Welcome to part two of my podcast equipment buying guide. This guide covers all the basics for a great sounding, mid-budget podcasting setup. I’m calling it the “Budget” podcasting studio but I promise it’s better than most podcasting setups out there. It’s probably better than a lot of the setups your favorite podcasts have. Seriously, you’d be amazed…
Earlier I wrote up a “Bare Bones” podcasting studio equipment guide. It skimped out on the mixer, had no dedicated digital audio recorder, used cheaper microphones and headphones. This system is a dramatic step up in quality and will allow your podcast to grow without making more immediate investments.
Out of the box you’ll be ready to podcast with hi-fidelity audio across four microphones and even bring in audio from extra sources like a Skype call or even one of those “morning zoo” sound machines.
There is a great iPhone app if you feel you need to go this route… But I digress.
Budget Podcast Studio
For this setup I chose the sturdy Yamaha MG10. A tested and proven 10 channel analog mixer. It has a durable, yet thin, metal chassis, four XLR inputs (two of which have compressors) and even a balanced XLR output, if you care for that.
This mixer is great but it has some caveats. First of all it only has compressors for two of the ten channels. Most importantly it only has two compressors for two of the four XLR microphone inputs we’ll be using. Compressors reduce the volume of loud sounds while amplifying quieter sounds to reduce the dynamic range of the audio. So no surprisingly loud moments or those where it is too quiet.
If you only have two people on mic most of the time this isn’t an issue. However, if you find yourself regularly having three or more people on mic, it could get troublesome. Luckily there is this awesome free software that will do its best to limit this problem. It’s called The Levelator and best of all, it’s free. Get it and worry not about those missing compressors.
The other thing this amplifier is missing is a USB output. You can easily get the audio out to your computer or digital audio recorder using the analog audio outputs but it isn’t the ideal situation. Not a deal breaker for the price. If you want USB you can upgrade to the Yamaha MG10XU for $50 more but then you’re better off switching teams and looking at the Behringer XENYX X1204USB mixer which adds more compressors and USB for only $30 more.
The Zoom H1 personal audio recorder is a dream for many reasons. First of all it’s tiny. It can fit in most of my pants pockets with ease. It comes with a handy case and can record hours of super high-quality audio via micro SD cards and a single AA battery.
For our purposes we will be using it’s Line In option from the mixer to record audio. But this recorder’s microphones are awesome so if you ever find yourself out and about and want to do a quick recording, go for it.
A few words of warning though. Get a cheap foam windscreen for the top of this thing as the mics are super susceptible to picking up wind and aspirated plosives. Also, its cheap, plastic body is noisy. So if you can, screw it onto a cheap table-top tripod (you can get these for like $5 online) or wrap the battery door with electrical table to keep it from making too much noise in-hand. This is the biggest caveat of this otherwise lovely little recorder.
Choosing microphones is always a bit controversial. If you have no money to spend it’s easy, get the cheapest. But If you have a little money to throw at microphones, things get testy. Dynamic vs Condenser is the #1 debate. Then it goes down a rabbit hole of diaphragm size, frequencies, sensitivity…
Let’s keep this simple. For this price, and for this purpose, there are only two microphones you should be considering and they are basically clones of each other. The Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB vs the Audio-Technica AT2005USB.
Read any review of these microphones and you’ll be ready to hit the “Buy Now” button. They are almost 100% universally loved by newbies and pros alike. Here is the deal though. When the AT2005USB came out, it was the de-facto, professional dual USB/XLR dynamic microphone on the market. Then came along the “consumer level” ATR2100USB priced at around 50% less. The difference? Next to nil!
But then word spread and the formerly cheap, bargain basement ATR2100USB rose in price to exceed that of the AT2005USB. So buy whichever you want. They are both around $50-60 now and the differences are trivial. The black “Professional” ATR2005USB is said to have a slightly better low end pickup. That’s about it.
Oh and yes, these mics feature BOTH a USB and XLR output. They are plug-and-play USB microphones just as they are XLR microphones. So if you ever find yourself with just your laptop and need to do some quick, quality audio recording, plug that USB cable into your computer and get going! It’s a killer feature to have but you should know that the XLR connection produces significantly higher quality audio.
