As we run successful boot camps with aspiring podcasters and grow our own podcast family here at SPI, the topic of podcasting tech has never been more timely. And when it comes to tech, the most important $$ you plunk down will be on your podcast microphone. There are more podcasting mics out there than you can shake a pop filter at, and its easy to get overwhelmed, especially if youre in the market for your first one. Read on for a guide to some of the most popular podcasting mics at different price points to help you make a decision on your next recording tech investment.
Before we get started, though, a couple things to keep in mind!
First off, it’s impossible to review every mic out there, so Im just going to focus on a few of the most popular ones at different price points.
Second, one great thing about podcast microphone shopping is that its easy to listen and comparison shop from the comfort of your home office: just hop online and search for audio samples! Ive included a few in this article from Pats YouTube microphone reviews.
Okay, heres what to expect in this post:
- A Good Mic Is No Excuse for a Bad Podcast (But It Helps)
- The Podcast Mics for Getting Started and Sounding Good
- The Podcast Mics for Getting Serious and Not Breaking the Bank
- The Podcast Mics for Taking Things to the Next Level
- Mic Check, Better Understand Your Mic Tech: Podcast Microphone Terms and Features
- Sounding Even Better with Your New Podcasting Mic
A Good Mic Is No Excuse for a Bad Podcast (But It Helps)
You probably knew this, but it bears saying: even a great mic wont save a mediocre podcast.
As podcaster extraordinaire Randy Wilburn said in his interview on the blog in 2020, If you don’t have great content, I don’t care. You can have fifty Heil PR 40s in your office. Its not gonna matter because nobodys gonna listen.
And he’s right. That said, the bar for audio quality on podcasts has been raised in recent years. Thankfully, unless your budget is really tight, theres no reason you cant sound pretty darn good. And sounding pretty darn good starts withyou guessed it, a quality podcasting microphone. (That means, no, the headphones that came with your cell phone or that headset you used for conference calls back in 2012 aint gonna cut it.)
With that out of the way, read on as I cover some solid podcasting mic options from $50 to $300+. Ive also embedded Pats video reviews of several of the mics so you can actually hear what they sound like and make up your own mind.
The Podcast Mics for Getting Started and Sounding Good
Well start off with two favorites that come in well under $100: the Blue Snowball Ice ($50) and the Samson Q2U ($60 to $70).
Blue Snowball Ice
The Blue Snowball Ice is a solid starter mic. Its not going to blow your socks off, but itll also be obvious to your audience that youre not using your laptops built-in mic. If youre on a budget, the Ice could be just the ticket.
Mic type: Condenser (cardioid), USB.
Pros: Affordable. Definitely a step up audio quality-wise from your internal mic or a cheap external one.
Cons: You need to be close to the mic to get the best soundbut watch for distortion, too. Minimal options (no gain control, headphone input, or mute button). Only captures 44.1kHz/16-bit audio. Placement is not adjustable when using the included stand. Some users report build quality issues.
Best Podcast Microphone (Under $75 + USB) (ATR-2100, Samson Q2U, Snowball Ice)
Samson Q2U ($60)
The Samson Q2U might be the best podcast mic value out there. If youre looking at the Blue Snowball Ice, I strongly recommend you consider throwing down another few clams to get the Samson.
Mic type: Dynamic (cardioid), USB/XLR.
Pros: Includes USB and XLR outputs, plus a headphone jack. Comes with a desktop tripod stand, extension piece, mic clip, windscreen, and USB and XLR cables. And unlike the ATR2100xs (see below), these accessories are pretty durable.
Cons: None, really. It wont blow you away, but is that what youre looking for at this price point?
Which Mic is Best? Battle of the USB/XLR Combo Mics (Under $100) for Podcasting & Live Streaming (ATR-2100, ATR-2100x, Samson Q2U)
The Podcast Mics for Getting Serious and Not Breaking the Bank
The Samson Q2U is great. Its honestly hard to beat at its price point. But as your podcast begins to take off and you get more recording reps under your belt, you might find yourself wanting a little something extra in the audio quality department. Thankfully, there are options that will give you the boost youre seeking without breaking the bank.
This next mic is really close to the Samson Q2U in terms of audio profile. I think the ATR2100x sounds a little betterits up to you to decide if its worth the extra $40. It also comes with an accessory kit, but lets just say the accessories dont seem to have been built with robustness in mind.
Pros: Subtle but noticeable sound quality improvements over the Samson Q2U, and a solid upgrade over its beloved predecessor, the ATR2100. Connects via USB-C and XLR.
Cons: Costs $30-$40 more than the Samson. Accessories are not so great.
Blue Yeti ($130)
The Blue Yeti is one of the most popular podcasting mics around, and for good reason. It offers solid sound, sturdy build quality, and versatility in a stylish package. Its pricier than the ATR2100x, but it offers more options in terms of polar pattern, so you can use it for solo recording, one-on-one interviews, and even roundtable discussions.
