Audio Interface Or Mixer For Podcasting
What is the best audio interface or mixer for podcasting? With a few exceptions, the answer to that question would basically be the same for any audio recording. Of course, as with so many things, it all depends on your needs.
If you are doing solo recording, you might not need a mixer or interface at all! There are some good quality USB microphones out there that can plug right into a USB port on your computer.
If you are recording by yourself, you might only need a recording interface with only one mic input. That's because one person can use them for voiceovers, audiobooks, video narrations, etc. And solo musicians can record singing and playing instruments one at a time, and then layering tracks afterward.
However, some differences for podcast recording might be things like needing more than one microphone input, so you can record with a partner or interview guests. Or maybe you often have dial-in telephone guests or interviews. I'll provide advice to cover all the bases below
Interface vs mixer?
To help us understand which audio interface or mixer for podcasting we might need, first let's talk a bit about the difference between a mixer and an interface.
A mixer is mainly about volume levels
The most basic task of a mixer is to do exactly what it sounds like - mix, or blend several audio signals at once. Each audio source has its own channel on a mixer, and each channel has a slider (or knob) to control the volume of that audio. You then move the volume controls of each channel up and/or down so that all audio channels can be heard together.
For more details about standard mixers, see the wikipedia article here.
I would advise (unless you are a recording engineer or VERY experienced with audio recording) AGAINST using a standard mixer like the one pictured above for podcasting. For reasons why, see my post Why You Should Not Use A Mixer In Your Home Studio.
But there ARE podcasting "mixers" available. And I'll mention two of them in this article. These are perfect if you:
- Need to be mobile (you can record onto SD cards - no need for a computer)
- Often have telephone dial-in guests
- Often have multiple guests that each need headphones
An interface is all about the recording
An audio recording interface unit is designed specifically for recording (as opposed to mixing). You plug standard microphones (not USB mics) into the interface box, which provides high quality preamps and analog-to-digital converters. Then you plug the interface into your computer - usually via USB.
In addition to the preamps and converters, interface units also provide the phantom power needed to standard large diaphragm condenser mics.
For info on the difference between "standard" and USB mics, see my article USB Mic Versus Condenser Mic And Interface For Home Recording.
Audio interface or mixer for podcasting?
Let's start with the simplest solution. If you are just going to be recording your podcast at home and seldom need to interview guests on a telephone, like it is for a lot of people, you have 2 very cost-effective choices.
You may not need an interface or mixer at all! For the solo podcster, the first option is the absolute easiest and least expensive one - a USB microphone.
USB mics plug directly into your computer without the need for any mixers or interface units. The preamps and converters are built right into the mic.
If you go this route, I highly recommend a large diaphragm condenser (LDC) type of USB mic, such as a Samson C01U (see pic above) for he best quality. Of course there are lots of choices out there. The Samson C01U runs about $80.
Interface for solo podcasting
The next step up for a 1-person podcast is an interface with just one microphone input. Using a standard large diaphragm condenser microphone plugged an audio interface gives you much better audio quality than a USB mic.
A great choice for an interface is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo. It will only run you $109.99.
And for a microphone, I can recommend either an Audio-Technica AT2035 ($149) or a Rode NT2-A ($399). You can hear how both of these microphones sound in my review of the AT2035 here: Review Of The Audio-Technica AT2035 Microphone (Audio Samples).
Of course there are dozens - probably hundreds - of standard LDC mics out there.
Interface for podcasting with more than one person
If you have a partner, or plan to do interviews, you'll want to be able to record two mics at the same time. For that, I can highly recommend the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 ($159.99).
If you plan to have up to four presenters for the same podcast episode, you could upgrade to the Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 $399.99), which has 4 microphone inputs and 2 headphone outputs (you could put a splitter on each one if you use all 4 mics at once).
If you will be interviewing lots of people over the phone, or if you generally have more people involved in your podcast on a regular basis, you might consider a podcast mixer. Here are two that would be excellent.
