Right. You’ve decided to start a show or want to upgrade your podcasting microphone and need to know what’s best.
I can help with that. Here’s a super-detailed yet succinct guide that explains things in real terms so you choose the right one for your needs.
Buying a cheap and nasty mic will kill any chances of success; getting one that’s too ‘pro’ is a waste of money that could be spent on something else.
So, if you want to:
- Learn about the best entry level microphones;
- Read up on the high quality podcast microphones;
- Figure out the different types and what to look for;
You’ll find the information in this post really useful.
Hit the pause button and let’s take a look.
Table of Contents
- What are the best podcasting microphones?
- Types of Podcast Microphone
- Dynamic Microphones vs Condenser Mics for Podcasting
- Things To Consider Before Buying a Podcast Mic
1. What are the Best Podcast Microphones?
Here, you’ll find a deep investigation of the best podcasting microphones available today with my personal view of each one.
Entry Level Options:
Don’t be too concerned about the “beginner” label of these mics.
The bottom line is, they’re well-suited to starting out, or entry-level podcasting, because they’re decently priced and simple to set up. As it happens, many podcasters never move on from them which also gives a nod to their audio and build quality too.
Built specifically for smartphones, the Rode Smartlav+ is essentially a clip-on microphone, otherwise known as a lavalier. It works great for those with 3.5mm inputs on their phones and has some fantastic features:
- Size: The mic is tiny so you can carry it everywhere and use it when needed.
- Sound quality: Despite being small, it captures really decent audio
- Usage: Combine the Rode Smartlav+ with the SC6 adaptor (to connect headphones) and your smartphone for a pocket-sized interview kit.
Run into someone famous in your local grocery store? You can whip out your Rode Smartlav+ and record a high-quality interview on the spot.
All this makes the Smartlav+ incredibly versatile and brilliant value which is why it’s my number one choice.
2. Samson Q2U
The Samson Q2U microphone is great for those just starting out. It’s on another level to the average laptop mic and has a dual output — compatible with both USB and XLR (explained below).
Start out by plugging it into your laptop’s USB port for recordings, live streams, or video calls. Or, go right ahead with using the more professional XLR cable with a mixer or digital recorder.
The Samson Q2U is future proof and good enough quality for the majority of podcasters.
Similar to the Q2U, the ATR2100 is another solid entry level option. There’s not much difference between the two mics, in reality, but the ATR is generally more expensive.
The ATR microphone matches the Samson in audio quality and can also be taken out and about. The USB connection means it’s dead easy to set up shop and record podcasts both live or for raw capture.
High Quality Podcast Microphones:
The following microphones are another level in quality and more appropriate (an investment) for those podcasting to larger audiences. Despite this, however, they’re within an average podcaster’s budget range yet will capture very high level audio recordings.
If you’re not looking to spend serious cash on professional microphone equipment — as in, that suited to a recording studio — then these mics are as good as it gets.
They’re the closest you’re going to get to pro-grade gear in terms of quality but without the eye watering price tags. Buy one and you’ll probably never need to buy another mic again.
If I had to pick one microphone out of this entire list, it’d be the Rode Podcaster.
Not only does this mic look and sound great, they’re a (slightly) cheaper USB alternative to their big brother, the Rode Procaster (which is an XLR mic – explained below).
It may be a little pricier than the entry-level options above, but the difference is significant. The Rode Podcaster has it all because it’s a dynamic microphone which, amongst other things, pick up less background noise.
Whether you’re starting out or much more experienced, capturing cleaner raw audio content is preferred obviously. It means you’ve less editing to do potentially which improves your workflow, but also it makes the whole experience for you more enjoyable.
The Rode Podcaster is my number one choice out of all microphones because it’s the perfect balance of quality, value and usability.
5. Blue Yeti
You’ve likely already heard of the Blue Yeti because it’s arguably the most well-known of all mics available today. It’s not just the name either..
The reason why the Blue Yeti is one of the best sellers is because it’s an affordable USB condenser microphone. In short, condenser microphones are better at capturing more delicate sounds and higher frequency audio like vocals.
Add this to the fact it’s sold at a very reasonable price and you can see why it’s so popular. What’s more, the Blue Yeti comes with its own stand meaning there’s no extra expense to get it set up properly.
Because of its nature, the Blue Yeti has a range of recording patterns to choose from, which include:
- Solo recording
- Face to face, two-person recording
- Group recording
So, if the Blue Yeti is world-conquering, why do I prefer the Rode Podcaster?
Two reasons. Firstly, I don’t have a noise cancelling recording set up (i.e. a studio) which means, a dynamic mic is more suitable because they pick up stronger audio in a live setting.
The second reason is, with the Blue Yeti you’ll have to be as close to the microphone as possible in order to get the brilliant quality audio it’s capable of. Again, for my set up and behaviour I don’t want to have get up close and personal every single time I record. Sometimes, I actually walk and talk when recording!
