One of the greatest triumphs of podcasting as a medium is that it’s remained accessible to most people, regardless of economic means.
It used to be that only a select few who enjoyed the favors of the big broadcasting companies could get their voices to be heard by the public at large. But through the Internet first, and the invention of podcasts later, it became possible for regular folks like you and me to create radio-like shows that can go toe-to-toe with the big studios in terms of quality and craftsmanship. It was a game-changer.
One of the key aspects of podcasting is that, still today, it continues to be a very accessible medium. You simply don’t need to invest in expensive gear to start podcasting with reasonable quality, and many established podcasters continue to use fairly modest equipment long after becoming successful. When it comes to podcasting success, gear is definitely one of the least important aspects overall. This is a medium that’s all about the content, and that’s what makes it so great.
Just for reference, there are plenty of excellent USB microphones in the $50-100 range that can give you everything you need, and lots of free software applications and online services to record, process, edit and even host your podcast.
The recent podcasting revolution is unequivocally tied to this accessibility factor. Whenever a powerful medium remains accessible as it becomes popular, bright people are moved to do and share great things with it, creating a talent wave that reverberates across entire industries. That’s what’s happening right now with podcasting, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon.
That said, while it’s true that you don’t need to make a huge investment to begin podcasting, it’s also true that a moderate investment can have a tremendous impact in terms of your audio quality. But you really don’t need to spend much in order to get most of those benefits.
Things like a better microphone, a more advanced audio processing application or a better conditioned recording environment can all help take your audio quality to the next level. Using a boom arm, for example, is another great way to provide a significant step up, and it won’t require you to break the bank in the process.
Why a boom arm?
Using a boom arm instead of a traditional desk stand for your microphone can have a profound impact on your recordings. Not all microphones are created equal, and while some of them can sound great with little care, others are considerably more picky, requiring adequate technique and a well-conditioned environment in order to sound the best. Consistently maintaining the proper distance between your mouth and the microphone is one of the best examples of this, and it’s something that can be difficult to achieve with a desk stand.
A boom arm, on the other hand, helps you be more relaxed and adopt a more natural stance, while still maintaining the proper distance to the microphone. This can in turn help you sound more like an actual person and less like a robot, something your audience will definitely appreciate. And if you need to move mid-sentence, you can reposition the microphone to follow your movement with just one hand, all without making any noises that could distract your listeners.
As far as boom arms go, the Rode PSA-1 is a great option for podcasters who are ready to step things up a notch. It gives you all the nice features of more expensive studio arms, while still being affordable enough. It is a full-featured solution at a reasonable price, which is why it continues to be incredibly popular among seasoned podcasters and beginners alike.
Let’s take a closer look at it.
The PSA-1 boom arm is made entirely of metal, and feels really solid. It weighs enough to give you a reassuring feel when you’re moving the arm around, and it has enough resistance to securely hold just about any microphone you can think of.
Like most studio boom arms, the Rode PSA-1 has a built-in spring mechanism that makes it easy to change the arm’s position. It also helps ensure the arm stays put right where you leave it.
This is where the differences between a good studio boom arm and a cheap knockoff start becoming apparent. Some of the cheaper arms that can be found on Amazon will have springs of dubious quality, and there’s no telling how long it will take for them to break apart. You may be lucky and get a decent unit, but if you don’t want to risk having a nasty surprise in the middle of an important recording, I suggest buying from a reputable brand like Rode instead.
In the Box & Installation
The PSA-1 boom arm includes everything you need to record right out of the box, except for a microphone mount.
In order to secure the arm to your desk, Rode supplies two separate mounting options with the PSA-1: a traditional clamp mechanism and a more permanent desk insert that requires drilling a hole in your desk of choice. You can mount the PSA-1 on desks up to 55mm thick using the clamp, and up to 70mm thick using the insert.
The PSA-1 also includes a thread adapter that converts the mic mount from the native 3/8\” to the popular 5/8\” size found in most microphone mounts out there.
Other than that, the arm is quite straightforward in that there’s only the desk mount and the arm itself to worry about. To install the arm, simply secure the mount to your desk using you preferred method, insert the arm in the mount through the hole on the top, and you’re done.
If you use the regular clamp mechanism, the entire arm can be installed in under 5 minutes. That’s impressive, and it also makes re-installing the arm easy, in case your recording environment isn’t always the same.
Optionally, you can use the included velcro ties to secure your microphone’s cable to the structure of the arm, which is a nice feature that helps keep your desk organized. The arm itself has cable guides at the joints that help keep the cable in place, making the entire process easy and fast.
However, other booms arms like the extremely well-regarded Heil PL-2T take things even further by incorporating an internal cable routing system that nicely hides the cable from view entirely.
