In this post I'm going to go over some of the extra hardware bits and bobs that are good to have - some necessary, some not so much.
XLR Microphone Cable
You'll need this to connect any XLR mic into your pre-amp. Pretty straightforward right? It's worth getting a cable with metal connectors rather than plastic, and spending a little extra on a cable that has decent shielding - the shielding is a wire mesh that is wrapped around the core wires carrying the mic signal, preventing radio and electromagnetic interference of the mic's signal, blips, beeps, hum, noise and even commercial radio signals.
If you like to look after your cables and want them to last a long, long time, it's worth learning the right way to coil them up - YouTube to the rescue!
Lastly, the Male connector has the 3 pins and the Female connector has 3 holes. In case you were wondering.
Microphone Pop Filter/Wind Shield
A Pop Filter is typically a circular hoop with a nylon fabric mesh on a flexible goose-neck clamp. Some are made of metal, but the effect is the same.
Pop Filters reduce the force of sound pressure waves coming from your mouth as you say words beginning with Plosives - hold your hand up in front of your mouth and say "Boo" and "Pa". Do you feel the air hitting your palm? That's what the pop filter's for. If that rush of air hits the mic diaphragm, it'll cause distortion to the signal. Try it and see for yourself!
Foam Windshields, or Windscreens, have the same effect - stopping rushes of air, whether from breath or wind, from hitting the mic and causing distortion pops. These can be useful if you've not much space in the studio, or do a lot of recording outdoors. If you're outdoors a lot then consider getting a "furry" type windscreen, these are better at dealing with wind - of the weather sort.
If you're in a studio environment you'll need something to hold your mic while you talk... if you're out conducting a roving reporter style recording, well, have one for when you're back home.
When recording, you need to be able to monitor the recording - to hear what's being recorded and how it sounds. A good set of over-ear headphones with a Closed-Back design will isolate the sound, so that you can hear it clearly. Noise-cancelling earbuds also work well, but can be uncomfortable and damaging to the ear in the long term.
Closed Back means the back covers of the drivers are sealed, cutting out ambient noise better so you can hear the recording more clearly. Other types include Open Back (not sealed) and Semi Open Back (slightly sealed).
It's worth getting a set of professional "studio grade" headphones that don't colour the sound being reproduced. Regular high-street headphones are sometimes tuned so that they enhance the audio - this is a no-no, as you want the signal to be as honest as possible so that you can identify if something is wrong with the recording.
And lastly, don't get wireless headphones! Because wireless tech needs to digitise the signal > transmit it > and decode it to analogue again, it creates latency in the signal - a slight delay - which will negatively affect your judgement; not to mention that the wireless signal may interfere with your other equipment!
Not so essential but nice to have, maybe. Or depending on your set-up, perhaps essential... you decide!
A Headphone Amp
If your audio interface only has one or two headphone outputs, and you need more, then a Headphone Amp will be necessary. The headphone amp will boost the signal and distribute it to multiple outputs. Pretty simple right? Just connect it to your audio interface's headphone/line output using a Stereo/Balanced cable, and plug in your 'phones.
Headphone Extension Cable
It's a cable that extends the length of your headphone's cable, for when you can't get close enough to your headphone amp. What more is there to say? I don't know. Maybe leave a comment if you think of anything.
A Dedicated Microphone Pre-Amp & Channel Strip
Some might want more control over the microphone's signal before it gets digitised and recorded by the computer.
There are a number of Pre-Amps with Channel Strips out there that may have an EQ, Compressor, a De-Esser and more. This replaces the pre-amp of the audio interface, so remember not to set the gain too high on the interface's pre since you'll be boosting it with the channel strip's pre.
Prices go from cheap... to not so cheap.
If you do get one, remember that anything that you do to the signal at this stage likely can't be undone in the recorded audio, so it's important to set it the parameters correctly.
Thanks for Reading!
The next piece of equipment in the recording chain, after the microphone, is the audio interface/mixer.
Audio Interfaces are in simple terms, external sound cards that plug in to your computer via a USB/Firewire/Thunderbolt connection, allowing you to connect an XLR microphone to the computer to record.
Why not just use the sound card that's already in your computer? Well...
Audio interfaces have one or more microphone pre-amps, that will usually have hardware controls (knobs, faders and buttons) that allow you to adjust the input gain of the pre-amp to increase/decrease the loudness of the microphone's signal, a Pad switch that decreases the input level by a set amount for particularly loud signals, an Instrument/Mic impedance button (which as podcaster you don't need to worry about, just have it on the mic setting), as well as Phantom Power to power Condenser mics, and possibly Phase Invert functions to avoid phasing issues if you're recording multiple mics.
The pre-amp of the audio interface will also likely be superior to the bog standard computer sound card's pre-amp.
The AD/DA Converters
The 'A' is for Analogue, and the 'D' is for Digital. These are circuits that translate the analogue signal produced by the microphone (frequency and amplitude information) in to 0's and 1's, determined by the Sample Rate (how often the analogue signal is measured), and the Bit Depth (how detailed the measurement is)... and back again from digital to analogue, so that you can hear it on your headphones and, or speakers.
Again, the AD/DA converters of a dedicated audio interface will likely be much better (accurate) than the converters on a standard computer sound card.
Audio Interfaces vs. Mixers
So what's the difference? Both are audio interfaces that can connect to a computer...
A Standard Audio Interface
A standard audio interface, like the Focusrite Scarlett above, is fine for most situations - you can connect a mic, set the input gain level of the preamp, hit record in your recording software, and you're away... simple.
This is fine if you like to apply audio processing (EQ, compression, effects...) after recording, when editing & mixing the podcast.
Here's a selection of audio interfaces I recommend for podcasting that will suit most budgets and needs.
