How to Pick the Best Microphone for Podcasting

by | Oct 17, 2022 | Hosting a Podcast, Sound Quality, Starting a Podcast

Listening to a podcast is an experience. Great audio enhances that experience. Bad audio will send them running no matter how great the conversation is. Just like digital media looks at the best fonts, colors, and sizes to make information easily accessible you should look at how inviting your podcast’s sound quality is. Picking the best microphone for podcasting based on your format will elevate your audio. 

Picking the best microphone for podcasting can be overwhelming. If you’ve ever started the process on Google or Amazon you know there are about 3 billion different types. Picking out the differences between them can present a challenge. Decision paralysis sets in. We like to say that there is no “best” microphone. There’s the best microphone for your podcast recording style and space.  If you’d rather skip our in-depth discussion of the different types of microphones and how they work, you can skip to our microphone recommendations.

Do You Need a Special Microphone for Podcasting?

You may be wondering if you even need a special microphone for podcasting. You’ve got computer speakers, your phone has a headset jack – is that enough? Bluntly, no it isn’t. Your phone and laptop speakers are communication devices not recording devices. Trying to use them to record a podcast with good audio would be like talking into a drive thru speaker and being shocked when it didn’t sound crystal clear.

That being said, no one microphone works perfectly in every possible scenario. Your microphone is a tool that will pick up whatever sound is in your environment. The microphone you need for your podcast will depend on your situation, especially your recording room. 

READ MORE: Selecting a Podcast Recording Room

READ MORE: Tips to Improve Podcast Sound Quality in Your Recording Space

This post is based on podcast host Casey Cheshire’s conversation with podcast producer Liam Gousios on Creating The Greatest Show, a podcast about podcasting.

Picking Your Podcast Microphone: USB vs XLR

What does USB or XLR even mean? Basically you’re making a decision on how your microphone will connect to your recording device. The two microphone connection types you’ll see are USB and XLR. Some podcast microphones have both connection options available. 

What is a USB Microphone?

A USB microphone uses a cable that runs directly from your microphone to your computer. These microphones have onboard circuitry that converts the analog sound that it picks up into a digital signal which is then sent to your computer. 

USB microphones offer simple setup, think “plug and play”. They are also typically more budget-friendly microphones than XLR mics. However, sound quality can be lower. 

What is an XLR Microphone?

An XLR microphone uses a separate interface to connect your microphone and your computer. This added interface receives the analog sound from your microphone and transforms it into a digital audio signal and sends it to your computer. There are many options out there for your interface and you can choose based on your need. One of the simplest options is the Scarlett 2i2 from Focusrite.

 While the setup process has a few more steps, XLR microphones can give you better sound quality than a USB microphone. If you ever record with several people in the same space XLR microphones and their interfaces are a great choice. Price-wise, XLR microphones come at a higher price tag. They are also not as portable as a USB mic. 

Diagram comparing USB and XLR microphone connection points for podcast microphones
The ATR-2100 microphone has both USB-C and XLR connections.

Choosing Between a USB and XLR Microphone

When making your final decision you need to think about your specific recording situation. If you’re planning on interviewing a few people at a trade show right to your laptop, a USB microphone may be the better option. However, if you are setting up a room for a large group to all record together with separate microphones, you’ll want an XLR microphone and audio interface. 

Chart comparing XLR microphones and USB microphones for recording a podcast
Consider things like setup, sound quality, cost, versatility, and your own recording situation when choosing the best microphone for podcasting.

Condenser Microphone vs Dynamic Microphone

Now that you’ve chosen between USB and XLR, it’s time to make another podcast microphone choice. This decision should be based largely on your recording environment. The two most common types of recording capsules are condenser microphones and dynamic microphones.

Pros and Cons of Condenser Mics 

  • More sensitive recording sound that is clear and crisp
  • Great for studio or quiet recording spaces
  • Picks up more background noise if your recording space isn’t quiet
  • Can be more fragile
  • Tend to be more expensive

Pros and Cons of Dynamic Mics

  • More rugged and durable
  • Less expensive
  • Picks up less background noise 
  • Can make your voice sound more mellow or dark

Deciding between Dynamic and Condenser Microphones

As with most things in audio, choosing the right mic for you will come down to your specific recording scenario. Many condenser mics need power where dynamic mics usually don’t. If you’re in a very quiet room that’s been treated, you can probably achieve good results using a condenser microphone. However, if you record outside or at conventions with many people around, you’d probably be better off with a dynamic microphone. 

Chart comparing dynamic microphones and condenser microphones for recording a podcast
A primary thing to consider when choosing between condenser and dynamic microphones is how much background noise your recording space will have.

Podcast Microphone Recommendations: Ringmaster’s Top 3

1. Under $100: Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB

ATR-2100X USB podcasting Microphone
Audio-Technica ATR2100x-USB

The ATR-2100 is the go-to microphone for new podcasters. This dynamic microphone is super easy to use and provides you with great, professional-sounding audio. It also happens to be the microphone that we recommend most often when people ask us what they need for their podcast. At under $100 it’s a great budget podcast microphone that still delivers good sound. 

Connection Type: Both USB and XLR

Capsule Type: Dynamic

2. Under $500: Shure SM7B

Shure SM7B podcast Microphone
Shure SM7B

If you have ever listened to a podcast, there’s a chance the hosts were using a Shure SM7B to record their audio. This is one of the most commonly-used microphones in podcasting, and for good reason. This model from Shure delivers stellar sound quality. Don’t forget that you’ll need to budget for and buy an audio interface in order to use this microphone’s XLR connection. 

  • Connection Type: XLR
  • Capsule Type: Dynamic

3. Over $1000: AKG C414 XLS

AKG C414 XLS podcast Microphone

The AKG C414 XLS will take your podcast sound quality further than any other microphone when used in the right environment. If you have an amazing recording room with very little background noise and budget available, this is one of the best podcast microphones you could find.

  • Connection Type: XLR
  • Capsule Type: Condenser

You may notice that we don’t list a Blue Yeti microphone on our list. We know that this mic is frequently recommended for podcasters but in our experience we didn’t love the sound quality and found that there were better options for less money. 

Podcast Microphones and Pressing Record

At the end of the day the best podcast microphone is the one you use! If buying an expensive mic will leave you anxious about actually using it, start with a cheaper one. Don’t let your sound be a barrier to recording your show. Feel like you can’t decide? Record some test audio and have a friend or family member listen to it. They’ll let you know if there’s anything funky with the sound. Be sure to check return policies before purchasing.

Getting Your Microphone Set Up

Microphones are an important part of your podcasting setup, but they are just one part of your setup. Don’t worry we’ve covered all the podcast gear you could dream of having, options for every budget and what you need right away to get started in our next article. 

Now that you’ve got your mic you may want some help setting it up, and we’re happy to help you. Just book a call with our team!

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