Best Podcast Microphones of 2018
Top 3 Recommended Microphones for Podcasting
09.24.18 | Podcasting | By: Jacob Bozarth
With 122 million search results in Google for the term podcast microphone, you may feel overwhelmed in your search for the best podcast microphone. Frankly a-lot of the top results out there may provide you with ill-informed information. The reality and truth is that many of these top ranking posts for the topic “best podcast microphone” are not written by audio experts who have actually used the podcast microphone they are recommending.
Now before you think I am just making an assumption and going off on a rant about this, let me explain. I recently read a popular article that linked to a post on the best podcast microphones. I reached out to the author of the podcast microphone post who also happens to be a well known podcast host who has a reputable site for podcasters. I was familiar with one of the podcast microphones that they recommended, so I decided to ask them what they liked about it and why they endorsed this particular microphone. I personally would not have recommended it myself, but I was interested to know why they liked it and maybe I would give it another shot.
But to my surprise this was their response: “I have never used the microphone. I wrote this article based off other reviews I found online about this particular mic.”
As an audio engineer and someone with a Bachelor’s Degree in Audio Recording, this really bothered me. A well known podcaster and influencer, recommending a podcast microphone that they had never even used!?!?! Your podcast microphone is arguably the most important element when it comes to recording your podcast, and every podcaster will need a microphone, and you also need a source that you can trust. But what kind of microphone is the best for your recording setup?
Let’s take a look at our top 3 recommended podcast microphones (all of which have been used and tested by our team and we can recommend based on professional experience!) For those of you that could care less about the details, here are our top 3 podcast microphones (scroll through to find a more detailed description of each one):
Before we get into the details of the 3 best podcast microphones, lets cover some groundwork.
Your Voice Is Unique
Microphones are not always a one size fits all. You may have a deep, resonant sounding voice so a microphone that is known for highlighting lows may not be the best for your voice. We recommend you do your research and try out a few microphones if possible before selecting your podcast microphone. Don’t just take our word for it. Try it out for yourself and see which microphone may suit your voice best.
It is important to have a basic understanding of the different styles of microphones.
What is a Condenser Microphone?
According to legendary microphone company, Neumann, “Of all microphone types, condensers have the widest frequency response and the best transient response (transients are fast bursts of energy, e.g. the attack of a drum or the “pick” of an acoustic guitar). Also, condenser microphones usually offer much higher sensitivity (i.e. output) and lower noise than dynamic microphones.” In our experience with condenser microphones this has been true, and for this reason I usually reach for a large diaphragm condenser microphone when recording lead vocals for music in a studio setting. However the much higher sensitivity makes most condenser microphones less than ideal for podcasting. We have heard many podcast recordings with birds, HVAC noise, noisy neighbors, street traffic, and many other sounds that could have been minimized or even eliminated had the podcaster not been using a condenser microphone. It is for this very reason we do not typically recommend using condenser microphones for podcasting. (With that being said, if you do have a treated studio space you may want to consider a large diaphragm condenser microphone.)
What is a Dynamic Microphone?
The reality for most podcasters is that often they have to record in a less than ideal recording space. A dynamic microphone will suit these types of scenarios best while providing a clean and quality recording. A dynamic microphone is much less sensitive than most condenser microphones. For this reason, less room and unwanted noise will make it into your narration track. There are also many affordable dynamic podcast microphone options with added noise cancellation technology. The microphones we recommend vary in price, but they are all great microphones for podcasters. If you’re just getting started maybe go with the more affordable option and reward yourself with an upgrade once you celebrate podcasting consistently for six months or a year.
The Audio-Technica ATR2100 is one of the most popular podcast microphones and is a top choice for many well know podcasters. This microphone sounds great and has an excellent frequency response for the price. We have recorded and tested this microphone next to microphones with a higher price tag, and it consistently outperformed the others, including the Blue Yeti and Rode Podcaster. In addition to it sounding great and being affordable, there are many other features that make it a great choice and a favorite for many.
- XLR & USB Outputs: This is one of the few microphones that offers both XLR and USB outputs. The versatility of this mic is one of the main reasons why we love it. Many podcasters will use the USB output to go directly into their computer to record remote podcasts using software like Zencastr or Squadcast. You can also use the XLR analog output and run the microphone into a handheld recorder like the Zoom H6 or Zoom H5. For the price, you will not get a better podcast recording setup. If you use the XLR output give it a try with the Cloudlifter CL-1 to enhance the sound of this microphone.
