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The Best Microphones for Podcasting: An Expert‘s In-Depth Guide

Podcasting has exploded in popularity in recent years, with the number of monthly US podcast listeners expected to grow to 164 million by 2024, up from 75.9 million in 2020 (Insider Intelligence). As more people and businesses start podcasts to reach these growing audiences, the importance of audio quality has never been greater. The foundation of great podcast audio is a high-quality microphone.

As a digital audio expert and avid podcast listener, I‘ve spent countless hours testing and comparing microphones to find the best options for podcasters at all levels. The right mic can make the difference between sounding like an amateur and a professional.

Key Factors in Choosing a Podcasting Mic

Several technical factors come into play when evaluating microphones for podcasting:

Microphone Type: Dynamic vs Condenser

Dynamic mics like the Shure SM7B and Electro-Voice RE20 are popular for podcasting due to their rugged build, excellent off-axis noise rejection, and ability to handle high sound pressure levels (SPL). They tend to have a narrower, "warmer" frequency response that‘s forgiving of imperfect room acoustics.

Condenser mics like the Rode NT1-A and Audio-Technica AT2035 offer superior detail and a more open, airy top end, but also pick up more room sound. They require phantom power to operate.

Polar Pattern

A mic‘s polar pattern determines how it picks up sound from different directions. Cardioid is most common for podcasting – it‘s unidirectional, focusing pickup on the front and sides while rejecting sound from the rear. This minimizes room echo and background noise.

Omnidirectional mics pick up sound equally from all directions, useful for roundtable discussions. Figure-8 or bidirectional mics pick up from front and back while rejecting the sides, handy for face-to-face interviews.

Frequency Response

A mic‘s frequency response is the range of frequencies it can reproduce, from low bass to high treble, and how evenly it picks them up. Flat response is most accurate, but many popular podcast mics have a slight presence boost in the upper mids (2-5 kHz) for added vocal clarity and intelligibility.

Here‘s a comparison of the frequency response of several popular podcasting mics (measurements via InnerFidelity):

Mic 20 Hz 100 Hz 1 kHz 5 kHz 10 kHz 20 kHz
Shure SM7B -50dB -3dB 0dB +3dB -4dB -10dB
Electro-Voice RE20 -40dB -4dB 0dB +5dB 0dB -5dB
Heil PR 40 -35dB -3dB 0dB +2dB +2dB -3dB
Audio-Technica AT2035 -10dB 0dB 0dB +10dB +5dB 0dB

Other Key Specs

  • Sensitivity: Higher sensitivity captures weaker sounds but may overload on loud sources. Sensitivity is measured in millivolts per Pascal (mV/Pa).
  • Impedance: Measured in ohms (Ω), impedance is a mic‘s resistance to electric current. Low-impedance mics (75-300Ω) are preferred for their lower susceptibility to interference.
  • Maximum SPL: The highest decibel level a mic can handle before distorting. Podcasters usually don‘t need to max out an average of 130-140 dB.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR): Measured in dB, SNR compares a mic‘s signal level to its self-noise. Higher is better, with 64dB considered the lowest acceptable limit for studio work.

Top Microphones for Podcasting

Based on extensive testing and research, these are my top picks for the best podcasting microphones:

  1. Shure SM7B: The gold standard dynamic mic for pro podcasters and broadcasters. Warm, natural sound with excellent noise rejection. High gain requirements benefit from a cloudlifter or FetHead booster.
  2. Electro-Voice RE20: Another dynamic broadcast standard with a clear, upfront sound and great off-axis rejection. Built-in pop filter and blast protection.
  3. Rode Procaster: Dynamic mic tailored for voice, with superb rear rejection and a tight cardioid pattern. Robust all-metal build.
  4. Heil PR 40: Well-balanced dynamic mic with natural lows, clear mids, and smooth highs. Wide rear rejection and superior handling of sibilance.
  5. Audio-Technica AT2035: Affordable large diaphragm condenser with a bright, airy sound. Switchable 80 Hz high-pass filter and 10 dB pad.
  6. Rode NT1-A: Ultra-low noise condenser with a warm, full-bodied tone. Excellent transient response. Includes shock mount and pop filter.
  7. Shure MV7: Dynamic USB/XLR hybrid with both analog and digital outputs. Clear sound with good background rejection. ShurePlus MOTIV app offers EQ presets and real-time adjustments.
  8. Blue Yeti X: Versatile USB mic with 4 polar patterns and real-time LED metering. Detailed, broadcast-worthy sound. Useful features like a 3.5mm headphone jack and on-board controls.

