How To Choose The Podcast Microphone That’s Right For You

The following is another guest post from Descript, a helpful software tool that I have been using to transcribe and edit the Design Future Now podcast from AIGA. This guide was written by Chris Zaldúa and originally published on the Descript Blog.

And FWIW, if you would like my recommendation for a microphone, I use a Blue Yeti Pro for most of my audio work.


The most important step towards building a successful podcast with an engaged audience is creating interesting, compelling content. But somewhere along the way, every podcaster will come to the same inevitable realization: If I’m going to take this seriously, I need a better microphone. 

The best podcast microphone is the podcast microphone that’s right for you. For the uninitiated, differentiating one microphone apart from another is no easy task. We’re here to help, so you can get back to the important stuff: creating great content, knowing it sounds great all the while.

To choose the right microphones for podcasting, you’ll need to consider the following:

  • How you’ll connect the microphone: USB (plug ‘n play) or XLR (requires additional hardware)
  • The difference in sensitivity between condenser and dynamic microphones
  • The space you usually record in
  • The number of people you’ll usually be recording

USB (plug ‘n play) vs. XLR (additional hardware) input

There’s a lot to be said for something that just works, and that’s why USB microphones are popular. USB ports are ubiquitous, so there’s a very good chance whatever you’re using to record your podcast has a USB port built in. XLR microphones require additional hardware — an audio interface or mixer — to connect to your computer, but offer flexibility and versatility that USB mics can’t match. Audio interfaces, used widely in professional recording studios, will add additional audio routing and processing capabilities to your recording setup.

USB microphones are plug ‘n play, so all you’ll need to do to get them up and running is make sure that you’ve selected the right microphone in the “Input” panel of your podcasting software. For Alban Brooke, head of marketing at podcast host Buzzsprout, that simplicity and ease of use goes a long way. “Your time should be spent podcasting, not learning how to record, edit, or upload your podcast,” he says.

One key benefit XLR mics offer over USB mics is the lower noise floor provided by the audio interface or mixer, which essentially acts as an external sound card. “Audio interfaces are a must for good sound,” says Kate Astrakhan, an audio engineer at professional podcasting agency Podcast Network Solutions. “Get an Audio Technica ATR2100 and a Behringer interface, and for less than $200, you have something that will give you professional quality sound,” she says.

Dynamic microphones pick up less sound than condenser microphones, but that can be a good thing

As far as podcast microphones go, the choice is between dynamic microphones or condenser microphones. Each is built differently, and if you’re so inclined, you can read more about the science that separates these two kinds of mics. Practically speaking, dynamic microphones are less sensitive to sound and more physically durable than condenser microphones. 

Dynamic microphones are capable of recording at far higher volumes than condenser microphones, which is why you’ll see the Shure SM-58 on concert stages worldwide. That’s not a selling point for podcasters — unless you’re recording on stage at a concert, which actually does sound like a great idea for a podcast.

Because of their lower sensitivity, dynamic microphones roll off some higher frequencies and produce a “warmer” sound, akin to a classic “broadcast” or “radio” sound. Condenser microphones capture more nuance in vocal recordings than dynamic microphones, which can lead to a richer, more natural sound.

The increased sensitivity of condenser mics comes with a tradeoff: you run the risk of recording background noise alongside all that added nuance. “Condenser microphones pick up a lot more nuance than dynamic microphones, but for many people, that means a condenser will pick up a lot more unwanted background noise,” says Buzzsprout’s Alban Brooke.

A good way to mitigate unwanted background noise is to pay close attention to the space where you record your podcast.

Your recording space matters — even more than you might think

For quality audio, the space in which you’re recording is just as important as a good microphone. Not taking recording space into account is the most common mistake up-and-coming podcasters make, says Podcast Network Solutions’ Toby Goodman. 

“The number one thing podcasters don’t take into consideration is the room in which they’re recording,” he says. “You could buy a top-of-the-line microphone, put it in a bad room, and it would be like buying a sports car and trying to drive it off a mountain — it just doesn’t work.” His colleague Kate Astrakhan agrees. “The key to selecting a good microphone is first making sure your room is full of soft surfaces, not hard surfaces,” she says. “Then even if you buy the cheapest USB microphone available, your sound will be better than it would be otherwise.”

