To guarantee professional audio quality for your podcast we prepared over 15 detailed insights, qualified into 4 groups:
- Microphone – quality, accessories, placement, recording location
- Devices quality – mic, audio interface, preamp, signal booster, cables
- Audio levels testing and monitoring
- Recording parameters
1. Start with choosing the best microphone for your needs – matching your recording conditions
Your podcasting microphone is an essential instrument required to record a high quality sounding material. You don’t need a very expensive mic to start recording but you need to choose correctly to deliver high quality but you can’t save too much as the consequences will be long-lasting and impactful for your recordings.
Choose the right microphone from the start to get high-quality audio benefits and save hours required on post-recording editing. Good microphone choice will also automatically solve recording quality problems you may face when starting which will improve your satisfaction with your podcast and avoid unnecessary frustrations. When buying consider:
- Quality competition – your podcast should deliver great content but should also sound great. Those two factors will determine your number of listeners. Choose a well balanced and warm microphone enabling you to record the highest quality audio.
- Investment – treat spend on a mic like an investment in the success of your podcast. Make it reasonable and justified. Also, make sure this is a choice for years. You don’t want to be bothered thinking about mic when you should be producing content.
- Technical capabilities – of course we are looking for best affordable quality, but also for durability (resistance to drops and physical damage), correct sensitivity (you may not want to buy most sensitive microphone if your location is not properly isolated), low self noise, shielding from electromagnetic interferences and possibility to be mounted on a stand.
Our favorite choice solving all needs, delivering premium quality is Shure SM7B. This is something we are currently using and it perfectly suits our needs and solves many audio problems right out of the box.
Check out our very detailed article on podcasting microphone selection: Choosing a Microphone for Podcasting – Buyers Guide and Recommendation.
2. Record in a location with best acoustic capabilities – compare your locations and choose the most friendly one
In general record in the largest room available. If you are recording at home and don’t have a dedicated soundproofed room, make at least a basic required setup:
- Behind your microphone – have an isolation shield or a portable sound booth. This will protect from sounds and interferences coming from behind your mic.
- Behind your back – have an absorbing layer behind you. Since the wall behind you is in fact front facing the most sensitive part microphone try to cover this wall with effective sound absorbing material.
- On the sides – have a mix of absorbing and diffusing materials. Experiment with correct proportions. You should aim to have both types of materials to create clean an natural sound. Asymmetrical walls help with diffusion.
- The high ceiling is better for acoustics than a low ceiling. Floor and walls overall impact recording better if they are from heavy, vibrations absorbing materials like concrete or hardwood. Avoid close proximity to uncovered windows as glass carries vibrations.
3. Microphone placement – incorrect distance from the mouth and off angle can cause quality issues
Distance – Record 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm) away from the mic. This is my preference and this should be an optimal setup for most podcasters. You can always experiment and find a distance working better for you.
- This distance combined with filter should eliminate popping effect caused by plosive consonants (created with letter /p/, /t/, /k/ and /b/, /d/, and /g/, when the extra burst of air hits mics diaphragm)
- To control and keep the distance better use microphone stand
- Pop-filter also creates a natural barrier and helps with keeping the distance
- Avoid headset microphone – you don’t have control over the distance with them
Position – the goal here is to remove the mic from the range of your breath. You can easily find this spot on your own. Just place your hand in front of your mouth (at the mentioned above distance of 6-10 inches). Take a deep breath, blow hard and find areas when you can’t feel the air on your hand.
You can have your microphone both above or below your mouth to the left or right of your mouth. Whether you put it up or down should depend on how you position your body during your recording.
- If you will be recording mostly heads down try recording with the mic below your mouth,
- If you will be recording heads up try recording with the mic above your mouth.
With more episodes recorded your experience will improve and you will be able to notify audio quality differences achieved at different distance and position. Experiment and find what sounds best in your particular location, with your mic and for your voice to achieve the fullest sound.
4. Must have basic accessories – stand, shock mount, and filters eliminate vibrations and air bursts of air hitting the mic
Before recording make sure you have and apply basic accessories.
- Stand – to control distance, avoid holding onto a mic when you are recording. Whether you are going with a desk stand or floor stand you definitely need to have one.
- Shock mount – attached to a stand it eliminates additional vibrations which may be transmitted through your stand and captured by your mic.
- Foam filter – eliminates plosives and sibilance, makes your voice sound warmer, mostly applicable to dynamic mics.
