Essential Tools for Podcasting

mic I recently launched Yet Another Podcast, the culmination of a serious amount of time spent researching microphones, mixers, software and more.

This posting will list the items I found to be essential; though please note that this is in no way an exhaustive list of all the great equipment now available to podcasters

Microphones

There is an old adage that I just made up, that the single most important piece of equipment in Podcasting is the Microphone and the Headphones.  Certainly buying a good mic is essential to getting good, clear, easy to understand recordings.  One of the most popular microphones, and my #2 these days, is the Samsung C01U, a USB microphone with outstanding quality.  For a number of reasons,

I slightly prefer the Yeti, video-reviewed here and shown to the left.  The Yeti offers a mute button, a separate volume control for your headphones, direct connection of headphones, and four settings: Cardoid (like the Samsung), stereo, omni-directional and bi-directional.  Cardoid settings allow the mic to pick up your voice and avoid other background noise coming in from the sides; omni-directional picks up from all directions equally. The bi-directional functionality is particularly nice if you are interviewing someone and have only the one microphone.

Booms, Stands and Shock Absorbers

You can stand your microphone right on the desk, but unless you turn off every piece of equipment you’ll pick up a hum and if you tap gently on the desk it is likely to be recorded as thundering, if graceless, elephants. The best way to isolate your microphone is by using either a boom (as shown in the image above) or a tripod stand, ideally with a shock absorbing mount (not shown).  You’ll pretty much know if you are sufficiently isolated when you listen to the playback.  That thudding you hear is not your heart.

I bought the EuroBoom from On Stage Stands (Street price about $50) and have been extremely happy with it, though it does take up a lot of floor space.  My biggest objection was that the mic was in the way of seeing the screen; I wanted a  mic suspended from above.  I finally caved, and bought the desk mounted Heil overhead boom, (Street price about $110) which is terrific. Best feature: put the mic where you want it, and it stays there.

Pop Filters

Pop filters are used to reduce the explosives that the microphone will pick up when you are wondering how many Pickled Peppers that fool Peter actually picked.  Don’t leave home without one.  They usually don’t come with the mic, and they are worth the investment.  The Yeti has a dedicated pop filter that is really very nice, but any pop filter will do.

Headphones

Experts disagree strongly about what is most important in headphones. Some would argue that a very high fidelity is supremely important, others that a wide frequency range, and others still that comfort (!) is the number one priority. I can tell you from personal experience that while full around the ear headphones give you better sound isolation and a more acute ability to hear every hiss and pop, wearing them for any length of time is very tiring.  I returned my $200 headphones and then I returned my $80 headphones and ended up with the $30  Koss PortaPro headphones, which are infinitely more comfortable than any others I’ve tried.

Note, whatever else you value in headphones, do not buy noise-cancelling headphones. You want to hear whatever noise is there, and noise cancelling not only cancel out ambient noise, they cancel noise on the track.

Sound Boards

Sound boards can create a studio out of your office or even a public space. They consist of sound absorbent boards, ideally hinged together to create a recording space.  RealTraps Carrel boards are a great example (Street price about $400); they can make a tremendous improvement in the sound of your podcast.

Software

Audacity: There are a number of excellent choices in software for manipulating and cleaning up your audio. I settled on the open source Audacity. It is cross platform, free, incredibly versatile, had all the features that I wanted to use in the (very) expensive commercial products, and has one feature that the others didn’t have: truncate silence. Fantastic.  There certainly are lots of podcasters who opt for a different package, but I’ve not yet met one who didn’t think Audacity was terrific.

Skype:  Another free software that does an incredible job and that is universally highly thought of.  An argument can be made that all your guests should be in the studio with you, but if they are not, and your choice is a POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) line or Skype, there is no comparison; the quality of Skype is head and shoulders over that of the telephone system.  Do not hesitate.

CallBurner: If you are using Skype for your connection to guests, then you need a way to record both sides of the conversation.  I can’t recommend CallBurner highly enough; it does the job and then some.  Key is to choose configuration –>Recording and to check the box that says Store Raw audio in addition to the audio recorded in the format above.  This causes two files to be created: you, and the other side of the conversation; and that in turn allows you to push the two files into Audacity and silence noises on one side of the conversation while the other side is talking.  Brilliant.

iTunes: One of the primary distribution channels for Podcasts; you’ll need an account here and on Feedburner to do it right.

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is an independent consultant and programmer with three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP, Microsoft MVP and Telerik MVP.
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5 Responses to Essential Tools for Podcasting

  1. Brian says:

    Our main weapon is the microphone, the microphone and the headphones.

    Our TWO main weapons are the microphone, the headphones, and an almost fanatical devotion to SilverLight…

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