You’re ready to press record on your new podcast. But there’s a problem, the guest’s recording set up sounds terrible. There’s also an awful noise on the line that you’re hoping will disappear.
HOW DO YOU BREAK THE NEWS TO YOUR GUEST?
Most people don’t. They’ll record the interview and never tell the guest the quality is not good enough. The problem with this is, you then have an anxious guest who wonders why you never released the podcast you recorded together. Or, you release the podcast anyway and then get lots of messages about its poor quality.
In this blog we talk about how to avoid bad quality podcast recordings and how to get the best set up for your podcast. Whether you’re the guest or the podcast host. With advice on set-ups, recordings and software. Please note, any prices quoted for software or equipment may have changed since we first wrote this blog.
So, how do we avoid bad quality audio recordings?
Try to rectify the issues before you start recording. If you can’t and the problems persist, then apologise to your guest and explain that the quality of the recording is not best practice to continue. Or, just put it down to experience and record it anyway.
But if you do re-schedule the interview, stress to your guest that the problem could be caused by something you’ve overlooked. Then, book an appointment with your guest to jump back online and test the line first. It’s really important that your guest feels vindicated from the problem, otherwise this could make them feel like their set up is inadequate. So make it clear that this is nobody’s fault.
What’s the big deal? Surely inviting guests onto a podcast is pretty straightforward. Right?
It is easy to think that the equipment you use and your general set up are unimportant. But be warned… A bad set-up can make a good podcast sound unprofessional. But bad sound can make a podcast sound un-listenable.
The gold standard is to always strive for the best sound quality, because even a new podcast with few listeners can sound credible and professional if the sound is good.
Ask yourself, do you want to listen to a low-quality podcast where the audio keeps squelching and it’s hard to hear what people are saying? Also, don’t assume that everyone has good hearing or will put up with poor quality. People now have a big choice of podcasts to listen to, give them another good reason to stay listening to yours.
What Equipment Do I Need To Record A Podcast?
This is one of the first questions guests ask when it comes to recording a podcast. Can I use my phone? What if I don’t have a microphone or laptop, is that ok?
Truth is, your guests won’t want to spend loads of money on fancy recording equipment to feature on one episode. And they don’t have to.
So what are the options?
Your guest can conduct their podcast interview on a smart phone, iPad or laptop. But they will need to follow a strict checklist to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Listed below is a basic, intermediate and advanced set up for recording podcasts remotely. We include tips on setting things up, microphones, recording software and more.
What Do You Need To Record A Podcast?
Basic guest equipment requirement
1). iPhone or an iPad, or equivalent smart device.
These devices include both an internal microphone and speakers and usually have internal webcams. You can add external headphones, either bluetooth wireless earbuds or ear covering headphones. The latter would be our personal choice as ear covering headphones are better at not letting audio leak from the headphones back into the microphone. Which often causes a loop delay. An example of this is when people say they can hear themselves coming back to them.
Intermediate guest equipment set up
2). Laptop or desktop computer.
A computer provides the opportunity to have both an external or internal microphone. And, you can usually change some features on your computer to allow for a better quality recording. The main benefit is being able to place the microphone closer to the guests mouth for a more intimate recording. Plus, the machine is usually on a fixed surface and if they have an external webcam they can move it to wherever they want in the room.
Advanced guest equipment set up
3). Mixer linked to a laptop or computer.
This is usually a pro podcaster set up, or studio. The main benefit is being able to control all the various recording inputs and outputs from the computer to the mixer. All sound equipment then plugs straight into the mixer rather than the computer. This provides a cleaner sound that is more controllable from the mixer, with a better option for headphones going straight into the mixer and keeping all tech separate from the hardware. This now gives you a more cleaner sound to the overall output.
Podcast Microphone Options
If you have either a laptop or computer and you think you’ll be a guest on a few podcasts, then you may require a more professional sounding microphone. What most people vouch for is a USB microphone. These are the types that plug into your USB connection on your laptop or computer.
However, our personal choice is what’s known as a lavalier microphone. These are better because they usually cancel noise around them far better than a dynamic USB microphone.
Plus, you can place them closer to your mouth and they often sound more intimate and clearer. Listed below is a couple of options for both, depending on your budget and what you prefer.
Option 1: Razor Seiren Mini – £33
This is a really great microphone for the price. Its currently priced around £32 to £35.
