As we head into fall, many content creators are turning their focus toward podcasting, recording, livestreaming and other studio productions. Perhaps you’ve been working guerilla style, relying on your mobile phone or the tools that came with your computer to capture and create content. If you’re ready to take your audio productions to the next level, making a few key upgrades will make a big difference—both in sound quality and in the way you work. Here, we’re focusing on podcasting, but these versatile tools are also ideal for music recording, voiceover work and video production.
1. Adopt a Less-Is-More Approach
It’s a great time to be in the market for audio gear. Not long ago, professional technology was pretty much out of the reach of home studios; musicians had to either spend their life savings on gear or shell out top dollar for sessions in a high-end recording studio. But these days, content creators can be up and running for as little as a few hundred dollars and produce really impressive-sounding productions.
Researching gear can be daunting; even seasoned pros have a hard time keeping up with the latest technology. It’s tempting to try to stretch every penny of your budget to amass as much stuff and as many features as humanly possible, but it’s better (and easier) to prioritize a solid, simple set-up over tons of cheap bells and whistles. You’ll quickly outgrow those and end up spending more in the long run replacing inferior-quality equipment that will hold you back later.
We’ve all seen pictures of big recording studios tricked out like airplane cockpits, crammed to the gills with racks of equipment. But the truth is, you can make great recordings with a few functional, high-quality tools. While your upgrade process can be as complex as you want to make it, allow us to present some simple yet powerful ways to expand your creative options and bring professional-grade audio to your podcasts and other productions.
2. Stick to the Essentials
If you’re starting from scratch—or you’ve been relying on earbuds and the built-in microphone on your laptop, phone or tablet to create content—the fastest, easiest path to improving audio quality is to add a professional USB microphone such as AKG Lyra, which is available on its own or paired with AKG K371 professional studio headphones, Ableton Live Lite production software, additional cables and recording courses from Berklee Online in the AKG Podcaster Essentials kit. (Learn how to capture studio-quality sound with Lyra and your cellphone.)
Upgrading your mic will dramatically boost sound quality, but if you’re looking to create more complex productions or have needs that extend beyond simple interviews, livestreaming or recording, consider a set-up that includes a wired microphone (or microphones), a dedicated audio interface and mixer and studio reference monitors.
Standout choices include the AKG C214 large-diaphragm condenser mic, Soundcraft Notepad analog mixers with USB I/O and JBL 3 Series MkII professional studio monitors. These tools are perfect production partners to take your podcasts to the next level: They’re affordable, they sound incredible, and for those musical multitaskers out there, they’re also great for general-purpose recording, live-streaming and videoconferencing. Let’s explore these, along with a few more upgrade ideas.
3. Invest in a Do-It-All Mic: The AKG C214
Studio mics can be significant investments, especially when you start to get into specialized applications. If you’re considering a single mic, it’s a good idea to choose a versatile model that can record a range of performances with depth and clarity.
For podcasting, your microphone needs are somewhat straightforward: Above all, you want your voice to sound crystal clear, and you want your microphone to capture all of the nuances that make you unique.
Condenser mics are highly sensitive, making them ideal for vocals (if you have never heard your voice through a condenser microphone, we’d argue that you’ve never heard your true voice), but they can be used on just about any sound source with stellar results. Large-diaphragm condensers are known for bringing a pleasing or “present” quality to any recorded source from vocals to strings. If you’ve shopped for large-diaphragm condensers, you know they can be expensive. If you’re looking for a premium studio condenser without a premium price, the AKG C214 is a great choice.
The C214 is one of AKG’s most popular mics, for a lot of reasons: It was designed as a cost-effective, single-capsule alternative to the legendary C414 microphones, which have been studio classics for decades. It captures sound by combining one capsule of the legendary C414 dual-capsule system with patented AKG backplate technology to offer outstanding performance similar to the C414 XLII. C214’s key podcasting benefits come from its integrated spider suspension, which reduces noise; a switchable bass-cut filter, which reduces rumble and allows close-up recording with almost no proximity effect; and a switchable 20 dB attenuation pad that allows the mic to handle extremely loud sources, up to 156 dB SPL.
The C214 is housed in a die-cast metal body with a double-mesh grille for extra protection. And, with its retro aesthetic, it looks fabulous on camera. The C214 package includes the suspension mount and a foam windscreen, all housed in a rugged metal carrying case. (Take a deeper dive into microphones here.)
4. Enhance Fidelity and Functionality: Soundcraft Notepad
Like most podcasters, your home studio rig is probably based around a computer. There are plenty of straightforward interfaces out there that do a great job of getting audio in and out of your computer, but combination mixer/interfaces bring advanced sonics and a whole new level of functionality to your rig. When you’re working with multichannel audio, there’s nothing like hands-on control. If you’ve been controlling your input and output levels with your mouse, you’ll be shocked at how much easier and intuitive mixing feels when you can put your hands on real faders and knobs.
Mixers are available in endless configurations and connect to all types of audio sources. Some mixers even have effects built right in, making them an even better value. Think about ergonomics: The more closely a mixer layout matches your production style, the less you’ll have to rely on squinting and mousing around your computer screen.
Soundcraft Notepad mixers bring all of these functions to compact, affordable desktop USB units that combine legendary Soundcraft analog circuitry with premium digital effects such as reverb and EQ. Notepads expand your capabilities by letting you record and manage multiple simultaneous sound sources at the same time; they’re great values for podcasters, singer-songwriters or anyone looking for a small-format mixing solution.
The Notepad Series offers a streamlined traditional channel-strip layout and is available in three configurations, the 5-channel Notepad-5, the 8-channel Notepad-8FX and the 12-channel Notepad-12FX. Notepad-8FX and Notepad-12FX offer enhanced DSP, including studio-quality Lexicon reverb (which lets you simulate the sound of other environments). A one-touch ducking function automatically drops background music whenever your voice is detected—critical for podcasts, narrations and other spoken-word projects.
