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All podcasters need a digital podcast workstation to create their content. For many, this is a luxury they simply cannot afford. For others, it is something they need no matter the cost. I want to show you how you can build an amazing digital workstation on a budget.
By following the information provided, you will save a lot of money. I will help you avoid spending on equipment you just do not need. At the same time, your digital workstation will contain great equipment at a reasonable cost.
Your Digital Podcast Workstation Needs a Great Microphone
The microphone is a key element in your digital podcast workstation. It is the first piece of equipment in the audio chain. No doubt you've heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” and that is extremely true when it comes to microphones.
If you bring in terrible audio there is little you can do later to fix it. Yes, there are tools that can make your audio quality better, but they are time-consuming. It is best to get it right during the recording and that's where a great microphone comes in.
Know What Your Microphone Needs to Do
Different microphones are better suited for different jobs. If you do not know what mic is best for podcasting, it can be a big obstacle. Unfortunately, most newbie podcasters buy a microphone that looks really cool, but sounds horrible. I am hoping to help you avoid that costly mistake.
It is possible to spend a lot of money on a microphone, but it isn't really necessary. Again, the important thing is to realize what circumstances your microphone is meant for.
Some microphones are very good at eliminating background noise, so they would be great for a noisy situation. Other microphones pick up every small sound, so they would be best for a quiet environment.
A Good Budget Microphone
Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB is an excellent microphone for under $100. It is a cardioid microphone, so it only picks the sounds around the head of the mic. This also means it almost completely eliminates any background noises.
The ATR2100 has both a USB and an XLR output. It has a built-in headphone jack allows you to directly monitor your microphone output without audible delay. This feature alone helps you insure great audio quality.
If you want to plug directly into your computer, the ATR2100's USB output is perfect for that. With the ATR2100 plugged into your computer and a good DAW and you are ready to produce an amazing podcast your listeners will love.
You can also use the XLR output and connect it to a mixer.
This microphone is perfect for podcasting and field recording. Due to its amazing noise reduction abilities, it is a great microphone for conducting interviews in the field.
The ATR2100 currently has a 4.2 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.
You can buy the ATR2100 directly from Amazon.
My Budget Microphone of Choice
The Shure PGA48-XLR is an excellent budget microphone and one that I use regularly. It comes with an XLR cable and runs about $39.99 on Amazon as of this writing. It is a cardioid microphone just like the ATR2100, so it is really good at only picking up the sound near the head of the microphone.
One amazing thing about the Shure PGA48-XLR is it has an On/Off switch for discrete control of microphone operation. This has come in very handy when podcasting with a co-host.
This Shure PGA48-XLR microphone has a healthy 4.4 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.
A More Costly Microphone Choice for You
If you are the type who likes top of the line equipment, look no further than the Electro-Voice RE20 microphone. It is a cardioid microphone like the ATR2100 and the Shure PGA48.
This is the industry standard in talk
With this mic, and a decent pre-amp, you'll sound like you're broadcasting from a multi-million dollar studio. The only drawback, just the microphone alone will set you back around $500. And if you want to use it to its full potential, you'll need to get all the standard accessories. Money well spent, if you ask me.
If you're serious about your podcast, this is the mic I would recommend getting. I have two of them in my studio. The sound quality is great and I always get clean, clear recordings of my vocals. It even works great for clients that have no mic control at all. If you can afford it, this is the way to go.
You can buy the Electro-Voice RE20 directly from Amazon.
Your Digital Podcast Workstation Needs Good Headphones
As I talk to newer podcasters, they seem to have no understanding of why headphones are such an important piece of equipment.
Wearing headphones during recording also helps with microphone technique. By hearing what is being recorded as it’s happening you have complete control over your sound. if it’s sounding too muffled you pull away from the microphone or draw closer if you sound too distant.
You should notice how both of these things can have a huge impact on the quality of your sound. Despite this, people think that it’s the fault of the microphone, when it’s just bad microphone technique (easily fixed with some headphones).
Great Headphones on a Budget
The Behringer HPX2000 headphones are available for under $20. They were made for mixing music.
The biggest problem with these headphones is they are very heavy on the bass and the high ends.
These headphones are great, for the price and most people will be more than satisfied with them. But if you've got some extra money to spend, there are better choices for podcasting.
Top Quality Headphones That Don't Break the Bank
For under $100, you can get these beautiful sounding headphones from Sony, the Sony MDR-7506. They are perfect for podcasting and radio, in general. You can listen to them at high volume and not get very much noise-bleed at all. The other great thing about them is how accurate they reproduce mid-range frequencies. This means that what you hear is almost exactly what you're recording.
These are my favorite headphones, all around. Music sounds great through them. But where they shine is on the playback of vocals. If you have the money to spend, don't mess around with anything else. These are the headphones you want in your studio.
Add a Mixer or Audio Interface to Your Digital Podcast Workstation
In almost all cases, you will need a mixer for getting audio into your computer or recording unit. The mixer is what you plug your mic into. If you want to play audio from your phone, tablet, or sampler, you will also need to plug them into your mixer. The mixer is like the command center for your audio recording sessions.
