Microphones

You're gonna need a microphone or two. The cool kids call them “mics” (pronounced “mikes”).

TLDR

Buy one of these, depending on your needs and budget:

Under $50

Mic Price Interface Type Pickup pattern(\s)
Behringer Ultravoice XM1800S 3-pack $39 USB/XLR Dynamic Cardioid
Monoprice Dynamic Vocal Mic $15 USB/XLR Dynamic Cardioid

Under $100

Mic Price Interface Type Pickup pattern(\s)
AT2005USB $56 USB/XLR Dynamic Cardioid
ATR2100-USB $60 USB/XLR Dynamic Cardioid
Blue Snowball $60–80 USB Condenser Multiple
Blue enCORE 100 $100 XLR Dynamic Cardioid
 

The Audio Technica ATR2100-USB (and it’s fraternal twins, the AT2005USB and Samson Q2U) is podcasting’s standard “training wheels mic”, for pretty good reasons:</p>

  • It’s fairly cheap
  • It supports both USB and XLR, so you can plug it right into your computer to start and then graduate to XLR once you get a proper audio interface or mixer
  • It includes everything you need, including cables and a cheesy desk stand
  • As a dynamic mic it’s less sensitive than condenser mics, and so more forgiving of noisy environments

The Samson Q2U is effectively the same mic as the ATR2100-USB, so it’s also a good option and may be cheaper\/easier to get depending on where you live.

Over $100

Mic Price Interface Type Pickup pattern(s)
Blue Yeti $123 USB Condenser Cardioid
Electrovoice RE-20 $399 XLR Dynamic Cardioid
Heil PR40 $315 XLR Dynamic Cardioid
Shure SM7B $350 XLR Dynamic Cardioid
 

Tip: Mics go on sale sometimes, so you can often snag a good deal using sites like CamelCamelCamel to set up an Amazon price watch for ones you're interested in. Plus, competitors often match Amazon sale prices, too.

Kinds of mics

There's many kinds of mics, but for our purposes we're going to divide them into:

  • Dynamic versus condenser
  • USB versus XLR

Dynamic versus condenser

Either would work fine. You'll get more recommendations for dynamics because they're less sensitive and so more forgiving in bad recording environments.

From a budget perspective, $150 will get you a "starter" 4-preamp audio interface and 3-for-$39 dynamics. Get cables from Monoprice, some cheap mic stands and windscreens, and you're all set.

A mic's transducer converts sound pressure into an electrical signal. Although both dynamic and condenser mics have a membrane that vibrates with the air around it, they use different transducer principles.

Condenser mics

  • Are typically more sensitive than dynamic mics
  • Require power (delivered via USB or "phantom power" via mic cables)

Dynamic mics

  • Are less sensitive than dynamic mics, and so can be more forgiving for beginners
  • Can sometimes require power (generally called "active dynamic mics")

USB vs. XLR

The case against using multiple USB mics

In a multiple mic scenario, the problem with USB mics are that they each have their own hardware clock, without anything to keep them in sync.

As a result, the audio from one or both of them has to be continuously resampled to keep them in sync.

macOS has built-in support for doing this (by creating an "aggregate device"), and you can do it on Windows, but there's always going to be some quality and reliability impact. I'd doubt that the quality impact would be perceptible in the end product, so for me the main consideration is that it's intrinsically just a bit wonkier.

Pickup patterns

(TBD)

Myths

Condenser mics pick up more "room noise" than dynamic mics

This is the most popular myth in podcasting forums.

Mic sensitivity is linear regardless of the transducer (the thing that converts sound pressure into an electrical signal) technology.

Dynamic mics ARE less sensitive, but if you turn up their preamp gain to match a condenser mic's they'll both "hear" all the same stuff. For more, see:

Mic stands

Overhead booms

Boom stands are great because they allow you to sit naturally and bring the mic to you, rather than leaning into the mic. The user will sound more natural as a result.

Dynamic mics are often recommended for beginning podcasters because they're more forgiving for people who don't know how to control environment noise. That said, wonderful dynamic mics (like the SM7B) are wonderful.

Because condensers are more sensitive, you can always make a condenser less sensitive (i.e. more like a dynamic mic) by reducing gain and using E.Q. to reduce high frequencies. The opposite is generally not true.

There's a myth that condensers somehow pickup more "noise" than dynamics. This is untrue. A more sensitive mic will simply picks up more of all sound, whether signal or noise.

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