With thousands of podcasts already covering nearly every niche imaginable, and room for still countless more, podcasting has never been a more viable medium. What’s more, you’ll find all kinds of great recording gear on the market today that can make setting up shop for yourself a breeze. Whether you’re looking for a traditional broadcast studio-style setup or something so portable that you never have to touch a computer to get your next episode online, Sweetwater is happy to point you in the right direction.
Before you start looking at all the cool gear you could use to record and produce podcasts of your own, it’s important that you identify what you’re trying to accomplish to assess the kind of gear you’ll need. For instance, if you want to record in the field, then no matter how cool it may be, an integrated mic and boom combo isn’t going to be right for you. A simple field recorder might be the right fit, but not if you want to be able to upload your work in the field. Workflow is also a major part of podcasting, and the gear you choose can have a major impact on it. Of course, there’s also the consideration of how much you can afford to invest in your system, especially if you’re starting from scratch.
There are three basic podcast system configurations that can be primarily defined by their portability. How portable you need to make your podcast rig really depends on the nature of your podcast. If you’re producing comedy, commentary, or anything that doesn’t require field recording, then a studio system is likely the way to go; whereas, if your podcast requires you to get interviews or to go from on-location production to online publication as quickly as possible, then a fully mobile rig makes sense. Finally, there’s a middle ground in which you capture on-location audio that you bring back to the studio for editing and other post-production polishing.
Complexity vs. Flexibility
As is the case with most technology, there’s a direct correlation between complexity and flexibility. The more flexible the technology, the more complex it has to be. Often (but not always) the most flexible and complex systems provide the greatest variety of options, with an increasing number of steps required to put various elements together, hence a more cumbersome workflow.
Here’s an overview of three kinds of podcasting setups, with rankings from least (one star) to most (three stars) for each characteristic.
To illustrate the point, here are example workflows, breakdowns, and sample systems for each type of recording system. We’ve also included a list of recommendations for other great gear for podcasting.
1. Studio Podcasting Setup
- Record material in DAW, choosing best takes, making notes, and adding processing as you go
- Edit material, adding music beds, effects, and other audio
- Process/mix tracks into final podcast
While the idea of a “studio” setup may conjure up images of a large mixing desk and racks of gear, a modern studio setup may be based around a laptop, small desktop audio interface, microphones, and monitoring equipment — in short, the same gear you’d find in any DAW recording rig. This allows studio setups to be marginally portable, in as much as it doesn’t take hours to disassemble and set up your gear, but they still aren’t designed for portability. In many ways, however, studio setups benefit from being stationary. Dedicated production spaces allow you to control your acoustics and to set up studio monitors and keep full-size microphones mounted to broadcast booms or heavy mic stands.
You might expect the nearly limitless potential of a studio environment to result in greater complexity, but actually, it’s the other way around. Being able to define your workflow via modern DAW software and use tools designed to improve your workflow (rather than to accommodate portable production platforms) means you can easily tailor your system to fit the way you work. DAW environments are intended to cover recording, editing, and mixing entirely, making the most of the extensive screen real estate and user interfaces such as your mouse and keyboard, elements that make studio systems far more efficient than similar options on mobile platforms.
While studio systems are more flexible than a purely mobile platform, they are less flexible than hybrid mobile/studio rigs. This is the result of the sheer flexibility you get from DAW recording platforms. Studio setups only suffer from reduced flexibility when it comes to portability, and that limitation depends entirely on the studio gear you use.
Studio System 1: Soloist
Studio System 2: Studio for Two
2. Mobile Podcasting Setup
- Record audio in mobile DAW or recording app, usually in single takes, often adding sound bites/audio on the fly
- Edit audio using limited/more cumbersome touchscreen environment
- Clean up audio to compensate for non-ideal recording environment
- Add extra effects and sound bites
- Mix down and final polishing (if possible)
- Publish (usually from recording app)
It stands to reason that because they’re designed entirely around mobility, this kind of podcasting rig is the most portable. In a purely mobile podcasting rig, the idea is that you can pull out your phone or tablet, hook up a mic or two, record your show, and post it all — possibly without so much as finding Wi-Fi. Nothing beats a fully mobile rig when it comes to applications such as on-location interviews you need to produce and post online as soon as possible.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the limited flexibility of mobile podcasting actually complicates your workflow, as you are forced to work around the limitations of the technology involved. Given the sheer potential of mobile platforms such as iOS, there are few limitations on what you can do via mobile podcasting and recording apps. However, mobile apps tend to have fewer workflow options than desktop applications, and even the best multi-touch user interfaces are more cumbersome than mouse and keyboard systems. While these two elements add up to limited workflow options, the need to work within these limitations can make establishing a comfortable workflow challenging.
As long as you’re content to work within the limitations of mobile podcasting apps such as bossjock or even mobile DAWs such as Cubasis, the relative flexibility of purely mobile podcasting setups isn’t likely to bother you. On the whole, however, there isn’t a lot of flexibility to this kind of system. The gear itself is far more limited than what you’ll find in the studio, and the more mobile you need to be, the less gear you have to choose from. Editing (at least with any efficiency) is also extremely limited on mobile platforms, which means you’ll generally have to work with what you record in the first place. If you’re great at getting polished results while recording, then you’ll be just fine, but if you’re new to podcasting, then you’ll find yourself either having to cope with less-than-ideal results or a prohibitively awkward editing process.
