Part One, Equipment
Podcasting is very simple. For the most basic of podcasting (the solo podcast) all you need is some sort of mic, a computer, and recording software. Audacity is a solid and free recording software that is fairly easy to learn, and most if not all modern laptops come with a built in mic.
You can start podcasting today if you want.
But, we at The Chicken Social have always prided ourselves on quality. We also have a large podcast vision, capable of live sound effects, round table discussions, and virtual guests. As the engineer I research new equipment once or twice a month to ensure that we are getting the biggest bang for our buck. So, the following is a list of the equipment that we are currently using:
- Audio-Technica AT2020 mics – $70 each (used)
- Blue enCORE 200 mics – two for $150 (new)
- Soundcraft Signature 10 mixer – $299 (new)
- Sonar Platinum (DAW) – $99/year (remember, Audacity is free)
- Neewer Boom Arms – $15 each
- Windscreens – $18 each
- XLR cables – $5 to $10 each
- Audio-Technica M20x headphones – $50 each (new)
- Behringer HA400 headphone amp – $25 (new)
- Miscellaneous cables – ~$5 each
For the better part of the past year, we have used Audio-Technica AT2020 large-face condenser mics. You can currently get this mic in a bundle (i.e. mic cable and pop filter) new for $99 or used for around $70 each. Condenser mics give you solid audio quality in general, and AT2020 is a very good mic for its price range. However, the problem you run into with large-face condensers is they have a wide pick up (that is, they tend to pick up a lot of background noise). In a sound-treated studio environment this is no problem. Most of us (including ourselves) are not podcasting in studios, though.
Lately, we’ve been experimenting with a pair of Blue enCORE 200 mics. These are active dynamic mics: they give you the narrow pick up of a dynamic mic (like an SM58) with the recording quality of a condenser mic. You can usually find them on sale at two for $150. We record in a fairly reverberant room, and these mics help a lot with that. I think you’ll see us make a complete switch over to the Blue mics fairly soon.
There is a USB version of the AT2020 (which run at $120 used), but the Blue mics are XLR meaning you’ll need some sort of “converter” to get the sound from the mic to your computer. This converter can come in the form of an XLR to USB cable, an audio interface, or a mixer. Mixers are most commonly used in podcasting for their versatility.
The mixer is where all the inputs (i.e. microphones, sound effects) are plugged into. The USB mixer in particular takes all of its inputs and sends it to your computer as a stereo mix via USB cable. We use a mixer for its multiple inputs, the manipulation of those inputs, and its aux sends (which are important to make Skype calls).
Mixers give you the option of having multiple audio inputs recorded onto your computer rather than just the one from using an XLR to USB cable or a USB mic. We use a Soundcraft Signature 10 USB mixer (pictured above), which has 10 total inputs.
Inputs 1 through 4 are simple mono inputs, in which you can plug in a line cable or XLR depending on the instrument you are using. Inputs 5 through 8 are similar to 1 through 4 except when you pair the line inputs (i.e. 5/6, 7/8) you can create a stereo input instead of mono. Input 9/10 is for a stereo RCA line input.
With these inputs I am able to plug in our four mics into inputs 1 through 4 and plug in my iPad for music and effects using input 5/6. All of these then go to my laptop as a stereo mix that I can further edit.
The one shortcoming of USB mixers is that it mixes all of the inputs into one stereo mix. Therefore, you can’t edit the individual inputs during post. Mixers do allow you to set the volume, gain, EQ, and pan of each signal before and while recording. You can also mute individual signals. Best practice is to get all of the levels sounding good for the recording so you are only doing cuts and edits in post.
If you are looking to make any kind of calls (web calls, phone calls) you need a mixer with prefader aux sends to produce a mix-minus. We use Skype and only ever need one. But, think about the type of calls you’ll be making and the number of calls you’ll have simultaneously. Generally speaking you’ll need one aux send for each call (however, if you use something like Skype where you can have group calls, you’d only need one aux send for the whole Skype call).
In a later part of this How To series, I’ll discuss how we use aux sends. For now, below is a really good video about how to use aux sends to produce a mix-minus for your Skype calls.
When you’re looking to buy a mixer, think about how many guests you think you’ll have on any given episode, if you need any stereo inputs for music and sound effects, if you need aux sends, and what type of mics you’ll be using. The last point is important because condenser and active dynamic mics require phantom power, so a mixer that provides phantom power is imperative.
Everybody’s needs are different, so this will require a bit of research. Some brands I like are Presonus, Behringer, Alesis, Mackie, and Soundcraft. And, this may seem obvious, but make sure you buy a mixer that has a USB output! That’s really the simplest way to connect it to your computer.
Recording software doesn’t need to be super sophisticated in podcasting. Freeware like Audacity works just fine, especially if you are using a mixer. I was producing and engineering music long before Obes and I started this podcast, so I use Sonar for The Chicken Social and all of my music, scoring, and engineering work.
For each mic you’ll want some sort of mic stand. I suggest getting a boom arm that you can attach to the desk or table that you’ll be sitting at. Our mics are light weight, so we use Neewer Boom Arm stands which run around $15 dollars. Heavier mics such as the Rode Procaster will need something like the Rode PSA1.
For each mic you’ll also need some type of guard for plosives. Pop filters and windscreens both work well. And, an XLR cable is needed for each mic.
(By the way, the pic above is not necessarily best practice. Usually, you’d want to wrap the cable around the boom arm, but we were in a hurry to take pictures.)
You and your guests will all need monitoring headphones to hear themselves and each other. As the podcaster headphones allow you to set everyone’s levels properly. And, the guests will be able to know if they are speaking into the mic properly, audibly, and clearly with their own headphones.
We use Audio-Technica M20x headphones for all of our guests. These run new at around $50 each. There are more affordable options out there. Any decent pair of studio headphones will work.
You’ll also want some sort of headphone splitter/amplifier as most mixers only have one or two headphone outputs. We use a Behringer HA400 that has four headphone outputs. Each output has its own volume control so each guest can comfortably listen to one another. This runs for about $25.
In addition to XLR cables, you’ll may need a variety of miscellaneous cables. Our mixer only has one headphone out, so we have a Y headphone splitter to make two outputs. Then, we use a TRS cable to connect Behringer HA400 to the mixer.
If you have music or sound effects on your phone or tablet that you want to connect to the mixer, you’ll want to buy an 1/8″ TRS to dual 1/4″ TS Y-cable and connect it to one of the stereo line inputs (on our mixer, it would go from my iPad into 5/6 or 7/8).
My recommendation is to buy used and on-sale equipment (though I recommend new cables). The prices I have listed are if you were to buy them new because used prices will vary. You may end up with some great piece of hardware for a steal, so do your research. Used high quality is better than new and cheap.
Gearslutz is my favorite resource to use when researching. The forum features people of all experience levels giving advice, writing product reviews, and asking the same questions you most likely have.
In the next part I’ll discuss how each episode gets recorded. Happy Podcasting!
I believe I am on this Earth to promote love, laughter, and positive change, and I look to do that anyway I can.
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