There’s an endless amount of binge-able podcasts out there, but how about the sound itself? Check out this list of podcasts with inspiring audio at their core.
It is no secret that podcasting has been taking over the ears of millions of people around the world. In fact, in 2020 alone, an estimated 100 million people listened to a podcast monthly — and it hasn’t even hit its peak.
But with so many options, it can be difficult to navigate. There are over 2.2 million podcasts available on Spotify alone, not to mention the plethora of other platforms catering solely to podcast editing, sharing and listening.
Some podcasts, however, transcend mere words by offering up a new world of auditory delights. Here are 10 podcasts that make the most of incredible sound design.
Twenty Thousand Hertz – Defacto sound
We begin our venture with Twenty Thousand Hertz, the audio show that popped up amid almost all lists dedicated to podcasts with the best sound design. Produced by Defacto Sound with host Dallas Taylor, this award-winning series explores the history and context behind some of the most recognisable and interesting sounds.
Investigating a range of different sounds and tones, the instalments range from exploring the Netflix ‘Ta-Dum’ intro, a tone reminiscent of all the hours you spent bingeing TV shows as procrastination, to the history behind McDonald’s iconic ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ jingle.
It’s a show that uses sound design to explore sound design and one that any audiophile or novice can learn from.
Give it a listen at 20k.org.
Now, this one is a must for any music fanboy or fangirl interested in learning about the history and production process of their favourite songs by their favourite bands. It’s the perfect listen to anyone wanting to know the more technical, step-by-step recipe of some of the most popular tunes to date.
In each episode, the host, Hrishikesh Hirway, and his respective musical guest guides the listener through the producing process. For example, Yusuf/Cat Stevens and his hit Father and Son (a personal favourite of mine) whereby he sings a duet with himself. The segment begins with a teaser of the song before taking it apart layer at a time, dissecting each detail that makes up this masterpiece.
As you can see, Song Exploder provides those interesting details about famous songs you may not have known and the series is definitely worth a listen.
Check it out here.
Radiolab – WNYC Studios
Radiolab is one of the most popular shows out there, known for its deep-dive journalism and innovative sound design. First created in 2002 by host Jad Abumrad, Radiolab began as an exploration into science, philosophy, and ethics. In more recent episodes, it has showcased personal experiences with innovative sound design, immersing listeners into new, provocative and relevant stories.
The latest episode explores lock-down in the wake of COVID-19, taking listeners into the lives and homes of people and their everyday experiences in quarantine. From the close-up sounds of a dog snoring to someone describing their icy surroundings backed by a brisk breeze in the middle of the Weddell Sea off the coast of Antarctica, the soundscapes provided are incredible.
The variety of sounds transitioning from ear to ear plays profoundly on the curiosity of the listener, taking you on a mesmerising journey around the planet.
For more head to WNYC studios – Radiolab.
Homecoming – Gimlet Media
One feature of podcasting that is not to be overshadowed by visual mediums is radio theatre — the art of voice acting and production of a fictional story. Homecoming is definitely a standout in this genre and although it has since been adapted into an Amazon Prime show, its origins were in the form of an extremely popular and high-quality podcast.
Featuring the highly-recognisable voices of Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer and more, Homecoming was the first scripted series by Gimlet media. A thriller following the experiences of a caseworker in an experimental facility, the podcast is known for its immersive and suspenseful audio progressing the mysterious storyline.
Capturing sounds that wouldn’t ordinarily be noticed on video, the enigmatic collage of telephone calls, therapy sessions and distorted conversations truly paint a picture in your mind.
Check out the episodes here.
Welcome to Night Vale – Night Vale Presents
This podcast also plays on the radio theatre genre. As a thrilling podcast with a cult following, it paints a haunting portrait of a South Western town through the style of community updates in the cultivation of radio ads and announcements.
Through the use of this clever sound engineering, Welcome to Night Vale utilises bizarre soundscapes to chronicle the journey of its fictional host within the secluded desert town narrated by Cecil Baldwin.
