So, you’ve done a few podcast interviews as a guest and realized that it’s time to step up your game in terms of your audio setup. Or maybe you’re new to podcast interviews and just want a good sound setup from the get-go. You’re not sure which gear to go for or how big your budget should be. You want to understand (at least on a basic level) how, why, and what makes sound quality good or bad. If this sounds like you, then you’ve come to the right place!
To podcast hosts: most of this information will apply to you too. You’re most welcome to benefit from this article.
Things covered in this blog (click to auto-scroll to section):
Some food for thought: The better your interview sound is, the more professional you and your brand are perceived by the listener.
Let’s get started!
Podcasts are (for the most part) an audio-only form of media, where the audience listens to a single episode for about 20-60 minutes in one sitting. It just makes sense that anyone would much rather listen to 60 minutes of pleasing audio, rather than someone who sounds like they’re shouting at you over a megaphone. What do I mean by pleasing audio? I’ll get to that in the next section, but here’s a pretty good example:
Have you ever watched a live DVD/production by your favorite musician/artist/band, followed immediately by a YouTube video of that same show, posted by someone in the crowd, filming it from their smartphone? The comparison is worlds apart! Sure, you can still recognize the song, you can still see and hear the artist semi-clearly, but can you imagine watching an entire recorded show with microphone distortion, distracting crowd noises, the person holding the camera causing that fumbling sound that comes from clumsily handing the phone? Personally, I would need some serious counseling after a full show like that! But all jokes aside, I think I’ve made my point quite clear – There is value in good quality audio production, and there’s a reason why successful artists, radio stations and pretty much anyone working in media production, spend unthinkable amounts of money to have great audio quality for their product – it sets them apart from the competition and oozes a high level of professionalism.
The same goes for podcasts! Have you noticed how pretty much any podcast show that ranks at the top of their category/genre has outstanding audio quality? There’s a reason for it. Now here’s the kicker…
You will not get booked for an interview on a high-ranking podcast if your audio quality is terrible.
Shocked? Offended? Well, I’m not going to apologize. You need to understand this for your own good. My business partner often calls me the “bad cop”. Not everyone likes how forward I am, but I do get my point across if nothing else. Of course, audio quality isn’t the only deciding factor for podcast shows looking for interviewees, but it is a big one, and it may mean the difference between getting interviewed on your dream podcast, or not.
Let’s start by answering the question I touched on above – “what do I mean by pleasing audio?” To put it simply, it means that there are no scratches in the audio, no harsh plosives or sibilance, no distracting background noise, no excessive reverberation (i.e. it sounds like they’re talking from a bathroom), no microphone distortion – just a clear and sonically well-balanced voice with every aspect of the sound quality being pleasing to the ear.
But describing the pudding is never as good as tasting it for yourself. Let’s take a listen to an example below. The audio snippet is split into two halves – the first half being the “bad” audio and the 2nd half being the “good” audio. (NB! listen with earphones):
It’s quite obvious when juxtaposed like this, isn’t it? Now, at this point you may be thinking: “but why is the one so much better than the other?”, “Is it just a better microphone?”, “What exactly am I meant to be listening for?”. There is no short answer, unfortunately. This is because there are a number of factors and sub-factors to consider (there’s a reason why not everyone is cut out to be an audio engineer). That being said, I’ve simplified it for you into five main elements along with a brief overview of each. The elements are:
- a. Microphone/Preamp Quality
- b. Microphone Pickup Pattern (formally known as Polar Response Pattern)
- c. Acoustics & Environment
- d. Software & Software Settings
- e. User Knowledge & Experience
Let’s check them out in more detail, along with some audio A/B examples.
a. Microphone/Preamp Quality
Here’s the audible difference between good and bad microphones (NB! listen with earphones):
The above audio was recorded with all variables being consistent, except for the mic itself – same area, same mic distance, same software, no editing or mixing. What you’re hearing is an accurate A/B difference in mic quality alone.
Some would argue that your microphone quality is the most important factor. It certainly is the most obvious factor. There’s a reason why recording studios spend $5000 or more on a single microphone – the truth is quite simply this: the better the microphone, the better the sound quality.
However, this is not the only factor that makes your podcast interview sound good or bad. You can use the most expensive mic on the market and still sound terrible if you don’t understand all the factors listed below, and how they affect your sound. On that note, you could be using a $50 mic and still sound better than the guy using a $5000 mic.
What’s a ‘preamp’? Completely separate from a microphone, a preamp is a unit inside your audio interface or mixing desk that boosts the ‘gain’ of your mic. We’re not going to get into that (because you won’t hear a difference unless you’re an experienced audio engineer/producer) but do understand that it is a contributing factor to good sound. If you want to know more, check out this article.
b. Microphone Pickup Pattern
Here’s the audible difference between a suitable and non-suitable pickup pattern for podcasting. (NB! listen with earphones):
The above audio was recorded with a similar ‘tier’ or ‘quality’ of mic (relative to their league) We kept all the variables as similar as possible in order to demonstrate a clear difference in pickup patterns only.
