The Well Equipped Podcast Rig, and the Podcasters Who Love Them
Part 2 of the Audio Podcast Series
Let’s get something out of the way first. It is simply not possible to list everything that is available to help in developing your Podcast. We’ll just cover the basics and you can expand from there. I may also go into more detail about a specific piece of gear in a future post, so don’t get frustrated if I recommend something and you don’t know what it is or how to use it.
The basic tools needed are as follows:
The audio interface
This one is kinda obvious, but not as simple as you think. The recommendations I will make are so you can get the maximum results out of your computer, so don’t worry if you can’t get everything or do everything I say. I am not going to bore you with too much technical jargon, because there is no one computer configuration that is best for podcasting.
Your computer should always be fast enough to run the applications that you plan to use, so check the requirements. You don’t have to get the latest and greatest thing, but remember that depending on how complex your projects are going to be, will be a deciding factor as well. This means that if you plan on doing a project with multiple tracks of audio, and many instances of plug ins(effects), then you should probably get the fastest computer you can afford, and plenty of ram. Deciding between a laptop and desktop is also a moot point. Portability can be nice, especially if you are pressed for time and have to work in other locales. There are plenty of small audio interfaces that can travel well.
And what about the OS? That has little to do with audio, and more to do with software. You should use the platform you are most comfortable with, otherwise adding another level to the coming learning curve. There are plenty of audio software options for both Mac and Win machines. Unfortunately, I have not had the pleasure of using Linux, yet. If this changes in the near future, I will add my research to this work. Otherwise, the bulk of the technical aspects shared here will be for Mac and Win OS’s.Find a computer that is right for youThe Microphone
Choosing the right microphone is extremely important. Making the wrong choice can bite you in the butt in the long run, so be especially careful. You can always upgrade a computer, but you have to buy a new microphone to fix your mistake. That does not mean that you cannot have more than one microphone. In fact, it is always a good practice to have several microphones in your audio arsenal, especially if you plan on doing your Podcast in different locales with different recorders.
There are many characteristics involved with a microphone, and they will all have a bearing when choosing the right mic.
Directional properties. Basically, what direction the mic gathers sound from. There are three major choices. An omnidirectional mic picks up sound from all directions. This mic would be good if you want to pick up background noise. For example, you are recording your show from a coffee shop, and you would like to include a little of the ambience of the room. Unidirectional mics basically pick up sound from one direction. They will have varying polar patterns, such as cardioid and hypercardioid. Unidirectional mics are usually the best for vocals, because you want the recording to be of yourself only. Bidirectional mics pick up on both sides of the mic. This is usually good if you want to use one mic to pick up two different voices, but is not a recommended practice.
Frequency response. This is how a microphone responds to different sounds. Every microphone model is different. It is best to buy one that suits your voice, in fact, if possible, try to test out 2 or 3 and see which one sounds better with the timber of your voice. As a simple rule, the flatter the response, the better. You don’t want to over emphasize different frequencies, because they can negatively impact the quality of your final recording.
Impedance. You don’t have to know what it means, but it can play an important part when purchasing your mic. It basically is the type of resistance your mic has to an audio signal. Mics that have a ¼” or 1/8” connection are usually high impedance, and mics that have an XLR connection are low. Which should you get? The lower the impedance, the better the signal. But remember that the mic impedance should never be lower than the impedance of the equipment that it is connected to, so check specifications before making both purchases. Higher impedance mics are usually the lower priced, and also not used for most professional applications, but again, that depends on your audio interface.
Low impedance- less than 600 ohms
Medium impedance- 600-10,000 ohms
High impedance- more than 10,000 ohms
Proximity effect. This is basically how your mic responds to the distance of the audio source. Vocals are very much changed by proximity. Sibilance such as P’s and B’s can really stand out if you are too close to the mic, so practice with your mic before you start recording. Experiment with distances, but don’t stray too far because the farther from the mic, the louder you may have to turn up your gain, and that can introduce unwanted noise.
There are different types of microphones. The two major ones being dynamic and condenser. The condenser mic has a much more accurate and pleasing sound quality. That is the one I would recommend. Keep in mind though that it requires a power source, usually called phantom power. Some mics will be able to supply their own phantom power via a battery compartment. But the rest will need outside help. A phantom power supply can be purchased separately, or there are plenty of audio interfaces that supply it. The dynamic mic can be hooked up as is, but you will sacrifice quality, frequency response, and strength of signal. They are much easier to control though, because they are not affected by proximity as much as condenser mics.
And remember to always use a good pop filter. A good windscreen is also a good idea when using the mic outdoors when doing a sound seeing tour or interview. And if you are driving and the mic is placed somewhere in the car while recording, always try to put the mic on a cushiony surface that is not attached to the car. This will help lessen picking up road noise caused by bumps and speed. Maybe a piece of foam or even an article of clothing.
