Do you fancy yourself as a pretty funny person, the smart person in your group, or someone with a unique take on life?
What better way to share your insight than cheaply and easily? You might be ready for a podcast.
There are a few vital pieces of equipment that you will need when you dive into the world of creating exceptional content for your podcast.
This is the first in a series where we give you some tips, tricks and advice on how to choose equipment, how to use that equipment and a few options that we would recommend.
This week we'll have a look at choosing the correct microphone for YOU. There are so many to choose from over a massive range of prices and it can become overwhelming. The correct microphone and understanding how to use it is a vital step in creating a professional sounding podcast.
The first thing you must consider is how you will be using the mic. Is your show a solo project, or do you have a co-host or guests? How many guests do you usually have at one time? Where do you record your podcast? All of these questions will help you to choose the correct mic, then properly utilise the features of your purchase.
Grab your pens and paper and take some notes, it's time for a quick lesson in Microphones. Microphones pick up the difference in air pressure, or sound waves, and convert them into an electrical current that can then be recorded, amplified or transmitted. There is a range of ways different microphones achieve this but for the sake of simplicity we will focus on the two that are most suited to our favourite medium of podcasting. The Dynamic microphone and the Condenser microphone.
A Dynamic mic has a thin diaphragm, or membrane, that is attached to a coil of copper wire that is hangin' out in a magnetic field. When the sound waves hit it, it moves around and generates an electrical current that we can then plug into something to record or amplify it. They are generally pretty tough and can handle high SPL (that's Sound Pressure Level, so high SPL is really 'loud' stuff). The Dynamic is the mic you see most vocalists using live on-stage and is relatively inexpensive. Due to having a rugged construction they can have an uneven frequency response, aren't so great at picking up the higher frequencies and can colour the sound, but that can be used to our advantage as we will find out later.
The Condenser mic is quite fragile and works on a slightly different principle, capacitance. They do require power (known as Phantom power) so they must be plugged into a mixing desk, pre-amp or interface that can provide that. A super thin diaphragm is near a backplate and a fixed charge of electricity is placed across the two, when the diaphragm is hit by the sound waves it moves closer or further away from the backplate creating an increase or decrease in capacitance and that my friends is the electrical current we need to plug into our gear. Because of the super thin diaphragm, it's like a few microns thin, Condensers generally have a larger and flatter range of frequency response (more accurately reproducing the change in air pressure) along with picking up much quieter sounds compared to our mate the dynamic mic.
They usually have a pattern selector that will change the direction and sensitivity of the sound they pick up. They can tend to distort with higher SPL's but that isn't really a factor for us podcasters.
So enough of the overly techy talk (it may come in handy at a Trivia night some day though), and onto choosing what best suits YOU. We will have a look at environment, number of people on your show, style of show and budget.
Where do you record your podcast?
It is vital to record in an environment that is free from as much background noise and hard reflective surfaces as possible, unless that is a feature of your show i.e.'Truck stop interviews with Billy Bob' featuring the background noise of a Diner. Many successful podcasters have literally recorded in the closet to find a suitable environment, so whatever works for you is fine.
An easy way of checking for an overly reflective room is by placing yourself in your recording position and clapping your hands, once and with force. If there are too many hard surfaces or furnishings you will hear a high frequency ping or buzz bouncing around the room, it's pretty noticeable, that is the sound waves reflecting, bouncing around and interfering with each other. We do not want an uncontrolled party with these guys, it will get out of hand really quickly and cause all sorts of headaches.
You can take some steps to alleviate the reflections, such as rugs or using a thick blanket as a table cloth if you record at a table.
How can microphone choice help us with that, I hear you ask? Frequency response and directionality is the answer.
The Dynamic mic does not pick up as many of those high frequencies as the Condenser and is not as sensitive. The Dynamic generally picks up little of anything that is not directly in front of it too, known as a cardioid pattern, it's UNIDIRECTIONAL. If you must record in a slightly noisier or non ideal environment then the Dynamic is the way to go, there's a reason they are used extensively in live music.
You do lose the ability to use a single mic for more than 1 person and the ability to accentuate the dynamics and nuances of speech is reduced which could be very important if you have a podcast that relies on that, like a story telling podcast with whispers and louder voices maybe?
What if you have a quiet room with few reflections? By all means consider using the Condenser, in fact I would recommend that. The extended frequency response and sensitivity of the Condenser can really make a voice shine. Some Condensers have the option to switch pick up patterns (polar pattern) which can allow you to use one microphone (set to OMNI) for a number of people. This is not ideal (as a general rule one mic per person should be adhered to, it provides more control during post and editing) but if the environment and levels are consistent it can be useful.
