My daughter and I have been recording a podcast together. It has taken longer to get around to than I had hoped. Partly, this was because of events beyond our control. She was away at University, didn’t want to come home straight away, and then got a cold (non-Covid) which has lingered into a persistent cough, which is mostly gone now, but of course when she tries to speak at length, she inevitably starts coughing again.
And as time drifted towards the summer holiday and I knew we were about to go away, I grew concerned that I didn’t want to lug our existing recording setup all the way to France. That would mean bringing microphone and stand, lead, and mini USB mixer/interface with us.
The solution arrived in the form of an Amazon daily deal on the AKG Ara and it’s big sister the Lyra. Both were reasonably priced. If you look today, you’ll see there’s virtually nothing in it, actually, so you can definitely buy the Lyra in preference, because it has more options. But I plumped for the Ara, which is perfect for our needs, and we won’t think about the extra options.
The Ara is a USB-C condenser microphone, which means no preamp, no interface, no mini mixer required. Just plug it straight into your recent Mac and Garageband (or whatever) detects it automatically. Shakes hands, hello, powered by USB. It records 24-bit / 96kHz audio, which is perfect. I mean, for podcasting, it’s overkill. It comes with a little tabletop stand, which is fine, though you do of course have to be careful not to bodge the table or touch the mic while recording. This is true of almost all microphones, especially the condenser kind. Underneath the mic is the USB-C connector, as well as a headphone socket. In the package, you get the microphone and its stand, a USB cable (annoyingly, this is old fashioned USB-A to USB-C, so useless for me), and a thread adapter so you can attach it to a different stand if you want.
On the front of the mic is a volume control (for the headphones, although it does also take over control the volume on your Mac) and a pattern switcher. Two polar patterns: cardioid ❥ (front only) or 360º ◯ (all around). Or is it? It might be figure ∞, because it’s labelled “Front and Back”, although the documentation refers to “omnidirectional” and the microphone itself seems sensitive in a full circle.
Anyway, this is perfect for sitting at a table and recording a podcast.
There is no gain control. If you want that, get the Lyra, which will then also give you a wider range of polar patterns: front; front and back; tight stereo; wide stereo. Nice! For £89 at the moment, a bargain. The Lyra also has a mute (cough) button, which might be important to you. And it records 24-bit / 192kHz audio, which is ridiculous for podcast purposes. But knock yourself out: it’s only £6 more expensive than the Ara at the time of writing.
But I got the Ara because it was lots cheaper at the time, and I didn’t know whether we’d get around to recording at all.
With no gain control, you control the input level in your software: fine. The mic is clean sounding: no buzz, no hum, no noise. So you can turn it up, although it will pick up background noise. Because of the summer heat we’ve been recording outside at night: so we’re picking up birds, crickets, distant motorcycles, passing microlites, yapping chihuahuas etc. This doesn’t bother me too much. I know that I could get a clean recording in a quiet room with acoustic tiles etc, as in my studio at home, but it’s two people chatting across a garden table in France, at night. Why not record the sounds of a summer night? It’s fun. The microphone is clean enough that you can hear the voices, along with the extra ambience.
I’m pleased with it: it does exactly what I want it to do and no more. It’s light, portable, easy and quick to set up and dismantle, and it’s from a trustworthy and established brand.