In the first episode, you are welcomed into Night Vale, as the narrator sets the scene using a distinctly unsettling tone, describing the rural town that beholds unusual powers. With a strong percussion crescendo in the background of the first 15 seconds, you feel as if you are hooked instantly.
With over 150 episodes that are easy to access across a number of different platforms such as Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic and YouTube, there’s plenty of content to keep yourself entertained.
Have a listen at Welcome to Night Vale.
Haunted Places – Parcast
Now, you can’t have a list of podcasts with amazing sound design without including a true-crime, paranormal series filled with spooky soundscapes. Haunted Places, hosted by Greg Polcyn is where you’ll get your horror fix without the visuals. And if the music is anything to go by, you won’t need pictures to make you feel like you are walking the halls of an abandoned asylum.
A statement of listener discretion is announced immediately before a harrowing bell chime takes you into a ghostly world that is not recommended for the faint-hearted.
Screeching of orchestral strings alongside a demonic sounding ensemble sit beneath the narration, taking you into the haunting and brutal histories of some very unnerving places.
Haunted Places can be found here.
Love and Radio
A first-person storytelling podcast playing on personal experiences and ornamented with impressive sound design, Love and Radio offers up a series of otherworldly stories from an eclectic range of people.
Created by Nick van der Kolk, this series has been in the works since 2005 with some of podcasting’s biggest names being huge fans of the show. Here’s how Jad Abumrad of Radiolab sums it up:
“Love and Radio is a cosmic pollen cloud of audio awesomeness. I’m constantly amazed when I listen. As storytelling, it’s breaking new ground.”
And they aren’t wrong. One episode, titled Mr Mop, encompasses crisp audio quality with a culmination of zipper sounds, a smooth saxophone solo and quirky beats to regulate a mental image of a purely intriguing house cleaner named Mike.
There are lots of episodes to choose from with many fun, interesting and unbelievable stories to wrap your head around.
Have a listen here at Love and Radio.
Sound Matters – Bang & Olufsen
Circling back to the more technical side of sound design, we have this impressive podcast by hi-fi giants Bang & Olufsen. Known for manufacturing industry-leading equipment in speakers, headphones, televisions and more, these guys definitely know a thing or two about quality audio.
Rather than the niche, highly technical world of manufacturing that they are known for, the gang at Bang & Olufsen have put together a series that shows a greater appreciation for the sounds that fill our lives.
These highly immersive episodes tackle left-field audio topics such as ambient animal noises or the profound, like The Sound of Life Itself. The episode documents the sounds of organisms and natural environments that fill our sensory surroundings, noises that are everywhere but ones that we may never actually tune into.
Discover more episodes here.
The World According to Sound
This one resides on the peculiar side, with episodes only last 90 seconds. But let me tell you, this minute-and-a-half is incredibly engaging. This miniature audio show contains numerous brief instalments that feature evocative and unusual sound rendered in intense aural detail.
Among them you may hear “the gurgle of mud pots” or “bridges and ants”, maybe even“sounds that will transport you inside another person’s head and back in time a hundred years to the streets of Berlin”.
With these quick and mind-boggling episodes, the possibilities and sonic experiences really are endless.
Have a listen here.
Rabbit Hole – New York Times
Finally, we have Rabbit Hole by the New York Times, an audio series about how the internet is changing — and how it is changing us.
Documenting a new world whereby our experiences have been reduced to screens, this series is one that explores the complex algorithms of the web, the role of artificial intelligence, and its implications beyond the internet.
Sonic snippets of the show highlight rewinds of YouTube intros by popular influencers, robotic effects and solemn orchestral humming, exacerbating an already rather unnerving topic.
It’s a fascinating and slightly petrifying eye into the future of technology and how it may control our lives. With its slightly discombobulated audio — with recurring bit-crushed motifs — this series is perfect for anyone questioning the relationship between humankind and ever-evolving technologies.
Check it out at the New York Times.