What Kind of Equipment Do I Need to Podcast?

Get started with recording basics while planning for expansion

Susan Davis tell authors how to start a podcast and gives podcasting hints.
Photo of Susan Davis by Michael Czeiszperger

There are plenty of good reasons to start a podcast, not the least of which is that it is relatively easy to do. Podcasts require only a computer, microphone, headphones and recording software to reach out to listeners as they go about their daily routines. When you have a topic and something to say about it, you can express yourself to your listeners in your own voice.

You probably already have some of what you need to make a podcast. Assuming you plan to create a simple traditional podcast, you need at a minimum:

  • Microphone
  • Headphones
  • Computer
  • Recording and mixing software
  • Internet access

Basic Microphones

To get your voice into your computer for recording, you need a microphone. You don't have to spend a lot of money on a microphone if you aren't concerned with high quality but remember—the better the quality, the more professional your audio sounds. No one will listen to your podcasts if the audio is inferior. You should upgrade from the microphone and headset you've been using for Skype.

USB microphones are designed to work easily with computers. Most of them just plug and play. Folks new to recording should keep the learning curve low and invest in a USB microphone, which plugs into your computer directly. It is the easiest way to get started and can handle a one-person podcast.

More About Microphones

After you are in podcasting for a while, you may want to up your game. The choice of microphones becomes an important part of that. You may want to move to a microphone with an XLR hookup. These microphones require an audio interface or a mixer, which gives you more control over your recording. You can mix sounds, connect professional gear, and work with multiple channels and mic inputs for multiple hosts.

Some microphones have both USB and XLR connections. You can start with the USB connection and then add a mixer or audio interface for use with the XLR capabilities later.

There are two types of microphones: dynamic and condenser. Dynamic microphones are robust with less feedback, which is good if you aren't in a soundproof studio. They are less expensive than condenser microphones, but that benefit comes with a poorer dynamic range. Condenser microphones are more expensive and more sensitive with a higher dynamic range.  

Microphones have sound pickup patterns that are either omnidirectional, bidirectional, or cardioid. These terms refer to the area of the microphone that picks up the sound. If you aren't in a soundproof studio, you probably want a cardioid microphone, which only picks up the sound directly in front of it. If you need to share a microphone with a co-host, bidirectional is the way to go. 

All this may seem like a lot to think about, but there are microphones on the market that have both USB and XLR plugins, are either dynamic or condenser mics, and have a choice of pickup patterns. You just pick one for your needs.

Mixers

If you choose an XLR microphone, you'll need a mixer to go with it right off the bat. They come in all price ranges and with different numbers of channels. You need a channel for each microphone you use with the mixer. Look into mixers from Behringer, Mackie mixers, and Focusrite Scarlett series mixers.

Headphones

Headphones allow you to monitor the sound being recorded. Stay away from soft-shell headphones—those that only have foam on the outside. These do not suppress sound, which may cause feedback. It is best to use a hard-shell headphone, one with a sturdy plastic or rubber outside that traps the sound.

You don't have to spend a lot on headphones, but cheap headphones give you cheap sound. If you don't mind, that's fine, but if you plan to get into multitrack audio mixing eventually, you'll want a pair of headphones that are discriminate enough to allow you to tweak your audio.

Computer

Any PC or Mac computer purchased in the last few years is fast enough to handle the kind of recording you'll want to do for a typical podcast. There is no reason to run out and buy anything right away. Work with the computer you have. If it works, great. After a while, if you feel it's not adequate for your needs, you can purchase a new computer with more memory and a faster chip.

Recording and Mixing Software

A podcast can be just your voice. Many podcasters default to a simple presentation either because they chose an easy method or know the information they provide doesn't need enhancement. However, you may want to use a prerecorded show intro with occasional inserted pieces of audio, possibly even commercials.

Free software tools make recording and editing fairly easy. Recording audio is one thing. Mixing audio is a bit more involved. You can choose to record all your audio and mix it statically, or you can record and mix in real time.

Mixing in real time captures a certain spontaneity. Mixing your audio as a static project allows you more time to make your finished product polished and professional.

You need software for recording and editing your podcast. Although there is a lot of software out there, you may want to start with one of the low cost or free packages. GarageBand ships with Macs, Audacity is free, and Adobe Audition is available for a reasonable monthly subscription. You can conduct interviews over Skype with a recording plugin. After you have experience or when you podcast takes off, you can upgrade the software.

Internet Access

It may seem obvious, but you need a way to upload your finished podcast when it ready for the world to hear. Podcasts are usually large files, so you need a good broadband connection.

Optional Accessories

Pick up a pop-filter, particularly if your microphone is on the inexpensive side. It'll do wonders for the sound you record. If you plan to do a lot of podcasting, get a table stand and a boom for your microphone, so you are comfortable. You may also want a portable recorder for on-the-go interviews.