How to Build a Three Person Podcast Setup

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A podcast which includes two people, whether a host and a guest or just two hosts is very straightforward to produce with endless setup options. Add a third person into the mix though and more thought is needed.

In this article, we’ll explore the different options available for both in person recording where all three people are in the same room and also where at least one person is in a different location, and something like Skype is being used.

It is worth noting that there are different ways of achieving the same thing so it would be impossible to cover every single one in a single article. However, I’ve picked out some options that are flexible and that will give you good results.

Scenario one – in person, two hosts plus one guest

Recording your show with all the people in the same room is preferable from an audio quality and control perspective, and there are multiple ways to achieve good sound in this scenario.

The first option is to record straight into your computer. For this, you will need an audio interface with at least three XLR inputs (you’ll normally need to buy one with four). The Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (Amazon) would do the job nicely. With this option, you’d simply plug all three mics into the interface which would run to your computer via USB and with the correct software, you could record all three mics onto separate tracks for the highest degree of flexibility when editing.

Instead of a four-channel audio interface, you could also use a mixer which has enough XLR inputs to accommodate your three mics. Your options in post-production are somewhat limited here though as most USB mixers will only output a stereo track to your PC so you won’t get the advantage of each person being on a separate channel unless you wanted to invest in a much more expensive multi-track USB mixer.

The same goes for running a mixer into a digital recording device – all the sound settings would need to be achieved on the mixer at the time of recording and it wouldn’t be possible to edit the audio on separate channels in post. For these reasons, I wouldn’t recommend this approach.

My preferred option is to use a digital field recorder. I like this because you’re not relying on your computer to work flawlessly. If it lagged or crashed on you whilst recording, you could risk losing what you’ve recorded so far. If that happens an hour into an important interview, you’re not going to be very happy, nor is your guest. Field recorders are also more versatile with them being more portable.

Again, hardware choice is important here and ideally, you’d get something with at least three mic inputs. The Tascam DR-70D or the Zoom H6 (these are Amazon links) would be a good option here.

From both of these options you will get all three mics recorded on separate tracks. What would you do though if you’ve already invested in a good two input audio interface or digital field recorder and only need to record three people occasionally? Enter the XLR splitter cable.

I know what you’re thinking, it looks like a bit of a compromise and in all honesty it is. However, I’ve personally used this setup to record many podcast episodes and it works fine as long as you set it up correctly.

The main drawback of this approach is that you will end up with two of the three people on a single channel. In my case, it’s been two hosts and one guest so to ensure some degree of flexibility in the post-production process, I always put both hosts onto the same channel and put the guest on the other channel on their own.

A Tascam DR-60Dii is used for this setup. The full configuration is shown below.

It doesn’t look pretty I know but for a podcast where you only need to record three mics occasionally, it’s a solid option. However, if recording three people was a regular thing, I’d replace the Tascam DR-60Dii which has three XLR inputs for the Tascam DR-70D or the Zoom H6, both of which have four. Notice in the above setup that I also incorporate a backup recorder. For some interviews I even put a Zoom H2n in between the host and guest as a second backup just to give me peace of mind.

One thing you need to be aware of when recording three mics in the same room is sound leak – two of the mics will always pickup the third person. This isn’t unique to a three-person setup though, it becomes a consideration when more than one mic is used.

The issue that it presents is when editing. You may want to remove a cough for example from one of the tracks which is fine if nobody else is talking at the same time because you can simply remove it from all three tracks. However, when somebody coughs at the same time as somebody else is speaking, you may be able to remove it from the coughing person’s track, but the speaking person’s microphone will likely pick it up albeit at a lower volume.

The best solution for this is to try and have a good amount of space between each person and if possible, make use of dynamic microphones. They tend to be less sensitive than condenser mics and therefore would pickup less of the other two voices than if all three mics were condensers.

Scenario two – two hosts in one location plus a guest in a different location

This scenario is quite common – a podcast with two hosts who interview remote guests, over Skype for example.

Again, there are different options here and I’ll start with my favourite which you won’t be surprised to hear includes a digital recorder (well two actually, again I always like to have a backup!)

This solution makes use of the headphone socket on your computer which is run into the digital recorder. On the Tascam DR-60Dii, there’s a 3.5mm input labelled as channels 3&4 that a jack cable can be plugged into, feeding your guest’s Skype track into the recorder. Both hosts would then make use of the two XLR inputs. I like this because again, if your computer crashes mid-interview, you can just pickup where you left off. If you were recording only using your computer, you’d have to start again.

It’s worth noting that as the hosts are being recorded directly into the recorder, you would also need a microphone to use with Skype so your guest can hear the hosts. A built-in laptop mic for example is normally fine for this. The sound quality won’t be great for the guest but as long as they can hear the hosts, it’s fine. On the final recording, the hosts’ audio will be very high quality because of the fact that it’s running straight into the digital recorder.

The guest’s audio quality will depend on several things like the microphone they’re using, the compression that Skype adds to the audio and also of course the internet connection at both ends.

The best way to handle this is to still setup the rig as described above but you could also ask the guest to download some free software such as Audacity which will allow them to record a local version of their audio too. This is not only nice as a backup, but the audio should be of higher quality than that going through Skype, especially if they have a good quality mic.

For shows with a bit of budget and where audio quality is key, you could even ship an affordable USB mic to each guest prior to the interview.

Scenario three – how to record a podcast with people in different locations

If you’re faced with the scenario of having all three people in different locations, the ideal is to have each person record their voice locally, again using something like Audacity (or a digital recorder if they have one). Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or even FaceTime could be used for the conversation but with each track being recorded locally, you’ll end up with the best quality audio. Of course, all three tracks will need syncing up in post when producing the show.

As mentioned earlier, each person’s individual setups will determine how good their audio is but if there are two regular hosts who work on the show remotely, it’s worth getting them setup with the same sort of equipment for a consistent sound.

If that sounds too complicated and a more simple solution is needed, software such as ecamm Call Recorder for Mac or Pamela for Windows will record your Skype conversations to your computer. This would generally be used on the primary host’s computer and they do allow for some degree of flexibility in that you can have the primary host’s track and the primary host’s track recorded on separate channels. This works better when it’s just one host and one remote guest, as soon as you have more than one person on Skype, their tracks will be mixed to a single channel.

Low cost, low fuss (but lower quality) options

If you really want to avoid having to use expensive pieces of hardware and different software packages to get a three person podcast recorded quickly, the easiest and cheapest (ie free) way is to simply jump on something like Skype or Microsoft Teams and use the in-built call recording feature. You’ll end up with everything on one track and you’re at the mercy of everyone’s internet connections, but it will work.

If you’re all in the same room, a budget digital recording device like a Zoom H2n which has multi-directional mics can be set in the middle of everyone and can give you OK sound quality depending on a few factors.

I am advocate though for trying to push production quality as high as possible so I wouldn’t recommend these options. Instead, I’d recommend investing in good quality equipment to give you the best results possible. You don’t have to break the bank using some of the setups described above.