Mic type: Condenser (cardioid, omnidirectional, figure 8, stereo), USB.
Pros: Sturdy. Includes gain control, headphone input (with volume control), and mute button. Four recording modes give you considerable versatility.
Cons: USB only. Pricier than the excellent ATR2100x. Prone to table bumps if you use it with the desk stand (get that boom arm!).
The Podcast Mics for Taking Things to the Next Level
If youve been podcasting for a while and are ready to up your audio quality game, then its time to enter the realm of XLR mics. This is where the worlds of podcasting and professional audio intersect and your options widen even more.
This is also where things get more expensive, both in terms of the microphone itself and the additional gear youll need to make it work with your podcasting setup. Any XLR mic is going to need an additional interface to amplify the mics signal so that its loud enough to actually work with.
Heil PR-40 ($329)
The Heil PR-40 is simply a great-sounding mic. Its commonly considered one of the best dynamic microphones you can get at its price point. Its also a very quiet mic, which can be goodit wont add much if any hum to your recordingsand badyou may have to boost the signal with a preamp or mixer to acceptable levels, and it may pick up more ambient noise as a result.
Mic type: Dynamic (cardioid), XLR.
Pros: Designed for use with spoken word, with a rich low-end frequency response. Quietthe PR-40 introduces very little self-noise.
Cons: Pricy. Needs a power boost to get loud, and a sound-treated environment to avoid picking up room noise.
Shure SM7B ($399)
The Shure SM7B is another well-built, fantastic-sounding mic, but it does come in at a price tier above the Heil, and youll obviously need to factor in the cost of a preamp. The preinstalled pop filter is a nice touch, though. Some users report additional sound quality benefits from using a mic activator (essentially an amplifier just for your microphone), but thatll add another $60 to $200 to your shopping cart.
Mic type: Dynamic (cardioid), XLR.
Pros: Lauded for its vocal reproduction (which is good if youre podcasting!). Offers three frequency response modes. Comes preinstalled with a pop filter. Well built.
Cons: Pricy. Heavy.
Mic Check, Better Understand Your Mic Tech: Podcast Microphone Terms and Features
Before we leave, lets cover some technical terminology you should know to aid in your search for the perfect podcasting mic.
- Boom arm: an adjustable arm that attaches to the mic and gives you flexibility in placing it
- Condenser mic: also known as a capacitor mic, commonly used to capture vocals and high frequencies due to its greater responsiveness to the nuances of sound waves. Condensers tend to be more delicate than dynamic mics.
- Dynamic mic: dynamic mics use magnets to turn sound waves into electrical signals (basically, the opposite of a speaker). Theyre generally less sensitive but more robust than condenser mics.
- Frequency response: the range of audible frequencies, from low to high, that a microphone will pick up.
- Mixer: a console that lets you input audio from various sources, then combine, process, and monitor the audio from those sources
- Mic activator: a type of amplifier designed to add gain to the signal from a low-output microphone
- Polar pattern or mode: how much audio signal will be picked up by the microphone from different directions
- Pop filter/windscreen: a meshed filter that reduces excessive pressures on the mic from the breath and vocal plosives (p, b, k, etc. sounds)
- Preamp: short for preamplifier, a device that amplifies low-level signals (such as those from an XLR mic) to line level for use in recording
- Shockmount: a mount that dampens vibrations that might be picked up by the mic
- USB: Universal Serial Bus, a connector that allows you to plug your podcast mic directly into your computer (plug and play)
- XLR: a three-pronged connector typical in studio/stage microphones that requires an additional interface (such as a mixer or preamp) to use the mic with your computer
Sounding Even Better with Your New Podcasting Rig
Speaking of podcasting tech, I definitely recommend picking up a few accessories for your mic to make your podcast recording go smoother, namely: a boom arm to easily position the mic, a shock mount to reduce unwanted vibrations, and a pop filter or windscreen to reduce breath blasts and plosives. Here are some solid options:
Finally, recording with your new mic isnt just about plugging it in and hitting record. Here are some tips and strategies to help you make the most out of your new investment.
Podcasting is one of the most powerful ways to build your brand and audience. Here are ten 10 recording tips for producing professional, engaging episodes that will keep your listeners coming back for more.
Here are some great tips for sounding better with what youve got. (Spoiler: practice.)
Finding the Right Fit For You and Your Podcast
Weve only scratched the surface of whats out there when it comes to podcast mics, especially if youre ready to venture into the world of XLR and preamps. When I was recording for Flops, I used a Sterling Audio ST55 XLR mic into a Behringer U-Phoria UM2 USB interface. I like the overall sound they produced, but the combo of a finicky condenser mic and adjustable preamp meant a lot of tweaking mic placement and input levels to make things sound just right.
So who knows, maybe next time (Flops season 2? _()_/) Ill pick up something a little more plug and play. The Samson Q2U, perhaps? Time will tell. In any case, I hope this post has helped you make a decision about your first (or fifth) podcast microphone!