PODCAST RECORDING
The Best Microphone for Podcasts
Riley Byrne, Owner, Podigy.co
14 December 2017
So now that we’ve done software, let’s look at microphones. We touched on them briefly in our guide to podcast recording, but today we’re going to break down the different aspects of microphones and hopefully inform you enough to look past the marketing and make informed decisions on mics based on the specs.

And let’s start with the one thing that seems to come up the most with microphones, which is “XLR or USB?”. The answer to this, as with anything we write about here at Podigy, is “it depends, but not for the reasons you may think.”

To get our voice into the computer, both XLR and USB microphones convert sound waves to an electrical signal. The biggest difference is that an XLR microphone will be plugged into an audio interface that will convert that signal into bytes, while a USB microphone skips over the audio interface and plugs right into the computer. Both the interface and the USB mic will have a converter in them, some sort of chip that handles the analog-to-digital (A/D) conversion of the incoming signal. And over the years much ado has been made about the quality of these chips.

Recording purists have long been skeptical of the A/D chips in USB microphones. The thinking goes that since USB microphones have to house the A/D chip as well as some form of pre amplifier within such a small space, compromises must have been made. And this is true, to a degree. In a shootout with most XLR microphones – and certainly any that cost more than say, $500 – you’ll notice a real difference in sound, unquestionably. That being said, comparing a $70 microphone like an ATR2100 to  an SM7b, a microphone that costs 7 times as much, you’d be foolish to expect the former to have the same quality of components across the board, let alone in A/D chips.

All this, of course, is without taking into account the fact that neither of these mics are going to sound as great as they could once you’ve packaged them in a low-bitrate mp3. While you’d be hard pressed to find a pop recording using a USB mic, where the nuances of the performance are central to the song, the way podcasts are distributed strip much of that nuance away anyways.

The only real downside, from a podcasting perspective, of USB mics is the added complexity in recording more than one on a single computer. Hindenburg can do it natively, but users of other DAWs will have to set up either aggregate devices on Mac, or ASIO4All devices on Windows, which can be a bit of a pain. However, audio interfaces that have more than two inputs can start to get a little pricey, so you may find fiddling with these programs, or picking up Hindenburg just to record into, to be your best bet.

But that is just one aspect of what to consider when looking for a microphone. You’ll also have to decide on what sort of capsule you’ll want. Different capsules have different ways of capturing sound, and are appropriate for different situations. The most common types of capsules are condenser and dynamic.

Condenser microphones use phantom power to power a membrane, and measures the fluctuation of current to interpret soundwaves. This system, and the fact that it is actively powered, make condenser microphones incredibly sensitive to the sounds around it. Within the context of a recording studio, this can work in artists’ favour, as the increased sensitivity can capture the most subtle parts of a performance. However, in an untreated room, using a condenser microphone often means picking up lots more ambient noise and crosstalk.

Dynamic microphones, on the other hand, use a magnetic coil to record sound waves, and unlike condenser microphones, are not powered. This has two effects: the first is that most dynamic microphones will have more uneven response curves to incoming audio. For podcasters, this means more work with EQ afterwards to get a more natural sound.

The second effect of being an unpowered microphone is that dynamic mics are much less sensitive to their surroundings. Most dynamic mics capture sound only from what is directly in front of it. Because of this, dynamic microphones are often used onstage, as they are much less likely to feedback than condenser microphones. For podcasters, this also means that much less of the room ambience and crosstalk will be picked up, making them a great choice for podcasters who record in groups or anyone recording in a big, empty apartments.

Finally, when you’re looking at a microphone, make sure the one you’re picking conforms to normal microphone shapes. This whole podcast has been sort of geared towards making you take a closer look at the Blue Yeti before you buy it, but here I’ll be more explicit.

Before I go deep into the reasons why I am not a huge fan of the Yeti, however, I do want to recognize that Blue as a company was way ahead of the curve when it came to offering accessible gear to podcasters, which traditionally has been a rather niche and “tech dad” oriented industry. Even today, there’s an argument to be made that the push for lower-priced audio equipment was primarily driven by Twitch streamers, whose audio needs overlap quite a bit with podcasters, but whose average age skews younger. But that is a topic for another day.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s dig into the biggest issue with the Yeti, which is that it doesn’t really play well with others. It is a “jack of all trades” mic, with switching capsule modes, stereo input and a sturdy base built in. And buying a Yeti was justifiable back when it was the best of a handful of budget microphones, but now that the market has matured, there are some glaring design issues.

Firstly, people have a lot of trouble getting their computers to recognize two yetis plugged into them at the same time. It’s a convoluted reason as to why, but the short answer is that the Yeti’s firmware doesn’t make each mic look unique to the computer, so you can only record with the first one that was plugged in. There are tales of Blue sending firmware updates out to people in order to fix this issue, but as far as I can tell, there is no universal solution.

Second, their accessories are pretty expensive. Because of their unique shape, getting mic stands, pop filters and shock mounts that can accommodate the Yeti can be a bit of a headache. It doesn’t conform to normal mic sizes, so everything has to be made specifically for the Yeti design, and thus are more expensive.

The Yeti is a great sounding condenser microphone, but I’ve seen it cause enough headaches for podcasters that I always warn people that it does require a little more planning to get the most use out of it. And an improperly set capsule can ruin a whole take of audio if you’re not careful.

So in summary: Most podcasters would be well served by a dynamic microphone with both XLR and USB outputs, like the insanely popular ATR2100 or ATR2005. I’ve used these on plenty of recordings and they have served me well. If you’re looking to spend some serious money on a mic, I would strongly recommend the SM7b. It’s what I normally record on, although today I am using a SM58 to test some presets I’ve been working on with extra bass-y audio. Someday we’ll get around to doing a proper shootout of microphones, but I haven’t got the time these days to set it all up!

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