- Pop filter – saves the same purpose as foam filter but it’s mostly applicable to condenser mics. It also helps to keep the distance between your mic and your mouth.
5. Upgrade to good quality cables – enable you to capture purer signal by your recording device
Cable quality can have a simple and important impact on your audio.
- Cables don’t transmit current perfectly. Metal in wires creates resistance, which means that some of the electricity and the audio signal won’t get through. To solve this use a thicker gauge of wire, which increases the wire’s ability to transmit electrical current. Wire thickness is described by the American Wire Gauge (AWG) number, which is the inverse of its thickness. You can find easily cables with above 20 AWG.
- The materials out of which cables are made also plays a role. Premium cables are made of purer samples of copper or silver. Purity provides better conductivity when compared to cheaper cables made out of contaminated metal.
- Better cables also can have features, such as additional layers of shielding, which keep the electricity in and prevent radio waves or other electromagnetic sources from interfering with the signal with low-frequency interference. The more devices surround you the higher the level of interferences can impact your podcast.
Be reasonable here, you can start with the cable which arrived with your mic. But don’t use any old cables you might have around. When cable gets damaged replace it. You can always replace the cable you have with premium quality. At the start, a good LyxPro cable should do the job.
If you are looking to upgrade to premium quality consider Mogami Gold Studio or Monster Cable. Those are premium cables still within a reasonable price range. They will help to solve many of the issues encountered in a typical home studio and will deliver professional results for your podcasting audio quality. Upgrade if you are looking for fantastic clarity and high cancelation of noise and interference caused by typical audio (preamps, audio interfaces, speakers, headset) and home equipment (computer, tv, a/c).
Read also our detailed analysis and recommendation for audio cable Best XLR and USB Cable Choices for Podcasting.
6. Connect to a computer using a good quality audio interface
Audio interfaces allow you to plug a professional microphone into a computer and it acts as the computer’s sound card. They are essential for capturing sound as professional microphones connect with three-pin XLR jacks and require a phantom power source to operate. By having preamp capabilities audio interface improves the sound quality of your computer. Also, a good quality audio interface operates independent audio channels avoiding experiencing distracting latency on your headphones.
A good audio interface for your podcasting needs will have a mic preamp, support recording in 24-bit depth, have a headphones output and very low latency. Think also about additional inputs and outputs if you are planning to record with guests or with a musical instrument. Good quality at an affordable price provides the second generation of Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
Read more about audio interfaces in out detailed guide: Best Audio Interface for Podcasting – Detailed Guide & Buyers Recommendation.
7. Use mic activator (signal booster) to increase loudness and further improve sound quality
If you additionally need to boost the sound quality using a very helpful and compact device, the Cloudlifter CL-1 Mic Activator from Cloud Microphones.
It is an elegant solution for standard audio problems. Use one XLR cable to connect your mic to Cloudlifter CL-1 and another XLR cable to connect your CL-1 to an audio interface.
The CL-1 will provide up to +25 dB of clean, transparent strong gain, improving signal-to-noise ratio and boosting the performance of your microphone. The device is extremely durable, enclosed in a hard steel casing shielding it from external interferences.
8. Headphones – monitor what you record
You need to monitor what you record to end up with the best podcast-quality audio. This can’t be done with speakers turned on. You need to be recording in a quiet room. You should be able to connect your headphones directly to your audio interfaces.
Best headphones for the job are closed, circumaural headphones, which means they will cover the entire external part of the ear. The solid back of the ear cups prevents sound from leaking into the microphone and prevents noises to be picked up by the mic.
Our recommended headphones for podcasting are Sennheiser HD280 Pro. If you want to read more about recommended headphones check out: Best Podcast Headphones – Detailed Guide & Recommendations.
9. Volume levels – key parameters to monitor
You need to set up the right recording level to prevent disturbances and to keep it loud enough at the same time. Three key parameters to monitor when recording your podcast are:
- Audio levels should be kept around -10 to -12dB. Quietest recorded audio to should be kept well above the noise floor, maximizing the signal-to-noise ratio.
- Noise floor (signal created from the sum of all the unwanted audio noises) – measure it and set the correct parameter. The recommended level for a noise floor is at or below -60dB.
- Peak – don’t ever peak above 0db or higher. It creates audio distortions which are very difficult to edit. Until you get more experience try to peak at or below -3dB. Recording loudly is quite important for the podcast as your listeners often listen to episodes in noisy environments (while driving or doing house chores).