On the other hand...
A Mixer Audio Interface
A mixer will usually have an EQ, Pan, and sometimes a compressor/limiter and even effects (reverb, delay... delay...) built into each pre-amp channel, or acting globally - affecting all of the channels. Any changes you make to EQ, etc, at this stage will be applied to the signal before it's recorded to the computer, so you'd better make sure the settings are right! Trying to fix the signal afterwards can be a pain :-/
A mixer is ideal for "live" situations, i.e. Radio/Streaming - if you broadcast live and are recording content to be published later as a podcast, and you need to have control over a number of microphones using the sliding faders and mute buttons - then a mixer might well be the solution.
Some mixers can also act as controllers of the recording software, so you can make the changes on the mixer and the effect is applied in the software automatically. But this is only really necessary for large multi-track recordings, and not so much for podcast editing.
If you do go for a Mixer, be sure to make sure it is capable of recording the number of individual channels that you want - many will combine the microphone channels into a 2 channel stereo signal before converting it to digital for the computer, so if you've 3 or more mics and you want them recorded separately, the separate signals of each channel will be combined to stereo.
For example - the Behringer Xenyx 1204USB has 4 XLR mic channels, and combines the signals into a 2 channel stereo output. The Allen & Heath ZEDi-10FX also has 4 XLR mic channels, but will keep the signals separate for computer recording.
TIP: If you've just two mics, then you can pan one hard Left and the other hard Right so that each is on a separate channel of the stereo signal.
USb, Firewire, Thunderbolt???
Don't stress! USB is more than adequate for podcasting. It comes down to how many microphones you're recording and what settings you're using for A>D conversion.
If you were recording a 5-piece rock band using 24 microphones, each recording the signal digitally at 32-bit/192kHz, then Thunderbolt would be ideal, or even MADI but we don't need to go there...
For podcasting, you're recording fewer mics at a lower resolution of ideally 24-bit/44.1kHz (to be explained why in another post...), so any USB 2 or USB 3 audio interface will be more than enough.
Thanks for reading!
The humble microphone is the business end of the recording chain, and so having the right mic is a must.
In this rather lengthy post we look at some of the different types of microphones, and their characteristics that are useful to know when selecting a mic that meets your podcasting needs.
Types of Mics
There are a lot of different mics available, so it's a good idea to know the basics and what to look for.
Dynamic mics are passive in design - they don't need electricity (Phantom Power) to make them work.
Essentially, the mic capsule consists of a diaphragm suspended in a magnetic field on a moveable coil. When sound pressure waves hit the diaphragm, the coil moves back and forth in the magnetic field and creates an electrical signal analogous to sound waves - both have frequency and amplitude.
Due to the relatively simple design, Dynamic mics tend to be quite robust and can handle loud sounds, but they are also less sensitive to sound (background noises) and higher frequencies. This makes them ideal for live performance use, and podcasting.
Here's a selection of Dynamic mics suitable for Podcasting.
Condenser mics have an active design, requiring Phantom Power to electrify the capacitor element in the mic's capsule.
The diaphragm is positioned opposite the electrified capacitor plate, and as sound pressure waves hit the diaphragm, it moves towards and away from the electrified plate, causing the current passing through to fluctuate in frequency and amplitude.
Condenser mics are not as robust as Dynamic mics, but are more sensitive to sound, and tend to have a greater frequency response range. As such, they're great for studio recording in a controlled environment.
I tend not to recommend Condenser mics for Podcasting because of their sensitivity to sound, however if you are recording in a very quiet or sound-proofed & acoustically treated room, then it might be worth considering the Røde NT1-A, Audio Technica AT 4033a, or the AKG P220 depending on budget.
Standard mics require a pre-amp and audio interface in order to connect to a computer to record. USB mics are all-in-one: mic, pre-amp and interface.
USB mics can be both dynamic and condenser, and are popular with podcasters due to their design, convenience and portability.
Downsides can include cheap components/design, and technical difficulties if you're wanting to record multiple mics simultaneously (there are work arounds though).
Here's a selection of USB mics for Podcasting.
microphone polar patterns
A microphone's Polar Patterns indicates the directional sensitivity of the mic to sound around it.
Other Types of Polar Patterns
Unidirectional: Highly directional polar pattern, more so than Hyper-Cardioid, e.g. Shotgun Microphones used in TV and film applications. Some podcasters use Shotgun mics, but I kind of think it's overkill.
Hemispherical: This is really a type of microphone design, usually with an Omnidirectional polar pattern, where the capsule of the mic is placed very close to a boundary surface (e.g. a table top). This design is good for round table discussions in spaces that have poor acoustics - think company boardrooms, those round/triangular speakerphones that are placed in the middle of the table and usually end up with a knife in them if there's a fight!
Microphone Frequency Response
Most microphones will handle the human voice just fine, but I thought I'd just mention Frequency Response so that it's not a mystery.
The Frequency Response of a mic is simply a measurement of the microphone's sensitivity to different frequencies. Human Beings can hear from 20Hz (very low bass) all the way up to 20,000Hz (very high treble). The graph below compares 2 different microphones' frequency responses from 20-20,000Hz:
The top graph shows a mic with a fairly uniform frequency response, whereas the bottom graph shows a mic that is less sensitive to lower frequencies and very high frequencies.
Most mic's frequency response is tailored to a particular function or even instrument. The top graph is of a Condenser mic that has a broad frequency range (note the extended higher frequency reach), suited to a broad range of studio functions. The bottom graph is of a Dynamic mic favoured for live stage performance of the human voice.
Thank you for reading!
I'm Adam an Audio Editor & Sound Designer, with over 11 years working experience in the realms of Audio Engineering. I currently live in Cape Town, South Africa, with too many cats and dogs.