Soft surfaces are the key to dampening sound reflections. Buzzsprout’s Alban Brooke recommends a simple solution: “Record where there’s a lot of soft material to soak up the sound — for a lot of podcasters, this means a walk-in closet,” he says. 

Might not be glamorous, but it definitely gets the job done.

Consider how many speakers you plan to record

When it comes time to record more than one person at once, it’s helpful to understand a microphone’s polar pattern. These patterns illustrate the directions in which a microphone picks up sound: in front and from both sides, but not the back, for instance. 

Most podcasters should stick with cardioid mics, for solo speakers recording directly into a mic, and bi-directional mics, which records two speakers in front and in back. Some microphones allow you to choose from different polar patterns, so take that into consideration if you plan on recording multiple speakers with one microphone.

If you regularly record with additional speakers — if your podcast features a local co-host that records with you in person, for example — then investing in an audio interface is a must. Pick up an audio interface with 2 (or more) XLR ports and as many dynamic microphones as you need. With that setup, recording multiple people will be a breeze. 

Choose the podcast microphone that’s right for you

No microphone is a magic bullet, but this guide will help you determine which works best for your podcast. Now, go forth and record some great content!

The 99% Invisible City with Roman Mars

I had the chance to interview Roman Mars on this week’s episode of Design Future Live, the show that I host on Instagram @AIGADesign every Wednesday at 1 pm Eastern. Roman is the host and producer of the 99% Invisible Podcast and author of the book The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to Hidden World of Everyday Design. Roman will also be hosting the upcoming AIGA Design Conference, November 9-14.

In the interview, we previewed Roman’s new book, talked about nerd identity, the limits and dangers of storytelling, and more.

Order a copy of Roman’s book through AIGA to also get access to our online conversation on Monday, November 9, 6:30-7:30 pm ET.

Design Thinking Roundtable Interview

I recently shared the story of my professional journey and some thoughts about design and storytelling with Anne-Laure Fayard, Associate Professor of Innovation, Design, and Organizational Studies at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering, faculty advisor to the NYU Chapter of Design for America, and host of the Design Thinking Roundtable podcast.

You can listen to the episode on Soundcloud, or here on Spotify.

How to Record a Podcast Remotely And Get It Right The First Time

I have been using Descript as part of my editing workflow for AIGA’s Design Future Now since we started the podcast. Descript makes it super easy to transcribe and edit audio.

With the COVID-19 shutdowns, our recording process shifted from in-person to online. The team at Descript have developed this guide, published below as a guest post, to help you get your remote recording right the first time. I wish I had this back in March!


Remote interviews are a fact of life for every podcaster, and in today’s era of social distancing, more so than ever. Since you rarely get the chance at an interview do-over, nailing down your remote recording workflow is essential. We’ll show you how to prepare for and record a remote interview, so you get it right the first time — with some additional tips along the way to make sure all your bases are covered. 

Choose the right remote recording setup for your podcast

The first step is to determine the remote recording setup that best suits the format and content of your podcast and your production and editing workflow.

In most cases, your best solution will involve recording remote interviews on Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, or a similar online conferencing service. This low-friction setup makes it easy for guests or co-hosts to contribute, but you’ll need to make sure you have the right software to record these interviews.

It’s also wise to make sure you can record phone calls. Phone interviews don’t offer great audio fidelity, but they make a great backup option in case of technical problems or schedule changes. Phone interviews probably won’t be your first choice, but it’s a good idea to be able to record a phone call just in case you need to. 

If you’re recording with the same remote co-host on each episode of your podcast, consider a double-ender setup, in which you and your co-host record your own audio tracks locally and combine them in post-production. For most podcasters, this isn’t the most convenient solution, but it does translate into the highest audio fidelity for you and your co-host.

The best way to record an interview is to prepare for it

When it comes to interviewing — especially remote interviewing — a little preparation goes a long way.

Do some research into your guest’s background, expertise, and projects. Who are they? Why is their work notable? What do you (and in turn, your audience) hope to learn from them?

Putting together a rough outline of the questions you’d like to ask will come in very handy. Write down a handful of specific questions and key points, but keep your outline broad and high-level. That’ll allow you to more easily adapt to the flow of conversation.

