More on Podcasting Equipment
Ordering Podcasting Equipment
Well, post-Xmas online sales have stimulated me into taking the plunge and ordering some podcasting equipment. I should emphasise here that this is not a recommended route for all but a possible route for some. Clearly individual / departmental circumstances are contingent.
If you are going to only be an individual podcaster making your own podcast talks then one good route is getting the Rode Podcaster USB microphone which plugs straight into your computer and download Audacity as start-up software.
If you think that you might want to do something more sophisticated such as interviewing people or recording discussions then a different route is probably more suitable.
Trawling the better blogs and reviews of equipment it seems clear that the more you pay for a microphone the better the sound quality. A good microphone isn’t going to go out of date in the same way that computers and software do so the best you can afford is the accepted route. On this principle I took the plunge last night and ordered an AKG C 3000 B. This seems to be a well rated general microphone and is currently (29th December 2006) heavily discounted at Dolphin Music.
The good price decided me that I would take the path of finding an interface which allows you to plug in more than one microphone, add some other sound if you want it and give you some flexibility in what type of microphones to use at any given time. Having a USB (Universal Serial Bus) connection to the computer from this interface device means that you can record straight onto your hard drive.
Phantom Power: What it is and why you need it
I still don’t know why it is called this, and in fact going to a couple of blogs talking about this it seemed to be yet another technological hurdle. In plain English some microphones (usually the better ones) need a power source. Some will use batteries and others rely on these microphone pre-amplifiers which allows you to control the signals coming from the microphone. If you are choosing this route to a small recording system make sure that the equipment you buy can provide this phantom power to microphones. If it can’t I’d suggest forgetting it!
Most of the digital recorders such as the Marantz mentioned elsewhere in this blog allow for this although they have their own microphones built in.
The advantage of the separate interface pre-amp is that it is more flexible with other sound sources and if you buy one of the better ones it will have circuitry and components included which improve the sound quality. If you have good microphones they will get the best out of them.
Whilst this approach is portable you can’t go rushing around the streets interviewing people and it requires a more formal setting. This route depends upon what kind of recording situations you expect to be in.
Choosing the Microphone interface Unit
Having decided upon the USB route for a recording chain and plunging for a decent microphone the next problem was choosing a suitable interface / preamp. This was harder because I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for to start with. Not only have I trawled blogs, trudged through various online stores and accessed a range of reviews I even found myself in the local newsagents looking at the Sound on Sound magazines which I thought was aimed at a target audience of male freaks all wanting to be rock stars. Fortunately Smiths was empty and nobody I knew saw me. Reason for buying this for £5-00: There was a review of the very latest microphone / computer interface gizmo on the market – serendipity or what?
Certainly the Sound on Sound review was very favourable. The equipment seemed to do everything I needed and came with a good bundle of audio software (useful for those who wish to go beyond Audacity). I was close to racing off to the checkout and pressing submit, but I did a last trawl of internet reviews and comments and some of the forums which have sprung up on specific bits of equipment. One person who seemed to know what they were talking about had considerable trouble having read the same Sound on Sound review and been convinced to upgrade from a technologically less sophisticated but very relaible make.
This was enough to put me off at the last moment. I had already been considering a model in the above mentioned Dolphin sale called the Lexicon Lambda. This comes from a more up-market audio firm than Creative Sounds who make the EM-U. I had initially been put off by a very unfavourable comment which rapidly disappeared from the Dolphin website. I trawled the web and paid 99p for a couple of reviews as PDFs (I will pass these on to Robert O’Toole as I don’t know how to get a PDF into a blog, then those who are interested can take a look).
The main concern mentioned by reviewers was that this model was a bit weak on the software package. However I came close to buying it when I remembered seeing something about one of their early forays into USB interfaces coming up with a very good sound.
The Lexicon Omega
I checked out the model which was called the Omega. The Sound on Sound review
was very warm towards the model. Please note that this model dates from 2004. Originally around £330 pounds this was clearly a well specified model when it came out.
Three things you will need on these bits of equipment are:
- 2 XLR Microphone inputs with the ability to switch to ‘phantom power’
- Separate headphone controls. (The headphone on the Omega is said to be excellent). This is important for hearing what the microphones are picking up as well as for mixing sounds).
- A USB output to your computer.
Something else to consider is how you would like to power the unit. Some can be powered via the USB port on a computer whilst others are like a laptop with a separate cable and transformer. The Omega for example is powered conventionally whilst the Lambda uses USB power.
Regarding the Omega there are several references to how good the microphone pre-amps are on this model. This was finally what sold it to me. You can check the firm’s original information sheet here. Note it strongly emphasises the high qualiy of the microphone pre-amps. This is what all podcasters need. As such, it seemed to represent a bargain. I will report back later on the inevitable installation problems.
It does lots of things I will probably never need. The computer conection is only a USB 1.1. This is slow by today’s standards and presumably a low cholesterol model (Omege-3: get it?) is on the way with USB etc. If you wish to record a band this model is probably not for you!. Currently it is available on special order for about £170.00. This was well above my original budget but I was planning to spend something on a ‘lite’ edition of some software so it more or less balanced out. The Omega does have some light versions of industry software bundled and some of Lexicon’s reverberation software which can give the feel of particular rooms. Apparently the firm is very well know for this so it could be a bit of fun pretending I’m in Coventry Cathedral or wherever.
Overall there are several reasonbly priced routes into creating a podcasting recording base which can be developed if desired:
- Desktop computer / Laptop with a USB Headset. (Check out Beyer & AKG, for very cheap Logitech) + Audacity software
- Desktop / Laptop with USB Microphone + Audacity software
- Desktop / Laptop with a USB interface for 2 Mikes etc. Audacity or hopefully bundled software
- Fully Portable digital recorder + computer + Audacity software
It is best to try and work out what your needs are in advance. Certainly a minimum of quality is needed. You do need to take some trouble over this. Here is a link to the University of Warwick History Department who have gone to the trouble to do a cost / benefit analysis on audio equipment. recording.
Hopefully I can now get back to covering cinema for a bit, which is where this all started from. Hopefully there will be some podcasts in due course :-).