The podcast boom is still booming.
It seems that everyone, from academics and cinephiles to comedians and journalists, has their own weekly podcast with a devoted audience. Despite the ever-growing list of shows that exist online, each serving their own narrow niche, all podcasters rely on the same thing for success: the right equipment. And in the podcasting world, the microphone reigns supreme.
Sound engineer Peter Leonard, who works on Gimlet Media’s “How to Save a Planet,” says that frequency response is one of the first features he looks for when shopping for a microphone. “Is it nice and even, as flat as possible? Or are there points along the frequency spectrum where there are weird dips or defined presence peaks?” Leonard says. Ultimately, an even frequency is best for podcasts as it allows natural qualities of the voice to translate.
For sound engineers Armando Serrano and Catherine Anderson, the tone of the show influences the type of mic they use in the studio, meaning they opt for different mics depending on genre. Serrano, for example, uses a darker timbre on voices for fiction podcasts such as “Red Frontier” and “The Two Princes,” which use narration that needs to be distinguished from in-scene dialogue.
While all of the sound engineers that Variety spoke to have different go-to mics, they all agree that price rarely indicates quality, noting that the microphone is only as good as the space it’s in. So how do you choose the right one? From condenser and shot-gun mics to dynamic mics, here are five of the best microphones for every type of podcast, according to three professional sound engineers.
Sennheiser MKE 600 Shotgun Microphone
Leonard and Serrano both say that shotgun microphones are great for limiting unwanted background noise that often comes with condenser mics. Because of a hyper cardioid polar pattern that is very directional, they’re particularly good at rejecting sound that “isn’t on-axis, or in other words, right in front of it or a little adjacent,” Leonard says.
When working with reporters on “How to Save a Planet,” Leonard uses Sennheiser’s shotgun microphone because of its directionality and even frequency response. He notes that Josh Rogosin, an engineer for NPR’s “Tiny Desk” series, also uses the Sennheiser to record different sources with great success.
Shure MV7 Dynamic Microphone
“If it’s not an option for you to remove all unwanted background noise or treat your room with absorptive surfaces, a dynamic microphone with a larger diaphragm will be your friend,” Leonard says. He opts for the Shure MV7, which you can use as a USB mic as well. “Just out of the box, it sounds great and will be a little more friendly to non-ideal recording spaces,” he says. Plus, the MV7 has high-tech processing features accessible via the ShurePlus MOTIV app, making it so easy to use that several Gimlet shows send this mic to guests so they can record themselves.
Neumann BCM 705 Dynamic Broadcast Microphone
Although traditionally used in the music space, Serrano recommends the BCM 705 for any type of voice recording because of how clearly it picks up audio.
Anderson agrees that dynamic mics are oftentimes the way to go for simple in-studio recording, when you don’t need to pick up quieter background sound. “Mics with a bigger diaphragm, the part of the mic you talk into, will be better suited for voice. You want to pick a mic that’s going to make your life easier, not harder,” she says, adding that they work best with a pop filter.
Neumann U87 Condenser Microphone Set
The U87 is one of the best condenser mics on the market, according to Serrano. Although it’s traditionally used in the music space, he says that its high quality can be helpful for any type of voice recording.
Of course, there’s a give and take with any type of condenser mic. Leonard says positioning yourself strategically is the best way to mitigate unwanted noise. Basically, surround yourself with as much soft surface as possible: pillows, rugs, bedding, tapestries. “A closet full of clothes is the best makeshift thing for this situation,” he says. “Point the microphone into your closet and position yourself so you are between the mic and closet. This will not only cut down the reverberation of your voice in the room, but it will mitigate reflections of the unwanted background noise bouncing around the hard surfaces of the room.”
For a more affordable condenser option, Anderson recommends the Rode NT-USB, which she says is cheap, easy to use and comes with a pop filter.