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Some people also seem to use external devices too for podcasting and the like. What are they for? Just some kind of equalizer?

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What sound card? What is its relation with the podcasting? – venomrld Sep 16 '11 at 18:12
up vote 4 down vote accepted

TL;DR: If you're serious about broadcasting, yes, they will help!

Here's the main problem: The sound "cards" included in motherboards of typical PCs or laptops are of rather bad quality. Here are some drawbacks:

  • They might lack shielding, thus picking up interferences from the surrounding hardware
  • You can't connect a professional microphone to them. Simple computer microphones are not professional. In no way they are.
  • They might introduce latency when recording (sometimes, even 20ms is a lot). When you want to "overdub" (i.e. record over) your own recordings, this is frustrating.

With external audio interfaces (that's the common term), you overcome all that:

  • They are shielded and away from the computer, sometimes with a separate power adapter.
  • You can connect professional, high quality microphones to them, using XLR. enter image description here
  • Even a microphone for $80 like the classic Shure SM58 will get you a dramatic improvement in sound quality.
  • There's virtually no latency involved in recording at all.

External audio interfaces are mostly connected through Firewire (IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0. They come in price ranges from around $100 up to thousands of dollars, due to differences in the quality of the microphone preamplifiers, the number of inputs, routing capabilities, etc. For simple podcasting, a simple audio interface will also do.

Here's an example of a very basic external audio interface:

enter image description here

You can see that there are two microphone XLR connectors, as well as a headphone connector. The knobs allow you to change the microphone gain as well as the headphone volume.

Some manufacturers offer audio interfaces bundled with microphones, which seems like a good deal for podcasting.

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Of course, there are also some good USB microphones which are targeted towards low-budged podcasting. They're worth checking out as well. – slhck Sep 16 '11 at 19:40

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