Preparation for a podcast not only encompasses what to say and how to say it. Preparation also matters in terms of the equipment you use. This is true whether you host a show or if you guest on a show.
Equipment will not make an excellent podcast because it doesn't ask questions, answer questions, or listen. However, it will make the podcast quality better and give you more credibility.
We can discuss several different equipment categories, yet for our purposes today we will only focus on what I consider the most essential components--a microphone and a headset. I have had several people ask me about these lately, so it seemed like a good week to dive-in.
Why is a microphone important?
When I say microphone, I mean a microphone separate from or external to the device on which you are recording. For example, if you record on a laptop or desktop, use a microphone that plugs into the computer instead of one built into it. The same goes for recording on a mobile device (smart phone, tablet, etc).
The difference between audio from an external microphone verses a built-in microphone can be significant. The good news is that you can buy excellent microphones without spending a fortune on them.
Why can't I just use my computer speakers?
You also will need to be careful with how you handle speakers. My recommendation is to use headphones of some type (earbuds, headset, etc). This will keep the sound from echoing in the recording. Sometimes the recording can pick up what is said directly into the microphone as well as the voice coming out of the speaker. Using headphones will eliminate this potential problem.
If you don't like the look of "bulky" headphones, earbud-style headphones do fine. It is worth noting that headphones are considered "normal" on video podcasts or video recording during a podcast interview. They are very common, so it will not detract from the conversation or any videos you choose to make from it.
Three Styles and a Caveat
One caveat before we jump into three styles of microphones and headphones--some people are staunch proponents for using only wired microphones and headsets. Their reasoning is that the Bluetooth signal can sometimes cut out or you may not have enough of a charge for the whole conversation. Some people like wireless because of the freedom of movement and fewer cords to get wrapped around everything. I have used both, though I am using wired now. My suggestion is try one and see what you think. You can always change later. Now, on to the three types (and this is not an exhaustive list of types).
Earbuds with Microphone (wired or wireless)
Whether you choose to go with wired or wireless, the earbud style of microphone and speakers works well for either mobile devices or laptop/desktops. If you already have a pair, you can use them in the beginning to get started. I know people who use the earbuds for speakers and use a separate microphone. The quality of sound from what you can get today is significantly better than even three or four years ago.
I will also lump lavalier (lapel) microphones into this category. If you use a smart phone for recording, a lavalier provides excellent sound quality. Look for a low cost option on Amazon with good reviews and try it out. I have a wired pair of lavaliers which I have used for interviews as well as when I travel.
USB Headset with Microphone (wired or wireless)
You can use a headset with microphone to get clear audio and sound for your conversation. I have a Logitech H390 Wired Headset which I have used for recording, and which I use for some video calls. They connect to a laptop via USB. The microphone works well and allows you to hear through the headset. I also consider them my backup microphone and headset in case something goes wrong with my primary microphone.
USB Microphone with separate headphones (wired or wireless)
I use this setup today (a USB microphone and separate earbuds). This is a picture of the microphone setup:
(my messy desk with microphone)
I use a Samson Q9U microphone with VIVO boom arm. The microphone plugs into my laptop via USB and the boom arm mounts to my desk. It is my favorite microphone thus far. I had a different microphone in the past which did okay, but this one is wonderful. Even if you don't go with this microphone, make sure to consider these two points for any USB microphone.
First, make sure it is unidirectional (The Samson Q9U is). Unidirectional simply means it picks up sound from one direction. The microphone records the sound that goes into the top of the microphone, not sound which comes from other directions. Second, a boom arm is worth purchasing if you have a set space for recording. It reduces noise in case you bump the table or desk and gets the microphone up and out of your way making it easier to position for recording.
As far as headphones go, for years I used a basic Knox wired headphone set (you can see it in some of my video clips on YouTube or LinkedIn and it is partially visible on the left side of the picture above). They worked well and did the job. The only drawback for me personally is that I wear hearing aids, which makes wearing over-the-ear headphones a bit uncomfortable when using them for a long period of time.
Recently I purchased a pair of Moondrop In Ear Earphones to replace my old earphones. I really like them. I chose a wired set, yet there are many options for wireless if you would prefer wireless.
More expensive doesn't mean better quality. Do your due diligence, read reviews, and ask people what they use. Again, the microphone and headphones won't make your podcast go viral or make you a fantastic host or guest. They will make the sound quality better and enhance the listeners and participants experience. Find what works for your budget. Let me repeat--more expensive does not necessarily mean better.
One last tip--always test your microphone and headphones prior to going live on a podcast. Don't assume they will work. Trust me on this one. I check mine every time and do so a few minutes before recording. I have it as part of my prep routine and checklist, whether I am hosting or guesting.
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Till next time!
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