One of the best things you can do to give your podcast great production value is to use a quality podcast microphone. If you want to start a podcast, then you want to give yourself the biggest advantage possible. I spoke about all of this in more detail here. Nowadays there are more options on the market than there have ever been when it comes to high quality, budget-conscious audio recording equipment. So let’s take a look at what the best podcast microphone for you could be.
Table Of Contents
- 1 Table Of Contents
- 2 3 questions to ask before buying a microphone
- 3 Podcast Microphones
- 3.1 Entry Level Podcast Microphones
- 3.2 Medium Budget Podcast Microphones
- 3.3 Pro Level Podcast Microphones
- 4 Summary
3 questions to ask before buying a microphone
1) Condenser or Dynamic?
You can write whole books about the differences between these two types of microphones. But to keep it simple, you can look at it like this. Dynamic microphones tend to have a more focused sound, meaning that they mostly pick up the sound source that’s right in front of them, and don’t tend to pick up a lot of ambient noise. Compared microphones also tend to sound quite warm and even somewhat ‘wooly’.
Condenser microphones on the other hand are more sensitive, meaning that they pick up more overall sound than a dynamic microphone would. This means that the voice tends to sound brighter and maybe a bit clearer than it would on a dynamic microphone, since the details are picked up more, but there’s also more of a chance that it picks up unwanted noise in the process. Condenser mics also require what’s known. In short, if you’re willing to sacrifice some top-end clarity and brightness of tone in order to have a more ‘direct’ sound, then a dynamic microphone would work for you. If on the other hand you want to capture vocal nuances and aren’t concerned with ambient noise, a condenser would work very well. Both are used very successfully by many podcasts.
2) USB or XLR?
Simply put, a USB microphone can be connected straight to your laptop or computer via a USB port and recorded, without the need for any other equipment. An XLR microphone, on the other hand, will require that you first plug your mic into an audio interface via what’s known as an XLR cable. The interface is then connected to your laptop or computer. This does involve extra equipment and power usage, but in general, it will give you at least somewhat better quality in terms of audio fidelity.
Now to be clear, there are many USB mics nowadays that provide great value for money. Especially at the lower budget range, the differences between USB and XLR microphones isn’t always that obvious. However, once you start going up to the more expensive XLR microphones, the jump in quality does become quite noticeable. Ultimately, it will come down to the sound quality you want, the convenience you want to achieve it with, and the budget that you have allocated. Keep in mind that if you do go down the XLR route, then you’ll already have all the gear in place should you ever want to switch to an even better microphone. Another thing to keep in mind is that most (although not all) USB microphones are condenser mics and not dynamic.
Ultimately, when it comes to finding the best podcast microphone for you, the budget you allocate will determine what kind of microphone you get as much, if not more, than the audio specifications that you need. The good news is that nowadays you can get a good quality mic to (at the very least) get you started without breaking the bank. If you’re looking to seriously get into podcasting, then I would highly recommend you treat this purchase a an investment and get the best possible value that you can.
Let’s dive deeper and look at some of the best options on the market out there today. We’re going to look at microphones across three different budget levels : 2 entry-level microphones, 4 high-quality microphones that are suitable for most people, and 2 super professional world class grade microphones that are the most expensive, but can still provide incredible value for money :
Entry Level Podcast Microphones
Blue Microphones Snowball iCE
From the same company that makes the Yeti, the iCE microphone model has proven to be yet another hit for this budget-conscious audio manufacturing company. Yes, this is an entry level model, and therefore it will have some limitation as to what it can and cannot do. However, given its super affordable price tag, the quality and ease of use that it offers in return definitely makes it worth talking about.
As a USB microphone, it’s pretty much plug and play… just connect it to your computer via USB and you’re good to go, making it a very efficient podcast microphone! It’s also extremely portable, and can very easily be fitted into a laptop bag or backpack. This makes it ideal for recording on the go or in multiple different locations. For the price, it’s got quite a sturdy chassis and looks pretty cool as well.
