As Reid Mangan mentioned on a recent podcast episode, “you can have a great show on terrible gear, and for the most part, it’s still a great show. You can have a terrible show on great gear, and it’s still terrible. No amount of gear is going to save a terrible show.”
That said, there are a few important pieces of equipment that every podcaster needs, and there are a number of good options out there at different price points. To aid your shopping, we thought it would be helpful to outline the items you need to buy, as well as key questions to ask as you decide amongst good, better and best options.
Keeping reading below for our cheat sheet to buying good podcast gear, or skip directly to the bottom to download a complete shopping guide with gear options for every budget.
Shopping for a microphone is all about context: what type of shows are your trying to produce, and how do you want them to sound. For example, will you be recording in a dedicated, private studio space with good soundproofing? Or recording “man on the street” style podcasts where background noise is a major concern? Will one person be talking on your podcast, or will a number of people be talking more like a radio-style show? How intimate do you need the sound to feel? How you are going to be using the mic is as important as how much it costs.
We’re all accustomed to buying headphones (or earbuds), so the features offered seem fairly familiar. Most people prefer noise cancelling headphones, so they can get a crisp, clean read of the sound. Different headphones will also offer varying degrees of sound quality, which can refers to the level of precision or fidelity at which the sound leaves a playback device and enters your ear. Other considerations include durability (for heavy use or travel), comfort (for extended wear), and Bluetooth connectivity (to reduce the risk of tripping over wires and cables). Ask yourself what aspects matter the most to you. At least one person on your team needs to wear headphones at all times to check for for distortion or noise. In many cases, you’ll want to have a pair of headphones available for each person who participated in a given recording.
There’s something about mixers that can feel intimidating to people. We are not as accustomed to buying mixers as we are say, microphones or headphones. As Reid said, “mixers are the big boxes with a bunch of knobs that sit on the table.” These are used to connect microphones into your recording software. For instance, if you are hosting an internal podcast in which 3 people are speaking, you will most likely have 3 microphones running – one per person – and each one of those microphones will plug into a separate “channel” on your mixer. Channels are simply the sound inputs of the mixer, and they determine how many mics can be plugged in.
It’s easy, but not necessary, to go overboard when buying a mixer — we’ve all seen the big soundboards at concerts or in music recording studios. But those not a prerequisite for making a great podcast. A sturdy, 4-channel mixer with preamplifier and fader features is a good start.
Don’t be fooled. A boom stand (or mic stand) is more than just a pole to attach a microphone to. The boom stand can affect everything from the quality of sound you capture to the ease with which you capture it. Boom stands can be handheld (like the ones you see on movie sets), free-standing (or floor-standing), tabletop or desk-mounted. You likely won’t be using a handheld stand, as hosting most podcasts, especially hosting internal podcasts, are done so in a stationary room, unless you are running-and-gunning in the field. The main thing to consider with tabletop mounts – the ones that sit flat on a table or other flat surface — is that they’re very sensitive to vibrations, so you’re going to hear every single table tap and keyboard click through your mic. If you’re going for a stationary, studio setup, we like desk-mounted boom arms that attach to the side of your desk and minimize vibrations coming through your audio. Floors stands are also a good option. Look for boom stands that are sturdy and easy to adjust, so you can accommodate different types of setups based on your changing programming needs.
A shock mount is a device that works to minimize the vibrations picked up in the mic when something bumps the table or you move the boom arm. It attaches to the end of the boom arm, and your mic is inserted into it. Shock mounts are a must to make sure you have clear, uninterrupted audio. Not every shock mount can accommodate every type of microphone, so be sure you are buying ones that are compatible with your mics.
If you have multiple people listening on headphones, you probably want a headphone amplifier. Headphone amps split audio across a number of channels and allow you to adjust volume to each person’s’ preference. As price increases, you will find more features like distortion, noise reduction, and mono/stereo switches among the options. Other things to watch out for are the number of inputs accommodated and whether or not you need a separate adapter.
Some podcasts are as easy as hitting record. However, most podcasts are lightly- to heavily- edited, with music and sounds effects, external clips or whole sections trimmed or re-ordered. You’re going to need editing software to make your show complete. If you’re working with an outside engineer, you’ll probably want to adopt whatever technology he or she uses. Or you’ll want to be compatible with whatever is already in use at your company in other departments. Other factors to consider include ease of use, compatibility with other programs or operating systems, features like fading and subclipping, and an intelligence layer that automatically helps with things like noise reduction or compression / decompression.
For more detailed gear suggestions, download our shopping guide with equipment reviews and options for every budget.