What type of microphone should you buy for podcasting?
Getting started in podcasting can be done with very little financial investment. However, eventually you will want to start buying equipment that will help you increase the quality of your show. Whether you are doing a video or audio podcast you will benefit from a good microphone.
There are different types of microphones for recording a podcast. The most common include dynamic, condenser and electret microphones. There are many other types of microphones available, but these are the three most common that you will want to understand when choosing a mic for your podcast.
The dynamic microphone is the type that you typically see on stage during a concert. They are very robust and can be made to pick up only the sound that is immediately in front of the mic. They work by having the sound waves move a diaphragm inside of a magnetic field; this is called electromagnetic induction. Most podcasters don't have a sound proof room for their recording studio, therefore they will benefit from having a dynamic microphone that will reject any sounds that are not spoken directly into the diaphragm of the mic.
A good dynamic microphone will cost between $100 and $300. The best introductory dynamic microphone, and probably the only one you would ever need, is the Shure SM58 (about $100). The other end of the spectrum is the Heil PR40 ($300 approx.). Both of these mics have a cleaner and fuller sound than other dynamic microphones you can find at a lower price point.
A dynamic microphone can be used with, or without a mixer. Since this type of mic does not require external power to operate you can plug it right into your recording device (though some computer sound cards either need a bit of amplification to record, or are designed only for electret mics). Dynamic microphones can be much easier to use without any complicated equipment.
There are different types of dynamic mics. For example, the Heil PR40 is a large diaphragm dynamic mic. These are usually mounted in studios since they are too big to be practical as a hand-held microphone. Large diaphragm microphones will provide a much more robust sound than small diaphragm mics which are usually hand-held. Small diaphragm mics can also provide a rich, full sound, but typically the large diaphragm mics do a bit better. The workhorse of the hand-held mic industry is the SM58. It is world renown for its tremendous vocal reproduction even though it is a small diaphragm microphone. This is the microphone you almost always saw on stage at concerts, at least until your favorite artist started sacrificing quality for aesthetics and moved to the over-the-ear style mics.
A condenser microphone is the type that is typically used in recording studios for voice over work. A condenser microphone requires the use of phantom power which is a fancy name for a power source coming into the microphone. This is often provided by a mixer; however, it can be a battery pack either inside the microphone, or between the mic and the mixer. If you use a separate source of power it will enable you to record directly into a digital recorder or your computer.
Because of the external power supply condenser mics are very sensitive to sound waves. It is necessary to keep the noise in the room quiet while using a condenser microphone. In the right conditions a condenser microphone can yield stunning results. While music is often performed live with a dynamic mic, a condenser mic is used in most studio recordings.
Many of the larger USB desktop microphones are condenser mics, such as the Blue Snowball. It gets its power from the USB plug.
The third type of mic that is commonly used for podcasting is the electret microphone. This is actually a condenser mic that has been permanently electrically charged in the factory and therefore doesn't require external power to operate. They are very small and inexpensive. These are the types of microphones found in computer mics and cell phones. Often the types of microphones that are in microphone/earphone headsets are electret mics.
While these microphones can be very high quality, usually the lower end aren't that great. The microphone built into a notebook computer is an electret mic. It will pick up any noise in the room, including the fan from the computer that it is running on. Also the ubiquitous desktop "pencil" microphone is an electret mic. It would not take too much testing to hear the vast quality difference between one of these low quality, cheap electret microphone and just about any other mic.
While a USB mic can be dynamic, condenser or electret they deserve a mention of their own. USB microphones will plug directly into your computer and allow you to record using recording software like Audacity or Garage Band. Used properly, you can get good sound out of USB microphones. However, there are many people who do not like USB mics because they don't have the rich, full sound of a good dynamic microphone. USB mics typically tend to be more aggressive in picking up any sound coming into them. They will pick up more room noise than a well placed dynamic or condenser mic.
One of the biggest negatives to a USB mic is that they are not as flexible as a standard dynamic, or condenser microphone. If you need to record without a computer you will be stuck looking for a completely new microphone setup.
Getting started in podcasting does not have to cost thousands of dollars. In fact you can start with the built-in mic on your computer. However, the best sound investment you can make in the quality of your show is to get a good microphone. Start with what you have, but keep your eye out for a microphone that will help take you to the next level. It can be with any of these microphone types.
Armed with this information choose a podcast topic and start recording.