- Direct monitoring: The built-in headphone jack allows you to directly monitor your microphone output without any audible delay. You can adjust headphone volume with an easy to use knob on the bottom of the mic. You can also plug your headphones into the back of the mic and select that as your output when using Zencastr or other remote software applications for remote podcast recordings.
- On/Off Switch & LED indicator: The light on the mic will let you know when your microphone is plugged in and ready to use. The light will stay on even when the switch on the mic is in the off position, but the light will disengage when you unplug the mic from your computer.
- Cardioid Polar Pattern: The cardioid pickup pattern of the mic allows it to pick up your voice when you are directly in front of the microphone and will reduce pickup of unwanted sounds from rear and side of microphone. This is the ideal pickup pattern for most podcast microphones. You can see the pattern below that looks like a heart or balloon shape coming out the front of the microphone. Unlike the Blue Yeti and most large diaphragm condenser microphones, the ATR2100 is a front address microphone.
Runner Up: Best Podcast Microphone Under $100
It’s important that we mention another great and very similar in style podcast microphone under $100:
The AT2005 is essentially the exact same microphone as the ATR2100. If they were the same price, I would actually pick the AT2005 as the winner due to the sleeker and more professional look of the mic. There are a few people that claim that they can hear the difference in sound, but we had a hard time distinguishing when we did our recording tests. The cosmetics are a bit different and the grill has a flat top, but other than that, it is essentially the same mic. You can compare the frequency response graph and the polar pattern graph below to see that the ATR2100 and the AT2005 are essentially the same mic. The AT2005 is usually about $15 more dollars at $79 on Amazon.
Coming in at right under $300, the RE320 is hands down our favorite podcast microphone! According to the Electro-Voice website, the RE320 is, “A professional- grade dynamic microphone designed specifically for recording and sound reinforcement applications requiring extremely low noise and the best possible tonal and transient response. Ideal for capturing a wide variety of vocal and instrument sources, the RE320 delivers unparalleled detail, dynamic response, and pleasing natural tone.” We love this microphone for this very reason and agree that this microphone will give you a pleasing natural tone for your podcast vocals. You may notice the design of the RE320 because it is a little brother to the legendary RE20 broadcast microphone. The RE20 is a broadcast industry standard. You will see this mic being used by broadcasters from NPR to ESPN. The RE320 and RE20 use electro Voices’ patented Variable D technology to minimize the proximity effect. Normally as you get closer to a microphone, the low frequency bass response increases, but not with the RE320. The Variable D technology controls the low frequency bass response of the microphone as you get closer, creating a smooth, warm, big, full, and transparent sound. The RE320 also features a hyper cardioid polar pattern, which helps isolate the sound of your voice while rejecting background noise that can creep in from behind the microphone. The RE320 is a recommended microphone for both the novice and advanced podcaster!
- XLR Outputs: The RE320 microphone only has XLR outputs. Our favorite podcast studio setup for 2-4 guest is 2-4 RE320’s going into a Cloudlifter cl-1, into a Zoom H6. You can also use the XLR analog output and run the microphone into an interface like the UAD Apollo or Focusrite Scarlett. We have recorded podcast vocals many times with this mic going into an Universal Apollo Twin straight into our favorite Digital Audio Workstation…. Avid ProTools.
- Hyper Cardioid & Variable-D Polar Pattern: The hypercardioid pickup pattern of the mic allows it to only pick up your voice, reducing pickup of other unwanted sounds from rear and side of microphone. You can see the pattern below and that it is a bit tighter than the cardioid pattern of the ATR2100. Most microphones will sound much lower and fuller as you get closer to the microphone. This is known as the proximity effect. But with the Variable-D pattern of the RE320 you don’t have to worry about your voice sounding to low and muddy as you get closer to the microphone.
- Dual-Voicing Switch: The RE320 has a built in high pass filter switch that will move the rolloff frequency from 30hz to 40hz. This can help reduce picking up low end sounds such as HVAC systems or other wind noises when recording your podcast vocals.