10. Use the best signal-to-noise ratio
When monitoring your audio levels coming from your preamp, on your recording/editing software (DAW) you should barely hit the yellow levels. You can’t be hitting red bars or else you will create disturbances which will be hard to eliminate in post-production.
11. Test your volume setup
Adjust the volume of your microphone on your computer via the Sound control panel by testing the hardware. A microphone should never peak into the red during your test. The proper volume would be where it occasionally peaks to the yellow but never distorts.
There is a quick way to find the right volume level for your microphone. I’m sure you heard someone set up a microphone and repeat over and over: “Testing 1,2. Testing 1,2. Check. Check. Check.”.
This simple phrase allows you to quickly find the peak of your voice and the middle ground.
- “Test-” and check” are your consonants and are the peaks of your volume
- “-ing” is the volume of your voice moving from the highest peak (“Test-”) to the lowest valley (“-ing”).
- Move from “-ing” to 1, 2” without a pause. Those are your vowel sounds and these will be the quietest sounds.
We have also a more extended article describing the setup, maintenance and voice tips improving audio quality of your podcast. You can find them here: 19 voice tips – effective professional podcasting guide.
12. Input Limiter – apply this solution if you are struggling with peaks
If you have trouble with setting up your peak at or below -3dB and you find yourself occasionally breaking this level consider adding a software limiter to your input audio. Use a limiter to catch accidental spikes in your volume. It will work between your microphone and the recorded session and the effect will be applied before you save your recording.
13. Sampling Rate – understanding and application
- The sampling rate in audio is similar to frames per second in video technology, where recording and then displaying a quickly large number of images (frames) per second creates a moving image.
- What we call in a video a frame in audio is called a sample. It is a small sound chunk and the number of samples received per second is called the sampling rate. Samples played quickly create uninterrupted audio playback.
- The sampling rate is measured in hertz (Hz) and represents the sound frequency range.
- Sampling rates start from 8,000 Hz (extremely low quality) and spans to 192,000 Hz (in the usual commercial use) (excellent high quality).
- CD standard quality uses a sampling rate of 44,100 Hz (or 44.1 kHz).
- The higher the sampling rate greater is the audio quality and greater sound precision.
- Low sampling rates enable writing small files while large sampling rates can create huge files.
14. Bit rate (bit depth) – understanding and application
- Bit rate (bit depth) in audio is the equivalent of pixels in video technology, where higher pixels density providers better image quality and level of details.
- In multimedia, bit rate refers to the number of bits used per unit of playback time (sample).
- While the sampling rate is a number of samples recorded per second, the bit rate refers to the characteristics of each individual sample.
- CD standard quality uses a bit rate of 16 bit (and 44,1 kHz sampling rate).
- 24 and 32-bit audio will offer the higher quality, although 32 bit is not required even for professional podcasting needs
- The higher the bit rate (bit depth) the better is the audio quality and level of details of each sample.
- Higher bit rates can create huge files and will require more computing power to process.
15. Set correct recording parameters to capture the best audio for your podcast
- Save your recording in an uncompressed .wav file format, to avoid quality loss.
- If your podcast doesn’t need any special sound effects, use a mono channel to record.
- Record in sample rate of 44,100 Hz (consider 48,000 Hz if you are planning to create a high-quality video of your podcast).
- For best quality use bit depth of 24-bit
16. Publish quality vs. recording quality
- Record .wav file at 44,1 kHz sample rate and 24 bit depth.
- Publish .mp3 file at 44,1 kHz sample rate, 16-bit depth, 64 kbps at constant bit rate (CBR).
Recording at a higher bit rate used is useful in the editing and mixing process. However never record in .mp3 even if you don’t initially plan to edit a lot. Perform conversion and compression to mp3 after you have edited your file and podcast episode is ready to publish.
When your episode is ready to publish just follow those easy steps to get it out into the world: How to publish a podcast in 4 easy steps?
17. How large should a recorded audio file be before editing?
An audio file size you are going to record depends on the sample rate and bit rate. Most typical recording parameters and their file sizes are presented in the table below.
|Bit Depth (bit)||Channel||Sample Rate (kHz)||Bit rate (kbps)||60 min file size (MB)|
Compressed .mp3 files will be much smaller.
Saving your episode into mono, 64 kbps MP3, constant bit rate (CBR), 44.1 kHz, 16-bit files will keep your 60 minutes recording around 30MB. The stereo file will increase your 60 minutes recording to below 60MB. Aim for a mono channel if you don’t use any sound effects important for your audience.