“I think a lot of people mistake my confidence on stage for cockiness in real life, and that’s actually farthest from the truth. When I’m on stage, I’m that confident and that cocky because I have a microphone in my hand, and there’s a few thousand people staring at me. And I know they’re there to laugh.” — Russell Peters
So you’re starting your first podcast or looking to break into voiceover… Congrats!
You might be wondering:
What’s the next step?
What equipment do I need?
Here’s the list that I give all of my clients for podcasting and voiceover. I hope that you find the same value in it they do.
This is your most important piece of gear for voiceover and recording a podcast. Without a decent mic, you will instantly lower your audio quality & peg yourself as an amateur (further reading – point #4). I understand that this sounds a bit gloom and doom, but it’s the truth whether you realize it or not.
So, what do you do?
Invest the money upfront to get a decent microphone. I’m not suggesting one of those Blue USB Mics because honestly… they’re $65 for a reason. Despite that 4.5 star review, any audio engineer will tell you that they’re crap. And, I’ll tell you the same: they’re cheap, and there are much better alternatives out there if you are willing to spend just a little more.
A. Shure SM58
The Shure SM58 is a legendary mic that I’m sure you recognized instantly in the image above. You may not have known its name, but you knew that iconic mic. Musicians use it. Stand-up comics use it. Public speakers use it. It’s the vocal mic that you see in almost every live venue, and there’s good reason for it.
This mic is specifically tailored for vocals with — this is audio geek jabber — a brightened midrange, and bass rolloff. That basically means that the mic emphasizes your voice, boosts intelligibility, and gets rid of excess noise. Plus it’s cardioid pattern naturally helps isolate your performance so that you get more of what you want, and less of the traffic passing by outside. At $99 the SM58 is a powerhouse for the price.
Here’s the SM58 example:
As you can hear, the mic really emphasizes the voice in a nice way. The only processing I applied was normalizing it to -.2 dB and applying some very moderate limiting — nothing fancy.
What can I say?
It’s a legend for a reason.
The Audio-Technica AT 2020 is another prominent starter microphone. I’ll start by saying it’s a condenser mic which means that it needs phantom power and is more sensitive. You may think that you want that sensitivity, but a cheap condenser mic shows its price tag in a hurry because of that extra sensitivity.
I hate to call out other podcasters and bloggers that recommend you get a USB AT2100, Blue Snowflake, or whatever but…
I’m so tired of hearing bad audio in podcasts, and I’m giving you a free consultation on where you should start. It’s not that expensive to buy a decent mic, and the AT2020 — also $99 — is a great contrast to what the Shure SM58 sounds like.
Here’s the AT 2020 example:
Note: This has the exact same processing as the previous example, and it’s in the exact same room.
That’s the same price, and same rating as the Shure SM58.
Do you hear the difference? Do you hear all that crunchiness in the high end. When you listen to that on a set of earbuds, it fatigues your listener making it much harder to listen for long periods of time. It’s subtle, but I promise you, it adds up. I wouldn’t recommend any condensers until you reach the AT4040 because that’s when they start sounding great.
Don’t get fooled by the fancier looks of large diaphragm condenser mics that include shock-mounts. It does not mean the microphone is better.
The Electro Voice RE-20 is actually my microphone of choice. It’ll run you $449, but I completely believe it’s worth every penny. Admittedly I am a Sound Designer, and yeah… I like good gear, but the RE-20 is considered to be the broadcast industry standard microphone. Radio announcers, newscasters, and a few talk show hosts use this exact microphone because it adds some amazing color to your voice.
The RE-20 is another microphone that naturally emphasizes the voice, but because it’s a dynamic microphone, it produces an awesome proximity effect. In other words…
The closer you get to the mic, the bigger and bassier you sound.
That’s how radio announcers get that “bigger than life” sound that we associate with radio.
Here’s the RE-20 example:
Note: Again, this track has the exact same processing as the others.
When comparing this version with the others can you hear the difference? It’s richer. It’s bigger. It’s…better.
Investing in a decent microphone is your first hurdle, and I honestly feel like you’re better off doing this right from the start. If you have the money, go for the Electro Voice RE-20. The extra investment will incentivize you to really take what you’re doing seriously.
If you can’t drop the $449 then I strongly recommend you go for the Shure SM58 as your starter mic. It’s affordable at $99, and it actually delivers a better product than these low end condensers that other podcasters keep recommending.
By the way, it’s not so much that those podcasters or bloggers are wrong, they’re just misinformed. I went to school for an extra 3 years after undergrad to specifically focus in, and master this stuff. If I couldn’t give you the facts then I’d have seriously wasted my time getting that education… let’s continue.
2. Audio Interface
This is your second most important piece of gear in the chain. An audio interface allows your computer to interface or connect with your microphone, so that you are able to record your audio.
Here are my recommendations:
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is definitely my favorite unit. It’s actually the interface that I currently use.
Focusrite really manages to deliver with this unit because it has relatively quiet preamps for a strong value price at $149.99. Quiet preamps matter because they determine how much amp hiss you’re going to hear in your recordings. If your input signal isn’t high enough to overcome your amp hiss, you can have some really dirty audio.
Here’s an example of what amp hiss sounds like:
Note: I created this example by recording my audio with a low gain, and then processed it the same as the other recordings: normalized to -.2 dB and then applying some moderate limiting on it.
You can hear that sizzle and crackle in the background of the audio, right? That can occur with any interface, but the threshold at which it starts to be a problem is determined by the quality of the preamp.
- The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is an amazing value at $149.99
- It’s preamps are relatively quiet
- You get two inputs, so that you can have two mics running simultaneously
- It has phantom power available
- Ease of use. It’s very much plug and play.
