Recording audio doesn’t have to cost much. In fact, you can be up and running for under $100. You just need a microphone, something to record on, something to listen back to it with, and a space to do the recording.  

Microphones 

Choosing a microphone can be quite daunting when you see all the options. A quick search online might bring up hundreds of different makes and models. But the microphone is the heart of audio recording, so you need to make a good decision.

Not all microphones are alike. Different ones respond differently to different voices, so micro¬phone choice can be very personal. In fact, some radio announcers actually bring their own micro¬phone into the studio rather than use the one in the studio. If you buy a microphone in a shop, rather than from an online retailer, take some time to try out different models. Listen to them and choose one that makes you sound good. 

 Dynamic Versus Condenser 

Your first purchase choice is between a dynamic or condenser microphone (Figure 6-1). Dynamic mics tend to be more robust than condensers, although condensers are more sensitive and pick up more detail in the higher audio frequencies.

A dynamic microphone uses a magnetic coil in the diaphragm to convert the sound waves, whereas the condenser microphone uses a capacitor. The capacitor in a condenser microphone requires electrical current to work, so it will need either a battery or external power supplied from a mixing desk or audio recorder, which is called “phantom power.”

Some higher-end condenser microphones, like those used on video cameras or in recording studios, do not have a space for batteries and can only be used with devices that supply the phantom power. Be sure to check before you purchase if your mic requires phantom power and if your audio recording device or mixer can supply it. 

USB Microphones  

A recent development in microphone technology is the USB microphone. This is a plug-and-play device that you can connect to your laptop through the USB port. Most computers will detect the microphone and automatically configure it for use, making it a great trouble-free option. The downside to USB mics is that they tend to be less responsive than traditional mics, so you need to position the mic closer to your mouth. Another limitation is that many models also have a record-only function, so you can’t listen to your voice while you record. And to play back your recording, you need to pull the USB microphone out of the computer. 

Headset Mics  

Some people use headset microphones to record podcasts. Marketed to gaming enthusiasts and people who make VoIP calls, they’re relatively cheap and may seem like a good option. Some even come with noise reduction to help reduce background noise. However, unless you buy a studio-quality model, which are often quite expensive, the audio quality of headset mics is usually very poor. The noise reduction feature is not as effective as one would hope and the frequency response may make you sound like you’re talking on a telephone. They also pick up a lot of breathing because they’re positioned awkwardly relative to the mouth.

I have nothing against headset mics when used in gaming and for VoIP. But the purpose of microphones when recording podcasts is to reproduce the voice and other sounds so they are realistic. And for you to sound real and natural in your podcast, most headset mics will not cut it. For another $15, you can dramatically improve the audio quality with a better microphone.

For more tips on creating video content read Jonathan’s latest book, Rapid Media Development for Trainers.