Audio Equipment Recommendations

Read this whole thing through. The end has some “packages” that make it easier to organize all this information. There are no affiliate links here–my recommendations are 100% about being helpful, 0% about monetizing that advice.

If you just want the equipment list, click here.


Great-sounding audio for video calls & podcasting has two critical elements:

  1. A microphone that is not overly sensitive
  2. Placed 2 to 6″ away from your mouth

The good news is that you can accomplish those two things with relatively little in equipment cost. Below are some options to help you get the equipment you need together.

You’ll need a microphone and a mic stand that positions the microphone 2 to 6″ from your mouth without interfering with things like typing on your computer, etc.

Microphone options

There are two microphones I have personal experience with. They both sound good with my male voice:

  1. Audio Technica ATR2100: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004QJOZS4/
  2. Electrovoice RE320: http://www.amazon.com/Electro-Voice-RE320-Dynamic-Microphone/dp/B004TGIENQ/

Either of these microphones sounds many times better than commonly-recommended alternatives like the Blue Yeti, etc in real-world office conditions. The reason why is that they are dynamic microphones, which are less sensitive to distant sounds like room noise, echo, etc. Placing these microphones 2 to 6″ from your mouth will change the balance of good sounds (your voice) to bad sounds (room noise, echo, background noise, etc) in a very favorable way.

Microphone accessories

Both of these microphones come with a minimal number of accessories, and both need additional stuff to be usable for conference calls/podcasting. Again, the reason why is that they need to be placed 2 to 6″ from your mouth, usually on an already-crowded desk that you will be typing on, which can transmit a surprising amount of low-frequency noise into the microphone element via physical vibration.

Your first choice is between a simple boom stand and a more flexible but expensive boom arm. Having tried both, they both work but I now would not want to go back to the simple boom stand. The flexible boom arm makes it super easy to move the microphone around, in and out of your way as needed.

A shock mount is mandatory to prevent too much vibration transferring from the desk to the microphone:

Finally, with the ATR2100, a wind screen is beneficial: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002GXF8Q/

Signal processing

If you chose the ATR2100, you can send the USB output of the microphone into your computer and call it a day unless you want to send the output of multiple microphones into 1 computer (like a conference call scenario where 2 or more people on your team are in the same room on the same conference call).

If you need to mix together the signal from more than 1 microphone and send it to 1 computer, there are several good options, depending on how many microphones you need to mix:

If you chose the RE320 microphone, you will need what is called a microphone preamp and something to turn the analog audio signal into USB digital. You can also use a microphone preamp with the ATR2100 to get a slightly better sound out of the microphone.

If you are using multiple RE320s, you can use one of the mixers above, because they have built-in OK-quality mic preamps. If you want the ultimate in quality with one or more RE320s or ATR2100s, then do this instead of getting a mixer:

  1. Get 1 of these per microphone: http://www.amazon.com/DBX-286s-Microphone-Pre-amp-Processor/dp/B004LWH79A/
  2. Get 1 of these to mix the audio signals together (not necessary if you’re using only one RE320) : http://www.amazon.com/Behringer-MX400-BEHRINGER-MICROMIX/dp/B000KGYAYQ
  3. Get one of these to convert the analog audio to digital (you only need one no matter how many RE320s you have): http://www.amazon.com/Behringer-UCA202-Audio-Interface/dp/B000KW2YEI/

Finally, a hardware mute switch can be extremely helpful for conference calls or podcasting. With a microphone sitting 4 to 8″ from your mouth, the microphone will pick up lots of normal human noises you may wish to prevent from being recorded.

This mute switch works well: http://www.amazon.com/Rolls-Latching-Momentary-Microphone-Phantom/dp/B001GMXFW6/ You need one per microphone, though if you are using the ATR2100 and its built-in USB output, a hardware mute switch will not work because it plugs inline using analog XLR cables, not USB cables. There are software mute switches available, though I haven’t tried any of them.

Summary

OK, let’s put this all together into some shopping lists:

1) Basic 1-person setup

One ATR2100 and the minimum number of accessories

2) Basic multi-person setup

Multiple ATR2100s and the minimum number of accessories

3) Better 1-person setup

One RE320, a nicer mic boom, and the less expensive signal processing option

4) Better multi-person setup

Multiple RE320s, a nicer mic boom, and the less expensive signal processing option

5) Ultimate 1-person setup (this is exactly what I use)

One RE320, a nicer mic boom, and the best quality signal processing option

6) Ultimate multi-person setup

Multiple RE320s, a nicer mic boom, and the best quality signal processing option

Add a hardware mute switch (I also use this)

This will only work with packages 2 – 6

Headphone splitter

Finally, if you are getting this equipment for the conference call scenario with 2 or more people in the same room using multiple mics going into the same computer, then you’ll want each person to use headphones to avoid feedback between the computer speaker and the microphones.

As usual, there are options: