Podcast Audio Guide:
You have an opinion you want to share, a cause you need to champion, or a topic that invites input. Maybe you want to share holiday recipes. So how do you make your voice heard? In days gone by, you headed downtown, stood on a soapbox, and said your piece. And if you were into audio, you carried a megaphone. Fortunately, the social media age has brought about an instantaneous exchange of ideas from all corners of the globe—including the podcast.
By and large, social media is built around brevity. Twitter messages top out at 140 characters. Facebook memes are essentially illustrated one-liners. Web-only TV episodes are mere minutes long. Podcasting is different. Podcasts are often well-produced audio episodes, with a single topic or two explored in depth. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feeds and other internet tools (TD Scripts, etc.) have made it easy to make your podcast available online. And podcasts are no longer created by dedicated individuals. Established news services—from international giants like the BBC to your local public radio station—now feature regular podcast subscriptions.
The days of the soapbox and bullhorn are long gone. The modern podcast studio can be anything from your iPhone to a live radio production studio. While you will achieve better results using better gear, the best equipment in the world still needs to be operated correctly and with care. To get started, your podcast studio will need to do the following:
- Capture the Sound.
The first step is the microphone. As you speak, you create vibrations in the air. The microphone transforms these sound vibrations into an analog electrical signal.
- Preserve the Sound.
Next, this analog electrical signal from the microphone needs to be converted to a digital audio signal that can be recorded and saved using a digital recorder, your computer, your laptop, or even your smartphone. Portable Digital recorders, USB microphones, and other devices automatically perform this analog to digital conversion. In other cases, you may need a conversion device such as a computer audio interface.
- Listen to the Sound.
After you have recorded and saved your podcast program, it is ready for distribution. Name the file, upload it to your host server, your podcast is now online and available for listening or download to all of your fans and followers.
The Importance of Audio
With the abundance of podcast programming available throughout cyberspace, it becomes more important than ever to create and deliver programming that sounds professionally produced. The human voice can carry tons of emotional information, in its tone as well as the words being spoken. Creating a comfortable environment with functioning gear will allow you and your on-mic talent to sound relaxed and natural, conveying the full emotional content of their voice and message. Doing battle with archaic or improper equipment as you work to create your show can compromise both the audio and emotional content. Podcasts with sloppy or poorly produced sound are hard to listen to, can result in ear fatigue for the listener. Plus, they do little to further your message. That said, it is easy enough to create a viable podcast on your own, using the right tools and keeping in mind some of the basics of audio production.
There are many microphones available at Sam Ash. Within the vast selection you will find everything from high quality broadcast microphones used in radio booths to durable dynamic microphones used for singing on stage. Each option has benefits that can help you achieve a polished production. Audio processing—available as both signal processing hardware and software—can improve your sound. Compressor/Limiters/Gates can automatically adjust the dynamic levels for a more consistent sound. Adding a touch of reverb helps to create the sound of a spacious recording environment. Using an external mixer provides individualized control of each microphone and other audio sources, including mixing in music for a polished production. Adding an audio editing App (Audacity, GarageBand, etc.) or software allows the recording to be edited and improved before you share your show. This guide will help you in both regards, so that you can add that professional edge to your podcast programs.
Example Podcasting Setups
Let’s take a look at a few podcasting setups. Understanding the elements of each setup will help you identify the components of the podcast studio that you already own or have access to—and those that you need to make you studio feel satisfying. We’ll start with the simplest of setups, and move forward from there, adding extra equipment and core capabilities as we go.
- Smartphone, tablet, or iOS Device.
Keep it simple. Your iPhone, iPad, tablet or smartphone has everything you need to get started: Built-in microphone, speakers (or earbuds), and an audio recording App such as GarageBand. If you don’t have an audio App for your device, you can download one. The advantage of a compact setup such as this is you can create content anywhere (but not while you’re driving, please!) The frequency response and dynamic range of the microphone will be limited, and it will be hard to isolate any audio source. Be sure to place the device on a flat surface to minimize handling noise, and isolate it from the desk or table top to prevent other vibrations and noise from being picked up. A Smartphone tripod stand is a great option for isolating your device. If you love the portability of this setup but are looking to improve in the sound quality area, here are a few IOS compatible add on’s that you might want to consider.
