Podcast Starter Kit: Best Equipment Options for Every Budget

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So you’ve decided to start a podcast—congratulations! The first step is finding the right equipment to record and produce it. Depending on your aims, cost and quality can vary greatly. So it’s important to consider what’s necessary versus what would be “nice to have,” what you can afford, and whether spending an extra $200 is really going to make a difference in sound quality. 

Hosting a solo show with remote guests? Your equipment needs will be a lot less involved than if you’re creating a podcast with multiple in-person hosts and guests, or one that requires field interviews. Don’t have any money to spend getting this thing off the ground? Use your phone to record your material and your computer to edit. As professional podcasting contrarian Evo Terra will tell you, “It’s less than ideal, but it works. You can just hold up your phone to record someone in the field. It takes a little extra cleanup, but you can use [the audio].”

If you do have some money to spend on gear, however, read on. We’ll walk you through everything you need to get started based on your budget. 

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Microphones

Microphone

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This is your most essential piece of podcasting equipment. Whatever mic you use, ensure that it's about an inch away from the side of your mouth. According to sound engineer Michael Castañeda of PlasticAudio, “You want to record with the mix in mind” so that the editing process doesn’t require additional cleanup and added effects.

USB microphones

If you’re just getting started and money is tight, you can easily make do with a USB mic that costs less than $100. You can plug it directly into your computer and conduct interviews using a remote interface like Zoom. Most USB mics come with a desk stand and are easy to position. This type of microphone will work less well if you have an in-person guest, however, as your computer can only recognize one input source at a time—meaning the two of you will have to huddle close together to speak into a single mic.

Beginner podcasters often gravitate toward the Blue Yeti, which starts at $89.99. But according to Polymash, some pros find the sound this mic records to be too “roomy.” An alternative option is the Samsung Q2U ($59.99). One big advantage of the Q2U is that it has both a USB output for connecting to a computer and an XLR output to connect to mixers and other more complex setups. 

Dynamic and condenser microphones

These types of mics are favored by studio technicians because they smooth out sound and are more sensitive to high frequencies—but a condenser mic requires a power source outside your laptop’s USB. A dynamic mic, on the other hand, doesn’t need a power source, which is one of the reasons we recommend it for an entry-level podcaster. These mics are also more forgiving when it comes to shifts in vocal tone and body position, and aren’t as sensitive to background noise; so you don’t have to worry as much about soundproofing your space.

  • Under $100: The Shure SM58 is a dynamic microphone that can’t be beat for the $99 price tag. This model has been around for decades thanks to its dependability and the warm, clean sound it produces.
  • Under $300: The Shure MV7 ($249) is a dual XLR and USB mic that records a full, rich sound.
  • Under $400: The gold standard for podcasting—and the one you’re  most likely to find in photos of top podcasters and musicians—is the Shure SM7B ($399). It’s a dynamic mic that delivers superb results for every voice and range; it will make your podcast sound smooth and crisp.
  • Other brands to consider: AKG, Audio-Technica, Neumann, RØDE, Sennheiser

Headphones

Sony headphones

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Whether you’re recording at home or in a studio, headphones allow you to monitor sound quality in the moment and keep an eye out for echoes, popping, and other distracting audio issues. Make sure the model you choose is closed-back (meaning over-the-ear) to block out background noise. Try on a few pairs before committing; since you’ll be wearing them for long stretches, they should be comfortable to wear.

  • Under $20: They’re nothing fancy, but for $10, the Sony ZX series will get the job done.
  • Under $60: A solid mid-range option, the Audio Technica ATH-M20X professional studio headphones provide a good level of comfort while effectively blocking outside sounds.
  • Under $100: Most professionals recommend Sony MDR-756 headphones ($99.99) because they will give you a clean sound with little audio bleed.
  • Under $200: The Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro series (which starts at $159) are among the most comfortable headphones you can buy and will ensure a high level of protection against outside interference.
  • Other factors to consider: While many favor Bluetooth wireless headphones for listening, they’re not ideal for podcasting because of the slight signal delay that can produce lower-quality sound. That said, Apple AirPods and a lavalier mic or standard Apple Earpods can work in a pinch for a remote interview.