The Snowball iCE features a 44.1 kHz/16-bit sample rate, also known as “CD Quality”, whichis pretty standard for non-professional microphones. This is typically more than enough for streaming, and is the same sample rate as MP3 files. Sound quality is great for most applications like recording podcasts and voiceover. Put it this way, it’s way better then what’s possible from a simple headset or any sort of built-in microphone. The iCE model doesn’t have the different pickup patterns that something like the Yeti does (although the slightly more expensive Snowball does), but the sound quality is similar, and the omnidirectional and cardioid patterns are perfect for most uses.
This microphone does tend to favour the midrange frequencies over all others. Which is actually where a lot of the vocal frequencies lie, so not really an issue. It can lack a little bit of low or high end, which is something to be expected of a microphone at this price range. But both of these ‘shortcomings’ be somewhat ‘hacked’ by speaking closer to the microphone (more low end) and by placing the microphone in such a way that the centre of the diaphragm is just above the upper lip, which enhances the high frequencies. The sound is also quite smooth, and doesn’t have any unwanted harshness or sibilance to it, which is quite important tonal characteristic for a podcast microphone to have.
The Snowball version (not the iCE) is about $20 more expensive, and offers the ability to change pickup patterns. If this is something you think you’d fancy having, it might be worth spending that little bit of extra money to have more options further down the line. Ultimately this is up to what you think you’re going to need. Both models are ultimately going to give you good value for money. Is it the best recording microphone in the world? No, and at that price point it shouldn’t be expected to be so. But for something to get you going and which will barely make a dent on your finances, plus coming from a reputable company with a fantastic track record, it’s definitely an option worthy of consideration.
- Recording Resolution of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
- Frequency Response of 40 Hz to 18 kHz
- Cardioid Polar Pattern (adjustable in the Snowball)
- Adjustable Base Stand
- Windows & Mac Compatible
- USB Port
The Samson Q2U is another entry-level podcast microphone which offers great value for money. Samson are a very reputable company that make microphones for all sorts of different budgets. I have personally used Samson mics for singing vocals in a live setting while playing gigs, and they have consistently blown me away by how balanced and accurate they sound, despite their often low price tag. In fact, in some situations I’ve even chosen to use them over similar but more established models (such as a Shure SM58), since I felt that they gave a better frequency response to suit my particular tone of voice.
One of the defining features of the Q2U is that it’s both an XLR and USB microphone, giving the user a wide range of options when it comes to recording. In fact, many choose to record both, therefore having a backup if for some reason something happens to either channel. Being a dynamic microphone gives it that nice, focused sound, which ignores a lot of noise coming off-axis (or not directly from in front of it). When used as an XLR, the quality does tend to be noticeably better, as is to be expected, however both are good enough to suit many people’s speech recording needs.
The frequency response is very balanced, with pronounced mids, punchy lows and clear highs. This allows for high quality voice capture. One of the cool features that the Q2U has is a headphone jack on the microphone which allows the user to monitor the level and quality of the sound being captured in real time, therefore allowing any necessary adjustments to be made.
The Q2U sturdy and well-built. It does need a pop-filter to go along with it, since it doesn’t have an internal pop filter like many of the other microphones in this list do. However this is usually quite a cheap investment, and it’s generally useful to have one lying around anyway if you’re going to be getting serious about audio recording. For the price that it’s at and the versatility it offers, this microphone is definitely the definition of value for money!
Medium Budget Podcast Microphones
Audio-Technica AT2020 (and AT2035)
If I sound a little biased towards the AT2020, it’s probably because I am. This is because I actually own this model, and have used it my music home studio for the last four years or so. The AT2020 is a condenser microphone and is great both for capturing speech and singing. Retailing at around $100, the value for money that this microphone offers is amazing. I’ve seen it used on more than one popular podcast, and for good reason.
Audio Technica are a well-respected audio equipment brand, known for their state-of-the art technology and pioneering concepts in their products. The AT2020 carries on in this tradition, featuring what’s known as a low-mass diaphragm. In plain English, this allows the microphone to capture more frequencies and transients, resulting in accurate and rich voice recording. It also has a high 144dB SPL (sound pressure level) rating, meaning that it can handle loud volume being directed at it without the recorded audio being clipped or distorted.
