Expander vs Noise Gate for Podcasting

Noise Gate vs Expander

Expander vs Noise Gate for Podcasting

In this article, I am going to explain why I choose to use an expander over a noise gate for podcasting.  I am also going to explain the pros and cons of both a noise gate and expander and which one you should use.  I will also give an overview of how I set mine for optimum use.

What is a Noise Gate?

A noise gate will mute a signal completely under a certain volume (or threshold).  This threshold is set via the controls on a physical control or piece of software.  Completely muting a signal means the gate will need to open again if someone is talking. A noise gate can work well if someone is on their own doing a podcast.

The downside of a noise gate is it can also “miss” words if you’re not talking loud enough or it can open and become distracting to the listener if someone else in the room is very loud.  This can be corrected by tweaking the settings on the noise gate but I find it too troublesome unless I am on my own.

I recently did a podcast where my guest was softly spoken and the noise gate wasn’t opening at the start of some sentences.  I opted for the expander and found this worked much better.

In my experience, a noise gate doesn’t work as well in a 2 or 3 person podcasting environment.  For example, if someone laughs loudly the other persons noise gate can open causing an echoing effect.

What is an Expander?

The easiest way to explain an expander is it does almost the same thing except it will not mute the audio, it will only reduce it.

I’ve found that recording a 2 or 3 person podcast the expanders are the easiest way to get good quality and natural-sounding audio without the gating problems.

The Expander on my Behringer Composer is set to -20dB.  This means that when I am not talking into the microphone the rest of the audio will drop to -20 instead of mute completely. This means the “gate” doesn’t need to open again as it’s already ready to receive audio.

This might not be the most technical explanation of the Expander on the internet but it sure is a practical explanation.

I set my expander to -20dB because it allows even quiet talking to be allowed through. The gate on the other hand, could not open and cause a loss of signal.

Setting the Expander

While I set mine to -20dB experiment around and find what works for you.  The best way to do this is to hook up two microphones.

With both microphones connected talk into one at your regular volume and set the expander so no audio is coming through on the second mic.  Don’t set it too low.  The idea of the expander is to make sure it doesn’t totally mute your signal. You just want audio below a point to be dropped in volume.

The benefit of this is you will not need to do any post-production as the hardware rack unit will do this for you.  Another advantage of not setting the expander too low is it can also allow a podcaster to turn their head and it will still capture the audio.  This works even if they are not talking into the microphone directly.

Expander vs Gate
Expander & Gate: Behringer Composer Pro XL

If you’ve ever watched the H3H3 Podcast on YouTube. The main host Ethan is always turning his head away from the microphone but it still works. You also never hear any spill from Hila’s microphone when she’s not talking.  Odds are, as explained in the video below they are using expanders.

My Experience

I have been podcasting for a number of years now.  Recently, I have upgraded my entire setup including audio processing rack units.  The reasons I went for this setup is to save time in post-production.  The downside of learning about hardware units is there’s a lot to know.  Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place.

Hardware Expanders and Noise Gates

If you are looking for a noise gate or expander I can recommend the following ones:

  • DBX 286S
  • Behringer Composer MDX2600

I own both of these units and I feel like the Behringer does a superior job of the Expander and the DBX has a better noise gate.  The downside of the Behringer is it will require a preamp.  My preamp of choice is the Behringer Ultragain Pro MIC2200.  Click the link for my full review of the Ultragain Pro MIC2200 on this website.

Sure, there’s plenty of other units out there on the market but I like to explain things from a personal use case.

Software Expanders and Noise Gates

You can, of course, find noise gates and expanders in most DAW software.  If you prefer to do it that way it’s fine but you’ll also need to do a lot more post-production audio editing.

You’ll also find expanders and noise gates in software like Final Cut Pro.  If you shoot a video podcast then you have the flexibility of adjusting the audio in Final Cut.

What I love about the hardware option is, you can set up everything you need so all you’ll need to do in post is raise up the volume of each track.

Using the hardware you’ll also speed up your efficiency once you find the ideal settings for your room and podcasting guest. Now that I have the expander on the Behringer PRO-XL2600 set up, I won’t have to mess with it again.

Time saved in post-production is always welcome for my particular workflow.