One of the questions we get asked quite frequently is about our audio setup for the show. Before this website, we never really had a great answer to that question. I hope now that this guide can serve as a launchpad for those who are looking to start a podcast of their own, so below is a list of all the equipment we use to make Sneak Attack! happen. This isn’t a guide of what you need to do, rather what we do to try and achieve the best audio possible.
Contrary to what you’d think, I actually find the microphones you use to be the least important element in achieving a high-quality audio presentation - especially in a spoken word audio podcast. In fact, early on in the show’s life we were praised for the quality of the show while using these terrible $15 Behringer microphones we got in a bundle on Amazon. Was it the mics that made us sound good? Absolutely not. It was everything else you’ll read further down in this guide.
Eventually we upgrade to the AudioTechnica AT2035, which is a great little supercardioid microphone used a lot in streaming and podcasting. It provides a real full-bodied sound with some excellent warm tones while still capturing the low end quite well. This mic is definitely not the only one that can achieve this effect, so please keep in mind that everything in this guide can be replaced or swapped out for a similar or cheaper product with relatively equal results.
Whatever you choose, I recommend a supercardioid microphone due to its capture pattern. Some people prefer lapels or lavalier microphones for freedom of movement, but I find that those mics are more susceptible to picking up background noise and other ambient tones. Because the idea is to capture only what you want captured, a supercardioid is your best bet.
What a lot of people don’t consider is what is holding your microphone when you are recording. This can make a huge difference in what noises and vibrations are picked up by the mic during the session. We started out with a cheap tripod tabletop stand, but eventually replaced them with a Rode boom arm mic stand. The reason was that any stand that was placed directly on the play surface was prone to picking up any impact with the table, such as accidentally kicking it with your foot, or dice rolling across the surface. With the Rode mic stand paired with a decent shock mount, you can move the mic with ease and not worry about random vibrations getting picked up.
In my opinion, nothing is more important than the microphone interface. The greatest microphone in the world will sound like garbage when plugged into a crappy interface, but even poor mics will sound okay when plugged into a good interface. Again, when we started we were using literally the cheapest mics we could find. But because of how the audio was being captured, it didn’t noticeably impact the finished product.
We use the PreSonus Firestudio 8-channel microphone interface for our recordings. It’s been discontinued, but any XLR interface that connects to a via Firewire, USB, or Thunderbolt should do the trick. The important thing is that you are able to capture each microphone independent of the others, meaning that all of the audio tracks aren’t being saved into a single audio file. What this allows for is the cleanest, easiest-to-edit file when moving on to the edit phase of your recording. With individual tracks, you can easily adjust each microphone track without affecting the others, meaning you can boost or reduce a specific person in case the audio wasn’t captured perfectly.
Note: most of the time, the interface won’t actually record the audio. It’s merely the device that transmits the audio signal to the computer doing the recording. There are devices that interface and record all in one, but we don’t use those for Sneak Attack! so we can’t give our opinion on them.
This is what you use to capture and record the audio being sent from the microphone interface. We use GarageBand, which is free audio software that comes with every Mac. GarageBand is able to detect our interface and record each person’s microphone as its own audio file, which is a crucial part of the next step. I’ve heard that Audacity is a decent free alternative to GarageBand and is on both Macs and PCs, but I haven’t used it personally.
Here at Sneak Attack!, we are bigs fans of “Use What You Know” when it comes to the editing process. Bigger podcasts are going to have dedicated editors running Pro Tools or Logic to do all of their mastering, but that’s not necessary to get a high-quality product. In our case, we have used Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro to edit the episodes - both softwares originally intended for video editing. It doesn’t matter what it was intended for so long as you are able to do with it what you need to. Find some software that works for you, then go to town.
When you are finished editing, be sure to export your file as a .mp3 file in order to reduce it’s file size. If you are publishing on iTunes, Apple requires a constant bitrate (CBR) file rather than a variable bitrate (VBR), so keep that in consideration. For Sneak Attack!, we export all of our episodes as a .mp3 at 96 kbps bitrate. This allows us to keep an hour's worth of audio between 15-20 MBs in file size. If your podcast has a lot of produced music, or something other than spoken word, you may want to consider bumping the bitrate up to 192 kbps. You can get away with a smaller bitrate when dealing with only vocal audio, as it has less dynamic range than a full song.
That’s it! I hope this guide helped you in any way. As I said before, don’t treat this as gospel when setting out to record a podcast of your own. Purely use it as a resource when putting together your equipment list. Happy ‘casting!