There are five main pickup patterns (formally known as ‘polar response patterns’ or simply ‘polar patterns’) and each one of them are designed to have specific uses or benefits for different recording situations. Here’s an informative diagram by acclaimed microphone brand Shure:
Check out their full blog for more information about pickup patterns (polar patterns).
- Omni-directional is great for recording ambient sounds if you’re into foley and/or sound design. Terrible for recording isolated vocals i.e. definitely not what you want to go for as a podcast guest or host.
- Cardioid is the most commonly used pattern for podcasting, because of how well it captures vocal audio and how easy it is to set up and use. If you’re into music, it’s also great for recording guitar and other instruments.
- Supercardioid patterns offer better sound isolation, which is great for podcasting in theory. The trick, however, is that it’s more difficult to control and requires some experience with mic technique and mic placement.
- Hypercardioid: very similar to supercardioid, but with even better sound isolation. Check out “Mic With The Most Background/Ambient Noise Rejection” under section 5 for more info.
- Bidirectional patterns are great for recording two people with the same microphone. Traveling podcast hosts will often use these to record interviews in-person. It picks up sound directly on either side of the mic and rejects sound from the sides. It’s not ideal for online interviews though, and it’s still preferable to have two separate audio signals per person, even for in-person interviews. Check out “Mic For The Traveling Professional” under section 5 for more info.
What does this all mean? Cardioid pickup patterns are the most common and practical for recording vocals/speech because of their fair sound isolation, directionality, and ease of use. We recommend going for a cardioid pickup pattern if you’re a first-time microphone buyer. Other pickup patterns, however, may work better for you, depending on your situation. Do read below at “Honorable Mentions” under section 5 to see if those options might be more suited to your needs.
c. Acoustics & Environment
Here’s the audible difference between good and bad environments (NB! listen with earphones):
The above audio was recorded with all variables being consistent, except for the environment – same microphone, a similar distance from the mic, same software, no editing or mixing. What you’re hearing is an accurate A/B/C difference in the recording environment alone.
Acoustics & Environment has to do with where you’re recording. Is it noisy in the background? Can you hear the wind gushing into the mic? How much reverb (reverberation / often called “echo”) is diminishing your vocal clarity?
For podcasts and radio, any background noise (i.e. reverb, “echo”, room noise, slapback, other sounds besides your voice) is always a bad thing.
When doing a podcast interview, always find a quiet inside area with as little background noise as possible and lots of sound-absorbent objects. Continue reading to “3b. Recording Environment” below for more.
d. Software & Settings
Here’s the audible difference between good and bad software settings (NB! listen with earphones):
What you hear above is an accurate A/B difference in software and how it can either complement or deteriorate the audio.
Software & settings are the worst and most common ‘bottleneck’ in terms of sound quality. Even if you record with an amazing mic in a sound-proofed room, the end product can still sound horrible if your software isn’t recording your audio in high quality or “lossless” format. There may be other filters or processes enabled which you don’t need but deteriorate your sound quality. This is an especially common problem that I see with interviews done over Zoom or other video chat apps. Not that these are by any means bad apps – they’re just catering to their users and recording high-quality podcast interview audio just isn’t very high up on the list. That being said, if you use the right audio settings, you can significantly improve your audio quality and this is a problem I’d love to help you solve!
Continue reading to “3d. Software & Settings” below for some tips and tricks on how you can sound better over general-use remote conferencing apps.
e. User Knowledge & Experience
A good sound engineer will know how to get the most out of any mic, environment, or software. If you’re reading this, you’re obviously not an audio engineer (understandably so). That’s why we’ve given you some tips below on “How To Improve Your Audio For Free”. User knowledge & experience is probably the most important one of the five elements. This is why the entire section below is dedicated to helping you to improve this aspect of your audio setup.
In the next section, I’ve given you five things you can do right now, that costs absolutely no money, but will drastically improve your audio quality:
So, maybe you don’t have the budget to invest in any equipment at the moment, but you have an interview coming up with an important podcast in your niche. There are things that you can do right now that will drastically improve your audio quality but won’t cost anything. You’ll wish you knew this stuff sooner. Here’s an index of what’s covered in this section (click to auto-scroll):
a. Microphone Technique
‘Microphone technique’ refers to how aware you are of how your microphone reacts to your voice, and what the best way is to avoid what you’ll hear in the audio snippets below. If you’ve ever gone for singing lessons, you may have heard this term a few times. As a vocalist, your voice goes from insanely loud, belted notes, to low, soft melodies in the matter of split seconds. You may have seen professional performing vocalists constantly moving the mic closer and further from their mouth as they sing. Luckily for you, however, your speech and “vocal technique” during an interview conversation with someone, isn’t going to fluctuate that much, so there are a few basic rules that you can follow.
