How This Works

Equipment

Equipment

Having made podcasts for almost a decade, we have opinions about gear — what follows are our recommendations for audio equipment for different levels of podcasters from least experienced to most and then what we use for How This Works:

To make things as straightforward as possible, we've provided one set of recommended gear for each level, representing our suggestions for the equipment with the most value (read: not necessarily cost). Your choices may rely on several factors, including the number of people involved, number of recording locations, and amount of post-production (editing and rework), to name a few. Learn from us; we hope that you find this guide helpful and that it saves you from time-consuming and costly mistakes.

There are affiliate links below. If you use them when you buy, we get a small kickback, and you will have our deepest gratitude. If you have more detailed questions, send us a note, and we can have a proper consultation.

Let's dig in, starting with the lowest level of commitment and experience:

(Podcast) curious
Getting started doesn't require a fancy setup. You need two things — a device to record audio and a microphone to capture it. On an iPhone, open the Voice Memo app or use the Voice Recorder app on a PC. On a Mac, use Quicktime, or on a PC, use Voice Recorder which is already installed. Plug in a pair of wired headphones with a microphone close to your mouth to capture better sound quality (read: not a headset). Press record and start talking. Start with any topic or call a friend to have a conversation — if you're going to record a phone call, get consent from the other person first for privacy reasons. It's about getting started and comfortable with the recording process before worrying about upping production value.

What you'll need:

  • Your Apple/Android smartphone or your laptop/desktop
  • A pair of wired headphones with a mic close to your mouth and is comfortable to wear without an audio delay or high audio latency (which is why we don't suggest wireless or bluetooth)
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Starting out, or USB
For this set, you'll need a few things most people don't have on-hand. Namely, a computer and microphone setup that can handle basic recording and editing audio. While you may not need to spend money on a new laptop or desktop, ensure your machine is a relatively recent model with enough processing power and RAM. A machine with an M1 chip or better is ideal on the Mac side. For Windows, find a PC with an 11th Gen Intel or AMD Ryzen 3000 Series processor or newer. Start with 16GB of RAM, but you will not regret having more.

For listening, a simple closed-back pair of headphones will suffice here. Having noise canceling or sound isolation is helpful for some people, but we find it uneven or distracting. The benefits of a USB mic is that it will have a built-in preamplifier and audio interface for easy plug-and-play connectivity. The one we recommend picks up sound in a tight cardioid pattern, isolating the speaker's voice and reducing background noise while being pretty clear. There's also a built-in pop filter to reduce plosives and a small desktop stand to get the mic off the desk. It also includes a headphone jack for monitoring the sound. Starting with modern hardware will result in better-sounding podcasts, but don't go overboard.

  • Per person - TASCAM TH-02 Studio Headphones (buy from B&H • buy from Amazon)
  • Per person - Audio-Technica ATR2500x-USB Cardioid Condenser Microphone (B&H • Amazon)
  • (Optional) USB-C or USB-A hub
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Gettin' serious, or XLR
As your podcasting gets more serious, it's time to get serious equipment. You may have heard about acoustic treatment to control room echoes and while absorption can help, going overboard isn't necessary. If you have hard floors or bare walls, a rug or wall hangings can suffice — no need to cover every surface with foam. And never fear; the dynamic mic we recommend has a tight polar pattern that is less sensitive to the peripheral environment. Besides, the XLR connection and quality cable provide a noise-free audio transfer to your interface.

  • Per person - ATH-M20x Headphones (B&H • Amazon)
  • Per person - Rode PodMic Cardioid Dynamic Broadcast Microphone (B&H • Amazon)
  • Some way to get the mic off the table or out of your hands so it's less prone to be knocked around (B&H • Amazon)
  • Zoom PodTrak P4 (B&H • Amazon)
  • XLR cables (B&H • Amazon)
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Leveling up
This list is near the top of the line without going overboard and over spending. The mute switch is a game-changer.

  • Per person - Sony MDR-7506 (B&H • Amazon) or Sennheiser 280 Pro headphones (B&H • Amazon)
  • Per person - Shure MV7X XLR (B&H • Amazon)
  • Zoom PodTrak P4 with SanDisk 32GB SD Card (B&H • Amazon) or Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 (B&H • Amazon)
  • Rolls MS111 mic switch momentary microphone mute switch (B&H • Amazon)
  • Mic stand (B&H • Amazon)
  • XLR cables (B&H • Amazon)
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Portable
Some have asked about the ideal mobile rig, which they can take when traveling or recording "on-the-street" interviews. This small, portable setup is also very affordable, making it a good starter XLR kit.

  • Per person - Sony MDR-7506 (B&H • Amazon)
  • Per person - Shure SM57 microphone and foam covers (B&H • Amazon)
  • Zoom PodTrak P4 with SanDisk 32GB SD Card (B&H • Amazon)
  • XLR cables (B&H • Amazon)
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What we use for the podcast
As of the end of 2022, we produce How This Works almost entirely remotely, with guests joining via Zencastr or two times where we used separate Quicktime instances to record each person's audio separately and an audible countdown and clap to sync the sound in post-production. Only one episode so far has been recorded in person. Here's what Skipper uses as. a host:

  • MacBook Pro 2019 2.6 GHz 6-Core Intel Core i7 with 16 GB RAM — see computer note above
  • Sennheiser 280 Pro headphones (B&H • Amazon)
  • Shure SM7B (B&H • Amazon)
  • InnoGear mic boom arm with cable management (B&H • Amazon)
  • Rolls MS111 mic switch momentary microphone mute switch (B&H • Amazon)
  • Stage Right XLR cables (B&H • Amazon)
  • Cable management including...
  • Adobe Creative Suite — mostly Audition, Illustrator, Photoshop, and Premiere
  • otter.ai
  • Audio Hijack from Rogue Amoeba
  • Headliner

The note that we sent to guests about their sound setup is as follows:

The easiest thing for your audio is a set of wired headphones (over ear/on ear or earbuds) with an attached microphone like the generic white Apple EarPods or something similar. We say wired because it's one less failure point (battery, connnection, you name it) but if you like wireless headphones, that's fine too — as long as they're not noise cancelling headphones, which in our experience can be inconsistent and uneven in what they decide needs to be cancelled out. Having a generally quiet background helps too.

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