Again, I can only point you in a certain direction. Finding the right mic for your specific voice can only be achieved by you. You can always throw caution to the wind and just go for one based on things you’ve heard or read, and there is nothing wrong with this. As long as the quality is good, the mic will still sound good.Shure microphones for all your recording needsThe Audio Interface
This could be as simple as a built in sound card on your motherboard, or an elaborate 16 input 192 khz, 24 bit quality interface. Whichever path you choose, remember that you will be depending on it to translate your voice to digital data and you would want it to do it’s best. I have an old saying. “Your final outcome is only as strong as your weakest link”. What this basically means is that if you have a $1000.00 mic, and a $20.00 sound card, then you have $20.00 sound. So wouldn’t it have been much better to split the difference and get a $500.00 mic, and a $500.00 audio interface? No matter what price range you are in, get equipment of comparable quality. Otherwise you will pay for it later.
The built in sound card that comes with your computer can definitely be used. Just keep in mind the type of equipment this means you must connect to it. A sound card usually has a high impedance. This means you will have to buy a high impedance mic, and we already know what that means, so keep that in mind. Check the specs of your audio interface before purchasing it, or your mic. You can buy higher quality internal sound cards. They will even come with better connections than the standard 1/8” jack on most generic sound cards. They will have a ¼” connection, or better yet, XLR. Keep in mind that the 1/8” connector is consumer grade, and any professional mic you purchase will not have that type of connection and will require an adapter or impedance matcher, usually called a transformer.
The most popular types of audio interfaces these days are external of the computer, usually having a USB or firewire connection. They are much better than the older internal card, because you now have the ability to have better quality connections, and conversion without having to worry about it fitting in your computer. They come in all flavors. Multiple inputs and outputs, headphone jack, even direct monitoring so you don’t get a delayed effect that you can get with standard sound cards when recording along with a previously recorded track. This is called latency, and could be very annoying, especially when doing overdubs, or corrections.
You don’t have to spend a mint to get a good interface, in fact, the one I’m using was only $100.00 and has 4 inputs, two outputs, a headphone jack, and connects via USB. So buying good gear doesn’t have to be expensive. You can look at the Amazon ads to the right of this article for examples. They aren’t there so I can make money, it is so you can look at your options and what it will cost you, should you decide on that option.Audio interfacesThe Software
Where do I begin. There are so many choices. Ranging from free, to ridiculously out of reach. Luckily, most software vendors have timed demos, or free versions of their software. In fact, some audio interfaces that you can purchase today even come with lite versions of some major software out today.
Let’s start with the free stuff. There are a lot of smart people out there that can make some good software. I will use an example. Audacity. Many of you have either heard of, or used this software. I have tried it out and am very impressed. This multitrack capable software uses multiple file formats, a built in spectrogram, and pretty good built in effects. It can record up to 16 tracks at once when used with the proper hardware, and also supports VST plugins, although the GUI on them is somewhat limited. But for free, this software program is a definite must if you are a podcaster on a budget, or lack of one.
The drawback of free software is that the creator is limited by their knowledge and/or resources and experience. But there are plenty of software manufacturers that have been doing it for years. Companies such as Cakewalk, Steinburg, Logic, Sony, and Digidesign. And they have excellent expansion qualities. Much more fx are available to the more commercial vendors. Many companies make Direct X and VST plugins for these companies. So the possibilities are endless. For example, I recently did a promo for my show which can be listened to at http://www.unsignedpodcast.com/audio/Dishwasherpromo.mp3
. If you listen to it, you will notice that there are three distinct voices. The first voice is high pitched and spooky sounding. The second is a deep voice that sounds like it is in a small tiled room. The third is that of a small child. Would you believe that all the voices on that promo are all the same person? It’s true because they are all me. I did that promo in about 15 minutes using Sony Media’s Acid Pro 5.0. I used the fx from Waves Diamond Bundle. Powerful software can make projects quicker and easier to complete. But of course, it all depends on the budget.Great deals on video and music softwareThe Compressor
First of all, there are compressor plugins in almost every software program these days, so some of you in the know may think that they can take the place of a good compressor. That is very wrong. Once you record your voice, you cannot get rid of some problems with even the best software programs or plugins. A good compressor cannot be replaced, and I would recommend one to anyone who is serious about improving their audio.
For those not knowing what a compressor is, I will learn ya. A compressor is basically an automatic volume control. A good analogy is to imagine that a sound man is always at the fader to control the audio. When it gets too loud, he lowers the volume. When it gets too soft, he raises it back up. That is a compressor, only you don’t have to feed it, or stroke its ego. There is much more to a compressor, but will go into it in more detail in a future posting.Sound and recording equipmentAccessories
The above items I mentioned are indeed necessities, but there are many little things that will have a big affect on your show. Some may not seem that important right now, but if you were to get them, you would wonder how you lived without them.
Good audio cables can make or break your recording. Not just for audio quality, but for construction. There are some cables that are so cheaply made, if you step on them or run over them with the wheel on your desk chair, they will crack or break. So a decent cable is not just for good sound.
Get a good mic stand. Don’t hold your mic if you don’t have to. A mic can also pick up your hand movements, and some people have a natural tendency to gesture with their hands and the mic will go along for the ride. A simple desk stand can suffice, or a super sexy tripod stand with retractable arm will do nicely as well.
I mentioned a pop filter before, but I cannot stress enough how important one can be. Just like a compressor, it is one of those things that can save you time. And they are cheap. You can even make one yourself if you have to.
The next topic will be more technical. I have yet to decide what it will be, but I promise you it will be very important. So until then, I hope you are enjoying this series, and I look forward to hearing the improvements made in your podcast