With the cable in place, all that’s left to do is attach a microphone mount of your choosing and you’re all set. The supplied thread adapter comes in quite handy here, as it will allow you to use virtually any mount in the market.
Moreover, the tension knob on the end of the arm will allow you to set the microphone at whatever angle you want relative to the ground, regardless of height. This helps retain a full range of motion even if you use a non-articulating microphone mount, which is another nice touch.
The best thing a boom arm can do for you is to go completely unnoticed. It should be easy to move, silent, and it should just stay put in whatever position you leave it, with no exceptions. It sounds simple enough, but nailing these few requirements is not always easy.
A boom arm that usually stays put is no good to anybody. It needs to be reliable, and in that sense the Rode PSA-1 delivers big time.
Moving the arm around is remarkably easy, and can even be done with one hand. After just a few minutes of using the arm it sort of becomes second nature, and you stop paying attention to it altogether. That’s just about the highest compliment you can pay to a device like this.
The microphone mount can also be regulated mid-sentence without any issues, although you’ll probably need to use both hands in order to change the angle of the microphone. Being able to do even these complex movements as you record is a huge bonus, because it allows you to switch back and forth from a laid-back position to a more straight up posture and still be ready to talk at any moment.
If you use the PSA-1 arm in combination with a shock mount, you’ll enjoy even more isolation from occasional bumps that might otherwise be picked up by the microphone. And if you’re using a Rode microphone, you can pick up the excellent PSM-1 shock mount, which is compatible with their incredibly popular Procaster and Podcaster microphones, as well as this arm.
That said, you can use just about any other shock mount, too. Rode makes a bunch of them, and they’re all similarly good. Other manufacturers’ models will also work, provided they come with a standard thread size — which, again, should be all of them. Just be careful to check compatibility with your microphone before buying a shock mount and you’ll be fine.
Room for Improvement
The Rode PSA-1 boom arm does a pretty great job, and manages to check nearly all checkboxes when it comes to features. If we’re being picky, though, there are still a few things I’d like to see done differently:
Cable management. The Rode PSA-1 comes with three velcro ties along the arm that allow you to secure your microphone’s cable to make everything nice and tidy. This is a functional solution, but it remains a hack at best. Other arms like the Heil PL-2T allow you to thread the cable through the arms themselves, which is a much cleaner solution overall.
Desk support. The supplied clamp can be used to mount the arm on desks up to 55 mm thick. While that might be enough for most desks, there are some situations where it just won’t work. For example, I needed to extend the surface of my IKEA BJURSTA desk in order to be able to mount the arm on it, which was not ideal.
These are fairly minor issues, however, and they don’t take much away from what is otherwise an excellent product.
At $100, the Rode PSA-1 arm is definitely not the cheapest boom arm money can buy. You can find many alternatives on Amazon for as little as $13.50, but there’s no telling how long any of those will last. If you don’t want to end up buying twice, the Rode is a very reasonable choice.
Another similarly priced and similarly featured option is the Heil PL-2T boom arm. This is clearly the Rode’s main competitor and generally speaking, there’s not much to differentiate the two, other than the aforementioned cable concealing system. The Heil is also about $20 more expensive than the Rode on average and of course, whether the added convenience is worth the extra money is entirely up to you.
Do keep in mind that prices fluctuate often on Amazon, so what I would personally do is check the prices for both arms and get whichever one is cheaper at the moment.
If you’re just getting into podcasting, a boom arm like the Rode PSA-1 can help you iron out any inconsistencies in your recording technique by making the process a lot more comfortable and convenient. And if you’re a seasoned podcaster looking for an upgrade to your existing setup, this is a very compelling choice at a very attractive price point.
At the end of the day, however, gear isn’t what makes you a podcaster. If you’re comfortable with your existing setup, there may be a better way to spend $100 to make your shows better. Great experiences you can talk about will always trump gear, and in podcasting, content will always reign supreme.
So if you host, say, a photography podcast, putting those $100 towards signing up for a cool portrait workshop might be more valuable to you and your audience than a fancy boom arm. Rest assured that at some point, investing in better gear will just make sense, but you need to be the one to make that call when the time is right. Don’t fall into the gear trap just because that’s what all the cool kids are using.
We love podcasts because we love stories. They help us connect with other people and allow us to explore our shared interests and passions. That is what makes podcasting so awesome, and why so many people keep listening week after week. It was never about the gear. It will never be about the gear.
If you want to make better shows, go find some better stories to tell. Go on an exciting trip, get out of your comfort zone, and learn something valuable you can pass on to your listeners. If you make that your priority, I promise you the gear will take care of itself.