When considering Notepad channel count, first think about what you want to produce: The more tracks you plan to record at once, the more inputs you’ll need. If it’s just you and a podcast guest, the 5-channel Notepad-5 mixer should suffice. But if you’re bringing in a band or want to add external effects, you might want to spring for the 12-channel Notepad-12FX.
Note that a mixer’s total number of individual inputs is not the same as the total number of each kind of input; microphone, instrument and recording-equipment signals are all different, so check I/O configuration to make sure your connections are covered. Notepads feature XLR Combo jacks for plugging in the AKG C214 or other professional microphones, plus 1/4-inch and RCA inputs that handle a range of audio sources from musical instruments to DJ gear to consumer devices.
All Notepads feature genuine Soundcraft analog preamps, the source of the legendary “British Sound” that helped define classic rock and roll (and plenty of modern music, too). These analog preamps will impart a rich, full, broadcast-quality sound to your voice. If you’ve ever wondered how to get a huge-sounding voice like the ones you hear on the radio, TV, videogames or in the movies, preamp choice is a big part of that sound.
5. Step Up to Pro Studio Monitors: JBL 3 Series MkII
Your studio monitors are the hub of your workspace and the lens through which you evaluate your mixes. To make accurate decisions, reference your music on professional studio monitors, which provide flat, neutral sound reproduction; versus hi-fi monitors, which tend to “flatter” sound by enhancing highs and lows.
If you’re ready to upgrade your studio monitors, consider the JBL 3 Series MkII. These best-selling pro speakers integrate into any studio space, thanks to their patented Image Control Waveguides, which provide detailed imaging and a wide sweet spot. Built-in room-correcting EQ takes problematic acoustics out of the equation. 3 Series MkII speakers are powered, so you won’t need an external amp. But most importantly, they’ll reproduce your music exactly as intended—no hype, no coloration.
Size-wise, your monitors need to be powerful enough to handle the dynamics of your mix but small enough to run efficiently in your space. JBL 3 Series MkII monitors are available in three sizes: The 5-inch 305P MkII, the 6-inch 306P MkII and the 8-inch 308P MkII.
Extend your system’s low end with the JBL LSR310S 10-inch powered subwoofer, which features our patented SlipStream port for deep, defined bass. (Want help setting up your studio monitors? Check out our how-to.)
6. Add Your “Everywhere” Reference: AKG Headphones
Headphones are great alternatives to studio monitors: They provide a consistent audio reference in a variety of environments, they’re essential for evaluating the fine details in your mix, and they’re a great alternative reference for those times when you want to take a break from your studio monitors, or you don’t want to disturb the folks around you.
Like studio monitors, headphones are a highly personal choice. Headphones come in a variety of styles, but closed-back models, which have sealed earcups, offer the most acoustic isolation, preventing sounds from leaking out and blocking ambient noise from leaking in. These sound-isolating qualities make closed-back headphones ideal for monitoring and mixing without distractions; closed-back models are also great for tracking or recording podcasts and voiceovers because performers can hear their mixes without worrying about sound bleeding into their mic.
AKG K361 closed-back, over-ear headphones reproduce crisp, detailed audio across an ultra-wide frequency range thanks to their high-sensitivity, largest-in-class 50mm drivers. AKG K371’s titanium drivers go even further, delivering an extended frequency response from 5 Hz to 40 kHz and matching AKG’s Reference Response acoustic targets to reproduce natural, balanced audio exactly as intended. Bluetooth versions, the AKG K361-BT and K371-BT, feature built-in mics and audio playback and telephone call controls and let you reference your mixes over Bluetooth to ensure they translate to every listening scenario.
AKG offers a variety of headphones to match any production style, whether you’re mixing, recording, mastering or just listening to your favorite songs. For more choices, explore our headphone guide.
When you’re upgrading your studio, treat yourself to accessories that’ll streamline your sessions. Stock up on high-quality mic cables and stands. Don’t cut corners with flimsy mic stands; sturdy models reduce vibrations and won’t get knocked over easily. Consider grabbing a pop filter if your mic doesn’t come with one. You don’t need one to record, but pop filters are very inexpensive and make a big difference when you’re recording vocals. Other easy studio upgrades: a system for taking notes and backup storage in the form of a physical drive or cloud storage. (At the risk of digressing, never underestimate the value of a great chair.)
Don’t forget to consider the sound of your space. Home studios are imperfect sonic environments; room treatment is a complex process best left to its own article, but DIY solutions can be very effective at banishing bad acoustics: Squash echoes where they start by breaking up hard surfaces in your room with soft fixtures. Try deadening your space with curtains, wall hangings, an area rug, or even a large plant. Remember, foam and other wall treatments designed to manage reflections in your space are not the same as soundproofing—things might sound better inside your room, but if you crank up your music, it’ll still flow right through your walls.
8. Play the Long Game
It’s a common scenario: The more comfortable you get with your gear, the more gear you want. It won’t take you very long to master all of the ins and outs of your new setup, and you might find yourself shopping around for even more microphones, plug-ins and outboard gear sooner than you think.
The more versatile your gear, the greater the return on your investment. Upgrading to the AKG C214, Soundcraft Notepad, JBL 3 Series MkII monitors and AKG K361 or K371 headphones is a simple, affordable way to step up your studio game—for podcasting and beyond.
But remember, your gear is only as good as your skill using it—from your practiced performance to careful mic placement to creative use of effects. So study up on tracking techniques, invest a little time in ear training and master every last function of your gear. Then, you’ll be recording like the rock star that you are.