The first time I bought a good recording mic, I struggled to get the best audio out of it. It was frustrating as the mic price was over $200. Now, after years of experimenting with many mics, I can comfortably tell you how to set up your microphone for the best quality. Your correct microphone setup will solve many potential audio issues, but I will also cover few additional parameters you need to set when working with your audio project.
To guarantee professional audio quality for your audio recording (podcasting, YouTube, etc.), you need to look at 4 core aspects of your mic setup:
- The microphone itself – quality, accessories, placement, recording location
- Devices quality – audio interface, preamp, signal booster, stand cables
- Audio levels – testing, monitoring, to sound nice and crisp
- Recording parameters – nail your parameters to make the editing process seamless
How to set up a microphone? (simplified answer)
To set up your mic, screw it to a stand or a swivel. Most stands use 5/8 thread screws. Use the shock mount to isolate vibrations. Attach the foam or pop-filter (some mics have filters in a box). Connect your mic using an XLR cable to your audio device, i.e., audio interface, recorder, or mixer.
How the mic setup impacts the audio quality?
Your mic setup needs to be stable to avoid vibrations and other interference. The way you speak to your mic depends if the mic will record you or the surrounding sound. If you record in a noisy location, your recording will sound poor, so make sure the location choice is part of your mic setup process.
Does the microphone setup differ for podcasts, YouTube, streaming, etc.?
Generally, no. Some podcasters and YouTube creators prefer to record standing, while for streaming, sitting is more natural. So you need to pick the rick stand and length of cables. Recording for podcasts usually requires more silent conditions, while recording for YouTube or streaming a lower audio quality is generally acceptable.
1. Your microphone setup start with choosing the best microphone for your needs
Your 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 project. 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. If you start with a budget picks then your entire recording setup will sound average at best.
- 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 (check current price). This is something we are currently using and it perfectly suits our needs and solves many audio problems right out of the box. Here is my full Shure SM7B review.
Other top-quality mics, and recommended alternatives to SM7B include:
- Rode Procaster, mid-tier dynamic XLR mic (check current price)
- Rode Podmic, entry-level dynamic XLR mic (check current price)
- Shure MV7, top USB mic (check current price)
- AT 2020 USB+, mid-tier USB mic (check current price)
- Samson Q2U, entry-level USB mic (check current price)
If you want more details on mics, you can find them in this Buyers Guide.
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 a natural sound for your microphone setup. 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 microphone 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 mic set up 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 accessories for a microphone setup – 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 – pro setup has cables that eliminate disturbances and have improved conductivity
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 play 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 that can impact your podcast.
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.
- LyxPro Quad (check current price) is the great entry level XLR cable.
Premium cables are awesome and work great in difficult environments (a lot of interference) and are essential part of your microphone setup
If you are looking to upgrade to premium quality cables (within a reasonable price range), consider:
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 (check current price).
Your microphone setup requires a device to translate analog audio signal
If you want a bit more capable setup, instead then just going for an interface, you can consider:
- a remote recorder, which can directly capture audio, and allow you to record remotely, without a laptop. Once hooked into a computer they behave just like interfaces. The best options here are:
- a mixer, allows for more complex recording projects, capturing many inputs on many separate channels, and also allows for professional remote and call-in interviews. Our recommended mixer is:
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 (check current price).
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.
Does every microphone setup require a mic activator?
No. Any mic with a low sensitivity of -50 dbV/Pa or below needs a mic activator. Cloudlifter is my favorite mic activator. It is ideal for any dynamic mic as it doesn’t pass phantom power. I use it daily on my Shure SM7B, which has a very low sensitivity of -59 dbV/Pa.
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 (or mixer, recorder) to have a complete recording setup.
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 monitoring audio levels are:
- Sony MDR-7506, very light, my personal favorites (check current price),
- Sennheiser HD280 Pro, global studio standard (check current price),
- Shure SRH-1540, for premium work and listening experience (check current price).