Being an XLR microphone, you will need some sort of interface or mixer to connect it to before being able to record on your laptop. However good audio interfaces are so cheap and reliable nowadays that it’s definitely an investment worth making. Even though the AT2020 is a condenser microphone, it has a cardioid polar pickup pattern. Simply put, this means that the microphone is designed to focus on picking up whatever’s in front of it and less of what’s coming in from the sides.
Now this is not to say that it won’t pick up any sort of ambient noise, but compared to some other condenser mics, it certainly does a very good job of keeping the sound more or less contained to the desired source. Quite useful when recording any sort of speech or singing, epsecially if being used as a podcast microphone. I’ve personally used it to record vocals in my home studio for the past few years with great results.
I can attest from first-hand experience that this microphone is built like a tank, despite its lightweight and compact design. Housed in a durable chassis, it can take a knocking or two and get back up as if nothing’s happened. Comes with a stand mount, allowing it to be attached to any sort of microphone stand.
For an extra $50 or so, you can get your hands of the upgraded version of this microphone, the AT2035. This microphone comes with a large diaphragm that records smoother, more natural sound with reduced noise. It has fantastic frequency response, making it a great studio-style mic for professional podcasting and acoustic performances. Two cool features of the A2035 that are not included with the AT2020 are an 80Hz High-Pass Switch (which allows frequencies below 80Hz to be ignored), and a 10dB Pad Switch, which allows the microphone to record at lower volumes and reduce the risk of audio clipping. It also comes with a custom shock mount for noise isolation.
- Frequency Response of 20 Hz to 20kHz
- Cardioid Polar Pattern
- 80 Hz High-Pass Filter Switch and 10 dB Pad Switch (on AT2035)
- Custom Shock Mount (on AT2035)
- XLR Connectivity
Blue Yeti (and Blue Yeti Pro)
The Blue Yeti USB Microphone is the currently the most popular and best-selling microphone on Amazon, and for good reason. The microphone was designed specifically with efficiency and ease of setup in mind. All you basically need to start using it is to connect it to your laptop or computer, load up your recording software, and you’re good to go! Being a USB microphone, there’s no need for any sort of interface… it’s quite literally plug and play! It doesn’t come with any sort of recording software included, however this isn’t an issue, since nowadays there are countless free quality DAWs (digital audio workstations) available, such as Audacity (downloadable) and Garageband (included with every Mac), to name just a couple.
One of the coolest features in the Yeti is the ability to change what is known as its pickup pattern. More specifically, this can be changed to cardioid, bidirectional, omni and stero. This basically means that you can change what the microphone picks up or not depending on the relationship between the mic and the audio source. Therefore, you can have it more focused, where it only picks up mostly what’s in front of it, or switch it to bidirectional if you want to capture two voices into one microphone. This would be quite useful if you’re recording a podcast with two or more people in the same room, and don’t want or have a microphone for each person. Many have found that setting the omni-directional pattern works best if you plan on moving around a bit during recording, although it will pick up some other ambient noises when set to that pattern. The cardioid setting eliminates this problem, and it still does a fine job of recording the voice clearly, with a quality that greatly exceeds what’s possible with a headset or cheap USB mic.
The Blue Yeti features a gain knob, which some USB microphones tend not to have. This feature is actually quite important, since it allows you to control how sensitive the microphone is to the sound it needs to capture. The higher that gain, the louder the recording will sound. Keep in mind however that it is far easier to increase the volume of audio in post-production rather than reduce it if it’s been recorded too loudly, or what’s known as too hot. Recording at volumes that are too loud will often cause the recorded sound to be clipped, which effectively ruins the integrity of that recording and is practically impossible to reverse. Having a gain knob will allow you to set the levels accordingly to prevent this from happening.