Samson makes a line of microphones that simply clip on to a laptop or flat-screen monitor that can really enhance the quality of podcast made directly using a handheld device or laptop. Samson’s Go Mic is small enough to fit in your pocket so you don’t have to sacrifice mobility. It also features selectable microphone pickup patterns for different Podcasting scenarios. The cardioid pattern is ideal for the one-man show while the figure 8-pattern option enables both sides of the microphone to capture sound for interview scenarios. There is even a pad(gain reduction)if you want to introduce some live sound effects into the show. Samson also has the Go Mic Connect which records in stereo. Other major advantages of the Go Mic Connect are noise reduction and focused pattern technology, which removes background noise from your recordings.
Featuring a lightning connector, the MV88 plugs directly into your IOS device and immediately improves the audio on your smartphone. It’s mid side recording pattern is popular for professional broadcast applications and the microphone positioning can be adjusted towards your desired sound source. It also includes the MOTIV app which gives you limiting, compression and 5 band EQ options.
Lavalieres are used in professional broadcast situations as a comfortable and discreet way to mic on screen talent. The Smartlav+ works with RODE’s record app that gives you access to EQ and other processing so you can get a good audio signal. Unlike standard lavalieres, it offers direct connection to your smartphone or tablet through the headphone jack.
Let’s look at two starter setups. One is based around your computer and a USB microphone. The second is based around a handheld digital audio recorder. The handheld recorder is convenient to use, with built-in microphones, battery power, and a number of onboard production features. In the computer-based studio, using a USB microphone provides powerful production shortcuts, placing the computer audio interface and headphone monitoring jack directly in the microphone, and connecting to the computer with just a single USB cable. As you start to add equipment, make sure that you have any microphone stands you might need, and double check that you have all the cabling required to keep everything connected.
Starter System I Equipment Requirements (USB Microphone with Computer):
- Laptop computer
- Audio Recording/Editing software(Garage Band/Audacity/Studio One)
- USB Microphone
In a package such as this, the USB microphone is more than a mic. It also functions as an analog to digital converter (audio interface), providing a digital audio signal to the computer through the USB port. In addition, some USB microphones also provide a headphone jack, an efficient way to monitor your audio content AS YOU RECORD IT, with no latency issues. This same USB connection provides a way to monitor the playback from the computer through the headphone jack after recording. Also, certain USB microphones may come pre-packaged with audio recording, editing, and/or processing software.
Top USB Microphones For Podcasting:
Samson Q2U Dynamic USB/XLR Microphone: The Q2U is a great microphone for podcasting, providing a headphone jack for zero latency monitoring and a cardioid pickup pattern. Its dynamic design has just the right amount of sensitivity to pick up the details of your voice without letting room noise and vibrations into your recording. Its ability to be used as an XLR lets you use it with more advanced setups as well.
Blue Snowball Studio USB Microphone Bundle: One of the first USB microphones ever released, the Snowball offers 3 selectable pickup patterns options depending on your podcast setup including Cardioid and Omnidirectional for incorporating multiple guests. The studio version includes Presonus Studio One Artist recording software for enhanced editing and production capabilities.
Samson C01U Pro USB Condenser Microphone: With plug and play operation and great sound quality, this updated version of the world’s first USB microphone (C01U) also includes a headphone jack for zero latency monitoring. A tripod desk stand is also included.
Tech Tip: What is Latency?
Latency is the term for the delay sometimes heard when monitoring audio during recording. The delay occurs because often the monitoring bus (signal path) comes AFTER the sound has been converted into digital audio, recorded, and played back to the listener. The headphone jack on the USB microphones listed allow you to monitor the audio as it enters the microphone, with no latency delay. The playback from any previously recorded material can be mixed in, assuring proper monitoring when adding additional parts.
