"The finest words in the world are only vain sounds, if you cannot understand them." Anatole France knew a thing or two about podcasts, that’s for sure! Your content is important indeed, but the quality of your sound deserves at least as much care; a poor sound could be detrimental to your audience’s understanding and their experience as a whole.
The most famous speakers of the 19th century would not have been applauded had their speeches been interspersed with statics and mouth sounds. While microphones and speakers have markedly improved since then, it is still crucial that you take your time and think about using the best equipment to record quality sound. Of course, this depends on how much you can invest in your project, but if you shop around, you can get high standard equipment for a good price.
A good microphone is key as the most important tool of your podcaster kit. The microphone captures a sound wave and turns it into an electrical signal; however, not all microphones work in a similar fashion:
- A dynamic microphone turns a rather intense sound wave directly into electrical power: it is generally less sensitive, more resistant and cheaper, but its signal-noise ratio is quite bad.
- A static microphone turns a low sound wave into electrical power and stocks it into a condenser which amplifies the signal. It is more sound-sensitive, more fragile, and slightly more expensive; it accurately reproduces the sound and offers a great signal-noise ratio.
To sum things up, if you plan to play Motorhead’s Ace of Spades on an airport tarmac, go for a dynamic microphone. However, if you plan to sit in a soundproof room (always!) and explain your audience why the Leptinotarsa decemlineata is called the Colorado potato beetle, then you need a static microphone.
Now if you think that’s it, think again! There are a few things still to consider:
- Large-diaphragm or small-diaphragm condenser microphone, depending on your voice (deep or high);
- XLR or USB microphone, which are different in terms of connection;
- Cardioid or omnidirectional microphones, which are different in terms of directionality.
The latter requires further explanations. An omnidirectional microphone captures all the surrounding sounds, no matter their orientation; it happens to be useful when you want to record the voices of people that are sitting face-to-face or include ambient sounds to your record, but not when you want to isolate your own voice and get rid of external interferences. So most of the time, you’d rather choose a cardioid or directional microphone, i.e. a microphone which captures the sounds in a forward way and (almost) never seizes interferences or reverberations.
Last but not least: your budget. It is no secret: the best tools are often just a tad more expensive too. However, for no more than $100, you can buy a good-quality microphone, such as the Samson Meteor, a cardioid condenser USB microphone which does not only look nice but also costs only $54. It is one of the best and cheapest microphones, along with the Bird UM1.
Of course, spend a bit more and you will open new perspectives. Take the Blue Yeti, for instance, also in the USB microphone category and popular among podcasters. It costs about $150 and features three modes: cardioid, bidirectional and omnidirectional; in other words, you can quickly and easily switch from band to solo podcasting. In the same price range, you may also like the Rode NT.
Again, the more you spend, the wider the perspectives, especially for USB microphones – one of the best being the Blue Yeti Pro Studio. You can also up your game with a pre-amplifier or an adaptor. Finally, you can buy a good XLR microphone in the $200 to $300 range, such as the Audio-Technica AT2050, the Rode Broadcaster or the Blue Spark. The choice is yours!