It is very easy to use and transportable. It reduces background noise and captures the voice with decent clarity. If you’re looking for the highest quality audio recording, you’ll want to spend a bit more money. But this mic is definitely good value for money and works well enough for beginner podcasters or anyone on a smaller budget.
Option 2: Samson Q2U – £81
This mic is priced between £79 to £130 and is used by lots of podcasters. You can buy it on its own or as a ‘Podcasting Pack’ for around £120 to £200. It usually comes with headphones, cleaning kit, mic stand, USB cable and a foam windshield.
The Samson Q2U records audio to a high standard and is very accessible and easy to use for the beginner mic user. The ‘Podcaster Pack’ is an easy purchase if you plan to start from scratch and you feel you need all the kit to get going.
Option 1: BOYA by M1 – £15
This mic is small, easy to use and very portable.
The sound quality isn’t high end but it has a pretty clean sound when you record one voice in a quiet room.
Any background noise will probably be picked up.
Option 2: RODE SmartLavPlus – £45 (OUR CHOICE)
This mic is very versatile and can be used for recording in various situations, so just into your phone, laptop or or smart device.
In general RODE is a great brand with a variety of mics for various uses, so we would recommend investigating their products further.
That said, the SmartLavPlus is one of the most affordable and would work well for any podcast.
Podcast Headphone Options
What is the main reason for wearing headphones?
It enables you to have a more natural sounding recording and turn off noise cancellation. Noise cancellation turns your interview into a phone call that sounds like it’s on a speakerphone.
But I don’t mind that sound, what are the other reasons?
Not wearing headphones increases the opportunity of your guest hearing themselves coming back to their output via your microphone. And, if you speak when your guest speaks, it will naturally mute them, which is not ideal, especially if they’ve not finished speaking. So, it’s like talking to somebody on a speakerphone.
So, how do I get the best quality recording?
By wearing headphones we can switch off noise cancellation, avoid squelchy recordings and have a more natural conversation without any cut outs or muting.
Listed below is some headphones that we personally recommend.
Option 1: Anker Soundcore Life P2 Wireless Earbuds – £40
There are a lot of podcasters out there who are most comfortable with earphones rather than headphones and since comfort is one of the most important parts of choosing headphones, we must include a recommendation for some bluetooth earphones (even though we would recommend ‘proper’ headphones over your ears).
These earphones have a pretty good noise cancellation capacity and are a really decent price if you’re working on a budget. The sound quality is relatively high and if you are used to using bluetooth earphones, these are easy to set up and use.
They do have a fast charge time that should last 7 hours but MAKE SURE you charge them before recording! There’s nothing worse than a podcast being put on hold because your guest’s headphones have died.
Option 2: Audio-Technica ATH-M20x – £45
You will struggle to find a higher quality budget option than these headphones. While they still are priced closer to the £50 mark, they are a very reliable and high quality option for your podcast guests.
They are closed-back headphones which means they have ear cups with a solid exterior to achieve a high level of noise isolation. These kinds of headphones are best suited to studio recording (as opposed to editing) and your guest will be guaranteed a comfortable and relatively high quality recording experience with these headphones.
Option 3: Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO – £119 (OUR CHOICE)
These headphones sit around the ‘Upper mid-range‘ of headphones for recording podcasts. They are perfect if you wish to spend a little bit more money and invest in some really high quality headphones. We would highly recommend these as an option for someone who intends to do a lot of recording.
They are also closed-back headphones which achieve a high level of noise cancellation and ensure a comfortable and uninterrupted recording experience for your guests. These headphones are most commonly used by singers and radio presenters due to their exceptional sound quality and comfort.
What Software Do I Need To Record A Podcast?
Obviously, you and your guest will need to record your voices onto the same software, so you will both need to meet in the same virtual place.
It’s important to remember that everyone will have a slightly different set up, so choosing the right software to record is essential.
At the time of this publication, we recommended three software products that all provide a free option. We’ll give you a brief description about them and you can decide which one would suit you and your guest best.
Do I have to pay or is it free?
The good news is that all the products we recommend have a free version. The bad news is that the paid versions are much better, but we would only recommend investing in a paid version if you are doing regular podcasts for your own project.
Do I have to pay if I’m a guest?
No, only the individual who’s invited you onto their podcast will pay for the software that you use.
