I know I've talked about writing something like this for a while on the show. I've been working on it whenever I've had free time, which has been woefully uncommon.
I had a spare couple of hours and, in a burst of activity, put the following together. This is so pre-alpha that it's laughable, but I think you can get a sense of the direction and level of tech I'm aiming for.
Aside from formatting, grammar, diction, and incompleteness issues, what do you think so far? Would a guide such as this be useful to the "podcasting community?"
I plan to release it under the Creative Commons, but for now I reserve all rights, at least until I clean it up substantially.
When it comes to actual hardware, I will make two parallel sets of
recommendations: the beginner's/budget setup, and the advanced setup.
Don't be fooled by the names: the beginner's/budget equipment, if used properly,
will yeild sound quality far above and beyond the majority of podcasts out
there. The advanced version, while clearly better, is not
I cannot stress enough that you should feel no shame whatsoever in working with
the "beginer's/budget" equipment, especially if you have little or no audio
experience. That equipment is just fine, and you'll learn a great deal by
using it. Consider it a baseline starting point. As time goes on,
you'll start to understand both the potential and the limitations of that
rig. Until then, don't get in over your head. Don't buy a $300 mixer
until you understand why you need that $300
mixer, and how it's better than a $60 mixer.
Start small. While no one wants to admit it, there's always the chance
with any new endeavor that you'll grow tired of it in time. A budget rig
will give you the time you'll need to figure out if this is something you want
to continue to invest your time, energy, and money into. You wouldn't buy
a $3000 wide-bore silver trumpet before you took a single lesson: you'd buy a
$200 starter trumpet. If you lose interest in six months, you're out $200,
and you move on. By starting small, you're minimizing your potential
Recording audio requires a small amount of specialized equipment, each component
of which relies on the rest. I would recommend that you read the entire
"Hardware" section before making any decisions.
Microphone choice is important, but that is not to say that you should spend a
lot of money on one. The difference between a $5 microphone and a $30
microphone is enormous. The difference between a $30 and a $100 microphone
is noticeable. The difference between a $100 and a $500 microphone is
almost imperceptible. Welcome to the world of
This is not to say that the $500 microphone is not (in most cases) superior to
cheaper models. The issue has more to do with understanding what you
actually need, which is often far less than what you might want. Don't
spend a lot of money on a fancy microphone (or anything, for that matter) unless
you can clearly articulate to yourself exactly
why you need it. Ask yourself what problem this new piece of
equipment will solve, and how you think it will solve it. If you cannot
answer that question, then you'll likely be wasting your money.
There are a great many options out there, and decisions to make long before you
Types of Microphones
even think about brand or price. For the sake of simplicity, I'll break it
down into a few broad distinctions and omit the more technical details or
Modern microphones fall into two basic categories: condenser microphones and
Condenser vs. Dynamic
Condenser microphones, also known as capacitor microphones, work based on, in
case you couldn't guess, capacitors. While they typically have slightly
more sensitivity and better frequency response, they have a number of drawbacks.
They are significantly more expensive than dynamic microphones of similar
quality, even low-end ones costing quite a bit. They are far more fragile
than dynamic microphones, requiring careful handling. They require
external (Phantom) power to function, and can be overloaded with too-loud
Dynamic microphones work with a magnet and coil. Being of far simpler
construction than condenser microphones, they are thus many times more durable
and substantially cheaper. They are practically impossible to overload,
provide excellent response, and generate very little noise. Their only
real drawback is magnetic sensitivity: dynamic microphones will record a hum if
placed too close to CRT displays or other sources of moving magnetic fields.
Different microphones have different pickup patterns. Omnidirectional
Unidirectional vs. Omnidirectional (vs. Bidirectional)
microphones accept sound equally from all directions. Unidirectional
microphones accept sound primarily from only one direction, ignoring other
ambient noise. Bidirectional microphones accept sound from two opposite
Unidirectional microphones can be broken down into cardioid, hypercardoid, and
shotgun types. Very simply, cardioid accepts sound from a narrow angle in
the direction the microphone is facing. Hypercardioid accepts a much
narrower angle from the front, but also accepts some sound 180* from that (the
rear of the microphone). Shotgun accepts sound from an extremely focused
frontal angle, with small bits of sensitivity to the left, right, and rear.
In general, unidirectional microphones reduce background noise, reverb, and
feedback. They allow you to isolate a single sound source to the exclusion
of anything else going on in the room. They do, however, colour the sound
somewhat when compared to omnidirectional microphones. Interestingly, this
effect can be used to your advantage. Unidirectional microphones will
provide a substantial bass boost at very close ranges (0-5cm) due to something
called the proximity effect. Many
radio personalities' distinct, booming voices are the direct result of
"close-miking" in order to take advantage of this colouration.
Omnidirectional microphones do not typically colour the sound, and will in
general give you a more accurate representation of your voice. Also, since
they are sensitive in all directions, you do not have to be as careful to always
speak from the proper distance and angle. They will, however, pick up any
ambient sound in the room, which can be especially troublesome when trying to
record multiple voices simultaneously.
Bidirectional microphones are often very useful in face-to-face interviews, as
they essentially function as two unidirectional microphones, one for each