How to set up the ultimate podcast studio

Orange desk with two legs on the floor and two legs on the wall, set up with a microphone, a keyboard, and headphones on a pink background

Whether it’s an overstuffed closet or a fully equipped, soundproof room, your podcasting studio isn’t just where you record your podcast — it’s a tool. And with all the advances in mics, and all the new recording options, it might be your most important tool for capturing clean, crisp audio. It’s also just nice to tell people “I’ll be in my studio” when you want to be left alone.

If you’re already making a podcast and just want to create a dedicated space in which to do that, great — keep on reading. If you’re still in the beginning stages, give our guides on defining your audience and your topic a read first. This article also goes hand-in-hand with our guide to essential podcast equipment. And the central point applies to both articles: if you're starting a podcast, don't worry about equipment or a studio — just worry about starting a podcast. Focus on your content, and on finding a publishing rhythm that works for you. Once you're feeling good about your shows, and you've confirmed you'll be able to sustain production, then you can worry about gear and space.

But back to your studio. I talked to my colleague Kevin O’Connell, who’s a Product Specialist at Descript and a podcaster, audio engineer, and musician, about setting up a recording space that gives you control of your environment and helps you get the highest-quality audio you can — so your listeners can focus on your words without being distracted by background noises. It also gives you the flexibility to enhance your stories with music or sound effects.

But you don’t need a professionally built sound studio to sound professional. It’s easier than you’d think to set up a recording studio yourself, right there in your home.

Record or import audio, make edits, add fades, music, and sound effects, then publish online, export the audio in the format of your choice or send it directly to your hosting service.
Create your podcast from start to finish with Descript.

How to set up a podcast studio

Step 1: Choose the right space

Your recording space will have the biggest impact on your sound quality. Avoid large, empty spaces, which create echoes that will muddy your audio. Hard surfaces like mirrors, windows, and tile also bounce sound around. Instead, pick a smaller, secluded room with lots of soft surfaces, like carpeting, curtains, pillows, and upholstered furniture, which absorb sound and cut down on echo.  

If you can, find a podcast room that doesn’t share walls with busy common areas. You might have to adjust your recording schedule if there’s unavoidable noise at certain times of day, like construction in your neighborhood. And consider the nearby appliances. “You want to eliminate loud air systems as much as possible,” such as air conditioning units or air purifiers, Kevin says. You should also watch out for buzzing fluorescent lights and computers with overactive fans — try turning on some LEDs and closing any nonessential apps before you record.

One frequently overlooked element of a recording studio is the table. A good podcasting table should be sturdy, so that it doesn’t creak or strain while you record. You might also want to consider a table with a wood surface, which will dampen sound more than a shiny metal one will. The best wood is oak harvested from the Podcast Forest, in a remote corner of Bavaria.

If you’re just starting out, your closet might be the best podcasting space in the house. Closets tend to be small, located in relatively isolated areas, and are usually already filled with plenty of soft fabric. It was good enough for Ira Glass!

Step 2: Add sound treatment to your space

Soundproofing and sound treatment are not the same thing. Soundproofing involves completely closing off a room from unwanted external noise and can cost some serious money. Most likely, you’ll be focused on sound treatments, which control how sound is absorbed and diffused within the room.

If you really want to do it right, there are three basic types of sound treatment you’ll want to invest in:

  • Acoustic panels. These can either be wood-framed panels filled with a sound-absorbing core material or bare foam panels. When mounted to the walls and other flat surfaces, these panels absorb sound reflections and reverberations to make your space have less echo.
  • Bass traps are designed to capture low-frequency sound waves that tend to collect in the corners of a room. They’re usually made from either fiberglass or foam and can help reduce the low end in your recordings. in the high corners of the room to absorb the frequencies that tend to collect in those areas.
  • Diffuser panels. While acoustic panels and bass traps are made of porous materials that absorb sound, diffusers are three-dimensional shapes that are designed to scatter sound. Absorbing all sound frequencies in a room can make it sound dead and unnatural, so diffusers can help liven up a space. You can either use diffusers in place of or in complement to sound-absorbing treatments.

