Podcasting Basics: Episode 1 – The Microphone

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Episode Summary

Join us today as we discuss microphones, what they are, what are the different types and which microphones are considered to be the industry standard options when it comes to podcast recording that you can buy when first launching your show. Enjoy!

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Episode Transcript

Nemanja: Welcome to the Nootka Sound Podcast, I’m your host Nemanja Koljaja, a professional Sound Engineer, Audio Editor and Podcast Producer and a CEO and Founder of Nootka Sound, a professional podcast production facility. Today we’re talking about microphones. So the first thing you will need when starting your own podcast is a microphone. And first thing’s first, a microphone is a transducer. Transducers convert some sort of energy into another form of energy. So in this case, a microphone converts sound waves into an electrical signal. Another example of a transducer is a speaker. So a mic and a speaker are basically the same thing, the only difference is the speaker works the other way around, it converts electrical signal into sound waves. So in theory, you can use your speaker as a microphone and your microphone as a speaker. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. [Explosion] There’s a big chance you’ll break your speaker and / or microphone. Before we get into the different types of microphones, let’s talk about what else you need in order to record your microphone into your computer. So when you start talking into a microphone it converts your voice into an electrical signal, in the old days you would record that electrical signal onto a medium and the most common medium used to be tape. And for that you would use a tape machine. So the signal would remain in the analog domain all the way through. But since we’re in the 21st century or most of us are [hah, got him] we would ideally want to have our audio in our computer. That means we have to convert the analog signal into a code that our computer can understand. And that code is the binary code. So for that we use an A/D converter or an analog to digital converter. The simplest way to do that is with an audio interface. And aside from having an A/D or a D/A converter, they also have everything else you’d need to effectively record your vocals. Such as the preamplifier which amplifies the low output signal that comes out of a microphone, they also have gain knobs, phantom power, pads, LED lights that show the signal strength, monitor outputs and a headphone output. So basically, anything and everything you’d need to record your podcast audio into a computer. In the next episodes we’ll explore which audio interface you want to look into when starting your podcast. Okay, let’s get back to the microphones. You need a cable to connect your microphone to the audio interface and for that we use a standard microphone cable (in most cases) which is the XLR cable. XLR provides a three pin, balanced connection and is able to carry an analog or a digital signal, for example AES/EBU (Audio Engineer Society/ European broadcast Union). After connecting the microphone to the audio interface and the interface to the computer we just need software to record the audio into. For that we can use any DAW – a Digital Audio Workstation, and there are a couple of free ones like the GarageBand or Audacity and there are a lot of commercially available software products as well. For example, I prefer to use Avid’s Pro Tools for a number of reasons. You can tune in to a future episode where we discuss different DAWs and how to use them. Let’s get into the different types of microphones and which ones you can use when starting your podcast. There are a couple of different types, however let’s talk about the two that are important to the podcasting world. And now I think it would be a good time to mention that you should refrain from using USB microphones. They’re bulky and rarely sound good and the only reason people use them is because they’re afraid to enter the world of professional audio recording, because of apparent complexity with buying and using audio interfaces or any other recording equipment. That’s one of the reasons I’m recording this podcast, to help you overcome any doubts you may have had about voiceover recording. And that’s why I’m creating this step by step guide to introduce you to every piece of equipment and to make sure you’re able to record a high quality podcast recording in your home.  So put your trust in my decade long experience [that’s what she said] and forget about USB microphones.  So the two types of microphones I’ve wanted to talk about are dynamic and condenser microphones. Dynamic microphones are also called moving coil microphones. They work by means of electromagnetic induction. A coil attached to the diaphragm is suspended in a magnetic field of a permanent magnet. So when you speak into a dynamic microphone, your voice vibrates the diaphragm which moves the coil and this movement relative to the permanent magnet induces voltage. Because of way they’re designed   their output is much lower than compared to a condenser microphone – which means they need more gain or amplification added to the signal. They’re also, much less sensitive and require for you to be very close to the diaphragm in order for it to work properly. That also means their frequency range is not as good as the condensers, which is most noticeable as you go up in the frequency spectrum, let’s say from about 8 kHz and up. However, they are almost indestructible, resistant to moisture, rugged, robust, don’t require external power and are cheap. And from my experience, I can tell you dynamic microphones are really good depending on what you use them for. And for podcasting, especially when starting out, I’d recommend getting a dynamic microphone.  You just can’t go wrong with them. Condenser microphones are different beasts altogether. They are also called capacitor microphones. The reason behind that is that diaphragm acts as a one plate of a capacitor. The other plate is a fixed backplate. When the vibrations move the diaphragm the distance between the backplate and the diaphragm is measured and the change in the distance is ultimately converted to electrical signal. Because of the thin diaphragm condenser microphones are very sensitive. In turn provide high output, however they require external power. The standard has been set to have a power source on the receiving end. As we already mentioned, the receiving end is most likely an audio interface or a mixer, and therefore most of interfaces and mixers are able to supply that power. This is called the phantom power and it has been standardized at 48 volts. That is the amount of voltage that is needed to successfully charge the capacitor inside. Without it, the microphone will not work. Because of the build, condenser microphones are able to pick up sound with a greater detail, their frequency range is wider and they are able to pick up more of the dynamic range. However, they break easily, especially if put in front of a loud source and moisture is a big problem for these types of microphones as well. Because of all this, their main use has been in the recording studios when you’re looking to record vocals or instruments with greater detail. Now why I am I such a big proponent on using a dynamic microphone for podcasting? Well there are a couple of reasons. First and the most important thing is their toughness. They don’t require much maintenance and they will survive any accidental drops, hits or anything like that. They’re not sensitive, so they don’t pick up much of the surrounding noise – only what’s in front of them. That is great, because that means you don’t have  to spend thousands of dollars for acoustic treatment and you don’t have to worry much about the background noise, although it’s good to always minimize the noise and unplug anything you’re not using while you’re recording, for example an AC or a ceiling fan. All of this makes a dynamic microphone a perfect tool for recording a podcast in your home. On top of all that, they are cheap and very accessible to buy, while being reliable and long lasting especially if you take care of them correctly. Condenser microphones on the other hand are much more fragile, more expensive but they capture sound at much greater detail, as well as a lot more of background sounds and noises. This makes them usable only with the properly treated rooms such as recording studios. That means you should invest more money into your recording space before actually purchasing a condenser microphone. Now, everything I’m talking about is not really so black and white. I’m just saying in general, but you can use any microphone in almost any situation. And if you know how to record properly, you can get a pretty decent quality audio using whatever microphone you get your hands on. This is important to remember, it’s mostly about how you use the microphone and not which one you choose.

