Portable Podcast Setup - Taking a Podcast on the Road: Some Equipment Options

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Are you looking for a portable podcast setup? Do you need some mobile podcast recording equipment options? Take a look.

Are you and your podcast ready to boldly go where no podcast has gone before? Or, maybe you want to occasionally record your podcast at another location. Or, you don't have a permanent recording space, so your gear needs to be easily moved.

Fortunately, given the fantastic equipment available on the market, portable podcast recording is cheaper and easier than ever. Some of this stuff is so good, you may keep using it when you find yourself in a permanent location.

Portable Podcast Setup Options

You can certainly use your laptop and other equipment for your portable podcast setup but it isn’t always ideal.

You can certainly use your laptop and other equipment for your portable podcast setup but it isn’t always ideal.

You can certainly take your laptop on the road with you for your portable podcast. USB mics are pretty portable. Even if you are using analog mics and a digital audio converter, these things are all quite portable. So, one option is to take your regular studio on the road. That doesn't always work. I have a professional studio that I use every day for voice-over work. So, there is no way I am moving anything.

There are also some locations where a regular studio setup isn't practical for a portable podcast setup. Sometimes power may be an issue. You could likely record an entire podcast with everything running off your computer's battery. But, that would make me a little nervous. Some robust external battery packs will give your laptop more hours.  There may be places where a computer isn't practical for other reasons, especially outdoor locations. Bright sun, a drizzle, excessive heat, or just a lack of a flat surface can make the laptop impractical.

Portable Podcast Setup: Recorders

If you are not dragging along your computer and studio gear, you will need to find another way to record. Good news, digital audio recorders keep getting better and better. It still blows my mind that I can plug XLR cables into inputs that provide phantom power and record multiple tracks of better-than-cd-quality audio on a device that I can carry in a large pocket.

There are a ton of options in this space. What you need depends on two things:

1. The number of inputs you need.

2. How much you are willing to spend.

There are plenty of other differences between the various makes and models but, for portable podcasters, the number of inputs will be a significant factor. The bells and whistles on these devices tend to get better as the price increases. But, for the most part, when the price goes up, so does the quality of the microphone pre-amps. And those, are the most crucial part. To a trained ear, there is a difference in sound quality between the cheapest and most expensive digital recorders. However, even the cheapest ones are likely going to be good enough for most podcasts. I like to start with the best quality audio possible so, spend as much as you can afford.

All of the options listed are true "multi-track" recorders. What does that mean? It means that each of your inputs can record to a separate track. This means that you can adjust the levels, add effects, and edit each track. However, on-site multi-track recording isn’t always fool-proof. If the sources are too close together, you often end up with cross-talk. That means that someone vocals may end up bleeding through to another track. This isn’t the fault of the recorder. It is just that their voice is picking up on someone else’s mic.

Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder - For portable podcasters with multiple guests.

This is a fantastic device. Four professional XLR connections all with phantom power! For those who aren't total audio geeks, that means you can plug in up to four condenser microphones (they are the ones that require phantom power to work) via XLR cables. It also features ultra-quiet microphone pre-amps, so no extra noise gets into your recording.

It can record up to six tracks of audio in MP3 or WAV to an SD card. It also has a built-in X/Y microphone capsule. Many podcasters won't need this, but it sure is handy to have if you want to pick up ambient noise or have a chance to record something cool. These mics are so good that, in a pinch, and in the right space, you could record vocals. These capsules are also interchangeable, so you can switch it out for an optional shotgun mic, a "mid-side" mic, or even an attachment that allows you to connect two more XLR cables.

The only thing I don't love about this is the price, around $400. But, it is worth every penny.


Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder $399 (Amazon.com)

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder - If two mics are all you need for your portable podcast setup.


If two microphones are the most you will ever need, you can get the magic of H6 for about half the price. You also lose access to all those interchangeable mic capsules, but you still get the X/Y mic.


Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder - $219 (Amazon.com)

Marantz Professional PMD-706 96kHz 6-Channel DSLR Recorder - A budget option when you need four mics.


I want to love this option, but I don't have enough information. I laid my hands on my first Marantz back in college when they made the industry standard cassette field recorder. But, I haven't had a chance to do a thorough review of their digital offerings. And, online reviews for this unit are few and far between.