Is there an alternative?
Yes, just use the free version of each online software package to see each other, but use a local recording device to record remotely, so not online recordings. This will need to be either a mic that’s linked into a mixer/computer, or recording your voice into your phone. Dictaphone style.
OPTION 1: ZOOM
Zoom is really simple and easy to use. An app that we’ve all become very familiar with over the past couple of years. mainly due to Covid and keeping in touch with family, friends and work colleagues. All you have to do is get everyone to join the call, click record and you’re off.
What are the main benefits of using Zoom?
High quality video with option to blank backgrounds and even create and upload your own backgrounds. You can also use Zoom like a phone, and blank all videos.
You can download the app onto almost any smart device, great for guests that have no webcam or laptop, but wish to do the interview over Zoom on their phone.
When recording, Zoom automatically swaps the speaker on the screen. This is ideal for videos being shared on social media, as you won’t need to edit the video of the guest and speaker after the recording. As this is all done automatically for you.
High security and password protected rooms, but you can also make the rooms automatic entry or block until you have granted them permission to enter the room.
Message other muted guests, this is ideal if you are the producer or need to prompt a guest to talk about something when they speak on screen.
Zoom records separate tracks, this is ideal for podcasts. Why? Because it will record each guest individually, meaning no background noise from other guests. You can usually switch this on in the recoding settings.
Audio quality not great, especially when noise cancellation is added.
The built in Zoom optimised audio feature is not ideal for podcasters with headphones. Maybe switch to original sound for musicians. Noise cancellers are not ideal for podcasts though, as they add gate suppression to the recording. That said, you may prefer it.
The free version only lasts for 40 minutes, then you either have to leave the recording or pay a subscription fee.
Basic (free) = 40 minute limit.
Pro (£119.90/year) or £14/month = Unlimited call time, 5GB of storage.
To be honest, Zoom is a very accessible and an easy-to-use option. There are thousands of videos and resources to help you use it and your guests will either be already familiar or probably have the free app on their phone already.
However, even though the free option has served us well for lockdown family quiz nights, it might not be suitable for podcasts longer than 40 minutes. That said, if your podcast is shorter than 40 minutes, then it’s a good choice.
Our rating: 7 out of 10
OPTION 2: ZENCASTR
Zencastr promotes itself as everything you could need to make a podcast in one place – record, edit, distribute and monetise.
High quality audio is the first and best result you get from Zencastr. The settings are easily adaptable to suit a podcast recording in a way that Zoom does not do.
High quality video is great if you release video recordings of your podcasts as well as audio. No doubt with Zencastr you can see your lovely guests very clearly.
Records separate tracks for each participant which makes the editing process easier and results in an overall better listen for your audience. It also records your guests locally, so regardless of online glitches, the final recording should be perfect.
Easy to set up, even if your guests aren’t familiar with Zencastr, it won’t take up too much of your time to talk them through the set up. Plus, it even has a health check for the guest to make sure the interview is set up properly prior to the recording day.
Zencastr doesn’t have an App like Zoom or Riverside FM which means that access is fairly limited to a laptop or desktop computer.
Zencastr is accessed best through Google Chrome so make sure you have that downloaded first.
The free option has a lower sound quality so if you want better audio you have to invest in one of their paid packages.
Free+ = MP3 audio, fixed watermark, limited recording storage.
Professional (£17) = WAV audio, customise remove watermark, unlimited recording storage.
Out of the three options, Zencastr probably has the best free option compared to the paid packages. So if you are looking to use a free software, this might be the best option for you.
However, it is important to note that the audio quality is lower on the free option. Also be aware that your guests probably won’t be familiar with Zencastr so it would be worth showing your guests how to use it before jumping into the podcast.
Our rating: 8 out of 10
OPTION 3: RIVERSIDE FM
Riverside FM is a platform created for podcasts and video interviews. It aims to help podcasters make the highest quality shows.
High quality audio is the biggest reason for giving Riverside a go. With Riverside there is no compromising on the audio quality.
High quality video across all the packages. Even the free version has great video quality. And you can even save a specific version for social media.
You can download the app and record straight onto your device.
The paid packages have lots of extra functions that are really useful. For example, screen sharing, live-streaming, producer mode, live-chat support etc.