Mic technique comes down to 3 main factors:
- Mic distance
- Mic angle
- Mic Stability
Having all 3 of these aspects in place is what it means to use “good mic technique”. Let’s talk about each of them.
i. Mic Distance
The reason for your bad sound might simply be the fact that you’re too far or too close to the microphone. Your phone, laptop or headset may have a fairly good mic, but you’re not using it to its full potential. Here’s an A/B/C comparison of what it sounds like when you’re too close or too far from the mic, and the effect that it has on your audio (NB! listen with earphones):
The above audio was recorded with all variables being consistent, except for the distance of the mouth from the mic – same room, same mic, no audio editing or mixing. What you’re hearing is an accurate A/B/C difference of the effects that mic distance can have on your audio.
A good mic distance is generally a fists’ length (or 4 fingers) away from the mic if you buy any of the mics in Section 5 “Sound Setup Bundles”. Although, we used double that distance in the 3rd part of the audio clip above due to it sounding better for a smartphone’s mic. It’s not too close to the mic as to cause mic distortion (clipping) or unwanted plosive sounds, and not too far from the mic as to have too much room noise and thin-sounding speech.
ii. Mic Angle
The difference in mic angle is not as evident with phone or laptop microphones, as much as it may be with a professional microphone. However, it does still apply and can still make a difference to your sound. Here’s an A/B audio snippet to put things in perspective. (NB! listen with earphones):
As heard in the audio snippet above, using the wrong mic angle can drastically diminish your vocal clarity and aural fullness. Make sure you know where the microphone on your phone is located. You can do this by recording a voice note and tapping the phone all along the frame of your phone in order to hear where the taps are the loudest. You should be able to see the mic – it’s a tiny hole in your phone (usually at the bottom of the phone, next to the charging port).
What’s the best mic angle? A microphone always sounds best when your mouth is at the center of the mic’s pickup pattern (or polar pattern). Essentially, a smartphone microphone sounds very similar to a cardioid pickup pattern. See Section 2b. “Microphone Pickup Pattern” above for more details on these pickup patterns. The further you move away from the center of the direction of your mic, the more room noise, less clarity, and less “fullness” you’ll get. Make sure your phone’s mic is pointing directly towards your mouth when recording audio.
iii. Mic Stability
There’s a certain type of noise that occurs when the phone is constantly moving inside your hand, causing all sorts of noises that can’t be heard by the naked ear, but is painfully evident through the microphone’s “ears”. Here’s the audible A/B difference between a stable mic/device and unstable mic/device (NB! listen with earphones):
The above audio was recorded with all variables being consistent, except for the stability of the mic – similar distance & angle, same room, same mic (smartphone mic), no audio editing or mixing. What you’re hearing is an accurate A/B difference of the effects that mic stability can have on your audio.
To achieve good mic stability, place your phone or laptop on a high, stable, flat surface that is at a height equal to your mouth. You could also (theoretically) hold the device for the entire duration of the interview, but your arm might get tired, your hand may start getting sweaty, and your mic distance will constantly fluctuate. A bookcase or windowsill are some good options to place your phone on. Alternatively, if you have a mic stand, try securely strapping/taping your device to the mic stand. You will have to get creative with this one.
b. Recording Environment
Almost nothing affects the quality of your sound more than the environment you’re recording in. You can have the best microphone and equipment, but record in the wrong environment and there is very little that can be done to remedy it.
We already spoke about this at section 2c. “Acoustics & Environment” so I won’t risk sounding like a broken record, but I will talk about how you can find/create a good recording environment with things you may have available around the house or office.
In the table below are things to avoid and things to find/use/create in order to have a good audio recording environment.
|Carpeted room. The thicker the carpet, the better.||Tiled or concrete floors.|
|Walls with lots of thick curtains & ornaments. As absorbent and uneven as possible.||Walls with even surfaces, lots of windows, or tiled walls.|
|High, angled roof, thatch roof, wooden ceiling.||Low, flat, concrete roof.|
|Lots of soft furniture (i.e. beds, couches), hanging sheets, hanging clothes. High density foam. Things that absorb sound. Wooden objects can also be somewhat sound-absorbent.||An empty room.|
|Isolated room or building, away from cars, noisy pets, kids, birds, airplanes, crowds, etc.||A busy office, a busy home, being close to a highway or main road, in a crowded area, other people in the room with you.|
|No electronics or things that may cause a persistent noise.||Electronics that cause constant background noise i.e. fan, air con, blow heater, fridge, microwave, buzzy light bulb, fish tank, etc.|
|A solid chair with no moving parts.||Chairs with wheels or that tend to squeak|
Absurdly, the best and easiest place in your house for recording great audio is inside a closet filled with hanging clothes. Why is a closet good for audio recording? There are tons of absorbent material all around you – not just the clothes but also the wood that the closet is made of, which is also absorbent. There are obvious cons to this though, such as discomfort and the loss of your dignity (haha). Looking visually professional is also another factor to consider since most podcast interviews involve some kind of aspect of video. (I’ll explain a little further down at Section 6 “How To Improve Your Video Quality“). For this reason, sitting in a closet is obviously not ideal unless there will definitely be no video involved.