Mobile System 1: Run-and-gun Interviewer
Mobile System 2: On Location
3. Hybrid Podcasting Setup
- Record audio in mobile recording app or standalone portable recorder
- Transfer audio to computer and organize it before importing it into DAW
- Clean up and process audio to compensate for non-ideal recording environment
- Edit audio, adding music beds, effects, and other audio
- Process/mix tracks into final podcast
In terms of allowing you to go to the source to record material, hybrid podcasting systems offer all the benefits of mobile systems. However, they aren’t truly as portable as mobile systems, since hybrid podcast production supposes that you will return to your studio, or at least to your laptop, to polish and publish your work. This makes hybrid systems only marginally more portable than studio systems, especially ones built around laptops and USB mics.
Hybrid podcasting systems include both the inherent limitations of mobile recording and the freedom of studio editing, which actually makes them significantly more complex than either option on its own. That’s because you still have to conform to a mobile workflow and then find an efficient way to import your work into your DAW and process the audio from there. In most cases, unlike mobile workflows, the major benefits of being able to gather audio in the field and then polish it in the studio force you to deal with the limited organization available to mobile recording. Once you fall into a routine and develop your own methods for staying organized, hybrid systems don’t feel so complex, but the initial learning curve can be daunting.
Here’s where hybrid systems shine. Most hybrid systems come as a result of either wanting greater mobility from a studio system or greater editing power from a mobile system (particularly if you find that you aren’t benefiting from being able to publish in the field). While the added potential does make hybrid podcasting systems more complex, that complexity is the cost of their incredible flexibility. In fact, unless you’re using a standalone field recorder (a great idea for run-and-gun interviews), there’s very little reason you can’t use a hybrid system for a purely studio or mobile workflow when convenient.
Hybrid System: Studio Anywhere
Benefiting from decades of research and development, the highest-quality microphones for podcasting are, not surprisingly, the same ones you’ll find in broadcast studios around the world. Relatively low sensitivity and high off-axis noise rejection allow these popular models to capture direct sound clearly while responding little to background noise. USB microphones, however, offer plug-and-play convenience, without the need for an additional audio interface, and may be directly compatible with your iPhone or iPad.
Just as the RE20, the SM7B is a timeless option for broadcast and voice-over work. Its switchable bass roll-off and midrange boost options let you fine-tune its response to your voice.
RODE Microphones broke into the podcast market with these dynamic microphones, which offer many of the same benefits as mics such as the RE20. The original Podcaster is a USB mic, whereas the Procaster comes equipped with a standard XLR output.
Blue’s Yeti series microphones are ideal for desktop recording and have long found favor among avid podcasters. These USB condenser mics include three capsules for mono and stereo recording plus figure-8 configuration, which is ideal for interviews. Both the Yeti and the high-resolution Yeti Pro include headphone outputs and a super-convenient mute button on the front.
Apogee MiC 96k
First off, the MiC 96k is tiny, which makes it ideal for mobile rigs. You can get a version that’s directly compatible with your iOS device too, so it’s almost ideal for run-and-gun podcasting. While it may be small, everyone who’s tried it out here at Sweetwater has been greatly impressed, both by its overall consistency and by its exceptional clarity.
Miktek ProCast SST
This microphone was made for studio-style podcasting, combining a broadcast boom arm and an excellent cardioid condenser mic with a mixer-style audio interface complete with dedicated mute buttons. There’s a mini XLR input (adapter included) on the back, too, for an additional microphone, making the ProCast SST an ideal base for a complete desktop podcasting system.
It would be impossible to single out every audio interface that’s great for podcasting, as literally any interface that’s good in the studio will work for podcasting. Nonetheless, here are a few standouts that are particularly good for the job.
TASCAM MiNiSTUDIO Series
This series of USB audio interfaces was quite clearly designed with podcasting in mind. Large, instantly identifiable buttons provide broadcast studio-style real-time controls for mutes and sample playback, making MiNiSTUDIO interfaces not only great for recording but for live streaming as well.
Yamaha AG Series
Combining the form and function of standard compact mixers with flexible audio interfaces, Yamaha’s AG series is great for basic podcasting. Highlights include onboard compression as well as loopback streaming/recording, which lets you play back audio from your computer and either record it or stream it live.
Shure MOTIV MVi
A personal favorite among several of us at Sweetwater is the Shure MOTIV MVi. This extremely portable audio interface delivers a ton of bang for the buck. It’s bus powered even when connected to your iPhone, yet the preamp is extremely clear. What’s more, there’s onboard DSP (accessible via the MOTIV iOS app), which lets you dial in EQ, dynamics, and other useful settings. All told, the MVi is a great choice if you want to take studio mics into the field.
Other Great Podcasting Gear
Zoom pretty much has the market cornered when it comes to affordable handheld recorders, and few devices have ever had as much of an impact on mobile recording as the H4N Pro. This 24-bit/96kHz recorder includes a pair of widely acclaimed microphones plus XLR inputs for external mics. Its big brothers, including the H5 and H6 models, take the concept further with interchangeable capsules for various microphone configurations.
Standalone recorders are ideal for hybrid podcasting systems. They allow you to easily capture audio in the field and take it back to your main DAW for detail work. Few devices have had as much of an impact on mobile recording as the Zoom H4N Pro, which includes XLR inputs for standard microphones, and more recent models, such as the H5 and H6, expand on this idea with interchangeable input capsules. Field recording pros also love the Sound Devices MixPre-3, which offers uncompromising fidelity and simple operation both in the field and in the studio.
If you’re setting up shop in the studio, then we highly recommend a good broadcast boom, such as the On-Stage Stands MBS5000 or RODE PSA1. The convenience of being able to reach up and adjust your mic position whenever you need to will save you a ton of time, and these stands make it easy to get ideal mic positioning while keeping an eye on your displays and running the show all at the same time.
If you have any questions about setting up your podcasting system, give your Sales Engineer a call at (800) 222-4700. They’ll be happy to discuss all the options with you.