I'm a huge fan of podcasts in general, and I subscribe to numerous music business, and entrepreneur podcasts on a weekly basis, as well as some production-related ones.
I don't know if any of you have experienced this, but being a mix engineer myself, I can't help but notice when the quality of some podcasts is really lacking.
It's almost like looking at a blurry picture that I just can't fully enjoy. I've gone as far as researching the podcasters and watching videos to see what microphone they're using, and most of the time, they're using really good microphones.
It's not until I catch a glimpse of their audio interface that I start realizing the problem.
In the recording game, the quality of your converters, which refers to the translation from the microphone preamp (built into the interface) and the actual conversion into digital audio, is just as important as the microphone you choose, and sometimes even more so.
So, let's check out what I think are the top five audio interfaces for podcasts.
Best Podcasting Audio Interfaces - The Top 5!
Table of Contents
1. IK Multimedia IRig Pro Duo
I have been a fan of IK Multimedia for a long time and own many of their products. I started using their AmpliTube software over 10 years ago and it has been my go-to ever since. I even got the Stealth Pedal controller and the pedalboard at one point. They just make great stuff.
One thing I have always noticed about them is their incredible attention to sonic detail. Whether it's their software, interfaces, or the iRig Pro Duo, they never disappoint.
I love that the iRig Pro Duo is tiny and a perfect companion for remote interviews for my podcast or even rehearsing first at home. This way, I can record professionally in my studio or wherever I normally do my podcasting.
Don't let the size fool you though, the "Duo" in its name refers to its two-mic preamps, making it perfect for stereo microphones. It also has Class A circuitry, which is essential for capturing podcasts properly these days. Why? Class A is the highest-grade circuitry that ensures the cleanest possible signal from your microphone preamps to your DAW or recording device.
Class A is key in reducing RF interference and capturing the full frequency response of your microphone while minimizing floor noise and potential hum. When I'm a guest on podcasts and not in my studio or in a remote situation, I trust the iRig Pro Duo as the perfect small companion.
The only design choice I would have changed is the placement of the headphone volume knob. It is tiny, almost reminiscent of a Sony Walkman, and unfortunately, you have to bend over the machine or stretch out your arm to reach it.
This can be a little awkward, especially when doing podcasts with video. I wish they had put the headphone dial on the front where the gain knobs are.
2. Universal Audio Volt 276
For those of you who have read my other articles, you know that I'm a big fan of Universal Audio. These guys have the pedigree of creating some of the greatest hardware in recording history, such as the 1176 compressor.
First of all, owning the Volt 276 is like having a vintage piece of hardware. They added an analog circuit that matches the vibe of the classic UA 610 tube preamp. This tube preamp is one of the most sought-after recording preamps, rivaling the Neve 1073.
What's even better for podcasters is that depending on the microphone you use, you can choose to activate the vintage preamp mode or get a cleaner signal. Unlike many other interfaces that max out at 48K or 96K, the UAD Volt 276 includes 192K conversion, providing audio file-level hi-fi quality.
Remember when I talked about the importance of converters earlier in this article? Well, this is exactly what I meant. This interface is like a Rolls Royce but at the price of a Kia.
I own this interface and have used it multiple times for YouTube videos and podcasts. I almost always engage the vintage preamp mode, especially when using a clean mic like the Shure SM7B, which I love.
To top it off, if you have a guest on your podcast who is really loud or really soft, they have included the real circuitry of their 1176 compressor. It's not just an emulation, but a real analog compressor built into the interface.
The only thing I wish they had added was a battery-powered option. Although it is USB bus-powered, it means it's not as convenient to use on mobile devices only.
3. Zoom PodTrak P4
The Zoom PodTrak P4 is my top choice device whenever I'm recording a podcast with more than two people. I first ran into the issue of getting good sound from remote phone interviews during the pandemic.
When I stumbled upon this product in one of the Sweetwater catalogs, I was immediately sold on it because of a cool feature called the "mix-minus." This setting automatically adjusts the input volume of phone interviews, which is genius.
Zoom has always been great at packing a ton of awesome features into its products without making the interface look crowded. The PodTrak P4 is probably their best offering so far.
Not only does it give you four inputs, each with phantom power, but each person in the podcast (up to four people) also has their own individual input gain knob and headphone mix knob. Therefore, this device also works as a mini mixer for multiple podcast guests, which is incredible.
One of the most clever features is the addition of pads, like those on a sampler, that let you trigger sound effects and intro music in real-time. It's a really cool and creative feature.
Realizing that interviews may sometimes happen in crowded or remote locations where setting up a laptop may not be ideal, the Zoom PodTrak P4 can record directly onto SD cards. This gives you a lot of freedom and flexibility when it comes to positioning.
It also has a battery life of 3.5 hours, which is handy and can be powered via USB if needed.
The only downside I've noticed is that the highest resolution is capped at 16-bit 44.1 kHz, which isn't ideal. But don't worry, it doesn't mean it sounds all LoFi or anything.
4. Focusrite Vocaster Two
Focusrite was among the first to make game-changing solid state mixing boards and professional gear, all designed by the legendary Rupert Neve. They also played a big role in making the circuitry for early pro tools interfaces.
Even though they've been kind of quiet lately, their products are still top-notch. The Vocaster Two is a prime example of Focusrite's high standards.
It's got a modern layout, with a big knob in the middle for the host and separate knobs on the sides for the host and guest to control their headphones.