If you want to read more about recommended headphones check out: Best Podcast Headphones – Detailed Guide & Recommendations.
9. Maintain the quality of your mic with proper maintenance
Electronic gear can wear off over time. Main things impacting how long your mic will sound like new. But you need to protect your entire mic setup (all devices, including cables, interface, etc.), from:
- extensive hear (exposure to sun),
- dust collecting inside.
Here are 3 simple things you can do to make sure your investment in gear is protected:
- put away your gear when you are not recording – store it in a dry, dark room or put it into a box,
- wipe your gear from dusk using dry cloth,
- always keep it safe and avoid dropping and hitting your mic and other devices.
10. Volume levels – key microphone setup parameters to monitor
You need to set up a microphone for recording with the right recording level to prevent disturbances and to keep it loud enough at the same time. Your microphone setup doesn’t end on connecting the gear. Now you need to set all the parameters correctly to make sure the capture audio is of the highest quality.
Three key levels 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).
11. Microphone setup signal-to-noise ratio
When monitoring your audio levels coming from your mic, 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 that will be hard to eliminate in post-production.
Make also sure you record more of your voice vs. any surrounding noise. Two best things to fix this:
- speak closer to your mic, that way your signal is always stronger than noise,
- reduce noises while recording, with soundproofing your room.
12. Test the volume of your entire mic 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 more voice tips here.
13. Sampling Rate – define precision of your recording
After all the devices are plugged in, and your levels sound good, your microphone setup is incomplete if your input parameters are not configured correctly.
First key parameter to understand in the sampling rate.
- 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) – pick a good depth for your audio
The second thing you need to understand is bit rate. Set it correctly, to make sure your entire mic setup does the job correctly.
- 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?
The 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.
18. Microphone setup when you record video or stream
I see many people on YouTube using great mic incorrectly, not understanding how they operate.
When you record a video and have only your main a-roll footage, that problem occurs rarely as people talk to the mic and look at the camera all the time.
But because video creators use the b-roll footage to make their videos more interesting, they often look to the left or right, where their second camera is mounted. At those moments they don’t speak directly to their mic and their perfect mic setup doesn’t work well as it record poor audio.
Here are a few solutions to do that:
- never turn your head away from the microphone during one recording project,
- mount your b-roll camera above and to the side, and don’t look directly in to this camera,
- change the positing of your microphone for the b-roll footage and edit everything in the post production, but in your b-roll also talk directly to your mic.
19. Limiter – apply this solution if you are struggling with peaks
Limiter works much like a compressor but with one important difference: where a compressor proportionally reduces the signal when it exceeds the threshold, a limiter reduces any peak above the threshold to the threshold level, effectively limiting the signal to this level.
- Typically, you apply Limiter as the very last process in the mastering signal chain, where it raises the overall volume of the signal so that it reaches, but does not exceed, 0 dB
- Limiter is designed in such a way that if set to 0 dB Gain and 0 dB Output Level, it has no effect on a normalized signal
- If the signal clips, Limiter reduces the level before clipping can occur
- Limiter cannot, however, fix audio that is clipped during recording
20. Use checklists before each recording
The ideal solution is to have a dedicated studio, where you don’t need to adjust your microphone setup each time you record new audio. But if you record remotely, or always need to do a quick preparation of your recording location there is a simple solution for that:
Have a simple “how to set up a microphone” checklist printed and placed in a visible spot to make sure you cover all the steps each time your record.
That way you will always mount, connect, configure, and set up your gear accordingly.
Ideally you want to have a permanent recording location where your microphone setup will be unaltered between recording sessions. Where you are using remote location always go through the list and make sure:
- your mic sits comfortably on a stand, where it is shielded from mechanical vibrations,
- all the necessary accessories like filters, shock mounts, etc., are mounted correctly,
- you record in a quite location, improving your signal-to-noise ration,
- configure your recording project correctly, and monitor your audio levels, as they are an integral part of a mic setup.