Another cool feature is the headphone monitoring port, which allows you to be able to hear what the recording sounds like in real time. This is very useful especially if you want to make sure that your levels are correct, and that you’re not standing at the right distance from the microphone which allows it to pick up the right frequencies in your voice. Something to keep in mind about the Yeti is that it’s not the most portable of microphones. It’s made of metal, so quite heavy duty and sturdy. This definitely improves its durability and resistance to, shall we say, any accidents that might occur. One downside to this however would be if you wanted to transport the microphone around to different locations… sure it’s possible, but can be a bit trickier than with some other mics.
The Blue Yeti features a 16-bit, 48KHz recording sample rate. While this might not be quite in the same league as some of the world’s more expensive microphones, it will more than do the job for streamers, podcasters, and hobbyists, and it delivers consistent and reliable results. Think of a well recorded YouTube video, or in a video game, and you get the kind of sound that’s achievable with the Yeti. It doesn’t have that shrill, crackly sound like you’d get from a cheap microphone, but rather gives a fullness to the voice. All in all, a great purchase for those wanting a simple plug and play option for their podcast. Quite a lot of useful features packed into a relatively cheap podcast microphone.
For those wanting an XLR option, Blue also manufacture the Yeti Pro, which comes with both a USB and XLR option. Naturally it is more expensive, but it does give you more options, and leaves the door open for that possibility should you want to explore it further on down the line. Naturally, the sound quality is also somewhat improved when compared to the USB option, which is to be expected. Whether or not it’s enough of a difference to warrant the price range will depend on the level of detail and accuracy you’re looking for in your recordings. If you have the budget, then it might be worth going for it and treating it as a long-term investment. But even if you just want to get started, you can do much worse than either version of the Yeti.
- Recording Resolution of 16-Bit, 48 kHz
- Frequency Response of 20 Hz to 20 kHz
- Tri-Capsule Array
- Cardioid, Omni, Figure 8, Stereo Polar Patterns
- 1/8-Inch Headphone Jack
- Zero-Latency Monitoring
- Instant Mute Button
- Gain Control
- Mac & Windows Compatible
- USB Connectivity (plus XLR for Yeti Pro)
Rode have been making top-end microphones for many years, and many of their products are staples in many of the top recording studios around the world. The Rode Podcaster is the USB cousin of the XLR Procaster microphone, which definitely deserves a mention in and of itself. The Podcaster, like the Blue Yeti, is a simple plug and play USB microphone. Unlike the Yeti, however, it is a dynamic microphone, meaning that it will provide different tonal qualities to a condenser microphone. Both the cardioid pickup pattern and the mesh body help in reject off-axis sounds coming from the sides, and creating a more focused and direct sound. The Rode Podcaster is what’s known as an end address mic, meaning you get the clearest sound by talking directly into the top part.
The 18-bit, 48kHz sampling rate gives this microphone a distinct edge over most of the other USB microphones out there. This type of sampling is pretty high-level, and it shows in the audio quality captured. The frequency response is fantastic and balanced, making it great for recording speech in any form. In fact, this is what this microphone was specifically designed to do. This is because it’s ultimately designed for professionals, with a flat frequency response and a frequency boost around the 5kHz – 10kHz mark. Essentially what this means is that it captures very clear bass and mid-range, with quite a bit of healthy saturation on the high frequencies, which are all key features of a faithful and good quality voice recording.
Unlike the Blue Yeti, the Podcaster does not feature the ability to switch the pickup pattern, nor does it have gain adjustment. The reason it’s still more expensive is because of the higher bitrate sampling rate and enhanced frequency response that if offers. For a professional, this might be an important distinction. For somebody just getting started, or who doesn’t yet need super high0fidelity audio capture, then the difference becomes less significant. It ultimately depends on whether you’ll be needing to use these features regularly or not. What the Blue Yeti offers in versatility, the Podcaster offers in audio quality. But both are more than good enough to do the job that’s required for many (if not most) podcasting situations.
The Podcaster looks, and feels, like a high-quality microphone. It’s quite heavy duty, and not the lightest of microphones on the market. One of the reasons for this is due to its internal shock mount, which means that you can move it about without a lot of excess noise being picked up. This is actually a very useful feature to have, and can make quite a difference when it comes to how clean and professional your audio sounds. Another cool feature is that it also has a built-in pop-filter. This effectively takes care of most plosives when up close, meaning that any strong ‘b’ or ‘p’ sounds don’t end up distorting or blowing up the audio, and removes the need to have any sort of external pop-filter attached.