Maintaining that conversational flow remotely can be substantially trickier than doing so person-to-person. Prime yourself to listen more than you speak — in particular, try not to interrupt your guest. Editing out awkward silences between speakers is much easier than dealing with too much crosstalk!

When it’s time to record the interview, take a couple final preparatory steps to ensure a clean recording. Close all unnecessary software and set your computer to “Do Not Disturb” mode to make sure unwanted distractions don’t pop up (or worse: end up in the recording).

This article is originally published on descript.com.

How to record a Skype call, Zoom interview, or Google Hangout

For most remote recording situations, Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts are your platforms of choice. All three are easy to set up, simple for guests to use, and feature audio fidelity good enough for most podcasts. 

Both Zoom and Skype offer built-in call recording functionality, but Google Hangouts currently limits this offering to enterprise users. There’s an additional caveat: the file format (.MP4 or .M4A) that each platform outputs may not be what you want, depending on your podcast production and editing workflow.

For maximum control over your final product, you’re better off using third-party apps to record computer system audio directly into the recording software of your choice rather than relying on their recording functionality.

If you’re on a Mac, BlackHole is a great open-source tool that allows you to route audio between apps, which means you can record the audio output from Zoom (or Skype, or Google Hangouts) directly into your preferred recording software. On Windows, Virtual Audio Cable offers similar functionality. 

If you’re already using Descript to record, you won’t need to use additional audio routing software. When recording audio into Descript, open the Record panel, choose Add a Track, select your input, and choose “Computer audio.” Click the Record button whenever you’re ready, and audio from Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts will be piped into Descript. 

No matter which remote recording setup you use, make sure you test it — and test it again — with a friend or colleague before you’re actually recording your podcast. Troubleshooting when you should be interviewing ranks near the top of everyone’s Least Favorite Things To Deal With, so make sure everything is in order before your guest is on the line.

How to record a phone interview with Google Voice

Social distancing means nearly everyone has gotten used to handling calls and meetings on Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts. But maybe your podcast guest is really old-school, or their computer is on the fritz, or maybe they’re simply only able to access a phone during your scheduled call time. It’s likely phone interviews will never be your first choice, but being able to record an old-fashioned phone call will come in handy.

Recording phone calls can be tricky, but using Google Voice to make an outgoing phone call from your computer means you can use the same remote recording setup detailed above to record the call.

Follow Google’s instructions to set up Google Voice and then learn how to make an outgoing call. Once everything’s set up, you’ll be able to record phone calls with Google Voice just like you’d record an interview on Zoom or Skype. 

Again, make sure to test with a friend and then test again before your interview. 

If lossless audio quality is a must, record a “double-ender”

For most remote recording situations, Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts are your platforms of choice. All three are easy to set up, simple for guests to use, and feature audio fidelity good enough for most podcasts. 

But if you have a remote co-host that regularly appears on your podcast, and you want to maximize the quality of your audio, a “double-ender” is the way to go: Each host or guest records themselves locally, and audio tracks are combined in post-production. For an additional cost, you can use third-party recording platforms that simulate double-enders without each speaker managing their own recording software.

A traditional double-ender sees each speaker recording their own audio track using their recording software of choice (Descript, Audacity, Quicktime, etc.), and then the host or editor combines each speaker’s recording into a finished product. Each speaker should have a decent microphone — if they’re using a laptop microphone to record, you probably won’t hear a substantial advantage with a double-ender over a Zoom, Skype, or Google Hangouts recording.

Alternatively, you can simulate a double-ender by using a platform like SquadCast, Zencastr, or Cleanfeed. These services record lossless audio from each speaker, upload each track to the cloud, and combine them automatically. These platforms cost money, but they’re a great alternative to a double-ender when guests or co-hosts don’t have the time or wherewithal to fiddle with recording themselves locally. Again, make sure each speaker has a decent microphone — otherwise you won’t reap the full benefits of lossless audio.

Make remote recording hassles a thing of the past

Recording your podcast remotely isn’t painless, but once you get the hang of it — and nail down your workflow — it’ll become second nature.

Happy Year of the Rat Attack

I recently got to play a capoeira fighting henchman in this new video from musical YouTubers The Gregory Brothers and Japanese yodeling sensation Takeo Ischi. Happy year of the Rat Attack, y’all! 🐀Hope you enjoy the music video.