The Shure SM7B is a great well rounded microphone and our number one podcast microphone under $500. The SM7B is a great option that works well on many styles of vocals. It’s not just a legendary broadcast microphone. It is also a microphone that has been used by many legendary musicians including Michael Jackson, Sheryl Crow, Sammy Hagar, John Paul White of The Civil Wars, and many more. The SM7B was one of the first microphones that I decided to buy when I started Resonate Recordings. The first time I used this microphone was to record vocals for my wife’s album, and I immediately fell in love with the microphone and was struck by the warm transparent tone of the mic and my wife’s lovely vocals through the mic. The Shure SM7B is not just a contender in the podcasting space; it can compete with many other well known vocal microphones in the $3,000+ price range. I will say the biggest downfall of the mic is the low gain output. We do not recommend using this mic with a cheap or low quality preamp or interface, but if you do we absolutely recommend you pair it with a Cloudlifter CL-1 or Cloudlifter CL-Z mic activator to give the mic +25 dB of clean gain. According to the Shure website here are the features of the SM7B:
- Flat, wide-range frequency response for exceptionally clean and natural reproduction of both music and speech
- Bass rolloff and mid-range emphasis (presence boost) controls with graphic display of response setting
- Improved rejection of electromagnetic hum, optimized for shielding against broadband interference emitted by computer monitors
- Internal “air suspension” shock isolation virtually eliminates mechanical noise transmission
- Highly effective pop filter eliminates need for any add-on protection against explosive breath sounds, even for close-up vocals or narration
- Now shipping with the A7WS detachable windscreen, designed to reduce plosive sounds and gives a warmer tone for close-talk vocals
- Yoke mounting with captive stand nut for easy mounting and dismounting provides precise control of microphone position
- Classic cardioid polar pattern, uniform with frequency and symmetrical about axis, to provide maximum rejection and minimum coloration of off-axis sound
- Rugged construction and excellent cartridge protection for outstanding reliability
- Replacement cartridge: RPM106
- Mic Stand / Broadcast Boom Arm: Some podcasting microphones, including the ATR2100 and AT2005, come with a desk stand; however using the desk stand is usually not ideal. A mic placed directly on your desk may pick up unwanted noises. We recommend using a broadcast boom arm or standard microphone stand with a boom arm to avoid unwanted sounds being picked up from your desk or tabletop. A boom arm will also allow you to position the microphone in a way that you and your guests feel comfortable.
- Microphone Pop Filter or Windscreen: Ever listened to a recording where every word that started with a “P” had a huge burst of air or pop? This can be a major distraction to listeners and can be eliminated by a simple microphone pop filter. If you don’t like having a pop filter in your face, you can try a simple windguard for your microphone and if that works then there may be no need for a pop filter. These simply stop bursts of air from your mouth from hitting the microphone diaphragm.
- Podcasting Headphones: When recording, sound isolation is very important. This is why it is essential to use closed back headphones when recording your podcast. It is recommended to never use your computer speakers or other external speakers to monitor your recording so audio bleed can be prevented. While recording, you do not want audio bleed to be picked up in your podcast microphone from your headphones or computer speakers. If you are recording a remote podcast using Zencastr or Squadcast, it’s a good idea to communicate to your interviewee to not use their external speakers or internal mic on their computer when recording. As a best practice, request that your guest use iPhone earbuds which are only about $10 on Amazon.
- Cloudlifter Microphone Activator: Many of the microphones that we recommend are low gain/output microphones. For this reason if you record through a low quality preamp or interface there may be unwanted noise/hiss introduced on your track. The Cloud Microphone Cloudlifters will give your podcast microphone up to 25 dB or ultra clean gain and can make a cheap microphone and preamp sound much better. We have found the cloudlifter’s also add a bit of a warm tone to the podcast microphone when putting it in your signal flow.
- Microphone Shock Mount: These are usually made of tiny bungee or rubber band-like cords that suspend your mic in the air and prevent it from touching the microphone stand. They can help eliminate sounds that may resonate through your microphone stand and into the recording due to movement. Most shock mounts are made to go with specific models of mics, so make sure to get one that fits your microphone.
We know there are several other great podcast microphones out there. At Resonate Recordings we are always looking for new podcast microphones to try out, so feel free to comment below sharing your favorite microphone for podcasting. We know that you may not agree with our top choices but we hope you may find this post helpful in your search for the perfect podcast microphone for you. If you are unsure we recommend you start with that ATR2100 and go from there. Cheers and happy podcasting!
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By: Jacob Bozarth
As President & Co-Founder of Resonate Recordings, Jacob leads the team & oversees all sales & marketing initiatives. Jacob can often be found recording, producing, & mixing many well-known podcasts when he is not spending time with his family in Louisville, KY.