When I started podcasting in January 2005, anyone’s expectations about audio quality didn’t matter much. Unless you were a radio station with a studio, what you could expect was pretty rough and ready audio quality, especially if you wanted to record remotely.
Nearly twenty years later, the picture could not be more different.
From its humble beginnings, where enthusiasts and amateurs alike shared their voices through rudimentary setups, podcasting has undergone a remarkable transformation. Today, it stands at the forefront of digital storytelling, with studio-quality audio no longer a luxury but a baseline expectation among discerning listeners.
This seismic shift in listener expectations has been driven by a confluence of technological advancements and cultural trends. As the world becomes increasingly connected, and the barriers to content creation are lowered, listeners are no longer just seeking content that informs and entertains; they demand an auditory experience that is immersive, crystal clear, and professional. This evolution mirrors the journey of other media forms, where quality has transitioned from a differentiator to a necessity.
In this context, podcasters, whether seasoned professionals or passionate newcomers, find themselves at a pivotal juncture. The imperative to ‘up their game’ resonates more profoundly than ever. This is not merely about keeping pace but about embracing the tools and technologies that transform good content into great experiences.
The Key Essentials for Podcasting
As a podcaster, I consider three things as essential for creating quality content where, in this context, ‘quality’ means an excellent listening experience:
- Microphone: Once you have decided on which type of microphone you want to use – USB connected directly to your computer, or XLR connected to a mixer and from there to your computer – the most important attribute of a microphone for a podcaster is its sound quality. A high-quality microphone can capture clear and crisp audio, which is essential for a professional-sounding podcast, and for the listening experience.
- Mixer or audio interface: If you use an XLR microphone, the single most important feature of a mixer for a solo podcaster (as I am, but connecting to others remotely via Internet-based recording methods) is the ability to control and adjust the audio levels for my recordings, especially the gain. This feature allows you to manage the volume and balance of different audio sources, such as your own voice, music, or sound effects, in real-time. It provides you with the necessary control to ensure a high-quality recording and a well-balanced final product.
- Recording and editing software: The most important feature of audio-recording software for a podcaster is its ease of use and flexibility. The software should be easy to navigate and use, allowing you to focus on the content rather than the technicalities. It should offer flexibility in terms of editing, multitrack recording, and seamless integration with other hardware and software tools.
In August 2023, I bought a just-launched Rode PodMic USB (pictured at top), a new generation of dynamic microphones combining both USB and XLR connectivity. Initially, I used the USB interface as that had been my experience so far. However, I quickly concluded that XLR would be the better bet for what I wished to do to improve the quality of my audio recordings and increase my understanding and knowledge of audio editing and production.
The dual XLR and USB connectivity, shown in the photo below of the rear of the Rode microphone, allows the mic to be used in various setups, from traditional studio connections to direct computer or mobile device connections, offering flexibility and major convenience. It would give me the ability to use a USB connection if I wanted to record via my laptop, smartphone or tablet.
- To understand the differences between USB and XLR microphones, Rode has a good explainer.
So to use XLR, I needed a mixer or audio interface that would convert the analogue audio from the XLR-connected mic to the digital output the computer requires. After a little research, I settled on the Vocaster One audio interface, below, which has proven to be an outstanding part of my overall podcasting setup.
A standout feature of the Vocaster One is the auto-gain setting that you set via the three-bar symbol on the left in the row of three symbols shown in the photo. Once pressed, you then speak into the microphone for ten seconds while the mixer works out the optimum gain for you. It’s very good.
You can also set the gain this way via the Vocaster Hub companion app as well as enable one of four presets for voice enhancement. The Hub is actually your mixer where you can manipulate audio from multiple inputs if you desire. Focusrite, the maker of the Vocaster One, has a great video on YouTube with a detailed explainer of the Vocaster Hub and all its features and functions.
The Vocaster One is designed for audio podcasting, especially in a setup like mine: a solo podcaster. If you produce a podcast that, say, involves guests, both physically at your location and remotely connecting via the Internet or phone, and/or you live-stream a show, there are more suitable options you should consider. Worth considering are other mixers from Focusrite, especially their Scarlett studio range. Take a look, too, at Rode’s offerings, including the excellent Rodecaster Pro II. And if you have a large budget, consider newer wireless products such as the Nomono Sound Capsule portable podcast studio.
Finally, there’s the software I use for audio recording, editing and production – Adobe Audition, a powerful tool for audio podcasting and, in my experience, the best product of its type for Windows computers. I’ve been using this in its various versions for over a decade.
