Selecting a Podcasting Mic: USB or XLR?

by | Podcasting

I cannot tell you how many podcasts I have unsubscribed from because the audio quality was not up to snuff.  Like many podcast listeners, I listen to podcasts at 1.5x speed.  This helps me to get through a lot more podcasts each week, and it’s actually very easy to understand what people are saying as long as their audio quality is clear.

If the audio quality is poor, it is nearly impossible to listen at 1.5x speed, and it is equally difficult to understand when competing with the noise of a car while commuting.

Fortunately, there are some really good mic choices available for podcasters.  Having tested many different mics, including the Audio Technicas, Heils, Rodes, and others, I can say unequivocally that the best podcasting mic available right now is the Rode Procaster.  This is a terrific mic at an unbelievable cost.  I’d put it up against any $500 mic and it will hold its own.

But when people read that I recommend the Rode Procaster, it immediately brings up a question: Why choose an analog XLR mic when some mics (such as the Rode Podcaster) mic is USB, allowing you to record straight into the computer?

There is good reason for podcasters to choose a professional XLR analog microphone and record into a digital recorder, rather than recording straight into the computer.

The two main reasons for podcasting this way are (1) Audio Quality.  There is no USB mic on the planet that I have heard compare to a quality analog mic.  (2) Computers crash.  It may be rare, but it happens.  Do you really want to explain to an important guest on your podcast that your computer crashed during the recording and you’ll have to start the interview over?  Don’t risk it!

Before I continue, I should say that I have podcasted with BOTH professional analog mics with XLR connections and digital mics with USB connections.  While it may seem simpler to record straight to the computer, I really discourage it for the aforementioned reasons.  If your budget for your podcast is only $50 and all you can do is buy a headset mic, then USB is going to be your only choice.  Don’t let that discourage you.  You can still produce a good podcast, but when your income is up enough to reinvest in the business–I highly recommend getting a professional mic with XLR connections.

There was a time when my podcasting setup was extremely complicated with a rack, mixer, compressor/limiter/gate, etc.  Recently however, Zoom released a game changing device (I hate that phrase because people frequently use it in situations where it does NOT change the game).  The Zoom H6 is a recorder with SIX analog inputs of XLR, 1/4″ and 3.5mm inputs.  All inputs can be recorded simultaneously on different tracks.  It has a built-in compressor and gain settings, and the price is very reasonable.

I sold off my mixer and all the other gear and now record from the Rode Procaster directly into the Zoom H6.  The zoom records the audio onto an SD card which makes it a piece of cake to get the digital files when the recording is done.  Also, with six inputs, I can have a lot of guests on the show at once.  For playing intro and outtro music, I use an app called Soundbyte on my iPad with a cord running from the iPad into the Zoom.

So far, I have loved my new podcasting setup.  It’s lightweight, simple, inexpensive, and I am less prone to making mistakes with fewer moving parts.  For me, an analog mic like the Rode Procaster provides pristine and clear audio that is far superior to any USB mic I’ve ever tried.

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