I recently got to try out this interface when I hung out with one of my Ableton podcast buddies to talk about using Ableton for film music production. What really got me was how much clean gain it had, with over 70 dB - some of the cleanest sound I've ever heard from a portable audio interface.
As the name suggests, this interface is best for a setup with a host and a guest, not so much for multiple guests like the Zoom PodTrak. But sometimes having a more focused interface can actually give you better quality because they make sure to pack in all the best features into a compact package.
During the Ableton podcast, I really liked that I could plug in audio from the camera using the TRS inputs. The stereo loopback feature was also super handy for getting audio straight from the computer without any audible delays.
Although, I was kind of bummed when I found out that this interface only supports 48K resolution. With only a few preamps, I was hoping for at least 96K to have more recording options in my DAW, but no such luck.
5. Audient Evo 4
The Audient EVO 4 is a direct competitor to the Focusrite Vocaster, featuring a similar minimalist layout. However, the EVO 4 is much smaller, with only one knob.
One complaint I had about the Focusrite was its limited maximum sample rate of 48K. Well, guess what? The EVO 4 can go up to 96K.
This was a significant misstep for Focusrite. Nonetheless, in my opinion, the Focusrite is still a great-sounding interface for podcasting due to its clear and modern sound.
On the other hand, the EVO 4 offers a more hi-fi experience. Audient clearly aimed for high-quality sound by adding a JFET instrument input. While this may not be crucial for podcasting, it proves especially useful when a guest wants to demonstrate a guitar or other instruments.
This type of input excels at accurately translating guitars and synths.
I plugged my Minimoog into the JFET Hi-Z input and found it to be very transparent and clean, which is exactly what you want. Another impressive feature of this interface is its low latency, which is especially important when using its own Evo app.
Considering its small size and minimal design, I don't feel like any corners were cut in its development. In fact, soundwise, it might be one of my favorites after the UA Volt.
They did implement a function called Smart Gain, which automatically adjusts the recording level for optimal quality. However, I found that it didn't work as well as advertised.
The problem with it is that it is input-sensitive and has a listening mode. If you happen to speak too loudly or softly while setting it up, it can dial in the wrong gain settings.
Choosing the Best Audio Interface for Podcasting
When it comes to podcasting, choosing the right audio interface is different from choosing a general music production audio interface. One key difference is considering the type of microphone you will be using with your interface.
If you plan on using a traditional clean condenser microphone, there are specific interfaces that may be better suited for that. However, some podcasters prefer using sensitive vocal microphones that add some bottom to their voice, which opens up different possibilities with different interfaces.
For my podcasts, I like to use a Neumann M149 Tube microphone because I love the warmth and presence that Tube mics give my voice. It's similar to the compression you hear on Radio DJs.
So, for me, at times using the UA Volt's Vintage mode doesn't really make sense. I either disengage that mode or I’ll use another interface when I'm using the Neumann.
Now, let's explore some of the most important criteria I used when setting up my podcast and interview setup.
Multiple Guest Routing
Where many podcasters differ is in the number of guests they usually interview per episode. For example, some podcasters, including myself, prefer one-on-one conversations. However, there are others who have multiple guests, especially when featuring bands.
If you want to increase the number of guests on your show, consider using the Zoom PodTrack P4 as your best option. It offers independent level control for each guest's headphones, eliminating the need for a separate mixer when expanding your guest list.
Using this device also helps you avoid distractions caused by guests asking you to adjust their volume. It can be frustrating when that happens, and you have to spend time later editing the audio footage to remove technical issues.
Sampling Rate and HiFi Resolution
The reason why sample resolution and conversion are so crucial is that they allow for a higher rate of gain and headroom in the recording before the noise floor becomes noticeable. So, if you're someone who's really into the sonic quality of your voice and your guests' voices, then look no further than the UA Volt.
This interface is designed to enhance the sound of your microphone and simultaneously capture it with the highest resolution out of all these interfaces.
Also, if you have a room that has nice acoustics and good isolation, recording at higher sample rates makes things sound more present. People mistakenly think that recording a noisy environment at 192k will make it sound better, but the opposite is true. You just get high-res noise!
Another important consideration is the type of input your audio interface supports. For instance, in podcasts, I often use musical examples played by either myself or my guest. In such situations, I prefer using interfaces with dedicated instrument inputs, specifically Hi-Z inputs.
The Evo 4 excels in this area, offering excellent sound quality. While other interfaces also have instrument inputs through a quarter-inch cable, the combination of JFET circuitry and Hi-Z instrument inputs sets the Audient interface apart as the most appealing option.
Alright, as I mentioned earlier in this article, there is a noticeable difference in quality among many Podcasters. I believe part of the reason is that many Podcasters lack experience in album vocal recording and music production.
Therefore, they may not be familiar with the various combinations of microphones, preamps, and interfaces. The more experience you have seeing how effective vocal chains work with different microphones and converters the better you’ll be at podcasting.
Hopefully, some of you will learn a thing or two from reading this article. It really depends on your specific needs. What is your voice type like? Is your podcast studio big or small? Does it have reflections and a bit of reverb sound, or is it dry and isolated?
All these factors also play a role. I think, like most things related to microphones and interfaces, it's all about experimenting with different options in your space. Through trial and error, you will be surprised how many assumptions can turn out to be false. And hopefully, you will end up with a better setup because of it.