The worst place in your house or office is the kitchen or bathroom – lots of tiles, smooth surfaces, and potentially noisy objects.
If some or most of the factors in the “Good” column above describes a place somewhere in your house, then use that. Additionally, try and point your microphone towards the area of the room with the most sound absorption.
Check out this blog for more information on good and bad recording environments and how to avoid unrecoverable audio.
c. Making The Most Of What You Have Available
You may be using your laptop’s built-in microphone because that’s just always how you’ve had video calls. You may be using your hands free headset or earphones because someone told you once that it sounds better. The truth is, more often than not, your smartphone’s built-in microphone (if you apply good mic technique and recording environment) is the best sound that you’ll get other than a good cardioid mic.
But there are always exceptions and you won’t know for sure what sounds the best until you test all your options. Let’s talk about some options you may want to explore.
i. Hands Free / Earphones / Air Pods
Most podcast hosts will recommend using earphones or headphones in an interview because they’re designed to pick up sound at a short radius (kind of like the cardioid pickup pattern we spoke about earlier). When you insert your wired earphones into your ears, its microphone is practically right next to your mouth. This means that you get less room noise than how your phone or laptop would typically be used, and it’s generally more fool-proof.
However, it does not mean that it’s a better sounding microphone. The placement of these mics are usually either to the side of your cheek, under your chin, or somewhere between where your ear ends and your jaw starts. Remember how we spoke about the importance of the mic angle? When you use earphones/hands-free/air pods or anything that doesn’t point directly at the front of your mouth, you’re essentially sacrificing sound clarity for less room noise. Yes, there’s less reverb or “echo” but the audio sounds muffled – as if you’re cupping your hands and placing it over your mouth. Here’s what I mean (NB! listen with earphones)::
However, there are always exceptions and I’ve heard one or two headsets that actually sound pretty good – nearly equal to a smartphone’s built-in mic. It’s worth just testing out all your options.
If you have a set of headphones or earphones where the microphone reaches all the way to the front of your mouth, then that would most likely sound better than your earphones, and give you less room noisee than your phone or laptop mic. This brings me to my next option… gaming headphones.
ii. Gaming Headphones
If you’re a gamer who’s invested in a good pair of gaming headphones, there’s a good chance that the mic on that baby is pretty good. Although, it’s not a guarantee. I’ve heard some high-quality gaming headphones where the microphone sounds terrible, and some cheap gaming headphones where the microphone sounds really good. Once again – test out your options.
Gaming headphones are good because the microphone reaches all the way to the front of your mouth. It’s designed to pickup sound from a very close distance, giving you less room noise and great clarity because it’s facing directly towards the front of your mouth.
The only downside of using gaming headphones is the aesthetic factor. If you’re doing a video podcast, then this is not a great option. It looks too bulky around your head and gives off a bit of a “lives in the basement” vibe. However, it also depends on the podcast audience you’re speaking to. If you’re talking on a podcast relating to gaming or nerd/geek culture, then by all means, show off those bad boys! But if you’re being interviewed on a business/sales/finance podcast show for example, this may not be a great look. Check out Section 6. “How To Improve Your Video Quality” below for some more tips on how to look more professional on video podcasts.
(NB! listen with earphones):
iii. Other Microphones
Lastly, I want to talk about some other options that you may not have thought of, but have laying around somewhere in a box or cupboard in your home/office. Have a look at some of these mics below. Remember when your parents bought one of these for the “family computer”? Or maybe you have a decent karaoke mic laying around (karaoke mics are basically just cheap cardioid mics).
As old as the technology may be for the mics below, you’ll be surprised how well they hold up. I highly recommended digging them up, dusting them off, and testing them out. All three of these types of mics are very directional, which means less room noise and likely a fuller sound, plus they can all easily plug into the mic jack of a computer.
d. Software & Settings
The software you use will unfortunately always differ according to the podcast show host and their preference. Some shows will use Zoom, Skype, or similar, which are general video conferencing apps. Others will use Squadcast, Zencastr, or similar, which are specifically designed for recording podcasts. The good news is that, if a podcast is using Squadcast or Zencastr, you wouldn’t have to worry about software settings because these apps make high-quality audio recording a priority.