Don’t get me wrong. The Blue Yeti is a fantastic standalone mic, easy to set up and no-one would be disappointed with it. It just depends on your style and requirements as to whether it’s the best option.
A similar yet slightly more complicated alternative to the Blue Yeti is the MXL990. It’s another condenser microphone that has my seal of approval because, in essence, it represents a great bang for your buck.
Despite not being a dynamic mic, the MXL990 doesn’t actually tend to pick up much background noise and can be used in most environments. It’s the perfect choice if you’re looking for high quality audio on a budget and aren’t recording your podcasts anywhere too noisy.
But, and for me, it’s a reasonably big but.
The MXL990 is a XLR microphone, not USB. This means that you’ll need a mixer or a high-quality digital recorder to use it. Now, XLRs have their advantages and disadvantages (explained further down) but for many podcasters they’re an unnecessary complication.
Not only is there a cost implication (i.e. the MXL990’s actual cost is probably going to be double it’s RRP), XLRs aren’t as simple to use as your typical plug-and-play USB mic.
I lover the simplicity of a USB set up and the quality is easily good enough; but, I’m not that serious about all this. If you are, then the MXL990 is possibly the best entry point into an XLR setup because it offers such good value.
7. Shure SM58
If it’s a more portable option that you’re after, then I’d be a fool not to mention the Shure SM58. This one is a high-quality handheld microphone, one that you may recognize from being gripped in the hand of your favorite rockstar at a concert.
The SM58 is not only mobile, but it’s also extremely sturdy and can take a real beating — sure to survive any conditions you may throw its way. This makes it ideal for those who prefer to venture out while recording rather than sticking to a studio.
If it’s within your budget range, the Shure SM58 is a great piece of equipment for interviews and recordings on the road when paired with a solid digital recorder. It also works perfectly when recording inside a studio.
8. AKG Lyra
Released just over a year ago, the AKG Lyra is a new contender to the microphone game — but a solid one, nonetheless. It’s pretty similar to the Blue Yeti in terms of features and also includes an in-built stand. However, it is said to be of slightly better audio quality, which explains the higher price point.
The AKG Lyra makes for a good middle point (price-wise) between the Blue Yeti and the Rode Podcaster, so you may want to consider this when making your purchase.
Professional Level Podcast Microphones
The remaining mics on this list are some of the most expensive and impressive pieces of kit money can buy. For this reason, they cost a lot of money and might well be used by your favourite band.
The truth is, I don’t think podcasters need this type of gear at all. You could be broadcasting to continental Europe and still not need these because, by their nature, podcasts are not that demanding.
I’ve included them so you can get a full contextual understanding of what’s available; but not much more.
9. Heil PR40
While the Heil PR40 is the go-to mic for many a celebrity podcaster, I’m not entirely convinced. I can’t deny that it’s a great mic with excellent capabilities, but can’t help but think it’s more of a fad for those who can easily afford it, than anything truly superior.
The PR40 is a dynamic mic, making it the ideal fit for those looking to record in various environments. Its only drawback, as I inferred, is the price. It’s a costly microphone — and one that, at least in my opinion, yields very similar results to the Rode Podcaster, which are far cheaper.
That’s not to say you too shouldn’t be dazzled by the Heil’s appearance and give it a go. You won’t be disappointed, that’s for sure, but just because it’s pricey don’t expect it to do the interview for you!
10. Shure SM7b
The Shure SM7b is, without a doubt, one of the best microphones out there. It’s a microphone of legendary status in its own right, and one that actually does live up to its accolades.
However, it’s important to make sure that whichever microphone you go for really suits your voice before making a purchase.
The microphone’s incredible ability to pick up sound must also be considered as one of its biggest downsides for the lesser experienced podcasters. This is because any background noise is definitely going to be picked up, along with any heavy breathing, lip-smacking, and so on.
Excellent microphone technique is essential, much like a professional singer would have, if you’re going to go for the SM7b — and a huge stack of cash.
11. Rode NT1-A
I’d recommend the Rode NT1-A to anyone looking for a high-end podcast microphone set up because they’re show has taken off. It’s an increasingly popular choice amongst experienced podcasters, which makes sense because of the audio quality it’s capable of capturing.
The NT1-A is an XLR and, combined with a mixer or digital recorder, has a truly rich sound capacity. It’s also very low noise and even comes with its own pop filter and shock mount for a truly rich capture quality.
The Rode NT1-A is a great option if you’re looking to record more professionally, and willing to lay out for a recording system and stand on top of what is already a reasonable premium.
2. Types of Podcast Microphone
Shopping for a podcast microphone can be trickier than you’d expect. There are a lot of options out there to choose from, and without knowledge of what each one is and how to use it, things can get overwhelming very quickly. Let me talk you through your options and provide you with the necessary information to help you avoid a stressful shopping experience.