Handheld audio recorders

handheld recorder

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Recording in the field and want something a step up from your phone? A handheld audio recorder can give you a lot of options—and more advanced models allow for multi-track recording with multiple XLR mics. Just note that most use SD or microSD cards, so you’ll need to purchase a few, as well as a card reader to transfer files if your computer doesn’t already have one. 

  • Under $100: If you want the most bang for your buck, look no further than the Zoom H1n.  It’s the entry-level model in the Zoom series, with built-in stereo condenser microphones that provide a richer, fuller sound than your smartphone will. While it doesn’t offer multi-track recording, it does allow for a single 3.5 mm microphone and a set of headphones to be plugged in.
  • Under $200: At this price point, you’ll be adding multi-track recording and the ability to record with multiple XLR microphones. For mid-range and above, you can use your audio recorder to interface directly with your computer using XLR mics and the software of your choice. The workhorse model at this level is the Zoom H4n Pro . It’s an extremely durable piece of equipment that should last a lifetime if treated right, with four-track recording, two XLR inputs, and a bevy of other options. If you need more functionality, consider a model with interchangeable mic heads like the Zoom H5.
  • Above $300: At this price level, you’re basically purchasing the entire package with all available options and accessories with the greatest number of inputs and volume controls for your mics. The Zoom H6 or H8 will fill this role for you quite well with big knobs and easy-to-use controls. 
  • Other brands to consider: TASCAM, Sony, Olympus

Audio interfaces

Audio interface

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Any non-USB microphone picks up analogue sound, which then passes through an audio interface to be digitized. An audio interface is a stand-alone device that has plugins for XLR mics and monitors to check your levels while allowing for multi-track recording and professional-level editing. 

  • Under $100: While there aren’t a lot of great options at this price point, there is the PreSonus Audiobox USB 96. Its name comes from the fact that it records in up to 24-bit, 96 kHz audio.
  • Under $200: The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is the gold standard for both beginners and advanced podcasters who are recording with two XLR microphones. It’s lightweight, portable, and as podcast production company Multitude puts it, “built like a tank.”
  • Under $500: Much like with audio recorders, at this price, you’re adding more controls and channels to record on. Another Focusrite product, the Scarlett 6i6, will give you greater control and let you record on  six channels.
  • Above $500: At this price point, you’re getting into “rack mount” interfaces, which are pretty much what you would see in a recording studio: high-end equipment that has the ability to record as many mics, outputs, instruments and channels as you want.

Microphone stands

Microphone stand

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When recording a podcast, you don’t want to hold the microphone in your hand—because then you run the risk of picking up unwanted sounds from body movement. You’ll need something to hold it in place, which means you’re looking for a tabletop stand, desk-mounted unit with a boom arm and clamp, or larger floor stand.

  • Under $30: Tabletop stands are the lowest tier for holding your microphones, but they aren’t bad for the money. They’re made of metal and come with a three-legged tripod or circular base. They don’t have a lot of height adjustment options, so you may need to stack some books or magazines underneath to create the height you want.
  • Under $100: Your basic tripod-mounted floor microphone stand is made of metal and has a long pole arm and an adjustable end to hold the microphone. This classic model from Gator Frameworks ($69.99) has everything you need as far as height and adjustability.
  • Over $100: The RØDE PSA1+ runs at $129—and it’s worth every penny. It’s a sturdy desk mount made of metal that ensures your microphone isn’t going anywhere while also being fully adjustable.

Microphone pop filters

Pop filter

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A pop filter (or windscreen) will protect your audio from picking up gusts of air created by popping sounds or “plosives”—what you get when you push too much air behind your words. These range in price from just a few dollars for the classic foam windscreen ball covers to $44.99 for a top-of-the-line Steadman Corporation Proscreen 101.

Cables

XLR Cable

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XLR microphones require XLR cables to plug into your audio interface. They vary in length and quality, as well as price (from as little as $10 to $100 for gold-plated models). Don’t be fooled, though: XLR cables just need a secure connection—and much like HDMI cords, they either work or they don’t. A three-foot cord is likely all you’ll need, but consider a longer version, as the price difference is small and you may be thankful one day for the slack.

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