On the other hand, general video conferencing apps like Zoom or Skype cater to the “average Joe” who isn’t necessarily “sound-quality-conscious”. Therefore, they implement certain audio algorithms that reduce background noise, mic feedback, signal interference, and that normalizes the overall mic volume of each call participant. These features are more like “problem-solving features”, rather than audio enhancements. All of these audio features come at a cost to your audio quality but some apps do give you the option to disable these algorithms. If you implement the above fundamentals, (i.e. mic technique, recording environment, using the best choice of mic) then you don’t need to have these settings enabled and your audio will sound significantly better with them disabled.
First, let’s talk about the best sound settings for what’s probably the most popular video conferencing app at the moment – Zoom.
Step 1 – during a Zoom meeting, click on the dropdown (or drop “up”) arrow next to the Audio mute icon.
Step 2 – click on Audio Settings. You can also reach Audio Settings from your Zoom home page by clicking Settings > Audio Settings.
Step 3 – click on “Advanced”.
Step 4 – Make sure that these three settings below are exactly as indicated on the screenshot below.
Step 5 – Enable the “Turn on Original Sound” button, so that it’s blue (not gray)
Here’s a before and after A/B of what your Zoom audio will sound like after changing these settings. (NB! listen with earphones):
As you can hear, the difference in audio quality is subtle but definitely better and is a possible solution if a host insists on using Zoom for an interview. However, there is still a noticeable decline in quality compared to lossless audio recording apps. TIP: suggest a high-audio-quality remote podcasting app as an alternative during your next pre-interview meeting with a show host.
Unfortunately, you cannot change these settings on Skype like you can on Zoom, however, some people prefer the noise filtering algorithm on Skype compared to Zoom and say that it doesn’t need to be disabled. I’m not convinced but why don’t you decide for yourself? Here’s an A/B of audio with Skype’s audio algorithm, and then without. (NB! listen with earphones):
What do you think? Would you use Skype for podcast interview audio or not? (Leave a comment at the end of the blog)
Sticking with the theme of free audio improvements, Zencastr.com is the best way to remove this “bottleneck” of software-based audio quality reduction. It has a free package that includes a limit of 8 hours per month and a max of 2 guests at a time, which is more than what most guests (or even hosts) would need. Even better: they’ve suspended these limits during the Coronavirus outbreak, giving you unlimited guests and recording time.
As a host, apps like these are great because you get a separate audio file for each participant, which gives the editor more freedom and control.
They’ve also just launched the private Beta stage of their video feature, so you can have a more personal interview experience and a higher quality video podcast.
PRO TIP: suggest Zencastr as a free alternative during your next pre-interview meeting with a show host.
e. Record Yourself
After you’ve implemented all of the above strategies, record yourself on a free recording app such as Windows Voice Recorder, Voice Memos (Mac), or any free recording app downloadable for your smartphone’s app store. Next, listen carefully for room noise (reverb/echo), unwanted noises like scratches, mic distortion, mic instability, anything that hinders the sound quality. Be sure to use the highest quality headphones/earphones that you have available when listening. Try to figure out what’s causing the unwanted sounds, based on the information in this blog, then fix it and repeat the process.
Eventually, after a few cycles of doing this (along with implementing all of the above), you should be left with good, clean audio quality that nearly equals a professional paid setup.
f. The End Result
Here’s our best shot at implementing all of the above fundamentals, while using nothing other than a smartphone mic. (NB! Listen with earphones):
Understanding the difference between a dynamic and a condenser mic is important because everyone has different circumstances, and therefore, different microphone needs. For some of you, a dynamic mic would fulfill your needs but for others, a condenser would be more suitable. It’s not necessarily a matter of ‘good’ vs. ‘bad’, nor a matter of budget. It’s a little bit more complicated. Let me explain…
We spoke about microphone pickup patterns above in Section 2b. “Microphone Pickup Pattern” and concluded that the ‘cardioid’ pattern is the most common for podcasting. Now, both condenser and dynamic mics both generally have cardioid patterns (or at least the ones used for podcasting), but not every cardioid mic sounds and responds the exact same way. I won’t bore you with the technical details. If you want to read more about the technical differences between dynamic and condenser, check out this blog. What I want to focus on more, are their practical uses.
Let’s take a look at the differences between these two types of cardioid mics:
|Slightly less clarity||Slightly more clarity|
|More sound isolation||Less sound isolation|
|Slightly duller sound||Slightly crisper sound|
|Can do without a shockmount||Usually requires a shockmount|
|Slightly less vocal and oral detail captured||Slightly more vocal and oral detail captured|
|Does not require 48V (phantom power)*||Requires 48V (phantom power)*|
*48V or ‘phantom power’ is an electrical current (of 48 Volts) sent to a condenser mic from a sound interface or mixing desk. Not all mixers/interfaces have this, so you might want to double-check before buying an audio interface.
Now that we’ve kind of put things in perspective, let’s talk about what these pros and cons mean for you as the buyer.