Starter System II Equipment Requirements:
Handheld digital recorders provide a complete and compact mobile recording solution. The recorders feature built-in stereo microphone capsules for recording on the go. The handheld design can also be stand-mounted for hands-free recording. The recorder offers convenient onboard editing and productions tools, including a limiter, automatic level and channel balancing, 99 mark points, etc. Enjoy up to 24-bit/96 kHz WAV file recording, direct to a micro SD card. You can load the micro SD card data into the computer for further editing, or upload the finished file to your podcast server host.
Using a Wi-Fi enabled handheld recorder like the Tascam DR-22WL takes the equation even farther. In addition to wirelessly controlling the recorder’s transport functions (Play/Pause/Fast Forward/Rewind) from your computer, Android, or iOS device, you can also connect it to a wireless network, uploading audio files to the cloud without even touching the recorder.
Now we begin to explore a more-studio oriented approach to podcast production. As we progress to a more advanced setup, more options are available. Staying focused on the computer side, we can build a system using a professional-grade microphone and a stand-alone audio interface, or we can replace the audio interface with a USB mixer. Going back to the handheld recorder example from the Starter Setups, we can step up to an advanced four-track model—with XLR Mic inputs—and see how a system of this type would compare and contrast with a computer-based model. Finally, as we transition from a mobile approach to a studio centric model, we need to consider moving from earbuds or headphones to a loudspeaker based monitoring system.
Advanced System I Equipment Requirements:
- Laptop computer
- Audio Recording/Editing software(Pro Tools, Cakewalk, Studio One)
- Professional-grade Condenser Microphones
- Standalone Audio Interface
- Focusrite Scarlett
- Presonus Studio
- Monitoring System (Studio Monitors or Headphones)
In this example, we have moved from a USB microphone to a more traditional selection of microphone(s), and we are introducing the sound to the computer using an audio interface. At its simplest level, the audio interface converts the analog signal of the microphone to a digital signal, and feeds it to the computer via USB—or in some cases using a Thunderbolt connection. Thunderbolt connections carry more information at a faster speed than USB connections; the data is transferred as a steady stream (isochronously)—ideal for audio and video production. Interfaces have evolved, and now include must-have features such as phantom power, input gain controls, impedance matching, and latency-free monitoring. Beyond that, some audio interfaces have taken the form of a channel strip, offering excellent mic preamps, low-cut filters, and more. Channel count may also a consideration in choosing your interface.
We are also introducing live monitoring. A pair of active, or self-powered, studio monitors is the best choice here. The output of the computer is available via the monitor outputs on the audio interface. Connect these outputs to the inputs of the monitor speakers. One drawback of live monitoring is the possibility of feedback, where the microphone picks up the sound of the person speaking, sends it to the computer and out to the speakers, where it may be picked up again, and again, and again. Using closed back noise isolation Headphones for the host, lower monitoring volumes, and careful mic placement can minimize this risk.
Tech Tip: Dynamic vs. Condenser Microphones
As with other audio applications, choose your microphone to meet your specific podcasting needs. Dynamic microphones are excellent for live sound reinforcement, and generate their signals by moving an electrical coil through a set of permanent magnets. The extra mass of the moving coil reduces the sensitivity of a dynamic mic, but can also absorb abrupt dynamic changes and prevent overloading and distortion. By contrast, Condenser microphones are more common in the studio. Inside, a backing plate carries a fixed electric charge, provided from an external power source, phantom power, battery etc. Condenser microphones may often have switchable pickup patterns, and can generally support a larger diaphragm. The larger the diaphragm, the more mass must be overcome to respond to the sound. Larger diaphragms can be ideal for smooth, warm vocals, where as a smaller diaphragms will capture more of the high-energy sizzle of a cymbal, for example. You will also want to be sure the microphone has the correct pickup pattern for your needs.
