How To Set Up A Podcast Studio for $600
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Let me start with the honest truth: you're not going to get rich podcasting. You might not make any money at all. Ever.
But here's the thing- the only way that you have even a chance of making money or building an audience is by creating good audio that people want to listen to and share with their friends. That's why it's really important to get some professional level equipment that will make you and your guests sound really good.
When I set up my podcasting studio, I was out of work and did not have high hopes of producing a show that would ever pay me, so I tried to find ways that I could get really good equipment that would make me sound professional without having to invest a small fortune to get there.
What follows is the list of equipment that I ended up purchasing, as well as some of the more expensive alternatives that I considered but ultimately passed up.
Zoom LiveTrak L-8: $399.99
I knew that I wanted to be able to record remote interviews with guests because I was starting my show during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, making in person interviews nearly impossible. I interview people in the entertainment industry, so that also meant most of my guests would be in Los Angeles or New York while I'm in Boston, so having a mixer that allowed me to patch in phone calls was critical.
I ended up purchasing the LiveTrak L-8 manufactured by Zoom (which is a different company than the one that's used for video conferencing calls). It came with a TRRS cable that allows me to patch my cellphone directly to the board and it includes a "mix minus" function, meaning there aren't issues with echoes or feedback that might otherwise happen with phone calls.
For my show with one guest and one host, this setup has been ideal. I liked that the Zoom looked the most like an audio board that I was used to. It also can run off of AA batteries, meaning the setup is fully portable.
Some of the downsides I've learned is that, although the mixer is designed to be powered over USB, you're also supposed to be able to use USB as an audio source. This would come in handy for Zoom or Skype calls, however, it requires a direct USB connection with no hubs or dongles. I have a MacBook Air, and like all MacBooks, it requires a dongle as the laptop doesn't have a USB port. This means I can't do audio over USB.
The user interface is also pretty small on the Zoom mixer and hard to navigate, although I've used other Zoom products in the past and was used to this.
Alternative I considered: RodeCaster Pro $599.99
From my research, the RodeCaster Pro is much more user friendly. It has a large touch screen and built-in settings for many Rode microphones. It also allows for Bluetooth connectivity to your cellphone for recording phone calls.
As somebody with professional experience, I was happy to save the $200 and go with the Zoom, but if money were no object, I probably would have gone with the RodeCaster Pro.
Rode PodMic: $99.99
I wanted a microphone that would make my voice sound good but not break the bank, and I am VERY happy with my choice of the Rode PodMic.
This is pretty new to the market and was designed with podcasters in mind. It's engineered to make spoken words sound really good but to cut out background noise, echos, etc. Since I work out of a finished attic and am not able to do a lot of soundproofing or sound dampening, this was really important to me. I do find that I need to be pretty close to the mic to get good sound, and if you talk off-axis at all, the level drops, but overall, it's a really professional sounding microphone for the money.
Alternative I considered: Shure SM7B $399.99
If money were no object, I really wanted the Shure SM7B. It's pretty much the gold standard microphone for podcasters. I've wanted this microphone since I knew that it was the one that Marc Maron uses on WTF (and I've since seen it on most other "big" podcasts), but I couldn't resist trying the Rode PodMic at 1/4 the cost. I haven't looked back since I made the purchase.
Audio-Technica ATH-M20x $49.99
How do you know if the audio you're recording is any good? You really need a good pair of headphones to monitor your recording and to help you when editing. You simply cannot rely on the earbuds that came with your cellphone. I wanted a pair of over the head headphones that were comfortable to wear and that offered the option of 1/4" (which is all that the Zoom mixer offers for monitoring) and 1/8" (for my laptop when editing).
The reviews on these headphones were really good, but I was skeptical that I could get a professional pair of headphones for under $50. Well, I have been pleasantly surprised. These headphones block out almost all ambient sound and are comfortable to wear for long stretches. I also like that they have a nice, long cord, which allows me to move around while still wearing the headphones.
Alternative I considered: Sony MDR-7506 $99.99
These Sony headphones will be very familiar to anybody in the TV or radio industry. They're pretty much standard issue in studios. At half the price, the Audio-Technica headphones have proven to be just as solid and reliable, at least for my purposes.
NEEWER Adjustable Microphone Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Stand $13.50
Let me be clear about something- this is an off-brand boom mount that I bought on Amazon. There are probably 100 options all in a similar price point. This one happened to have a good rating and be available to ship sooner than some others, but I am not necessarily recommending this specific brand or model. I'll be honest, this one does what I need it to, and for the price, I am happy with the purchase. It is noisy to adjust and I always mute my channel before repositioning it.
That being said, it is easy to adjust and it holds its position well. Whether you opt for a boom mount like this or simply a tabletop stand is really a matter of personal preference. I wanted to be able to have the freedom of motion that a boom offers (sometimes I lean in during an interview, other times I sit back, and I can move the boom to be close to my mouth no matter how I'm comfortable). I also wanted to have a clear tabletop for notes.
Alternative I considered: Rode PSA1 PRO $99.99
The name brand version of this boom is more than 7x more expensive than the generic one that I bought, and at the end of the day, it's not an area where I was willing to splurge.
I have been very satisfied with all of my equipment and have gotten compliments on the sound of my show. My grand total for all of the equipment listed above, plus an XLR cable for the microphone came to $610.60, including tax. At the time, the mixer included a free SD card and shipping was free. For a show that interviews guests by phone, I'm not sure that I could have gotten away with purchasing anything much cheaper and still had good quality.
To hear how my show sounds, check out Quarantine Creatives with Heath Racela wherever you listen to podcasts.