter or an audio interface! Just think of podcasting equipment as a small upfront investment that will allow you to get your ideas out into the world!
Looking for more information on starting your own podcast? Download The Newbies Guide to Podcasting and use promo code “ossa” to get 50% off!