The Condenser will pick up a lot of noise from handling, bumps or knocks. The Dynamic will also pick up handling noise but not to the extent of the Condenser. That should also be considered when purchasing your new mic.
Remember that the Condenser is very fragile and if dropped or knocked over would end up going to the great mic cupboard in the sky. So if there is the possibility of that happening maybe stick to a Dynamic so your hard earned $wag money isn't wasted.
The Dynamic mic has a nice little feature we can take advantage of, proximity effect. This increases the response to lower frequencies when used close to the sound source, so it can give a little more richness and depth to a voice.
Now onto pricing and recommendations. Condensers are generally more expensive and out perform Dynamics in most studio situations, but environmental situations and the need of phantom power have to be taken into consideration when determining what suits YOU the best. If you are just setting up your new podcast then the Dynamic mic is a great option; cheap, rugged and will do the job more than adequately in most environments.
Our list of recommendations and general prices...
This mic is the industry standard for live performance and is legendary for how tough it is. It sounds fantastic, has a mesh grill to aid in minimising breath noise and a unidirectional pick-up pattern to get as much of the main sound source while minimising background noise. This mic can be used on everything from voices to most instruments, it's super versatile.
The other factor that makes this such a highly recommended purchase is price. They are generally around the $150 mark (that's in Australian $'s) brand new but it is usually pretty easy to find a second-hand one and you can be comfortable in the fact that even if they have been dropped off the top of a building they will still work. Check out the crazy tests Shure put them through on their Youtube page.
This is the exact same microphone, and price, as the SM58 but with a smaller and flatter grill, this was to allow closer mic placement for instruments but also allows us to greater utilise the proximity effect to our advantage on voices.
Golden Age Project D2
This mic seems to make voices sound just that little bit fuller and add a richness. Again it has great rejection of noise from unwanted background sources and features a slight mid range boost for a distinctive sound. It also looks pretty cool and comes in at around $240.
Sennheiser MD421 II
Moving up in price this microphone is another one that comes highly recommended. It has little in the way of features apart from the low frequency roll-off switch but in terms of performance is almost unsurpassed. There is a reason this is one of the most popular microphones in the World and is a staple in every studio. It is also very versatile and comes in at around $430.
This is moving up into the top price bracket of Dynamic microphones but the performance is exceptional. It is the microphone that you see podcasting royalty Mark Maron using. It has a lower frequency roll-off to help eliminate noise such as bumps, rumbles and unwanted lower frequencies when used on voices. It also has a built in pop filter to subdue some of the sibilance and plosives that are unavoidable while recording speech. It has a smooth, relatively flat and wide range frequency response with a slight boost in the mid range that enhances the presence of the voice.
Ranging from $650 to $690, and very rarely found second-hand, this is the peak of dynamic microphones for podcast recording.
Audio Technica AT4050
A multi pattern Condenser that performs this well and at a price point of around $690 is going to be your new best friend. It has 3 switchable pick up patterns (Cardioid, Omni and Figure 8) so you can use it solo, fig. 8 for 2 people opposite each other or Omni for a full range pattern. It also has a low end roll-off and a -10dB pad. It is a great mid level Condenser mic for podcasting, is very versatile and comes highly recommended. I have used this on everything from podcasts to guitars.
Another mic that should be a must have for most Audio Engineers and for the hardcore podcaster or voice over actor. This is another multi pattern Condenser that has a great reputation for a reason. The frequency response is exceptional and it again has the cardioid, omni or figure 8 pick-up patterns. Australian designed and manufactured and usually in the $800- $900 price range.
Now you can also get Condensers with a single pick up pattern, like the Dynamic but with all the benefits of extended frequency response and range. Here are two of our favourites.
This is one of the standard single pick up pattern Condensers for voice over/podcast work. It has a detailed mid range boost along with smooth high end and a rounded low end response. For a microphone that costs a little under $300 you can't go wrong. Remember that this has a unidirectional pattern so you can't record a group of guests around it.
Audio Technica AT2020
The punch you get for this price is outstanding at around $140. It is pretty rugged for a Condenser and again rejects sound from the rear quite well and has an adequate frequency range and response. A solid entry level Condenser.
Hopefully that helped you in your choice of microphone for your project and provided you with a bit of extra information about the massive world of microphones. All the headings are linked to the product pages for you to check out and please leave a comment with any questions or thoughts, we are always happy to help out.
Until next time, Happy Podcasting!