Adventures in Podcasting 1: hardware

OK, let’s get the boring bit out of the way first: recording equipment. I mean, boring to me; my husband Martin seems to have endless enthusiasm for ribbon mikes and sound cards etc, judging by the magazines hidden under the bed.

To make a podcast, you need something to speak into and something to record that speech, and there are several different possible set-ups to choose from.

The very simplest and least daunting option is to record into a smartphone or tablet. It’s not the finest quality, but still surprisingly good – even proper radio stations will sometimes broadcast phone recordings. I use a cheap app called iTalk which is about as straightforward to use as an app can possibly be, and you can record into high quality formats like AIFF as well as MP3. I’ll often run iTalk on an iPad as a backup whilst using one of the more elaborate set-ups as detailed below.

The next simplest recording option is to buy a USB microphone that plugs straight into your computer. You can get decent ones from £50. If I were starting from scratch now, this is probably the option I’d go for – plus microphone stands, to leave my hands free for flamboyant gestures, of course (and minimise that scuffing noise that results from people handling microphones and their cables).

A portable recorder performs both functions of providing something into which to speak and something that records you speaking. For field recording – literally, for our podcast from Green Man, and figuratively for AMT200 – we invested in a Marantz PMD661. Although the interface and design appears not to have been updated since the 80s, the recording is broadcast-quality, and the device has two inbuilt mikes as well as two microphone inputs (which we fill with a pair of all-purpose SM58 microphones with windshields, and little table-top folding mic stands). However, this did total around £600; you can get adequate recorders from around £100, so ask around and check online reviews. It’s worth noting that inbuilt mikes can catch a lot of background noise; that if there are several people speaking on the podcast, they all need to gather closely around the recorder, and maintain similar distance and volume when speaking; and that it’s much harder to edit something if it’s a single track. Our Marantz begets two tracks, which is fine for the occasional show, but I prefer a separate track per speaker. [UPDATE: the Marantz is a total lemon. Avoid! I’ve now got a Zoom H6, which I love. I use it with an Audio Technica AT897 short shotgun mic, which I also love.]

Our set-up for Answer Me This! is totally incomprehensible to me, as it is entirely Martin’s domain. Apparently this is what we use:

  • Focusrite Sapphire Pro 40 Firewire interface
  • Rode NT1A large-diaphragm condenser microphone, for robust vocals (Olly’s)
  • Audio Technica 3035 large-diaphragm condenser microphone (mine)
  • An Audio-Technica AT4033 microphone (Martin’s)
  • a pop shield each, to foil all those nasty plosives
  • Superlux HD 662 headphones (NB always use good headphones for editing. These ones aren’t expensive, but I’ve found they make edits and flaws a lot more audible than through other pairs.)

I don’t know what any of that means, but ‘large-diaphragm’ looks insulting.

Anyway, if you’re only just starting out, you don’t need to splash out on such a complex/expensive arrangement; we just took advantage of Martin having already done so.

Whatever you decide to use, I’d suggest investing in an external hard drive. It’s best to record in a high-quality format – AIFF or WAV, which you convert to MP3 afterwards – but these files are MASSIVE. The rushes of each Answer Me This! episode amount to 2-3G, and there are more than 200 of those. Pity the poor computer that has to deal with that amount of strain without assistance.

Next up: software! Stay with me, guys.

3 Comments to “Adventures in Podcasting 1: hardware”

  1. We use a Yeti Blue USB microphone for our podcasting, it’ll do for two people sat either side of a table, and cost £100. Obviously it’ll never be as good as having separate microphones, but as a starting point, it’s not too shabby.

    Also, consider how echoic your recording area is; if you’re sat on a particularly shiny PVC wipe-clean sofa, next to a mirror, it’ll make you sound like you’re in a well! Draping towels over these things can help make it sound much better.

  2. Julian and I both recently got a set of Bowers and Wilkins headphones and OMG do we love them. They are pricey but fantastic and SO comfortable. We got these:

    and I cannot recommend them enough. Julian uses them for editing music and I use them for…uh, mainly listening to terrible pop music. But why shouldn’t my terrible pop music sound amazing, I ask you? (Except for the fact that the original songs aren’t amazing. But anyway.)

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