For an even deeper dive, check out these expert shootouts and reviews:

Tips for Choosing and Using Podcast Mics

  1. Assess your recording environment: Room acoustics play a huge role in mic choice. Dynamic mics are more forgiving of imperfect spaces. Condensers capture more nuance but demand a quiet, treated room. Consider acoustic panels, bass traps, and reflection filters.

  2. Consider your content and format: Solo shows can get by with a cardioid mic. For interviews, look for omnidirectional or figure-8 options. Remote recordings may require specific solutions like the Shure MV5C or Samson Q2U.

  3. Set a realistic budget: While you generally get what you pay for with mics, great results are possible even on a budget. Quality entry-level options like the Audio-Technica AT2020 can be had for under $100. Investing in acoustic treatment may be wiser than overspending on a mic.

  4. Use proper mic technique: Maintain a consistent distance of about 6-8 inches from the mic. Speak slightly off-axis to minimize plosives and sibilance. Use a pop filter and experiment with placement to find the sweet spot. This video offers great tips.

  5. Don‘t neglect other parts of the signal chain: The best mic can still sound bad with a noisy preamp, underpowered interface, or low-quality cables. Invest in decent headphones, an audio interface or mixer, and an XLR cable from a trusted brand like Mogami or Canare.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a mixer for podcasting?
Strictly speaking, no. But a small mixer like the Yamaha AG06 or Rode RODECaster Pro lets you connect multiple mics, set levels, add music/sound effects, and record phone calls. They‘re handy for more complex productions.

How do I deal with room echo and reverb?
Acoustic treatment is key. Hang blankets, moving pads, or acoustic foam panels on walls to absorb reflections. Put a rug on hard floors. Record in a smaller room or closet filled with clothes. A reflection filter like the sE Electronics Reflexion Filter mounted behind the mic can also help.

Should I use a USB or XLR mic?
USB mics are plug-and-play convenient but limited. You‘re stuck with the built-in preamp and A/D converter. XLR mics are far more flexible – you can use them with different preamps, interfaces, and recorders as your needs evolve. They‘re the best long-term investment.

How can I make a guest on a remote call sound better?
Whenever possible, record the guest on their end for better quality. Have them wear headphones and use a decent USB mic like the Samson Q2U or Audio-Technica ATR2100x. If you must use a video call, record each side locally.

Do I need a cloudlifter or mic activator?
Cloudlifters and mic activators boost the mic signal from low to line level before it hits the preamp. They can help with gain-hungry dynamic mics like the SM7B, especially when paired with budget interfaces or mixers. They‘re not always necessary but can be useful.

The Bottom Line

Choosing the right mic is a critical but often overwhelming decision for podcasters. It‘s tempting to overspend on an expensive mic, but the wiser approach is to define your needs, assess your recording environment, and invest in quality where it matters most.

For most podcasters, I recommend starting with a versatile, rugged dynamic mic like the Shure SM7B, Electro-Voice RE20, or Rode Procaster. Pair it with a decent interface or mixer, quality cables, and some basic acoustic treatment. This setup will yield excellent results in most situations.

As your show grows, you can upgrade to a premium large-diaphragm condenser like the Neumann TLM 103 or experiment with character mics like the Ear Trumpet Labs Edwina. But the fundamentals of mic technique and recording environment will always be more important than having the latest, greatest gear.

At the end of the day, the best mic is the one that helps you create consistent, compelling content that resonates with your audience. No amount of gear can replace the hard work of honing your craft and connecting with your listeners. But the right tools can make the journey a bit easier and more enjoyable.

Happy podcasting!