As you’d expect, a USB mic works in the same way that any other USB device does. You plug it into your laptop or computer’s USB port, and as long as you have the necessary recording software, such as Adobe Audition or Audacity, you’re ready to start recording. That’s it!
XLR microphones plug into an audio interface via an XLR cable. This interface usually connects to your laptop or computer with a USB cable. Individuals with a little more experience and who are looking for the best quality of sound may want to consider this type of microphone, but it’s generally suggested that beginners stick to USB mics for easier use and lower initial cost.
3. Dynamic Microphones vs Condenser Mics for Podcasting
I’ve mentioned both condenser and dynamic microphones a few times so far.
Here’s the difference between the two and my thoughts about which is best for podcasting.
Condenser mics are great for when you want to add depth to your podcast or introduce an increased level of quality to your sound, but be warned — they have their downsides.
For one, because they’re so sensitive to sound, this type of microphone can pick up plenty of unwanted background noise. To benefit from the quality they offer, you’ll have to situate yourself somewhere quiet to record. These mics are also less durable and can be broken easily, so they’re not a great choice if you’re going to be carrying your mic around with you to different locations.
Condenser mics also require a constant external power source, usually supplied through a little thing called phantom power. This could be a battery in the microphone itself or could be supplied by a digital recorder or a mixing console.
While condenser mics make good investments, you have to consider the cost of the setup and whether or not you can actually put it all to good use.
To sum it up, condenser microphones can provide some great quality audio, but only if you plan to record in an extremely quiet and stable environment, such as in your office with a sturdy mic stand. If you think that’s for you, then you may want to check out the entry-level Samson CO1u.
Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, are pretty much the opposite of everything I’ve just told you about condenser mics, offering a solid alternative to podcasters everywhere. While their sound quality is slightly less and the range of frequencies is typically smaller, they also record far less background noise and are better suited to a variety of recording environments. Just keep in mind that because of this, you’ll have to get up close and personal with the microphone when recording to capture good audio.
4. Things To Consider Before Buying a Podcast Mic
It’s important to consider the directional capability of a microphone before buying one — as in, how strongly the microphone can pick up sounds from certain directions. Making the wrong choice can result in picking up lots of background noise that you probably don’t want in your podcast.
The good news is that while some microphones pick up sounds from any direction, others only pick up sounds from specific directions. Let me talk you through the different types.
- Omnidirectional: Omnidirectional microphones can pick up noise from literally any direction, often capturing unwanted sounds. While these can be great for broadcasts and news reports, they’re not as ideal for podcasting.
- Bidirectional: This type of mic can pick up noise from both sides and is very popular among podcasters. They’re ideal for interviews and two-person hosting, but don’t always work as well when it comes to recording music. They can also get pretty expensive, setting you back a few hundred dollars. However, if they’re what you need to get the job done, they are typically worth the investment.
- Cardioid: The “cardio” part of the name refers to this microphone’s heart-shaped pickup pattern. This type of microphone can only pick up noise from the front and partially from the sides. They’re very popular among musicians and for many of the condenser-USB type microphones commonly used for podcasting.
- Shotgun: Shotgun mics are unique in that they share features similar to the cardioid but with a narrower pickup pattern that further reduces the level of sound at the sides while maximizing the sound captured at the front. These are commonly mounted onto DSLRs and used by videographers due to the incredibly accurate level of sound they produce.
This refers to how receptive a microphone is, specifically in relation to an AC current or sound signal. You want to look for podcast microphones with impedance ratings of 600 Ohms or less to ensure that they have strong audio retaining capabilities. If you go for one with a higher rating, you may be sacrificing the quality of other components in the microphone.
It’s pretty common to find the frequency response of a microphone on the outside packaging of the product. This simply lets you know the range of frequencies at which a microphone detects and picks up sounds.
With that in mind, it’s important to consider what exactly you’re going to be recording before you make a purchase. If you’re planning to record guitars and vocals, for example, then go for a mid to high-frequency response range. If you’re going to be recording bass, on the other hand, then go for a microphone with a low-frequency option.
When it comes to buying a microphone or just about anything else under the sun, you’re going to want to make sure that the item is durable and long-lasting. If you’re not the most careful of individuals, it’s probably a good idea to choose a dynamic microphone. These tend to be far more durable than their condenser counterparts.
Alternatively, if you choose to go for a condenser microphone, you need to be a lot more cautious. Due to the complexity of its design, this type of mic tends to get damaged easily when knocked around or dropped.
In terms of replacement and maintenance costs, both dynamic and condenser microphones have their advantages and disadvantages. Dynamic microphones are long-lasting, sturdy, and have a great lifetime value. Their only issue is that once damaged, it can be pretty hard to find any replacement parts.
On the other hand, condenser mics are fragile and easy to damage but are far less difficult to find parts for. This means that you likely won’t have to replace them.