A mixer is just an audio board that can send and receive multiple audio inputs. It allows you to affect those audio signals. Basic mixers give you control over EQ, panning, and volume. More advanced mixers may offer special effects and make possible more advanced mixing techniques.
Another thing to look out for is the mix-minus feature. Mix-minus is where you split your audio signals into two separate channels. One channel for you, and the other channel for your guest. This allows you to have total control over both sets of vocals, each on their own separate track. This is a very convenient feature.
If one side needs more compression, you can affect it, without altering the other track. This can be done if your mixer has an AUX send and return control. This is an advanced editing method that deserves its own blog post. So we'll leave it at that, for now.
The last thing to look out for is a USB output. If you want to go straight from the mixer into the computer, you will need a mixer with a USB output. This makes the process a whole lot easier, but it also takes away some of your control over the final product.
Using a USB output restricts the number of channels you can record and assign at once. For basic podcasting, a USB mixer will do just fine. But some podcasters still prefer using an audio interface. We'll take a look at both options, below.
A Budget Mixer and Audio Interface for Your Digital Podcast Workstation
The Behringer XENYX502 is an amazing and inexpensive mixer. This is a great place to start for the solo podcaster. This mixer has an XLR mic input, as well as 4 mono inputs. It features volume control for each channel and a 2-band EQ for your vocals. You can plug in your phone or tablet to conduct interviews, play sound effects, or play bumper music.
This is not a USB output mixer. That means you'll have to use an interface to connect it to your computer. I recommend something simple, like the UCA202 Audio Interface.
You'll need to run some male/male AUX cords from your mixer to the interface. Then, connect the interface to your computer via the USB. This is a simple and cheap way to get great audio into your computer, for mixing down later.
A Top-Notch Mixer and Audio Interface for Your Digital Podcast Workstation
It is time to have a little fun and jump to the extreme opposite end of the pricing spectrum. This is the PreSonus StudioLive 16 channel mixer. It could easily be considered the Cadillac of mixing boards.
It utilizes firewire to connect with your computer. This means the audio quality is top notch, and the latency is almost zero. It can handle 16 inputs at once. It can also send and receive audio, to and from your computer, at the same time. It boasts 4 AUX sends, and 2 internal FX buses.
The only time you would ever need this kind of hardware is if you were recording a show with multiple hosts. And maybe a live band to boot. Still, a podcaster can dream, right?
This one is extremely expensive (above $1,000).
Getting a DAW
Now you have a way to capture your audio and get it into your computer, so the next step is some way to record and edit the audio. This type of software is known as a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW).
There are many DAWs on the market–some are completely free and others cost you something.
Honestly, a free DAW should do the trick if all you're doing is podcasting.
Budget Recording Software (DAW)
Lots of podcasters are using Macs, so that is where we will start. Macs come with GarageBand already installed at no additional charge. GarageBand is easy to use (free for Mac users) and can handle a good amount of channels running at one time.
Obviously, the more RAM you have, the better GarageBand will run. But for free software, it is pretty impressive. It allows for control of your tracks individually and comes with a nice collection of effects. If you are a Mac user, this is a great tool for you.
For the PC users, there is Audacity. This is a free DAW that is also open sourced, so it is always getting better. It is not as pretty or professional looking as GarageBand is, but it does the job.
My only real complaint about A
ProTools First is the new software from audio powerhouse ProTools. It is free and works great for podcasting. I might be a little partial, as I learned to mix audio on ProTools, but this is definitely my favorite of the three.
It's a scaled-down version of their paid DAW, but it works great, right out of the box. You can even buy affordable, high-quality plug-ins, from the ProTools store. The best part is, ProTools First is available for PC and Mac. It's a great solution for everybody.
Mid-Priced Recording Software
When it comes to the recording software, as previously mentioned, there are a wide range of them on the market with a wide range of pricing.
At Yogi's Podcast Network, we use Hindenberg Journalist Pro for most of our editing needs. We find it to be extremely useful for our needs. It is designed for editing vocal recordings and that makes it perfect for podcast editing.
Expensive Recording Software
As with the microphones and the mixers, let's have a look at some really pricey, but amazing, recording software.
If you want to just go completely overboard and spend way more money than you have to, there is a way. You can always pay for a full-on professional DAW.
These are usually made for professional recording studios and might be a little bit like using a bazooka to kill a housefly. I would recommend going with one of the free options, but here are a few others that you can empty out your wallet on.
Cubase, by Steinberg
Logic Pro, by Apple
ProTools 12, by Avid
Again, I have to stress, you can have a great sounding podcast without having to buy an expensive DAW. I only included this for those of you who enjoy throwing your money away. This is why I did not review each of the higher-end DAW's, individually. If you want to throw your money away, they will all work just fine for that.
Your Digital Workstation is Not Complete Without Cables and Cords
There are many types of cables that you might need during your digital workstation creation process. I am not going to go into much detail here. Watch for my next installment where I discuss some additional items you might need.
There Is Never a Need to Break the Bank
The important thing to remember is that you do not need to spend a bunch of money to get good quality equipment. Use this as a guide to selecting equipment that fits your budgetary needs.