This microphone does one thing and one thing well… being a reliable and sturdy podcast microphone! It won’t necessarily be great for capturing musical instruments or more ambient sounds, but if you want something that captures your spoken voice and does it extremely well, this one should definitely be a consideration! The XLR Procaster version has a similar design with even higher audio quality possibilities, owing to the sampling being done by an external interface rather than the microphone itself.
- Frequency Response of 75Hz to 18kHz
- Cardioid Polar Pattern
- Internal Shock Mount and Pop Filter
- USB Connectivity (or XLR for Procaster)
Perhaps the most commonly used dynamic microphone around the world, the Shure SM58 has been a staple of stages and studios for decades. Based on the classic SM57, the 58 is very often used as a live vocal microphone, due to its fantastic frequency response and very focused, clear sound. In fact, the frequency response on this mic is specifically designed in such a way that it responds best to the frequency ranges that are generally the most defined in the voice. I’ve personally used many SM58s while singing at gigs, and can definitely attest to their durability and amazing tonal and volume response. But the 58 is not limited to being used for crooning or screaming into… it also makes for a great contendor for what could be the best podcast microphone for you to use!
Being a dynamic mic, it tends to get rid of a lot of the excess noise going on around it, and focuses on picking up what’s right in front of it. This makes it ideal for achieving a clear, direct vocal recording. It also happens to be built like a tank, and as somebody who has seen more than his fair share of these microphones being dropped onto rehearsal room and stage floors over the years, I can confirm that they always get back up on their feet no matter what happens.
The SM58 features an internal shock mount, which makes it ideal for eliminating any unwanted noise from vibrations or being knocked about. This is not surprising considering that this microphone was designed to be handheld, and therefore needs to have a very stable internal mechanism that isn’t too easily influenced by anything happening on the outside. It also has a pop filter that has been integrated into the design of the microphone, in the form of a spherical cone that protects the diaphragm underneath. Meaning that once you get an XLR cable and plug into whatever recording or playback system you’re using, this mic is good to go! Thousands upon thousands of people have relied on this microphone in the past, and continue to do so today… there definitely won’t be any regrets in terms of quality should you decide to join them.
- Frequency Response of 50 Hz to 15 kHz
- Dynamic Cardioid Polar Pattern
- Internal Shock Mount
- Integrated Spherical Wind and Pop Filter
- XLR Connectivity
Pro Level Podcast Microphones
No self-respecting article about finding the best podcast microphone would be complete without mentioning the mighty Shure SM57B. This is the microphone of choice for one of most popular podcasts in the world, The Joe Rogan Experience. It was also the microphone used during vocal recording for a little album you might have heard of called Thriller by an artist you might know called Michael Jackson. This microphone is as tried, tested and true as they come.
The Shure has a flat, wide-range frequency response. This means that it can reproduce vocal the sound source it’s capturing in a very faithful and accurate way, without too much colouring or unwanted modifications, leading to very high quality audio capture. It also comes with two pretty cool and potentially handy features. One is the bass cutoff (or high-pass), which basically tells the microphone not to capture the lowest bass frequencies. This could be useful if you want to reduce any boomy qualities that might be present in the audio source. The other feature is what is known as a mid-boost, which allows the sound to become more ‘present’ and cut through any other audio source that it might be competing with. It does this by amplifying certain frequencies between 2kHz and 4kHz, which is often where the transient of the human voice are very present.
Being a dynamic microphone, the SM7B captures what’s right in front of it, and doesn’t give that much attention to ambient sounds. This results in a very focused, clean and direct sound. If you want your voice to be captured without too much of the surrounding noise (moving chairs, cars passing by outside), this microphone will let you do just that. Compared to a condenser microphone, it does have a little bit less sparkle on the high end, however this is usually not an issue, and can actually be favored if you want your voice to sound more warm.
