December 8, 2022

When many people think of a podcast studio, they may picture a massive sound board with dozens of switches, walls draped in black foam, and a collection of huge microphones hanging from adjustable arms.

The reality is much more approachable. You can capture clear, crisp sound with very little investment—often using things you already own. Then add podcast equipment as you grow and refine your particular style and voice.

All you need to get started, or to level-up your sound, is a little knowhow. “Learning some fundamental knowledge on microphone, headphone and basic audio devices specifications & terminology will help you select the best equipment for your podcast,” explains Kevin Cureghian, an Audio Specialist at Spotify.

Whether you’re gearing up for your first recording or already have a few dozen episodes under your belt, this guide will help you quickly sort through the terminology and find the perfect podcast equipment for your budget and goals.

The basics: Low budget, high quality

If you’re just starting out, we have some great news…you may already have most of the tools you need to record a solid podcast. And what you don’t have doesn’t need to cost a fortune. 

Recording device

You’ll need a device that records your voice and stores audio files. The smart phone or computer you’re reading this guide on will most likely do the trick. It probably even has a built-in microphone and a speaker so all you need to do is hit record and start speaking. Then you can use Anchor’s one-tap Audio Enhancement to remove background noise for a more professional sound.

It’s perfectly OK if that's all the hardware you use when starting out. But there are a few inexpensive additions you can make that’ll help reduce echoes and make your recordings sound even better.

Headphones

Headphones make editing episodes easier because they help you hear every sound and adjust accordingly. Plus, many of your listeners will hear your podcast through headphones, so it makes sense to edit that way.

If you’re testing the podcast waters, your standard wireless earbuds will do the trick. Especially if you plan to record your show on mobile.

One upgrade to consider is a pair of headphones with a built-in microphone. It’s a great all-in-one solution to record and edit without a big expense.

Price range: $10 to $100+

Features to look for:

  • Built in microphone
  • Comfortable fit (you’ll be wearing these a lot)

USB microphone

Since the microphone is the point where your voice is captured and translated into a digital format, it's one of the most important pieces of podcast equipment. While the mic built into your phone or laptop can work, it’s more likely to capture unwanted sounds and echoes. An external USB microphone is a step up from your smartphone’s mic, yet they’re inexpensive, lightweight, and capture clear, high-quality audio. And they’re easy to set up by simply plugging a USB cable into your computer or phone.

Before you invest in a USB mic, consider the type of pickup pattern you’ll need. Pickup patterns define the size and shape of the area the microphone will cover. Most inexpensive USB microphones have a cardioid pattern, meaning they cover a narrow, heart-shaped area. They’re ideal for recording in small rooms, like your bedroom or a closet. If you’re ready to build a large podcast studio, look for an omnidirectional pickup pattern. It’s a circular pattern that’ll record sound in a 360-degree shape around its location, making it better for large spaces.

Wondering how to choose the perfect microphone? Tune into the Recording and Microphones episode of Anchor’s I Should Start a Podcast to get immersed in the fascinating world of podcast mics. 

Price range: $20 to $150

Features to look for:

  • Built-in mic stand
  • XLR and USB outputs (XLR is a standar type of audio component connector)

Cables

Cables aren’t the most exciting piece of equipment on the list, but imagine recording an entire episode only to realize that a frayed cable left your audio fuzzy or full of gaps.

The types of cables you need will depend on the equipment you’re connecting. If you’re recording directly from the mic on your smartphone, you won’t need any. But if you have a wired external mic or speakers, you’ll need cables to connect them.

There are a few characteristics of cables that help them deliver great sound quality for a long time. First off, you don’t want them overly long since each extra foot of cable can degrade the quality of the signal passing through it. Second, they should have high-quality connectors — gold and silver are usually the best. And they should be jacketed with a thick coating of rubber to protect the wires inside.

Price range: $4 to $50

Features to look for:

  • Gold or silver connectors to prevent oxidation and ensure long-term performance
  • Shortest length for your needs to reduce electromagnetic interference
  • Flexible, thick rubber jacket to prevent tears and snaps

Pop filter

A pop filter is a thin piece of fabric that sits on the mic stand and acts as a buffer between your mouth and the microphone. Its purpose is to soften the hard p or b sounds—known as plosives—that come off as harsh in an audio recording. 

If you have an external mic, pop filters are a cheap and easy addition to make sure your dialogue is plosive-free.

Price range: $10 to $50

Features to look for:

  • Nylon mesh to save money
  • Metal mesh for durability
  • Filter size that fits your mic

Editing software

Once you’ve captured audio on a digital file, you’ll need to edit it. That may mean slicing out banter during an interview or stitching in a sound bite from another recording. Editing software, also called a digital audio workstation (DAW), is how you complete the task.

