six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

This week's sponsor

Couchbase: Revolutionize your customer experience with a powerful engagement database.

By Jason Snell

A podcast studio for under $100

Audio Technica ATR2100-USB

Podcasting is rapidly becoming an industry, with big money and big companies rushing in. But it is also still what it always was: A place where anyone’s voice can be heard. Anyone can make a podcast and post it to iTunes and, with luck and perseverance, find an audience.

One of the biggest hurdles in making a good podcast has always been the expense of equipment. Audio equipment can be expensive, especially the stuff that’s made (and priced) for professionals. One of the good things about this latest podcast renaissance is that the price of pretty good recording equipment has come down a whole lot lately.

Since I write about podcasting a lot, I get asked a lot about what the right starter set-up should be for a podcaster. To be clear—you could use your iPhone’s microphone or a set of EarPods and record a podcast with no extra investment, and you don’t need to spend a dime to get started. GarageBand is free with every Mac, Audacity is free for everyone, and Ferrite is free on iOS with a couple cheap in-app purchases for extra features.

But if you do want to invest a little bit in a better microphone, where should you put that cash? Here’s my recommendation for how you can get a great set-up for under $100.

The microphone

at-tall

At this point my recommendation for a podcast starter microphone is the $79 Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB.

This is by far the cheapest microphone in Marco Arment’s top four podcasting microphones, and since it’s got a USB port, you can use it without buying an XLR audio interface box.

The ATR2100-USB excels at keeping out room echo and other background noise (the stuff that can make podcasts hard to listen to), though that means you’ll need to work on your microphone technique and never stray too far away from the mic, or your voice will fade out rapidly. The good news is, it’s also got a headphone jack in its base, so you can hear your own voice as you speak and get immediate feedback if you stray too far away from dead center.

It’s a really amazing value at $79, and it’s often discounted on Amazon to between $35 and $50. The ATR2100-USB even has an XLR port on the bottom, so if you do end up wanting to plug it into a mixer or portable recorder, you can.

The accessories

The problem with audio hardware is that you need to buy a bunch of accessories. The good news about the ATR2100-USB is that it already comes with XLR and USB cables, a microphone clip, and a desk stand. You don’t need to buy those.

What you do need to buy is a $3 foam windscreen. The ATR2100-USB requires you to get up close to it (because it’s blocking out room noise and echo!), but getting up close to a microphone can lead to lots of ugly popping sounds from your mouth. The windscreen will help filter those out.

You should also probably buy a $11 shock mount to replace the basic microphone clip that comes with the ATR2100-USB. If your microphone is sitting on a desk or table, you will probably be doing things like typing on your keyboard and bumping the work surface with your elbows. These are noises that you won’t notice, but they’ll reverberate right up through the mic stand and sound like explosions on your recording. A shock mount isolates the microphone so that it floats on a springy set of elastic bands.

Getting it off the table

The prices of all of these products can fluctuate quite a lot, but as I write this, those three purchases meet our goal of staying under $100! If you want to spend a little bit more money, well, there’s always a way to spend more money with audio equipment.

The next purchase I’d suggest is a boom arm or mic stand, to elevate your microphone off of your desk or table entirely. If you’ve got a desk you’re willing and able to semi-permanently mount an arm, buy a boom arm like this one (I haven’t tested that one, fair warning). These arms clamp to your desk (so make sure you’ve got a place you can clamp one!) and generally you can screw on the shock mount you bought above rather than use the microphone clip that comes with the arm.

If you don’t have a permanent podcasting location—I didn’t for years after I began podcasting—consider a stand like this $20 model. I used this stand for quite a while when I was podcasting while sitting on my bed. When I was done, I could just fold the stand up and stash it under the bed.

No matter what your budget, podcasting can allow you to have your voice be heard. And if you do want to spend $100, you can have your voice sound that much better. The choice is up to you—but you don’t need to lay out a whole lot of money regardless.

[Thanks to Antony Johnston, author of the Podcast Guest Guide, for the topic suggestion.]

[If you appreciate articles like this one, help us continue doing Six Colors (and get some fun benefits) by becoming a Six Colors subscriber.]

[Don't miss all our podcasting articles.]