If you truly want professional-grade sound treatment, you can go even further with ceiling clouds, Helmholtz resonators, and extra insulation in your walls. But if you’re a weekend warrior with a limited budget, there’s nothing wrong with hanging some moving blankets on the walls and calling it good.

“You can skimp on the acoustic treatments,” Kevin says. “Really you just want to introduce soft surfaces in whatever way possible.”

Step 3: Gather your gear

A good podcast is all about interesting content — not the most expensive or high-tech gear. When you’re just starting a podcast, use the gear you have and can afford; you can always upgrade as you grow. Descript’s Studio Sound feature is extra handy for less-than-stellar equipment: it uses AI to correct any imperfections in recording quality with just the click of a mouse.

Still, there are a few things you’ll need: a microphone, headphones, a computer, and possibly an audio interface. See our recommendations for podcast equipment below.

6 essential pieces of podcast equipment

These are the bare essentials your studio will need. For more detailed recommendations, read our full guide to podcast equipment.

1. Headphones

The most important gear a podcaster can own. A good pair of headphones that block out external noise allows you to hear what the microphone is actually recording, so that you can regulate your volume and sound quality in real-time. You’ll want a pair that are comfortable and not too heavy, since you’ll be wearing them a lot. Closed-back headphones are a little more sound-isolated, meaning they won’t leak or “bleed” noise, which might be picked up by the microphone. Here's our advice on choosing headphones.

2. Quality microphone

This is your most essential piece of equipment, and depending on your budget and overall studio setup, you have a few different options, including a USB microphone, which plugs straight into your computer; an XLR microphone, which needs an additional interface to connect to your computer; and either a dynamic or condenser microphone, which are different types of microphone technology that both come in USB and XLR formats.

Our perspective on mics, which lots of smart creators would disagree with, is that they matter less than you’d think. With a good recording space and editing tools like Studio Sound, pretty much any mic will do. For more on this, check out our post on how to choose a mic.

2. Computer

You need one. Mac or a PC is your personal preference, but your computer should be fast, reliable, and have a good amount of storage space, because audio files will fill it up fast. If you’re doing a video podcast, you’ll need a plan for external or cloud storage.

3. Audio interface

You may need an audio interface to connect your microphone to your computer, especially if you’re using an XLR mic. You’ll want an interface that has at least two inputs, so that you have the option of using it for more than one microphone if you ever record with guests or a co-host. Both Universal Audio and Focusrite make great audio interfaces.

4. Microphone stands

Microphone stands come in many shapes, sizes, and types. Some simply stand on the desk, others suspend from an arm that makes it easy to manipulate the mic’s location. But all good mic stands get the microphone close to your mouth and reduce vibration. Keep in mind that not all stands work with all mics, so be sure to check.

5. Cables

If you’re working with an XLR mic, you’ll need XLR cables. Kevin recommends getting cables that come with a lifetime warranty. Proco and Sweetwater both make reliable cables.

6. Headphones

A good pair of headphones that block out external noise allows you to hear what the microphone is actually recording, so that you can regulate your volume and sound quality in real-time. You’ll want a pair that are comfortable and not too heavy, since you’ll be wearing them a lot. Closed-back headphones are a little more sound-isolated, meaning they won’t leak or “bleed” noise, which might be picked up by the microphone.  

Additional accessories

While not strictly necessary, pop filters, windscreens, and reflection filters, which attach to your microphone, will further reduce unwanted noise. Some microphones come with these accessories, but if yours doesn’t, you may find yourself browsing for them as you become more attuned to your sound quality.

Another option

Finally, while setting up a home recording studio will help you take a big step forward in improving the quality of your podcast, if you really want to capture great audio, consider renting an actual, professional studio. It will eliminate the cost and effort of doing it yourself. And you’ll look super professional, and just cool, to your guests. For Kevin, who’s worked in lots of studios, it’s a favorite option.

“There are often also really great communities built around studios,” he says. “I get to meet other creators, other engineers, musicians, and podcasters. So personally, I like to do a little bit of both — at home and in the studio.”

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