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The Top Podcast Microphones: How to Pick a USB Microphone (or Condenser Microphone) to Make a Podcast

Updated on February 24, 2011

If you are just getting started in the podcasting world - or would like to buy a new microphone - you will be overwhelmed by all of the choices. I sure was when I got started with podcast production! To make things easier for you, I'll share with you the research I did to find the best microphones for recording podcasts.

Below, I will cover your USB microphone, condenser microphone, stereo microphone, options, and give you a pick and the top expert-recommended studio microphones as well. Yeah, there are a lot of choices out there, but after reading this, you will be ready to make an educated choice!

But First! A Word on Nomenclature:

Before I share the top microphones used to make a podcast, I want to give you some quick definitions for commonly searched microphone terms, just so that we are all on the same terms:

Types of Microphones (when it comes to the mechanism of recording)

  • Condenser Microphone: A microphone that uses capacitance change to turn your voice into an electrical signal; condenser microphones were first created in 1916 and are also known as capacitor or electrostatic microphones.
  • Dynamic Microphone: A microphone that crates electrical signals from sound waves via electromagnetic induction. These are more common for stage use; not podcasting.
  • Ribbon Microphone: A microphone that uses the vibrations of a ribbon within a magnetic field to turn your voice into an electrical signal
  • Other types of microphones: Other types of microphones include carbon microphones, piezoelectric microphones, fiber optic microphones, laser microphones, liquid microphones, MEMS microphones, and even speakers - you won't be using these for podcasts.

A USB mic
A USB mic

Types of Microphones (when it comes to appearance and functionality)

These are some of the most common mics you'll see people searching for:

  • USB Microphone: This is simply a microphone that is designed to direct your audio into computer-based software (e.g. GarageBand) though a USB cord. These are particularly convenient for podcasting purposes.
  • Lavalier Mic: A lavalier microphone, also sometimes called a head microphone or headware microphone, or wireless microphone (if it runs to an RF transmitter) is an audio microphone that can be worn (either in a headset or fastened to clothing in those little clips that you'll see a lot of news interviewees wearing). They typically have cords that run to an RF transmitter or to a mixer.
  • Shotgun Microphone: This is the most directional type of mic, which is to say that is very sensitive to the directions from which sound is coming. These are used a lot for television set sound recording and the recording of nature sounds.
  • Stereo Microphone: This is a mic that fuses two microphones into one to create a stereo signal. Stereo microphones are used a lot in broadcast or field recording settings.
  • Sennheiser Radio Mics: These are mics that are created by the German company Sennheiser that has been around since 1945. They make a wide range of both professional and consumer microphones (and speakers, amplifiers, and Micro-Hifi systems, among other things). Suffice it to say they are just a popular brand.

The Best USB Mics

If you are just getting started with podcasting and want things to be simple and easy, the best way to go is to buy a USB microphone. These plug right into your computer, which saves you the trouble of getting additional equipment.

The Blue Snowball

The first USB podcasting microphone I ever bought and a podcasting mic that has been both highly reviewed on Amazon and highly recommended is the Snowball microphone by Blue.

The major perks of the Snowball mic include its ease of use, sleek looks (it comes in white, black, and chrome and looks pretty nifty), and relatively low cost (sort of mid-range in the world of podcasting).

It works with Macs and Linux operating systems without any need to install software, and on Windows, it supposedly works pretty well, too.

The Snowball also has a toggle switch on the back with three settings - one for normal talking, one to reduce the noise, and one for recording the sound in an overall room (e.g. to pick up everyone in a room).

I think my favorite thing about this mic is that I was able to take this out of its box and immediately use it with no knowledge of recording software, microphones, or podcasting.  If you want to get started right away, this is the way to go.

The Rode Podcaster

The Rode Podcaster is another very user-friendly pocasting mic that comes with a built-in headphone jack. This does not come with a stand, but the general argument is that the Blue Snowball stand isn't all that incredible anyway, so you'd probably want something special for both anyway.

The microphone has great quality (and heft! It weighs two pounds!), and the fact that you can plug headphones directly into it is that you can hear what you sound like as you record (listening to yourself through the computer is impossible - there is a delayed playback that is SUPER distracting).

This is also a directional microphone, so you'll be less likely to have it pick up a co-host's voice (if you are podcasting with someone else) or other ambient sounds in a room (e.g. computer fans, sounds outside).

The major downside of the Rode Podcaster is that it costs more, but the general argument is that the quality makes the extra cost worth it. Also, older versions of this mic does not work with Windows Vista right out of the box without an update.

The Audio-Technica 2020USB

This USB microphone is very well-reviewed on Amazon and has been recommended by New Media Gear.

The mic has been designed to be functional for home studio recording, voiceover work, field recording, and podcasting, so it is pretty versatile. It is also Windows and Mac compatible and comes with a USB cable and tripod stand (like the Blue Snowball), as well as a carrying pouch.

How does the Audio-Technica 2020 hold up to the Blue Snowball?  Well, the Audio-Technica is a uni-directional microphone, so it is only going to pick up sound at one end whereas you can set the Snowball to pick up sound from both the front and back of the mic (using the 3rd setting on the mic).  It is generally said to have a bit more "warmth" than the Blue Snowball (which several have said sounds a bit cooler) as well as sensitivity (which means it is not well suited for loud sounds like live music events).

For More Advanced Podcasters

If you want to be a bit more fancy with your audio quality with the podcasts you make, here ar some additional options to consider. These are a bit more expensive in some cases, and also require a bit more extra equipment (mixers, pop filters, shockmounts, etc...).  You might also want to do a bit more processing with the audio these microphones provide... so think of them as the DSLRs of microphones.

The MXL 990

Also highly recommended is the MXL 990.

This condenser microphone requires phantom power, needs a mixer and cannot be plugged directly into your computer, and definitely requires a pop shield, but if you want to do more things with your mic and want really good sound quality, this is a good way to go.

The Neumann TLM-67

This studio microphone is VERY expensive, but is also seen as the recording studio standard and gets rave reviews (though I imagine that ANYONE who spends more than two thousand dollars on a mic is going to say that they love it - if it turns out to be a bomb, one will just have wasted money that could buy a whole MOUNTAIN of chocolate!).

The Heil PR-40

This is particularly good if you want to have professional-sounding, radio-quality podcasts and want to have a mic for each presenter. It's great for keeping other sounds out of the picture (e.g. if something else is going on in another room, this sound will not show up), but it does require a mixer and is a bit pricier, so only get this if sound quality is really important or if you want to sound utterly, completely professional.

If you do use this mic, you have to speak pretty close to it and can't move your head around.  

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