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December 20, 2006
Update on Equipment and Links to Training Videos
The use of podcasting / audio equipment for educational and other communication purposes looks set to grow as the technical barriers are overcome with simpler more effective, less fiddly products.
Below I round up a couple of the latest products on the market which can link straight into your computer with a USB connection without the need for much equipment. You will need some sort of microphone stand for a stand alone mike and of course some shielded cable to reduce potential interference.
As the equipment gets simpler more people are likely to start doing thier own audio recording. Most of us just want to get going rather than turn into equipment junkies circumnavigating large amounts of technical information.
The Rode Podcaster site below is also offering a service of publishing your podcasts on the web if you are one of their clients.
The growth of USB connected podcasting equipment
For very basic equipment to get started, what seems to be a very popular product is the Beyerdynamic MMX-1 headset. By ‘headset’ I mean integrated headphones with a microphone. I have just ordered one of these (Xmas 2006) and there seems to be a wait. I need a headset to complete a course I’m taking on ‘innovations in educational technology’.
The fact that I need them for a course is indicative of the way things are going. I will now be asking my students to consider making podcasts. These may be discussions about particular directors or reviews of films.
I’ve owned a set of hi-fi Beyer headphones in the past and I loved the quality. They were over £40-00 at the end of the 1970s (a lot then). The MMX-1s are ordered via the internet – with packaging about £65-00. RRP in shops is a lot more. Loigitech make cheaper ones but inevitably quality will be compromised. ‘Good value’ isn’t always the cheapest!
I’m certainly expecting pretty decent quality although the microphone isn’t going to be great at this kind of price. What makes this particular headset very special is the fact that it has a
USB connection. This means that it can plug straight into the USB ports on my computer.
Something that will be interesting to experiment with is linking three or 4 of these to a computer via a powered USB Hub. In theory at least it should be possible to hold a conversation, interview or record a play very cheaply. Whilst the sound quality is unlikely to be great it is a good way of starting to familiarise yourself with the technology. clearly there would need to be plenty of post production editing but for educational purposes this new type of equipment maximises what individual or mainstream institutions will already have.
Rode is an Australian electronics firm with a good range of microphones and a good reputation. Making a move from the headset to a proper microphone plus a set of headphones which eliminate outside sound is the next big step.
Rode have just introduced a microphone aimed specifically at podcasters. In the UK it appears to be retailing at around £150 on the internet. This is another piece of equipment which has a USB connection straight into your computer. This avoids having microphone preamps and things like that. Another advantage is that it has an high quality (XLR) socket on the side of the microphone body to which you can attach your headphones.
As you can see from the images above you can get going with a very straightforward set of equipment. Listening to the Rode broadcast on their marketing site with a professional broadcaster using the microphone shows that this mike delivers very good quality sound. (Listened to on my computer through a set of Sennheiser £30-00 headphones for iPods).
As an aside one shouldn’t get too hung up about superlative quality. The whole point of iPods is that they are listened to in mobile situations quite frequently and the MP3 file format is a compressed sound so is by its very nature of limited quality. A good voice microphone should nevertheless impart a warm natural quality to the voice. Institutions such as the BBC Radio 3 renowned for their quality will be using very expensive Neumann microphones for example, but aiming for the highest possible sound quality isn’t the point here. It should be natural, comfortable to listen to, and distortion free otherwise people won’t bother listening.
A quick scan of the blogs on podcasting it isn’t registering much yet however it looks set to become very popular.
Here is a link to the Rode posdcaster marketing. There is a well known Australian broadcaster giving some sound advice (gerrit) on how to use microphones effectively. This is well worth watching and listening to even if you decide not to go for this product.
Choosing microphones requires a little time to think about what sort of applications you want it for. It you are going to want to recors a range of different activities in a wide rangfe internal an external conditions you will probably end up with a collection of them.
Here is a link to Sound on Sound Magazine guide to microphones.
Here is link to the Audio Technica guide to microphones which gives you some useful ideas.
Here is a link to a microphone terms glossary from MixGuides keep it open when you are browsing through products with lots of teccie terms.