Going on features alone, this is a fantastic offering for under $300. Like the Zoom H6, the Marantz has four phantom-powered XLR connections.

If you need to plug in 4 microphones, this might be worth giving a try.

Marantz Professional PMD-706 $299 (Amazon.com)

TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder - A portable podcast setup workhorse.

I have been delighted with Tascam's digital recorder options. I have worked with a number of them and find the recording quality excellent. What I have been less satisfied with are the controls. I find the menus too hard to navigate and important options too difficult to find. But because of the quality and durability of their products, I keep buying them.

This one offers two phantom-powered XLR connections. It also offers a unique built-in microphone setup that switches from X/Y to A/B.

TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder $199 (Amazon.com)



Wait? Can't I Use My Phone or Tablet for My Portable Podcast?

Well, you can. And, I am working on a post about the best options for external microphones and interfaces for mobile devices. In theory, it works fine. Done correctly, you could record some excellent sound. But, I still have reservations. I can only think of one time a dedicated digital field recorder failed me. And, that one time might have been due to a faulty SD card reader, not the recorder itself.

On the other hand, my iPhone has a bit of a history of failing to perform on the simple task of recording audio. Sometimes a glitch in an app has caused it to shut down. Another app once just stopped recording for no reason. Still another time, a different app crashed as it was supposed to be saving. And, of course, once, I forgot to charge my battery fully and had the phone die at some point, erasing everything I had recorded. Phones and tablets are also very susceptible to heat. If you are recording outside in the sun, the device may shut itself off when it decides it is too hot.

Microphones for Your Portable Podcast Setup

I was close to only offering one recommendation in this category. The Shure SM58 is so legendarily great and outstandingly durable, it is hard to offer anything else. But my understanding of podcaster budgets convinced me to add a cheaper alternative.

Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone - The Industry Standard

These microphones sound great and are one of the most durable mics on the market. In my radio days, we used them for anything that was recorded or broadcast outside our studios. I have dropped more SM58s than I care to count and, when I picked them up, they sounded exactly the same. These are used by pros every day, and it is astounding that you can pick one up for $100. More than likely it will outlast every other piece of equipment you buy.

Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Dynamic Vocal Microphone - $99 (Amazon.com)

Keeping those on a budget in mind, especially for those who need to buy more than one, here are three more options. These certainly won't have the impressive sound quality or durability of the SM58, but they sound decent and should hold up with regular use.

Other Stuff You Might Need for Your Portable Podcast Setup

Since you are going to be out and about, make sure you have everything you need.

Here are a few things you need in your portable podcast setup bag:

Cables

I always recommend packing at least one more cable than you need. If you take good care of your cables, they will last a long time. But, if one shorts out while you are in the field, a backup can save the day.

Cable Matters 2-Pack Microphone Cable (Mic Cable/XLR to XLR Cable) 10 Feet - $18.00 (Amazon.com)


SD Cards

You can get a lot of audio on an SD card.  On a 32 GB card, you can capture over a day of 48kHz, 24-bit audio. However, I still recommend carrying an extra. That is mostly in case you get out in the field and remember that your SD card is still in your card reader at home.

SanDisk 32GB Ultra Class 10 SDHC UHS-I Memory Card $9.07 (Amazon.com)

If your field recorder takes a microSD card, these should do the trick.

SanDisk Ultra 32GB microSDHC UHS-I Card with Adapter $7.41 (Amazon.com)

Headphones for Portable Podcast Setup

You can always plug your earbuds into your field recorder. However, I like to have a little more control over what I am hearing.

Audio-Technica ATH-M30x Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, Black $69.00 (Amazon.com)

These do a great job of keeping the background noise out without completely isolating your from the world. They also offer a clear representation of your actual audio without any extra warmth of bass, so you can really hear what is going on. I use these daily in one of my studios and they have held up well, especially for under $70.

A Few More Things for Your Portable Podcast Setup

Unless you can plug in, don't forget batteries... lots of batteries. You may also want to pick up some windscreens for your microphones. And, unless you want people to hold their mics, some mic stands would be nice.

I also like to carry a table with me. Honestly, TV trays work fine, but I love these portable stands from PylePro.

Universal Laptop Projector Tripod Stand - PylePro PLPTS2 $26.99 (Amazon.com)

As always, if you want your show to begin with style, I would be happy to help out with a custom podcast intro.

 
Will Rice