For one of the three podcasts I host or co-host, my prime role other than hosting is episode production. My two co-hosts and I typically record via Zoom. I use Adobe Audition to edit the three individual audio tracks, either from the Zoom recordings or from the local recording each of us makes, depending on which is the better quality and thus requires less editing or production processing. The multitrack mode in Adobe Audition is an essential tool for this; it is intuitive to use and quick in its processing on the highly-specified Dell XPS desktop PC I have.
In summary, I find the combination I’ve outlined is the best setup I’ve had as a solo podcaster + remote co-hosting with others.
In particular, I would highlight the Vocaster One mixer as a highly versatile and user-friendly solution for solo podcasters, offering high-quality sound, easy setup, and various features to enhance and customise audio for podcasting and streaming purposes. The auto-gain feature is brilliant, and the easy-to-reach microphone mute button is a boon!
If you’re a podcaster looking to up your game by making a reasonable and sound investment in studio-level hardware (and software), at a total cost of less than £600 (roughly €700 or $750), or if you’re looking to get started with a quality setup from scratch, a Rode PodMic USB/XLR + Vocaster One + Adobe Audition combination would be worthwhile.
Rode PodMic USB/XLR: Summary of key features
- Broadcast-quality sound: The PodMic offers a rich, detailed sound optimised for podcasting, live streaming, and other speech applications.
- Internal pop filter and shock mount: It comes with an internal pop filter to minimise plosives and an integrated shock mount to reduce vibrations, allowing for clear and professional sound quality. It also includes a studio-quality external pop filter specifically made for this microphone that fits it like a glove.
- Versatile connectivity: The PodMic USB model offers both XLR and USB connectivity, making it easy to connect to an audio interface, mixer, computer, or even iOS and Android devices.
- Robust construction: The microphone is built with a robust all-metal construction, ensuring durability and longevity.
- Optimized for speech applications: The PodMic is specifically tailored for speech and broadcast, with a dynamic capsule that minimises room noise and a tight cardioid polar pattern for superior room noise rejection.
Vocaster One: Summary of key features
- High-Quality Sound: The Vocaster One provides broadcast-quality sound, offering studio sound in seconds from its high-quality mic input, with over 70dB of gain, suitable for any XLR mic.
- Enhance Edit: It allows greater control of compression, EQ, and rumble reduction for each preset, providing the user with the ability to enhance their sound with one click.
- Vocaster Hub: This feature allows users to set levels, enhance their sound, route audio from their phone and computer, and hear their show mix. It also works with screen readers, allowing control of Vocaster’s key features.
- Phantom Power: If you want to use a condenser microphone that requires power to work, the Vocaster One can deliver the required 48V power.
- Simple Setup for Podcasting and Conference Calls: The Vocaster One can be connected to a computer through USB-C to record into podcast recording software, such as Adobe Audition, which can be used to customise sound. It also allows users to select Vocaster as the audio input on Zoom and Teams. Skype, too.
- Complete Setup for Podcasts and Streaming: The mixer offers various connectivity options, including a headphone output, speaker outs, phone input, and camera output, making it suitable for professional podcast audio recording and streaming.
- Auto Gain and Enhance: The Auto Gain feature sets the correct audio level with the click of a button, and the Enhance button brings out the best of the user’s voice with a choice of four voice presets.
- Mute Button: It allows users to quickly mute audio to avoid interruptions.
Adobe Audition: Summary of key features
- Multitrack, Waveform, and Spectral Display: Adobe Audition provides a comprehensive toolset that includes multitrack, waveform, and spectral display for creating, mixing, editing, and restoring audio content.
- Recording and Mixing Capabilities: It allows users to record and mix live through a computer microphone and studio recording equipment, or work with recorded tracks. This is essential for podcasters who need to create live narration, edit and enhance sound, or mix several tracks dynamically.
- Audio Mixing and Mastering: Adobe Audition is suitable for mixing and mastering audio content for podcasts. It offers over 50 effects and analysis tools, customisable controls, and the ability to remove background noise, making it ideal for refining and polishing audio content.
- Metadata editor: This allows you to enter the texts for ID3 tags and add cover art directly to your output MP3 file from within the program.
- Integration with Adobe Creative Cloud: Audition integrates efficiently with Adobe Creative Cloud, allowing for seamless collaboration and the easy addition of mastered audio to other projects in, for example, Adobe Premiere Pro.
- Free Trial: Adobe offers a free trial of Audition, allowing users to explore its features and capabilities before making a purchase.