One of the perennial questions I’ve gotten as a veteran podcaster is, “What is the best microphone for podcasting?”.

There are three answers to this question.

Answer 1: Like the best camera, the best microphone is the one you have with you when you want to record some audio. In the era of nearly ubiquitous wi-fi and LTE networks, chances are you’ll have opportunities to record. If you have no gear with you, you can’t record no matter how good the moment is. Fortunately, smartphones are quite capable recorders in a pinch.

Answer 2: The best microphone is the microphone you can afford. When you’re starting out, get whatever’s affordable, especially if you’re not sure podcasting is for you. Once you determine whether you enjoy the medium (and/or it has executive support, if you’re doing it for a company), you can re-invest in audio gear, but you don’t need much more than the basics to start.

Answer 3: The best microphone is the one that works best with your voice. Microphones all handle sound differently. Some are designed to bring in sound from specific directions. Others are designed to catch specific frequencies.

Here’s an example. I recorded a series of 4 audio segments with 4 different kinds of microphones. Listen to the difference:

Here’s a visualization of that audio:

spectral_analysis.png

What we see is that samples 1 and 3 pick up a lot of stuff. There’s a lot of noise, as evidenced by the brighter red and yellows at the top half of each of their sections. Sample 2 is missing a big chunk of stuff, largely because of limitations of the smartphone. Sample 4 is the semi-pro microphone that’s designed to reject some noise – from different directions and on certain frequencies – while giving priority to specific sounds. My voice, which occupies the lowest quarter of the diagram, is bigger and brighter in sample 4 than in the other samples.

Is this the best microphone for podcasting? It is for me, but the same is not true for everyone. Every voice is unique and different, and occupies different frequencies. What works for me will not necessarily work for you; no one would expect a microphone that makes James Earl Jones sound amazing will do the same for Mariah Carey or Taylor Swift.

So, how do you choose the best microphone based on your voice? The short answer is to go out and test as many as you can. Some music stores will let you bring a laptop and record samples of your voice to see what suits you best. Or go to an event like a PodCamp and try out other podcasters’ microphones.

Conclusion

The best microphone is a blend of what you have when you need it, what you can afford, and what’s optimum for your voice. Without hesitation, the microphone that you actually use is the best one, whereas a microphone that just sits and collects dust is worthless, no matter how high quality it is.


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