New Media Interchange

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Filed under: New Media Tips, News, Software, Technology, Wordpress

Budget-Conscious Podcasting Microphone

This article originally appeared on the Steve Riekeberg blog on February 2nd, 2010.

After having been producing Geek Cred for over three years (at the time of this writing), people come to me for advice and recommendations for podcasting equipment on a budget, whether they’re just getting started, or are looking to improve their sound. Now I’m a college student. When I started podcasting Geek Cred, I used a very modest setup: just a $30 USB headset microphone that I already owned, and my computer—and it got the job done just fine. There should be no shame for using “just” a headset. Now, over the years, I have accumulated (compared to most podcasters) a relatively high-end setup. I admit, if three years ago you had even suggested that I would have spent nearly as much as I have on equipment, I probably would have insisted you were out of your mind—I can totally understand and identify if budget is a concern.

And you know what? If you’re just looking to get started, even if you are somehow made of money, I wouldn’t recommend spending hundreds of dollars on the latest and greatest equipment. Many can start off with a gung-ho, full steam ahead attitude, but after a few episodes, the honeymoon wears off, leaving behind the reality of late nights and often grueling work. Podcasting sure isn’t for sissies! The harsh reality is the majority of would-be podcasters never make it beyond Episode #5.

With that said, let’s say you’ve made your decision, and you’re ready to upgrade from that cheap headset you picked up at your local big box store; you’re ready to make your first foray in to the wild world of professional audio equipment. Even as an audio production guy, it can be easy to get lost in the multitude of available options, and some people might have a tough time getting over the initial sticker shock of some items. There are plenty of great options that you really can’t go wrong with on the high end, but most people aren’t made of money, and don’t have hundreds of dollars (or even thousands of dollars) to spend to outfit their home podcast studio to challenge a professional radio station’s. Thankfully, in recent years, the market has exploded with countless affordable low-end options, but when it comes to microphones, I have found it difficult to give a definitive recommendation for those on a tight budget.

Enter the GLS Audio ES-58 Dynamic Microphone.

Visually, the ES-58 bears a striking resemblance to a certain similar microphone you probably see all the time. Essentially, it is a much more affordably priced knock-off of the industry standard workhorse Shure SM-58, which has been used the world over for the better part of the past three decades, especially for live performances. If you’ve ever been to a rock concert, chances are that you were hearing the singer’s voice through an SM-58. However, the downside of the SM-58—at least for us cheapskates—is its street price of $99, which can be a tough pill to swallow. So when I came across this little gem a while back almost entirely by accident, I knew I had to get my hands on my own and try it for myself. Many less-expensive microphones have attempted to take on the legendary SM-58, with varying success.

Upon first listen, with a price tag of just $30, it was easy to understand why the ES-58 has garnered such an underground following among home recording enthusiasts. Rather than trying to write here what it sounds like, take a listen to this test recording, and hear for yourself:

(Pure unedited, unaltered audio, with no post-processing applied.)

Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, I do not have an SM-58 to do a proper A/B comparison with. Does it sound exactly like an SM-58? Maybe, though probably not quite. But does it sound very good? Absolutely! Will it replace a high-priced professional broadcasting microphone? Of course not—but it’s not supposed to.

The ES-58 is professional XLR microphone, and will require a preamp, such as a mixer and/or audio interface. (This is not a USB “plug ‘n’ play” microphone.) It has a relatively high output, so it does not require a lot of gain from the preamp (in my test, I had it set at around only 12 o’clock on my mixer). It does also have some handling noise, which is something to be aware of you’re planning on using it more as an “on the street” interview microphone, but if you’re going to be using it at home, on a stand, that issue becomes moot. Finally, as a dynamic microphone, it is not as sensitive as condenser microphones, and as such is not as prone to picking up unwanted background noise. (Indeed, when I recorded the above clip, the TV was blasting in the next room…)

If you’re on a tight budget, at $30 for a single microphone—or $80 for a three-pack—you probably can’t go wrong with the ES-58. You really can get a quality sound without spending a lot of money.

The GLS Audio ES-58 Dynamic Microphone is available with or without an off switch, and (as of this writing) exclusively available from Orange County Speaker, and can be purchased from them directly, or through Combined with something like a Behringer Xenyx 502 mixer and Behringer UCA-202 USB interface, you get some pretty darn good quality for as little as about a hundred bucks.

Happy podcasting!

Steve Riekeberg (Ricky-burg) is a twenty-something podcaster, consultant, technologist, audio engineer, writer, and self-proclaimed geek from Southern California, and the host of Geek Cred, the podcast that delivers in-depth, behind the scenes interviews to give you the inside scoop on everything geek.

Filed under: Audio, Hardware

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