Can (and should) you actually record a podcast interview on Zoom?

When I first took over the Podcast in 2018, one of the first decisions I made was that I’d only record interviews online in absolutely exceptional circumstances. Almost of my interviews from that and next year had been recorded in person, and there’s a whole bunch of reasons for that.

First of all, when I interview someone in person, I can control the audio quality. I’ve got my set of trusted recording gear, I always monitor the audio as I go, and I know exactly what to expect when I open the results on my computers. (Speaking of that — should I run a gear post later to talk about the stuff I use for recording at home and on the ground?)

Second, quality of the conversation tends to be higher when you’re sitting across the table from your guest. Maybe one day we’ll get so used to talking to our screens that it won’t be an issue anymore, but for now, the conversation flow of an in-person interview tends to be better than an online one is most cases. I’ve also noticed that when interviewed in person, people tend to add less fluff to their answers and be more straight-to-the-point.

So, with all that in mind, I wasn’t keen on recording online at all.

Then along came the pandemic, and my commitment to in-person interviews obviously went out the window. I’d done my homework back then and have been using purpose-made podcast recording platforms (first Zencastr, then Squadcast), and didn’t really consider Zoom as an alternative.

However, a few months ago someone asked me to look into the best way to set up a podcast recording on Zoom (that was the only option), and I was surprised to see a bunch of interesting settings that promised to significantly improve its audio recording quality. I thought I should investigate it later just out of curiosity, and happily forgot about it, of course.

Now that I have a bit of spare time after leaving, I wanted to take a look and listen at whether Zoom could actually be a viable option to record a podcast interview.

Before moving on to testing this, I’m going to apply the following settings on Zoom:

  • Audio → Automatically adjust microphone volume: False (unchecked)
  • Audio → Suppress background noise: Low
  • Audio → Music and Professional Audio → 
    • Show in-meeting option to enable “Original sound”: True (checked)
    • High-fidelity music mode: True (checked)
    • Echo cancellation: False (unchecked)
    • Stereo audio: False (unchecked)
  • Recording → Record a separate audio file for each participant: True (checked)

That seems to be it. If you know any other settings I should be checking, let me know in the comments section.

As far as I understand, Zoom still wouldn’t do what podcast recording services are doing, that is record each participant locally and upload the result to the cloud. This means that your interviewee would need to set all the same settings on their side, turn Original Sound on (!), and start recording on their side as well. Sounds like a bit of a hassle, but it still should be easier than asking people to record in a separate recorder window.

With that in mind, let’s move on to the actual test. I’m going to record a bit of myself reading a book on both Zoom (locally) and my Rodecaster Pro interface (with audio processing turned off).

There’s certainly a difference between the two recordings, but I don’t think it’s particularly big. (I also realise that with the audio setup most podcast guests have, it won’t be noticeable at all). So, in my view, the answer to the main question of this post is — yes, it’s totally fine to record a podcast interview on Zoom if you know what you’re doing and are willing to jump through all the hoops.

As for the shows I’m working on with, I can’t wait to put the “in-person interviews only” rule back in place.