A Condenser Mic Is A Good Choice For You If:
- You live in a standalone house (i.e. not a cluster home, townhouse, or anything where you have neighbors directly on either side of you).
- You don’t have kids or noisy pets, or if you have an office or study where you can be alone.
- You have a space in your home/office as described above in Section 2 c. “Acoustics & Environment” that will provide a good acoustic environment.
- You don’t mind spending a little bit more on installing some acoustic treatment in your room if necessary.
- You’re far enough away from any roads, so as not to hear any cars driving by.
Why? Because condensers are extremely sensitive, which is partly the reason why they sound so great! If you had to put a condenser and a dynamic in a professionally sound-proofed room, the condenser would win hands-down. However, it does pick up a lot more ambient noise which may be distracting for the listener. This means that, if you don’t have a good acoustic environment and a quiet, isolated space, then this is not a good choice for you. Here’s an Amazon review that sums it up quite nicely:
A Dynamic Mic Is A Good Choice For You If:
- You live in a cluster home, townhouse, or anything where you have neighbors directly on either side of you.
- You have kids and/or noisy pets, and no space where you can be completely alone.
- You do not have a space in your home/office that is described above in Section 2c. “Acoustics & Environment” that will provide a good acoustic environment.
- You don’t really want to spend extra money on acoustic treatment.
- You stay pretty close to a busy road or highway.
Why? The beauty of dynamic mics is that they provide better sound isolation. If you’re in a situation where you cannot control the amount of background noise at your home/office, then this is a better option for you. You probably won’t hear your “cat drinking water 15 feet away”, cars passing nearby your house, or the kids playing in the yard.
That being said, a dynamic mic does not eliminate these background noises but rather minimizes them. You can’t go sit down at a busy restaurant and expect that a dynamic mic won’t pick up any background noise. It certainly is, however, a more viable option for reducing background noise.
Side note: It’s worth noting that not every condenser or dynamic will always pick up more or less background/ambient noise for example, but this is a general overview according to most products on the market designed for capturing vocal audio.
Here’s a direct A/B comparison between a dynamic mic and a condenser mic (NB! Listen with earphones):
Condenser mics give you more clarity and detail in the voice, while dynamic mics give you more sound isolation. This certainly does not mean that dynamic mics sound bad by any means, or that condenser mics are too “roomy”. The point of this comparison was simply to demonstrate the different comparative qualities and help you make the right purchase decision.
Buying either of these mics will still be considerably better (both for clarity as well as room noise) than any mic you’ll find on a phone, laptop, webcam, or earphones. They’ll also sound much much better overall, due to the general quality of these microphones.
It all comes down to your individual needs. Do you need more sound isolation (due to a bad recording environment), or do you want more clarity in your voice (and have available, or are able to create, a good recording environment)?
Let us know your decision in the comments down below. We’d love to hear what purchase decision you ended up making as a result of this blog!
We’ve put together three recommended packages for three different budget ranges – Novice, Professional and Audiophile – each with two types of options: a dynamic mic option and a condenser mic option. Why? Check out Section 4 “What Are Your Needs? ‘Dynamic’ or ‘Condenser’ ” above, and you’ll understand.
In this section:
Dynamic: Audio-Technica ATR2100x
The Audio-Technica ATR2100x is probably the best USB mic in its price range. Not only does it sound great but it also has the option to use with an XLR cable, making it suitable for many different situations.
Recommended Bundle (±$117):
Condenser: Audio-Technica ATR2500x
The Audio-Technica ATR2500x is the “one-up” USB microphone, although it depends on whether you prefer condenser or dynamic. This and the ATR2100x both share very similar features respectively but many will spend the extra money to have that condenser-like clarity.
Recommended Bundle (±$145):
More About The Novice Bundles
The beauty of USB microphones is that you don’t need an audio interface, which brings the costs down considerably. Make no mistake though, these mics still sound great for their price range. Both of these microphones also have built-in headphone jacks which let you monitor directly from the microphone with a dial/buttons that allows you to easily adjust headphone volume.
Dynamic: Shure SM57
The Shure SM57 is an amazing $100 cardioid dynamic mic with quality comparable to top-tier podcasting mics. The only downside is that you do get a lot of plosive sounds (refer to “Microphone Technique” above) so make sure that you use that pop filter. Here is a bundle we’ve put together for you including everything you’d need in order to use this mic to its full potential.
Recommended Bundle (±$285):
Condenser: Audio-Technica AT2020
The Audio-Technica AT2020 is an excellent condenser microphone doe its price.