Producer mode caught our eye. This is a great function on Riverside FM. The other softwares don’t have this feature. Basically, it allows you to invite a producer into the session to provide additional help and support.
For example, if you’re trying to monitor the audio, live chat with guests and share your screen, it can be really useful to have someone helping out during the recording process just as if you were in a professional studio. The producer will be unseen and unheard. They would just be there to help you out.
Not as familiar/quick to set up (although it is still really easy). You would have to sacrifice some time to explain the software to your guest (compared to Zoom which, it is safe to assume, most people are familiar with).
Free version has limited benefits. Like low audio quality, no access to extended features such as screen sharing or producer mode.
Riverside FM is only accessible through a few browsers like Google Chrome, but unlike Zencastr you can also access it via an app. So not a major problem.
Free = unlimited recording and editing, watermark on exported files, 44.1 kHz audio quality
Pro (£20/month) = Unlimited recording and editing, no watermark on exported files, 48 kHz audio quality, screen sharing, produced mode access, live streaming
In our opinion, Riverside FM is the best option for podcasts if you get the paid version. While the free version has everything you need in terms of a basic recording, the pro package includes really useful benefits that we would highly recommend. If you have quite a ‘packed’ podcast with video recording, screen sharing, live-streaming, then you are going to need the paid version. The watermark on the free version can look unprofessional on a video and the audio quality is significantly lower. Also, please note that producer mode is only available on the paid options. If you are going to be making a lot of podcasts, we highly recommend the Pro version of Riverside FM.
Our rating: 9 out of 10
But what software do we use or recommend? Well, we actually use all three for different reasons. But our overall winner dated February 2023 is Riverside FM. Go check it out!
Where Should I Record My Podcast?
Some people will say that you can record a podcast anywhere. However, we would recommend a space that is free from noise, distraction and echos.
If you can’t record in a professional podcast recording studio your guest may think the dining area in their kitchen is the best place as it has plenty of light, it’s right near the kettle, (just in case you need of a cuppa). And, there’s usually a big nice table to spread your equipment and notes on.
But, they’re forgetting that the gardener is coming to mow the lawn, the dog’s bed is 4 feet away and the new washing machine is not running quietly. And, if that’s not bad enough the kitchen is a room full of hard sound reflections. This causes lots of echo, meaning you hear more of the room than the guest.
So, to help you organise the space you’re going to record in, listed below is our top Pro Tips for a quiet and hopefully pleasant recording in the most suitable location.
Podcast Recording Checklist
Tip 1). Close all windows: There’s always a neighbour about to start cutting their grass or a Police siren about to start whirring when we hit record.
Tip 2). Choose the right chair/table: Don’t choose a squeaky chair or rest on an uneven table. The repetitive squeak or knocking will annoy your listeners.
Tip 3). Eliminate distractions: Choose a room that is free from interruptions where no one will accidentally walk in. And, where you can’t hear the kids shouting or playing video games.
Tip 4). Timing is everything: Choose a time when no one will be in the house or at least tell the family to be quiet while you record.
Tip 5). No house surfing: Tell the family to stay offline while you’re recording. Any streaming other than your online recording can cause issues with the stream and connection.
Tip 6). Where to record: The ideal place is a bedroom, as it has the most soft fabrics so helps to reduce room echo. If you can’t record in your bedroom, place soft fabrics around you and the microphone. Things like cushions are ideal. Or place some rugs and blankets over wooden floors.
Tip 7). Don’t hold smart devices: If you hold a phone or iPad for the duration of the interview, your arms will probably tire and you’ll create movement noise on the microphone. Always place the smart device on a stable surface or fix on a stand.
Tip 8). Turn off notifications: Emails and laptop notifications with sounds are the worse offenders. Turn these off before you begin recording.
Tip 9). Turn off VPN’s: VPN’s don’t generally like streaming. So, to avoid any implications turn this feature off before the recording begins.
Tip 10). Keep hydrated: Most people get a dry mouth or throat during recording. So, keep a jug or mug of something to drink close by.
Oh, and try and stay in the same position for the duration of the interview. Otherwise, your microphone will pick up movement noises. If you’re a person who gesticulates when you speak, avoid at all costs and keep your hands on your knees.
STILL GOT QUESTIONS?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this blog, plus if we can be of any help on a future podcast of yours, then don’t hesitate to get in touch.
If you have further questions about this blog, then feel free to comment below.