Episode 8: A great microphone is an important tool of the trade so choose yours wisely. Type “Best podcast microphone” into Google, YouTube, or Pinterest, and you’re likely to find the Blue Yeti atop many lists. Before impulsively adding it to your shopping cart though, you should learn about different types of microphones and how they differ. Do your homework, because you should pick the microphone that is the best for your voice and your room.
CONDENSER VS DYNAMIC
As a podcaster, you don’t have to be a professional sound engineer, but you should know the differences between a condenser mic and a dynamic mic.
When you see a singer in a recording studio, odds are good that she’s singing into a condenser microphone. Your first clue: you’ll notice that it’s a side-address microphone. In the photo in the blog, the podcaster is correctly speaking or singing into the side of the mic — not into the top. If you take a closer look inside the head basket, you can see a diaphragm or membrane inside. Because condenser mics tend to be sensitive, they’re better suited in a sound-treated studio that doesn’t have a lot of room noise or echo.
Characteristics of studio condenser mics:
Greater frequency response
Sensitive to louder sounds
Requires phantom power, a.k.a. 48V
Cleaner and truer to reality
Best in a sound controlled environment
When you see musicians on stage, you’re likely to find dynamic microphones being used. These mics are better when there are several musicians, for example, when you’ve got vocals and instruments (guitar, bass guitar, drums.) As pictured above, the singer is correctly singing into the top of the microphone. With a dynamic microphone, sound waves hit a thin metallic diaphragm that is attached to a coil of wire. A magnetic field is part of the energy conversion. In podcasting and radio, dynamic microphones can be ideal because of durability and price. When your mouth is close to the microphone, dynamic mics sound good for spoken word while picking up less room sound.
Characteristics of dynamic mics:
Do not require power
Good in noisy environments
Lack depth and color
Now that you know the differences between condenser and dynamic microphones, evaluate your space to see which type might serve you best. I encourage you to try both, if you can, to see which type sounds best for your voice and recording environment. In lieu of sound treating a room, many podcasters improve their audio quality by recording in a closet full of clothes or underneath a blanket with both types of microphones but especially to tame sensitive condenser microphones.
XLR VS USB
As you shop for a microphone, take note of the connections. Generally, XLR connections require an external interface to connect the microphone to your computer. External interfaces often have better preamps and analog to digital converters.
USB microphones can plug directly into your computer resulting in a more straight forward setup with less expense (because you don’t need to buy an interface.) Microphones like the Audio-Technica ATR-2100 and Samson Q2U have both XLR and USB connections. Interestingly, I’m told that these conbo microphones actually sound better when plugged in via USB over XLR. It’s worth noting that quite a few very popular podcasts use budget mics like the ATR-2100 or Q2U, and they sound great.
MICS THE EXPERTS USE
Because audio is so subjective, selecting the best podcast microphone can be challenging. Rather than going by the advice of random Bloggers and YouTubers, I scanned 196 episodes of the Podcast Engineering Show and ranked the top 29 microphones by mentions by guests. In full disclosure, I had the pleasure of being a guest on PES episode 106 and talked all about my podcasting rig.
Host Chris Curran produces or has produced podcasts for Forbes, Dun & Bradstreet, Johnson & Johnson, as well as for many other companies and business authors. He has many album credits including engineer, producer, or assistant engineer on projects with Foreigner, Sarah McLachlan, Itzhak Perlman, Naughty by Nature, Ice Cube, Biggie Smalls, Puffy, Nuno Bettencourt, and many others. I trust Chris’ ear and his curated list of guests that include long-time podcasters, podcast editors, and industry luminaries.
If you want to geek out on mics, I suggest you listen to PES episode 159, 8-Mic Shootout With David Hooper. There’s a blind mic comparison, including the Blue Yeti. It’s fun and informative.
While there isn’t one best microphone for all, this list should serve as a good starting point for your microphone research. I suggest you try several microphone types and price points to see what sounds best for you. Have fun with it.