Advanced System II Equipment Requirements:
- Laptop computer
- Audio Recording/Editing software
- Professional-grade Condenser Microphones
- USB Mixer (Examples:)
- Monitoring System (active Monitors or Headphones)
Just as the USB microphone combined a microphone with the audio interface, a USB mixer combines a traditional audio mixer with an audio interface. The mixer behaves just like a regular mixer, but can send the output of the mixer to the computer or device as a digital audio signal via USB. The audio output of the computer is returned to the mixer via USB, and is selectable as a source on the mixer. Moving to a multichannel USB mixer offers plenty of advantages. Each microphone (host, guest 1, guest 2, etc.) is connected to an individual channel, where the level can be individually set. Depending on the mixer, there also may be equalization and even built-in effects that can also be applied to each channel individually. Having a mixer also makes it simple to add your theme music or other audio sources to build the production quality of your podcast.
Advanced System III Equipment Requirements:
- Laptop computer
- Audio Recording/Editing software
- Handheld Multitrack Digital Recorder with XLR Inputs
- Tascam DR-44WL
- Professional-grade Condenser Microphones
- Monitoring System (active Monitors or Headphones)
Once again, we can substitute a handheld digital recorder for our computer-based system. In this advanced system, the example recorder is the Tascam DR-44WL multi-track model. There are a number of mixing and processing features that are built in to the recorder, making it simple to capture your podcast material. All recordings are saved to an SD card. The recorded data can be loaded into the computer for further editing, or uploaded for distribution via Wi-Fi. And although the Tascam DR-44WL includes a self-contained mic capsule, it also provides two XLR microphone jacks with selectable phantom power to accommodate nearly any professional-caliber microphone(s).
Customizing Your Professional Podcast Setup
By now, you should have a clear idea of what is required to create a professional sounding audio podcast. In all of our examples, the constant elements are a microphone capture device; a computer, device, or hand-held digital recorder to save and edit the recording; and a playback system of headphones or loudspeakers to monitor your production. And in most cases, there will need to be an audio interface of an USB mixer. Moving beyond these basic elements, let’s explore a number of upgrades and add-ons that can solve an existing issue in your podcast studio, or that can enhance your productions to a professional broadcasting level.
Adding a Broadcast Microphone
At some point, your podcast studio will very much resemble a radio broadcast studio. Lessons learned in radio will carry over. Over the years, dynamic cardioid microphones such as the Electro Voice Variable-D RE20 and the Shure SM7B have earned their place in the broadcast studio with a warm, smooth sound, low noise, and low proximity effect that minimizes dropouts, booming, and sibilance noise.
Tech Tip: Understanding Microphone Pickup Patterns
Different microphones have different pickup patterns; that is, they each are sensitive to sound in a different direction. Sure, we want a microphone to pick up sound in front of the microphone. But how about off to the side? How about from behind? Now you can see why pickup patterns (also called polar patterns) are important. An omnidirectional microphone picks up sound equally in all directions. Unidirectional mics pick up in a cardioid pattern. Cardioid—from where we get the word “cardio”—literally means heart-shaped. Visualize the microphone from top, with the lobes of a heart facing to the rear and riding on the back of the mic. You can see that a cardioid mic is very limited in its ability to pick up sound from behind. This minimizes handling noise, prevents feedback, and increases isolation. There are actually a few Cardioid patterns, including Cardioid, Hyper-Cardioid, and Super-Cardioid. Each one provides a narrower and narrower pickup pattern. One other useful pickup pattern is the Figure-Eight, which picks up equally in front and in back, but rejects nearly all sound from the sides. Using a figure-eight mic is excellent for doing a one-on-one interview, or creating a podcast using the host/guest format.
Adding Outboard Signal Processing
In the recording studio, the engineer may rely on racks filled with audio processing equipment to make sure that the sound is perfect. These same types of audio processors can improve the tone and audio quality of your podcast productions. Using a mic preamp can improve the presence of your vocal performance by adding EQ, improving gain staging, and more. Compressors and Limiters can automatically maintain a constant signal level, preventing over modulation and signal dropouts. Audio processors can be stand-alone units, although modular configurations are growing in popularity. The 500 Series is now an industry standard for a mini audio-rack that can accept modules from various manufacturers, including mic preamps, parametric EQs, de-essers, compressors, and more.
