When it comes to choosing the equipment to record a podcast, there's no right or wrong. You can spend as much or as little as you want on gear, with the primary differences showing up in sound quality and flexibility when editing. There are some key pieces of equipment you'll need, however.
There is a huge variation in the price and quality of microphones. It's possible to record a decent podcast with the small plastic microphone that probably came with your computer, although the sound quality will not be the greatest. The typical podcaster will want a durable, dynamic microphone. If you plan to conduct interviews with two or more people using one microphone, an omnidirectional mic is key. The Shure SM-58 is a solid all-purpose microphone that won't wreck a podcaster's budget. Podcasters who plan to record in the field or record musical performances might have different mic requirements.
"I have four microphones I use," says Al Gritzmacher. "A pair of MXL-990 large-diaphragm condenser mics that I use for recording gigs; a Sennheiser MD-46, which is a mic specifically designed for interview work, but I also use it when I record my intros for segments of the podcast; I also have an Audix OM-5, a very rugged dynamic mic; and a boom mike headset, a Sennheiser HMD-280 that I use during interviews."
You'll need a device of some kind to mix multiple inputs, if you have them, and actually record the podcast. There are hundreds of mixers on the market, but smaller units with around four inputs will suit all but the most ambitious podcasts. Some mixers have outputs designed for sending data to a computer via USB or Firewire. The recording can be sent to a separate recording device -- either a tape or a hard disk recorder -- then transferred to the computer later. These are especially helpful for recording away from home. Some mixers come with built-in recorders. This area is where you will find the most variation between podcasts, because there are several possible mixer/recorder/computer input combinations.
Simpler podcasts can record directly into the computer's sound card, especially if you only use one microphone. This may require some adapters to match the plug on the mic to the input on the sound card.
The soundcard itself is another important consideration. Cheap soundcards, or those integrated into a system's motherboard, may produce low-quality sound, introduce a lot of extra signal noise due to electrical interference, or distort sounds at high signal levels. Some soundcards offer additional inputs for simultaneous multi-track recording or are designed to work with specific software or mixers.
Many podcasts follow a talk-show format, so the guests for each episode may be scattered around the world. This type of podcast needs a way for multiple people on multiple phone lines to hear each other and a way to record the conversation. One solution is to use a phone service capable of running a conference call, then run a tap from the phone to the recording device. Podcasters also make use of Voice Over Internet Protocols (VoIP) to accomplish this.
Software is a key element of recording a podcast, and it serves multiple functions. Good audio software allows you to set the proper recording levels, record the podcast and save it in a useful audio format. You can also edit the podcast using software. Very few podcasts are recorded live in one take and sent straight to the Web. There may be pauses when the host is contacting a guest by phone. Or he might need to edit out a mistake or edit together segments recorded at different times and places. Software can also manipulate the quality of the sound itself using equalization filters, noise reduction and volume adjustments.
The Buffalo Live! Music Podcast is edited with an older program called Cool Edit Pro, and any number of high-end audio editing software would be suitable for the task. However, these can cost hundreds of dollars. Fortunately, there is a free option, the open-source audio program Audacity.
We'll look at out to get your podcast out there in the next section.