Since these are dynamic mics, which require a shorter mouth-to-mic distance, we’ll want to add some cheap foam windscreens to prevent any aspirated plosives (p, t, b etc sounds). On the plus side, dynamic microphones are less likely to pickup room noises (fans, shuffling around, etc) than condenser microphones.
The last headphones I recommended were merely $30 and got the job done. This time I’m upping the game with a set of Audio-Technica ATH-M20x headphones. They are small, sound great for studio and music listening and are pretty darn affordable at $50. Plus they have a removable cable which is killer.
Their big brother, the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 is one of my all time favorite headphones but cost about $100 more than these. Anything in the ATH-MXX lineup is a solid headphone though so don’t feel bad if you can’t get the ATH-M30x or ATH-M50x. You won’t be sorry with the ATH-M20x at all.
A ton of people use Sony MDR-7502 or MDR-7506 headphones ($50 and $100 respectively) for their studio listening. I also have them and while they may be accurate headphones, they aren’t enjoyable in the least. These famous Sony headphones roll off on the low end around 60Hz which means no bass. They are strictly technical headphones. If you ever see yourself listening to music with these headphones go with the Audio-Technicas.
If you have your own headphones you can totally use them to start just know that down the line, dedicated headphones that are matching pairs will be important. A headphone that accentuates one frequency over another might cover up, or exacerbate audio problems.
It’s also worth noting that these are sealed headphones, as are all the headphones I’m recommending. Open-air headphones leak sound which can then get picked up by your recording equipment resulting in echoes, feedback loops and just general annoyances. Stick with in-ear or closed headphones.
The previous setup used a simple audio splitter to allow both podcasters to listen to the audio live during the recording. There are a lot of reasons to listen to your podcast as you record it. First you want to make sure all the mics are recording. Once you have confirmed the microphones are working you’ll need to make sure they aren’t picking up anything they shouldn’t.
But you could do that alone. The reason everyone needs a mic is because most people are pretty horrible at knowing how loud or quiet they are. This is especially true when they are on mic. People who aren’t used to being on mic will often times sit too far away from the microphone creating a hollow and quiet voice. Wearing headphones allows them to self-monitor.
With so many headphones you need a headphone amplifier to power them all. This is not like sharing earbuds from your iPhone. These are bigger headphones and being split four times. You could just keep turning up the volume but you will risk damaging the mixer and your headphones. Plus you cannot fine tune the audio for someone who might have hearing problems and needs a boost in power to their headphones. The Behringer HA400 is the best, cheapest headphone amplifier of its kind. At under $25 it’s a total no-brainer.
I always recommend scissor-arm microphone stands. They make placing the microphone close to your subject easy all the while decreasing the chance of picking up desk vibrations or those when adjusting mic placement during a show.
There are many better microphone stands like these but if you ask me, the cost of a microphone stand shouldn’t be five times the cost of the microphone. That’s just wrong.
Shock-mounts & Pop-filters
The selected MECO C-2 shock-mounts and pop-filters are standard fare and just fine for podcasting. But don’t think for a second though that you don’t need them.
Without a shock mount you risk picking up every tap on the desk as it shakes the microphone. Reach for a glass of water and bump the mic? Better restart your recording! Ok, that might be a little dramatic but considering the costs of these guys, just buy them.
2014 Budget Podcasting Studio Setup
|Mic stand||NEEWER Scissor Arm Stand|
|Shock mount||MECO C-2 w/ Pop-filter|
|Mount adapter||5/8-inch Male to 3/8-inch Female|
|TRS patch cable||Hosa Cable CSS103|
If you aren’t so sure you’re going to stick to the whole podcasting thing but you don’t want to limit yourself to your iPhone or even a Blue Snowball microphone setup, give this one a go. It might be bare bones but its quality will surprise you.
I’ve put together a complete shopping list for everything you see above on Amazon. If this setup sounds like it fits the bill just click here and you can get your show on the road! Plus by using my affiliate links I get a tiny kickback from Amazon which helps me keep this blog going, and invest in fun gadgets to review for you here!
Not convinced that this will cover you? Why not try the next studio setup above this one?