Another thing that this microphone does very well is that it shields against broadband interference emitted by computer monitors. A lot of times, while using audio equipment, there will be a lot of hum being picked up by speakers etc, and this is often in turn picked up by microphones. The SM7B has been designed in such a way that this problem is eliminated. It also comes installed with a pneumatic shock mount, which means that the microphone won’t pick up and accidental vibrations that cause it to move around. This could include hitting the table or stand on which the microphone is placed, which happens more often than you think, therefore making this feature quite important for any podcast microphone to have!
The SM7B is not the cheapest microphone out there, but this is for good reason. It is a high end, professional option that would suit most purposes. The price tag it comes attached with (typically around $400 new) is a fair reflection of this. If you can afford it and want a microphone that’s going to give you a fantastic return on your investment, this one is definitely worth a consideration.
- Flat, wide-range frequency response (50Hz-20kHz) for exceptionally clean and natural reproduction of both music and speech
- Bass rolloff and mid-range emphasis (presence boost) controls with graphic display of response setting
- Improved rejection of electromagnetic hum, optimized for shielding against broadband interference emitted by computer monitors
- Internal “air suspension” shock isolation virtually eliminates mechanical noise transmission
- Highly effective pop filter eliminates need for any add-on protection against explosive breath sounds, even for close-up vocals or narration
- Yoke mounting with captive stand nut for easy mounting and dismounting provides precise control of microphone position
- Classic cardioid polar pattern, uniform with frequency and symmetrical about axis, to provide maximum rejection and minimum coloration of off-axis sound
- Rugged construction and excellent cartridge protection for outstanding reliability
Electro Voice RE20
Along with the Shure SM7B, the Electro Voice RE20 is quite possibly the most popular and widely used broadcasting microphone in radio stations and professional studios around the world. They are often compared side by side, and for good reason. Much like its main competitor, the price tag on this microphone is not cheap. However, the quality that it offers definitely makes this a justifiable expense.
This dynamic microphone has an incredibly focused and punchy, ‘in your face’ kid of sound. Even for a dynamic mic, it does a magnificent job at not picking up off-axis audio sources, leaving only the voice or sound being placed right in front of it. This is especially useful if recording in an untreated studio or a somewhat noisy environment.
It features Electro Voice’s patented “variable d” design, which prevents or at least minimises what’s known as the proximity effect, which happens when somebody speaks too closely to the microphone and ends up creating a boomy, muddy sound. This, coupled with a low frequency rolloff at around the 70hZ mark, gives this microphone a super defined and clear sound. It’s important not to underestimate how important the handling of the proximity effect is, since this is a large part of why this microphone lends itself so well to voice recording. Some people say that this gives the RE20 a slight edge over the Shure S57B when it comes to the low-end side of things, although to be honest at that level, the quality will always be there regardless, and the detail is often in the minutia.
The RE20 also has an internal shock mount, which protects the inner diaphragm of the microphone from unwanted and accidental vibrations, leading to cleaner and more professional sounding audio. In general, the whole thing is extremely sturdy, and features EV’s trademark die-cast built chassis which does a great job of protecting the mic from any damage.
It would be easy to see the RE20 as just a brilliant broadcasting and podcast microphone (which it undeniably is). However, in reality it’s great for recording a whole host of musical instruments, as well as singing. In truth, you could record a good part of an album using just this one microphone (in fact, some people do!). So if you’re looking to invest in a high quality podcast microphone that will last you for ages, and that will give you a massive return on your investment in terms of quality, you could do much worse than the RE20.
- Frequency Response of 45 Hz to 18 kHz
- Variable-D™ for Minimal Proximity Effect
- True Cardioid Polar Pattern with No Coloration
- Heavy-Duty Internal Pop Filter
- Internal Shock Mount
- Humbucking Coil
- Bass Roll-Off Switch
- XLR Connectivity
As you can see, there are a lot of options available nowadays regardless of your budget or size of your podcast. Once again I will say that any one of the options above will give you a considerably better result in terms of audio quality in comparison to using your default laptop or phone microphone. So if you’re serious about launching your podcast in the best way possible, grab yourself a microphone and get recording!