The Gold Standard Podcasting Interview Set-up: Full How-To
In the introduction to this series, I talked about the benefits of having a top-class mobile set-up, either for podcasting interviews, or for co-hosting. If you have the budget for it, you really wont spending it on a kit that lets you record great quality audio, any place, any time.
The best thing is, this set-up makes it easy, and cuts a lot of post-production. If the source audio is good quality, then there's less for you to do in post. All of this together means less barriers to recording, and more consistent output. People are always going on about how to grow their audience. Well, this is it: put out good quality material on a consistent schedule. There might be more you can add, but that's the core. Do that, and your audience will grow.
So, what's the set-up? We've already covered the digital recorder: either the Zoom H5 or the H6. We've already covered the microphone: either the SM58 or the ATR2100/Samson Q2u. Now, we just need the parts to connect it together, and the components that let us set them up. Let's have a look.
First off, we need good quality cabling to connect your mics to the recorder. This is important: it's worth spending money on cabling.
Think of it this way, you've just spent £500/$700 on top quality components – what do you think happens if you then send that crisp, pristine audio signal down a cheap, trashy cable? Crappy sound from your quality components, I'm afraid. So, stump up 20+ quid for a good cable. It's worth it.
What we need to be able to connect the microphone to the digital recorder is a XLR Male to Female cable. This is the 3-pin style of cable that you might have seen connected up to a mixer, or in a pro audio set-up at a music venue.
You'll need two cables in total, one for each microphone. And as an aside, you'll get an XLR cable in the package along with the Samson Q2U. If that's your preferred mic, you can try that before investing in better cables later.
While you could live without decent headphones, I wouldn't recommend it. To create great quality audio, you need to hear what you're recording. To do that, you need accurate monitors. In this case, monitors mean headphones that are designed to give you a faithful reproduction of the sound coming into your recorder.
This might sound a little weird, until you realise that normal headphones do all sorts of things to your audio in order to make it sound better. The most common is a small amount of bass boost – everyone needs more bass after all, huh? Listening to your voice through standard music headphones will often give you a false image of how bassy your recording is. That might encourage you to step back from the mic a little, or speak a little differently.
Monitor headphones aren't very expensive so it's well worth the investment. For the real gold standard, you can invest a little more to get absolutely brilliant noise reduction, and perfect reproduction.
For the former option, you actually get a good enough pair of monitors along with the Samson Q2U package. For the latter, gold standard monitor headphones come in the form of the Beyerdynamic DT770 PROs. This set of headphones really isolate the sound within and give you a great representation of your audio.
If you want to provide monitoring to both people in the conversation, then you'll need a headphone splitter.
If you're co-hosting regularly, then this is a good idea. It allows both hosts to hear the conversation, via the recorder, and check that their mic technique is good. With interviews this is less important. An interviewee generally wont be experienced enough to monitor their technique in any case. Saying that, it's not a hard thing to teach, so if your budget allows, it can be worth the investment.
You can quite easily record an interview without microphone stands. The SM58s are hardy things, designed to be hand held, so they deal ok with being fingered, swung around and generally manhandled. Similar, to a lesser degree, with the Samson Q2U. You hold one mic in your right hand, the recorder in the left, and your interviewee holds the other mic however they like – that makes for perfectly good interview. It also makes for a really mobile set-up with minimal components. You can take this anywhere, ready for recording at any time.
Microphone stands improve things for a couple of reasons, however. First, they improve sound quality a little through the lack of hand-holding. As good as the SM58s are, they'll still pick up a little bit of vibration, rubbing and other handling noises.
Secondly, they allow you to keep your mic technique really consistent. When the microphone is held always in the same place, you can make sure you're equally in the same position relative to it. While this is possible, to a degree, when holding the mic, a little movement is very common.
The choice here, then, is mobility. If you'll be recording in the same place each week, then get microphone stands. If you'll be recording out-and-about, a different place each time, then don't.
If you go for it, there's not too between the basic floor-stands. Something like this will do perfectly.
Remember, if you don't get one with your microphone (you do with the Samson Q2U, for example) you'll need a microphone clip to attach your microphone to the stand.
We could add a few more things to the set-up, like pop filters or windscreens, but that's just starting to complicate things. A windscreen could be a good idea if you're going mobile to reduce wind noise or big pops, but you can do perfectly well without it. So, really, that's everything you need!
This minimal set-up – the SM58, the Zoom H5, a pair of XLR cables and a set of DT770 headphones – is as good a set-up as anything the BBC will use out on location. If you have the budget, you wont regret it!
What Do You Use to Record In the Field?
That's a question for you – I'd love to know. Drop a comment in below to let me know what you use for mobile recording.
Have a look the final article in the series – our essential podcasters shopping list!