Rode RODECaster Pro Integrated Podcast Production Studio
As the name implies, this is much more than just a mixer. It is basically a hybrid of an interface and a mixer. It has high quality mic preamps, converters and phantom power, as well as a mixing board built in to control the volume of 4 microphones, plus any music or phone interviews you might have.
You also get 4 separate headphone outputs.
One awesome feature of both of the podcast mixers I'm going to mention is the ease of doing telephone interviews. You just connect a phone to the mixer - either with bluetooth, or with the TRRS (cable that connects to mobile phones). Then the unit provides "mix-minus" to a phone connection, which prevents echo from phone inputs. This used to be a huge problem for podcasters with complex mixer connections needed. But now it "just works."
You can also record interviews over Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Hangouts, Slack and more.
In addition to all the inputs I mentioned, there are 8 sound pads you can use for sound effects, music, jingles, intros, outros, and any other audio you want. then in real time, you can punch one of these pads to play that audio.
One other excellent feature is the ability to record directly onto an SD card. That means that unlike a USB mic or interface, you don't need a computer at all. this allows you to be super mobile, recording from anywhere you want.
Of course you can connect it to a computer via USB and record directly into your recording software.
You can get a lot more details about this fabulous unit on the Rode website here.
A RODECaster Pro will run you about $599.
Zoom LiveTrak L-8 Podcast Recorder
The Zoom LiveTrak is similar to the RODECaster in many ways. You get the same phone connectivity with mix-minus built in, as well as several high quality mic inputs (6 of them), as well as 4 headphone outputs. And like the RODECaster, the Zoom also can record onto an SD card for mobile recording. And you get 6 assignable sound pads with preset sounds.
So basically, both of the above units give you very similar podcast production capabilities. The Zoom LiveTrack L-8 will run you less than the RODECaster though, coming in at just $399.99.
Zoom Podtrack P4
I think the most convenient podcasting interface is probably the Zoom Podtrak P4. I recently got my hands on one for review, and then bought it because I liked it so much.
It is not only super portable - not much larger than TV remote or a large mobile phone, but it's also amazingly versatile. You can either plug 4 microphones into it for simultaneous recording, including your highest end condenser mics (it has phantom power), but you can also plug in a mobile phone and/or input form a computer for Zoom (or Skype, etc.) interviews.
See more details along with audio samples in my review of the Podtrack P4 here.
So as you can see from all of the above, the question of "what is the best audio interface or mixer podcasting?" has several answers. As with so many things, it all depends on what you plan to have on your podcast shows.
The standard one-person podcast with no phone interviews might only cost you ~$80 for a decent USB mic.
And at the other end of that - when recording multiple both live and through interviews, you might be spending as much as $599 for the complete podcasting production station.
So you have several solutions here for recording your podcast, with a wide variety of price and capabilities. I'm sure at least one of these will make your show sound great.
This is a *GREAT* rundown! I've had My Samson USB CO3U since around 2008. I bought a Scarlett Solo last year (which has solved ENDLESS problems (including the 1Khz hum when using USB adapters/mics). Lastly, thanx to a crazy B&H sale, just grabbed a Tascam Mixcast 4. I'm not quite sure if I should open it or sell it, but if I can sell the old analog Mackie board (never use it for much), it may be worthwhile to keep the Mixcast.
The Mixcast has several features that put it more into the interface category then the "mixer" category. You can pretty much ignore what I said about "mixers" in this post as regards the Mixcast. Not only is it a stand-alone recorder, perfect for taking with you and recording anywhere, but it's also a USB audio interface. If you ever need to record a podcast with dial-in guests (you can connect your phone to this thing), or Zoom/Skype guests, this Mixcast will be perfect for that. It might be worth holding on to. But yeah, unless you have a need for live performances, or you just need the Mackie to feed your Scarlett output (and possibly your computer's soundcard output) to monitor speakers, you can probably safely sell that. I do use a Mackie, but only for receiving OUTPUT from the computer and Scarlett.