Note: The Focusrite Scarlett Solo is nearly identical to the 2i2 except that it only has the 1 input, and will run you $99. Not too shabby, eh?
B. Zoom H4n
Funny enough the Zoom H4n is the interface that Tim Ferriss uses on the Tim Ferriss Show. I personally own one of these, but would never use it as an interface. To be honest, I’ve had a bit of trouble with the preamps, and haven’t found them to be 100% reliable. Most of my classmates owned them as well, and their experiences were much better than my own — I do still use it for field recording though.
The Zoom H4n really rocks when it comes to mobility. You can use it anywhere, record to an SD card, and upload it to your computer later. That flexibility will come in handy if you want to go out, and record, but don’t want to lug your laptop along.
- Best mobility
- Fair price at $199.99
- Ok preamps — mine are meh, but others have had better results with it
- Built-In microphones
- Ease of use. It’s another interface that is good to go as soon as you plug it in.
The Universal Audio Apollo Twin is the hot rod of 2 XLR input audio interfaces. These are super high end at a charming $699.
Their preamps are pristine, and their performance is epic. If you can afford this — cough cough the wealthy who podcast! — then treat yourself!
I used this interface’s big brother when I was earning my MFA, and it was sincerely worth the money. It was consistent, and performed like a pro — pretty hard to beat. Speaking of pros…
- Pristine preamps — I can’t emphasize that enough.
- Well built
- Ease of use surprisingly enough
- Superior high quality everything
Once you have your mic, and interface you’ll want some accessories to hook it all up plus enhance it. Don’t underestimate the importance of quality audio accessories. They really make a difference.
A. Pop Filter
I don’t really care what brand you get, but get a pop filter. The one in the picture is literally $5.74. They’re inexpensive, but boy do they matter.
A pop filter prevents plosives — puffs of air from consonants like “p” or “b” — from hitting the microphone and creating distortion in the captured audio.
Here’s an example of a “p” pop:
The audio file isn’t actually peaking, but the p’s are creating distortion.
Those pops are an instant indicator that the user is new to recording, or just too lazy to care. Again, we are aiming for simple, completely attainable polish on our recordings. This leads to increased trust from your listener.
B. Mic Stand
You’ll need a mic stand to hold up your microphone, and put it into position. I’m going to recommend getting a boom stand over a desk stand because they are more versatile, and their mobility will pay off. I personally own both, but tend to favor my boom over my desk.
- Great if you plan on recording at a desk or table
Boom Stand (pictured above)
- Great if you want to be able to record anywhere.
C. XLR Cable
You need to be able to plug your microphone into your interface, so you’ll bee needing an XLR cable. I’d opt to go for something that is at least 25 feet just in case. It’s better to have the length than battle your 6 footer.
Realistically the brand doesn’t matter all that much, but I do have a preference for Neutrik connectors. They are a higher quality, have better shielding that prevents interference, and will last a lot longer than their cheaper competition.
You now have all your gear, but there’s one last link in the chain: software. Let’s go ahead, and split this up.
- A lot of tools
- Waveform Editor
- Many exporting options
- No real time processing
- Weak fading tool
- Poor tool interface overall
- Free (for Mac users)
- Real time processing
- Strong processing tools
- Mastering tools
- Song and media browser
- Auto normalization
- Like a million tutorials on how to use it
- Clunky waveform editing
- No direct editing tools (they’re key commands… drat!)
3. Pro Tools
This is the industry standard waveform editing software, and is what I personally use. If you are willing to buy Pro Tools 12 — that’s the current version at the time of this post — you’ll be making a strong investment. I’m personally still on version 11, but that’s because my free upgrade plan ran out, and I’m still happy with 11.
Pro Tools kills it as a waveform editor with tons of editing tools and powerful plug-ins right out of the box.
If you’re serious about producing audio, bite the bullet, cry a little, and purchase it.
You’ll benefit from learning this software if you want to work in the film or music industries.
- Incredibly powerful editing tools
- Amazing flexibility
- Awesome plug-ins
- Tons of expandability
- Industry standard software
- There’s a learning curve… you’ll learn
Woofta… we made it.
So yeah, that’s the comprehensive consultation I’d give anyone seriously looking to break into the podcast, or voice over world.
I’ll drop a little life advice here. Take action. Buy some starter gear, and just give it a go. You’ll rarely be upset that you bought this equipment because you can use it in so many ways, and if you don’t, your kids will. Recording is blast, and getting good at it will set you apart from the competition faster than anything else.
Here’s my personal gear kit:
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for $149.99
That is all of the physical gear I currently use to produce audiobooks and voiceover work. I’ve gotten employed repeatedly with amazing feedback, and all 5 star reviews on Upwork.com. Plus, I’ve been mentioned in the Kansas City Star a few times for my theatre sound design work.
I know that initial price tag looks intimidating, but if you go with the Shure SM58, a simple mic stand, the Scarlett Solo, and the needed accessories. You can get all you need for around $250. That’s a good place to start, and it’ll be sounding significantly better than the folks using those cheap usb mics that sound like butt.
And trust me… they’re cheap.
Like… Beats by Dr. Dre cheap.
I’ll just leave this here… Evidence
Plus they’re actually considered a joke in the audio community… but hey, they do look really cool.
However, if you’re looking for some decent starter headphones, these are what I use:
And these are my desk monitors:
When you do voice work, both headphones or monitors work fine for playback, so don’t worry about it too much.
Most people listen on crappy earbuds, and tiny computer speakers.
But that doesn’t mean you have to.
Thanks again for taking the time to absorb this post.
If you love it, leave some love, or share the article with somebody who could use it.
If you hate it, tell me. I love feedback.
Everybody has their preference, and I totally respect that. Results are results.
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