Microphones and Alternatives

Podcast Essentials ~ Recording the voice is the key part of the podcast process. This is an area when new players are confused and older ex-radio types and hi fidelity aficionados can lead the modern podcaster astray.

Being comfortable with your mic is essential. It becomes an extension of you. Not consciously, it just happens one day and we only realise afterwards.

To get you to that point we will have to travel a hero’s journey. Fighting off the falsehoods, expending treasure and finally, finally finding the right tool for your circumstances. Until you see the next ad for a the best mic in the world. But by then you’ll know what you’re looking for.

So lets go.

Microphones broadly speaking split into two groups: Dynamic and Condenser.

This is where we get to make our first choice. Dynamic mics function like a loud speaker in reverse. Sound enters the mic, is converted to electrical impulses and these are recorded in whatever we are using. They are, generally, more robust and do not need an outside power source.

Condenser mics use a capacitor and variations in the distance between the plates of that capacitor to create the electrical impulses we can record. These variations are from a base electrical charge so condenser mics need a power source. This means, for most practical situations your laptop. Condenser mics are generally considered more sensitive than dynamic and this pluses and minuses.

Depending upon your recording space and how well you set that up, too much background noise like “leak” into the mic.

A good summary of the differences as far as uses is concerned comes from the manufacturer SHURE ‘s website:

From a practical standpoint, if the microphone will be used in a severe environment such as a rock and roll club or for outdoor sound, dynamic types would be a good choice. In a more controlled environment such as a concert hall or theatrical setting, a condenser microphone might be preferred for many sound sources, especially when the highest sound quality is desired.

Given that we just don’t know for sure when we start podcasting exactly where we’ll be using our mics even if think we have a fair idea, I would come down on the dynamic side.

That being said, these are the mics I use: Rode Videomic me and a Zoom H2n.  The Rode is a condenser mic but a miniature one and built like a brick outhouse. You can see in the pic how it compares, size wise to an iPhone. It is highly directional which is great for outdoor work. I used to use this as my only mic. I’d record into the Voice Recorder Pro app, upload to google drive and then drop it into Garageband to edit. It takes earbuds/headphones with a 3.5 mm jack so yo can hear yourself as you record. I always carry the Rode with me, just in case I need to record on the move.

From the Rode I’ve moved to the Zoom H2n. The black one in the pic. The silver one is the original Zoom H2. You can pick them up real cheap, $40 on eBay. The screen is too small for my eyes without glasses which is a problem Zoom fixed with the H2n. The later model is also much easier to set settings on, I find.

The Zoom, generally travels with me too. It takes about five seconds to get ready for recording. But it can be a bit intimidating for some interviewees hence the Rode.

If you are stuck without any “mic” on you you can use your smart phone. The mics on these are good enough these days they just feel a bit cluncky in a formal interview setting. People expect us to have a separate “mic” but they work. So if you’re just recording at home, on your own, you can start with just your phone as the recording device and you’ll be good.

For the more traditional looking mics, stay simple. The more expensive the mic, the better the sound proofing in the recording space needs to be. I had a student who used a $30 Chinese made dynamic mic on tabletop stand that worked perfectly. He told me it took him a month of experimenting with mic placement and recording space manipulation to get the sound he liked. This sort of experimenting will have to happen with any mic. So $30 or $10,000 you still need to correlate the recording space, the  mic and your voice to get the best out of your gear.

Take aways:

  • Mics covers a multitude choices.
  • Dynamic is usually more robust condenser.
  • Condenser is usually more sensitive than dynamic.
  • Price doesn’t necessarily determine quality.
  • Learn your mic and set your recording space accordingly.
  • You makes your choice and you pays your money.
  • How will you sound to your listeners????