Now, let’s talk about which specific microphones you’re able to use. Well, there are a couple of industry standard microphones when it comes to podcasting. This also correlates to the radio and broadcasting industry as the two are very similar. So here are a couple of dynamic microphones that you can buy for podcasting. The two microphones that everyone talks about when starting a podcast is a Shure SM7B and a Electrovoice RE20. These two are phenomenal microphones and I do agree with everyone that they are amazing choices for recording your or your guest’s vocals. However, they are not the only microphones you can buy and certainly not the only ones that can get you remarkable sounding audio. I’d recommend SM7B if you’re in it for the long run and have a big budget for the launch of your podcast. However, I’d go for the RE20. RE20 is amazing when it comes to recording guitars, brass instruments, bass guitars, etc. So if you’re a musician and will be using this microphone to record your music as well as your podcast, I’d definitely go with Electrovoice RE20. A cheaper alternative is a RODE Procaster, with the design that looks similar to the RE20. These three are the microphones that everyone is talking about. I’d like to add a couple of my favorites, as well. Anyone who’s worked with live sound or been in a band has heard of Shure SM58. This flagship vocal microphone has been a number one go-to mic since it was made in the 60s. [Grooby baby] And it’s not a coincidence everyone uses it.  This is also an excellent microphone and it has such a versatile range of use. Another great microphone is a Sennheiser MD421, it’s such a cool mic with its unusual looks. This one has seen a lot of action in the glory days of radio. Just remember that the diaphragm is facing in the direction of the microphone capsule, not on the sides. A lot of people get it wrong. These are some of my favorite mics, in truth, you can use any mic you have available or you’re able to acquire. If you decide to go for a dynamic, you can buy almost any microphone from a number of companies, such as Shure, Sennheiser, Electrovoice, Beyer Dynamic, Behringer and I can go on on and on. Whatever microphone you buy, you won’t regret it. As long as you use it correctly. For example, I’m using this one that I have at my home which set me back for about 50 bucks. And it sounds decent to say the least. Remember, it’s not about which mic you have, but the way you’re using it.

 

Finally, some other things that you will also need with your microphone, is a microphone stand, an XLR cable which we already talked about, a pop filter and a mic clip – that’s it!

Thank you for listening, make sure you share the podcast with your friends and click that subscribe button so you never miss an episode! If you have any questions for us or suggestions about a topic we can cover related to the podcasting industry, leave a comment below or send us an email at info@nootkasound.online. Also, make sure to check out our website, podcastproducer.org. Tune in to our next episode where we cover audio interfaces.  Peace out!

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