Recommended Bundle (±$295):
More About The Professional Bundles
The biggest difference between our Novice and Professional setups is the addition of an audio interface. Although, you do actually get some USB mic setups that sound arguably better than the mic setups suggested here, for around $100 cheaper due to not needing an interface (see Honorable mentions below). So why suggest an audio interface? There’s a good reason for it. It allows for an upgrade path. The best mics on the market require an audio interface. You only have to buy a good interface once, and you can upgrade your microphones in the years to come. When you start realizing the value that a good audio setup brings, you’re going to want to upgrade to something that gives you even more clarity and fullness while minimizing room noise/ambiance.
Remember: The better your interview sound is, the more professional you and your brand are perceived by the listener.
Dynamic: Shure SM7B
The Shure SM7B is widely considered to be the industry standard microphone for professional radio and is also widely used by podcasters around the globe. It provides a well-balanced, clear sound, and excellent sound isolation. It has a built-in pop filter and does not need a shock mount due to how well it masks “handling” sounds. The only down-side is that it has a low output volume but this is solved with the Cloudlifter CL-1, which is included in this bundle.
Recommended Bundle (±$785):
Condenser: Shure KSM32
Recommended Bundle (±$755):
More About The Audiophile Bundles
These are two top-notch setups with everything you need for the best quality podcast sound you can ask for. Buying this kind of industry-standard, professional gear used by the pros means that you would never have to buy another setup in your life again. Also, it’s important to note that microphones like these are very sought after and will retain high resell value should you ever choose to sell.
Some microphones that didn’t make the cut but are still worth considering…
Outstanding Value-For-Money USB Microphone
The Rode NT-USB Condenser Microphone, going for just over ±$170 (USD), is the perfect mic if you want a mic quality equal to (or arguably greater than) the mics listed in the ‘Professional’ bundle, but don’t have the budget of $300. The downside: it doesn’t have an upgrade path due to it being a USB mic and you need a good recording environment.
This mic is the perfect choice if you have a slightly bigger budget than our ‘Novice’ bundle but don’t see yourself needing an upgrade path in the future. It comes with a pop filter and mini tripod tabletop stand but you might want to get a boom stand for that ideal mic-to-mouth distance.
Mic With The Most Background/Ambient Noise Rejection
The Beyerdynamic TG-V70 Dynamic Hypercardioid Mic is a great choice if you are in a situation where you need as much background sound rejection as possible. As mentioned above in Section 2b. “Microphone Pickup Patterns”, the Hypercardioid pickup pattern gives you the most sound isolation but the downside is that it’s more difficult to control and requires some experience with mic technique and mic placement. The reason for this is because:
- It picks up some sound from behind the microphone, meaning that you have to place your monitor speakers correctly to avoid feedback or unwanted sounds.
- You need to have good mic technique. If you move too far away from the mic or turn your head too far to the side, it may not be as forgiving as a cardioid mic.
If you have to record your podcast in a very noisy environment and are willing to put in some extra time and effort to use this type of mic correctly, then this is perfect for you, going for just under ±$200 (USD) on Amazon.
Mic For The Traveling Professional
Blue Yeti USB Microphone is a favorite among podcast show hosts because of its versatility and travel-friendly design. One of the reasons why it’s so useful is its ability to switch between 4 different pickup patterns (polar patterns). If you’re not sure what that is, check out Section 2b “Microphone Pickup Patterns” where I explain.
Having the ability to switch pickup patterns with the flick of a switch means that you can easily go from recording yourself with a cardioid pattern, to recording two people simultaneously with a bidirectional pattern, to recording ambient sounds with an omnidirectional pattern. It’s good, not only for podcasts, but recording conferences/meetings, other musical instruments, world sounds for foley/sound design purposes and more.
The downside: you’ll need to take some time to “study up” on the different patterns and understand each pattern’s pros & cons in order to use it effectively for multiple different situations and environments.
If you need a multi-purpose mic with good sound quality then this is a great choice for just under ±$150 (USD).
Mic That Looks Great on Video.
If you like the sound of some of the above microphones but you just can’t get over the way it looks on camera, then you might want to consider a Lavalier Microphone. Casually referred to as “lav mics”, these mics clip onto the lapel of your jacket, or the collar of your shirt, and they are specifically designed for video production. This is because they are much smaller and less distracting on video, and can often be easily concealed. The picture above demonstrates what it looks like on video/photo.
The BOYA BY-M1 Condenser Lavalier Microphone is my recommendation for a great sounding lav mic that is easily usable with nearly any device and is only selling for around ±$20 (USD).
If you want to explore a few other lav mic options, check out this blog.
The downside to any lav mic is that it just doesn’t sound as good as any of the abovementioned microphones. This is because of what I mentioned earlier in Section 3a “Microphone Technique“. Lav mics break most of the rules of mic technique. Although the engineers of these mics do their best to compensate for the lack of clarity and fullness (and they do a pretty good job), in the end, nothing sounds as good as a high-quality cardioid mic placed a fist’s length away, pointing directly towards your mouth.
Having said that, they do generally still sound much better than hands-free earphones and is a good compromise if the visual presentation is more important to you than the audio presentation.
