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December 16, 2007

Podcasting Equipment Update

Podcasting Equipment  Update


Introduction  


Below I'm giving some links to some basic podcasting equipment which will enable anybody with a computer and the internet to get going. Since I  last posted something on podcasting some months ago I've managed to get the budget for a couple of Marantz PDM 660 semi professional audio recorders. They are semi professional because they record to compact flash cards which have a higher spped of data transfer rate than SD cards. The other main feature is that they have phantom power and XLR microphone inputs which should allow you to use them with unpowered condenser microphones. I have to say I have been very unsuccessfu l with this using the Rode NT2 mic and their Broadcaster mic.

On this basis I would recommend using microphones with their own battery power source as a safer bet. I haven't had a chance to research these properly, however, Sony used to have a good mini-jack input one with battery power apparently used by the BBC. This would be very useful with the new Marantz digital recorders I have just ordered. Which I am providing links to below. I have also spotted some useful looking gaming headsets from Sennheiser which look just the job and the students might have fun using those and Audacity. 


The Marantz PMD 620 Stereo Recorder


Marantz PMD 620


According to one online retailer: The main features of the Marantz PMD 620 include (I suspect that nobody has invented a 2 terrabyte SD card yet but dream on):

  • Powerful and feature-laden Portable Audio Recorder that accepts up to 2 TB (my emphasis)SD Flash memory cards
  • Records WAV audio in 44.1/48KHz at 16 or 24 bit resolutions
  • Records direct to MP3 at three different quality levels
  • Includes 2 internal condenser mics, a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) external mic input, and a 3.5mm (1/8 inch) line input
  • First Marantz recorder to use SD flash memory with support for cards up to 2 TB
  • One-touch record engagement with red highlight illumination
  • OLED display for low power consumption
  • Powered by 2 AA batteries
  • Configurable screen with 2 font sizes
  • Do basic non-destructive copy and paste style editing directly on the device
  • Transfer audio to your PC via USB 2.0
  • "Skip back" feature lets transcribers review audio recorded from 1 to 60 seconds previously
  • Level and Peak LEDs
  • Display can be set to show time remaining, elapsed time, or other important numbers


Transom.org do a thorough review:


I have recently discovered this very useful site whilst trawling for reviews of the Marantz PMD 620.

This is the Transom Home page .

Marantz 620 in the hand


Here is an image from the Transom Marantz review.  As always there are pros and cons, nevertheless I have gone for some. This review does make some useful things clear about microphones which may apply to the PMD 660 mentioned in the introduction. This review is a very thorough one and you are urged to read it if you are in the market for a digital handheld recorder.


An excellent feature of this review is that there are downloadable tests with some external microphones. The Marantz according to this review has the lowest level of background hiss Transom have tested for in the small handheld recorder range.  


Getting One For Xmas?


Getting this Marantz for Xmas is a tempting prospect. The advantage of it being a recorder with a headphone output means that there is a playback facility as well. With 1 GB SD cards now being very cheap it would be easy to take a few loaded with music around with you in MP3 or even Wav format. This beats even the iPod! 


Tripod mounting

Something which might come in useful is the ability to mount it to a tripod which could be useful in certain circumstances as the Transom review points out :

The 620 ships with a cradle with two connectors on the back: a belt clip and a standard photo tripod socket that allows the recorder to be mounted in a stable position. It's plastic and flimsy-feeling, but effective, and allows access to all important controls.


Marantz PMD 620 on Tripod



Audacity


I see that it's time to upgrade my version of Audacity  the free audio editing open source software. This software is an excellent package to start editing with and will fit especially well to the educational environment where low budgets are the norm. Students can also get a hands on feel for editing which combined with a USB headset - which many gamers will have anyway - can get you on the road to making your own content. There are versions available for Linux and Mac as well. Audacity screenshot of envelope tool


Find Audacity here 



Headsets


The last time I looked at headsets was several months ago when I ordered myself the USB Beyer MMX1. Since then I have noticed some models from Sennheiser which look as though they are more flexible. They have the facility to be used as a USB and with their own built in soundcard can be used with any computer even those without a sound card. The other thing is that they have an adapter so can be used with line input soundcards. I haven't tested them yet but in an educational environment where one might be swapping rooms and have an institution full of machines with different specifications this could be a powerful advantage.  


Sennheiser pc155 USB Stereo Headset Mac User Review from 2004 giving it a 5* review. This  appears to still be available one outlet had it for £61-95.

Below is a Sennheiser P166 Headset. The USB connection can clearly be seen. This can be disconnected and the headset can be plugged into normal souncards. With upmarket soundcards there may be better quality sound. 

Sennheiser pc 166 Headset


Below you can see how neatly the cable is dealt with:


Sennheiser pc 166 close up of cable arrangement


Apparently these headphones can be found for £60 - £90 so look hard before you buy. Trusted reviews is positive at prices below £70 in terms of value for money. Techgage too was also generally positive recommending the use of a good soundcard for better quality. 


Behind the Neck Multimedia Headsets 


Some users may prefer to wear their phones / mic combination behind the neck rather thanover the head. In which case the Sennheiser pc 145 multimedia set is a possible choice. For Mac users there is a version specifically designed for Mac.


Sennheiser PC 145 Behind neck set


Rapid technological developments


It can quickly be seen that the market place for equipment to create user generated content is rapidly improving all the time. Thye euipment is also becoming easier to use and cheaper. This is helping to fuel the revolution which is turning the media world if not upside down then putting the media moguls on the back foot.


We certainly are living in the midst of a mass media revolution  in which the 'mass' part has changed from being relatively inactive consumers to active producers of content which can often challenge or very effectively complement the professional organisations. This is genuine competition for the media companies and they are being forced to adapt!


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