Adding Audio Processing Plug-Ins (Software)
- Examples: IK Multimedia / Izotope / Audio Ease
In the hardware world, signal processing is accomplished using … well … signal processors. For those well-versed in digital audio recording, or using a Digital Audio Workstation software platform, signal processing is accomplished using software plug-ins that emulate the behavior and performance of hardware modules, but that operate inside the computer recording environment.
Adding Advanced Hardware Interfaces
- Examples: MOTU 828x / Universal Audio Apollo
Moving to higher-grade of audio interface will provide a number of valuable enhancements, including improved fidelity, additional channel capacity, better metering, additional synchronization options, and full recording studio features. Desktop units including the Universal Audio Apollo Twin Thunderbolt interface is a high-performance and ergonomic interface that makes it easy to control the audio signals as you record your podcasts. Rack-mounted units such as the MOTO 828x delivers advanced multi-channel operation, 32-bit mixing, and onboard digital audio processing (DSP) with full USB and Thunderbolt operation.
Adding Acoustic Studio Treatments
- Example: Auralex
By adding a few panels of acoustic treatment, you can improve the sound of your audio recording space. Acoustic panels are simple to install and can improve the sound by soaking up early reflections, breaking up standing waves between parallel surfaces, damping bass build up in corners.
Maximize Your Microphone: Essential Accessories
Pop Filter: If you have ever talked into a microphone connected to PA system you have probably noticed that the pronunciation of some letters, particularly the P’s and S’s are sometimes over emphasized and tend to disrupt an otherwise smooth sentences. Enter the Pop filter, which screws onto the body of your microphone and provides a mesh or steel filter to go in front of your microphones grille. The filter minimizes the “pops” caused by those P’s and S’s.
Shockmount: As we discussed earlier, Condenser Microphones, especially those of the large diaphragm variety, tend to be very sensitive, sometimes picking up unwanted artifacts that disrupt your recordings. A Shockmount is like an isolation basket for your microphone that prevents vibrations including fans, floor creeks and other unwanted noises from being picked up by your microphone
Reflection Filters: If you have ever seen footage of tracking rooms in recording studios, you will usually notice a curved piece of metal behind the microphone. This item known as a reflection filter prevents your voice from bouncing off surfaces like walls and ceilings.
On the software side of things, your podcast productions will rely on two different types of software. The first is the audio editing and recording software. There are a number of simple apps such as GarageBand and Audacity that are easily available. However, these programs and apps can be somewhat cumbersome to use for creating a pro-level podcast. Instead, shop around for a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) platform to aid your audio production. Some DAW’s you may want to explore include Cakewalk Sonar, Steinberg Cubase, or Presonus Studio One. Certain platforms such as Ableton, Reason and FL Studio are very powerful and feature laden, but are usually targeted more towards music production and composition with instruments.
Finally, you will need a web service to serve as the online host for your podcasts. SoundCloud is a familiar source for many online audio files, and features tie-ins to many other online services. There are also other podcast hosting services available on line. Podbean.com is an excellent host service for your podcasts. It is easy to use, and they provide add on services, such as crowd funding for your podcasts. Also check out BuzzSprout, which offers both free and paid services (based on the content amount). Libsyn is one of the oldest hosting sights, and offers an easy-to-use interface, and tools for customizable iTunes information tags.
The Sam Ash Difference!
Remember, putting in some extra time and effort can make your production easy to listen to; a bit of professional production is a service to your listeners, who deserve to hear what you have to say as effortlessly as possible. Keep your production levels high, and keep your podcast subscribers coming back for more! Got any questions on what set up is best for your show? Having trouble choosing between the vast product selections in all the categories we have covered? Not to worry, just come into any of our Sam Ash Music store locations and talk to our staff. Not near a store or can make it due to your busy schedule, then just give us a call at 1-800-472-6300, we have experts standing by who want to help your podcast get to that professional level.