Even though podcasts are supposed to be an audio-only format of media, more and more podcast hosts are utilizing videos of interviews for extra social media content.
Video podcasts have become increasingly popular with the functionality of general remote conferencing apps like Zoom and Skype, which have made it extremely easy to record your session and save it in a format that is easily uploadable to any social media platform. It used to be far less common, but with the implementation of these features and the age of online marketing, you see video podcasts popping up all the time, even from startup podcasters.
Recording video during a podcast interview gives the show much more content and a much larger window to promote an episode. They can upload the full podcast episode to YouTube (video version) and they can post multiple videos of short excerpts of key moments in the episode throughout the week. This keeps their followers more engaged and gets the episode more likes, shares, etc. which is also good for you as the guest!
Even if they don’t end up using the video, many podcast hosts will still ask you to turn on your video in order to have a more personal interaction and make the interview feel more natural over an online platform.
For these reasons, it’s important to make sure that the way you visually present yourself, represents your brand in the way that you want it to – not just with the way you dress but in the quality of your footage. There are four main points I want to touch on:
When it comes to lighting, there are three simple rules to follow.
Number one: make sure you are facing the main source of light in your room. Any webcam or smartphone cam will automatically adjust the brightness to give you what it thinks is the most balanced picture quality. If you have a bright source of light (like a window or glass door) behind you but your room is fairly dark, the host is going to see a clear view of your garden outside the window, and a dark silhouette of you.
Number two: choose a room with more than one source of light. The smaller your source of light, the sharper the shadows will be in the picture. Having opposing sources of light softens and evens out shadows, giving you a better overall appearance.
Number three: if you do most of your interviews during nighttime, consider investing in a ring light that can be placed in front of you during an interview. This will provide a source of light from directly in front of you and soften the shadows created by your room light.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Make sure your background is tidy. You want to show a clean, elegant space that represents your brand. If you have a modern, clean office or space in your home, that will work well.
Keep the background as simple as possible. The fewer objects there are behind you, the better. A plain, smooth wall always looks great.
Alternatively, if you don’t have a space in your home that looks great as well as provides the correct lighting environment, you can always invest in a portable banner that you can set up whenever you do an interview. This could be something like a print of a textured wall, a plain color, or you could have your brand’s logo printed on it.
The idea is that there shouldn’t be anything to distract viewers from the main focal point – you. Here’s an example:
c. Angle, Position & Frame Size
The “frame” pertains to the edges of your video. Everything that is visible on the video is “inside the frame”
Three things to remember:
1) Eye-level – Make sure that the camera height as the same distance from the floor as what your eyes are. You don’t want your head to tilt slightly downward or slightly upward when you’re looking straight at the camera.
2) Center of the frame – position yourself to be in the very center of the frame (horizontally), with an equal distance from the left and right sides of the frame. Not too far to the left, or too far to the right. Be as precise as possible.
3) Head to elbows – put the camera far enough away so that the top of your head nearly touches the top of the frame and the bottom of your chest touches the bottom of the frame. This provides good visibility of your most important features and allows viewers to still see your hands when you’re using gestures, allowing you to use body language more effectively.
Here’s a photo to illustrate what I mean:
d. Camera Quality
Similarly to microphones, investing in a good webcam will make a huge difference in your video quality – vibrance, resolution and frame rate are just a few factors that make a big overall impact on your video. If you have an old or sub-grade webcam, it can give the wrong impression of your level of professionalism and potentially degrade your brand perception. If you have a good smartphone camera, consider using that for the call (in landscape orientation). Ideally, however, you’d want to invest in a better webcam.
We recommend the Logitech HD C310 Webcam as an excellent choice for a great webcam on a budget. Selling for around ±$60 (USD).
If you have a little bit more budget and want to go for something more premium, check out this blog for some more options.
If you have a DSLR camera, there is a way that you can set it up to function as a webcam. Check out this blog to see how it’s done.
There is a massive amount of information here, so I know that getting through the whole thing wasn’t easy but I really hope that you’ve found the information useful and that it has helped you improve the quality of your remote podcast interviews. Your level of professionalism (and as a result, your brand perception) will stand out above the rest if you implement all these fundamentals and you’ll get booked on bigger, better shows as a result of it.
About Podcast Connection
Podcast Connection is a podcast interview booking agency that specializes in finding and booking interviews for our clients on shows that fit their brand and message. We work very hard to help you reach your monthly goal of x-amount (you choose) of reach per month. We’re the only podcast agency (that we know of) that offers a Tier System that’s based on estimated reach – this means that you pay less for smaller shows.
As a value-added service, Podcast Connection has tons of training material like this blog, and with some packages, our clients get a free one-on-one session on how to get the best podcast interview setup for their specific situation and equipment that they have available and/or their budget range. You can find out more about us here.
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