There are several options for low and no-cost DAWs. Anchor’s waveform editor, for example, is a visual editing tool that lets you see the ebb and flow of sound to spot loud noises and conversation lulls. In Anchor’s DAW you can slice and stitch your recordings quickly and publish from the same app. 

Price range: Free

Features to look for:

  • Editing and hosting capabilities
  • A visual DAW for fast, precise editing
  • Automatic file backups and storage options

Investment pieces: Step up your game

Whether you’re a hobbyist or an aspiring professional, using advanced, higher-quality podcast equipment will create a more polished audio experience for your listeners. Professional tools require an investment, but they are helpful if you plan to launch a long-lasting, successful podcast.

XLR microphone

Professional XLR microphones often have a built-in pop filter and technology that reduces background noise while amplifying speech, making post-production editing a breeze. But an XLR podcast microphone doesn’t have to send you into credit card debt. “Starting at around $100, you can find condenser microphones that serve very nicely in home recording studios,” says Kevin Cureghian.

Price range: $100 to $300+

Features to look for:

  • Condenser XLR mics for quiet studio-like environments
  • Shotgun XLR mics for video podcasts
  • Included shockmounts to reduce vibrations

Podcasting headphones

Basic earbuds are much better than trying to edit a podcast episode using the internal speaker on your laptop. But earbuds still allow a decent amount of ambient sound in, which makes it hard to notice minor imperfections in your recording. 

Over the ear headphones, especially those with noise cancellation technology, are a big step up in keeping outside sound at bay. Plus, a professional pair of wired headphones will deliver a perfectly crisp playback compared to wireless earbuds.

There are two options for professional, over-the-ear headphones: open-back and closed-back.

Open-back headphones do not have an insulating, hard cover on the outside of the speaker. Without that cover, sound tends to be clearer because it doesn’t bounce around an enclosed space (a phenomenon known as resonance). The downside is that open-back headphones don’t block out ambient noise as well. They also let the sound out. For these reasons, open-back headphones are best for quiet studios.

By contrast, closed-back headphones will provide superior ambient noise cancellation and stop others from hearing what you’re working on. They also keep sound leaking out of your headphones and into the microphone while you’re recording. That makes them the top choice for many podcasters.

Price range: $100 to $400+

Features to look for:

  • Wired headset for an uninterrupted signal and real-time feedback
  • Over the ear headphones, for comfort and higher noise reduction
  • Closed-back headphones that completely seal the ear for recording, to prevent sound from escaping and being pick up by your microphone

Mixer

Mixers are small tools that combine multiple microphones or audio inputs, like music, into a single signal. They’re a perfect solution if you want to use a few high-end microphones or would like to feature several podcast guests at the same time.

Price range: $30 to $1,000+

Features to look for:

  • Multiple inputs for multiple guests
  • Lightweight and portable for on-the-go podcast recording
  • A mixer that doubles as an audio interface if you don’t have a laptop

Leveling up: Expanding your podcast capabilities

Once you’ve mastered the basics of recording crisp sound, it's time to consider a few types of podcast equipment that will help you expand where, and how, you create new episodes.

Acoustic treatments

Imagine clapping your hands in a large, empty room. The original clap will create resonance, or vibration, while reverb is expressed as echoes. If the room lacks soft furniture, the sound will turn into reflectivity and continue to bounce around the hard surfaces—not great when you’re trying to provide a polished audio experience to your listeners. 

Reflection, reverberation, and resonance are common sound recording problems with a simple solution: Soundproofing with panels, tiles, and ceiling clouds.

Acoustic tiles and ceiling clouds are made from several layers of foam. They can be attached to the wall or ceiling to absorb sound and limit reverb. “Proper acoustic treatment is the most important and underrated advice no one talks about. It’s arguably more important than what microphone you are using,” explains Kevin Cureghian.

Price range: $12 to $60+

Features to look for:

  • Class A acoustic tiles or panels that absorb 90 to 100% of sound energy

Windscreen

Planning on taking your podcast to the great outdoors? A windscreen (a foam microphone cover) is essential for recording podcasts al fresco to minimize outdoor noise like wind and traffic. It works similarly to a pop filter, but because it fits snugly on your microphone, it reduces more of those unwanted soundwaves.

Price range: $4 to $20

Features to look for:

  • Foam windscreens for indoor use
  • A windjammer (a faux-fur-covered windscreen) for the outdoors

Start small and grow

One of the best parts of podcasting is researching and buying cool podcast gear. But you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a high-tech setup right off the bat.

Instead, start with the basics: your phone, a set of earbuds, and Anchor. Get comfortable with recording, editing, and publishing content. Then as your style develops, look for the gear that’ll help you express it.