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What’s the Best Setup for Face to Face Interviews? Podcraft S7E05

There are lots of great options out there for recording in-person interviews. Mentioned on this episode Podcraft Academy – our membership community Zoom H5 – digital recorder Zoom H1 – digital recorder ATR3350 – lav mic Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – preamp Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 – preamp SM58 – dynamic mic MXL990 – condenser mic Samson

What’s the Best Setup for Face to Face Interviews? Podcraft S7E05

There are lots of great options out there for recording in-person interviews.

Mentioned on this episode


Matthew: So this question came in from Uzma and she was asking about face to face, I don’t know if you use it, it’s a question we get asked a lot actually so it’s definitely worth talking about. First thing to consider here Colin is really are you going to be doing your face to face interviews in a permanent or semi permanent studio or home environment?

Colin: Yeah

Matthew: Or are you thinking about going out and getting interviews just as and when. So whether that’s in a car, at an event, in a café or a pub. So you’re probably looking at two kind of different setups here aren’t you?

Colin: Yeah, definitely aye. I mean if you have the luxury of having a regular place to record then it’s great because you can setup your room stands and you can have it all arranged perfectly so you can just turn up and press the record button can’t you. I think the consideration there is that you can go a bit more complex obviously when you’ve got a permanent setup where as you’re kind of looking for something that’s really easy and quick to setup if you’re out at a pub or an event space or something like that all the time.

But then again, when you’re out and about there’s two different methods to it isn’t there. You might want to setup for a few hours and you actually still want the stands and things or I mean you just have a simple digital recorder and you’re just actually pointing it from person to person.

So where do you want to start? Shall we start maybe from out and about?

Matthew: Yeah, so out and about… I mean my own podcast, the audio drama production podcast, for the last year or so myself and my co-host Robert, we’ve always got together and recorded in the car because it suited us. Meeting in a car park at a half way point.

Colin: Surprisingly sound proofed environment as well…

Matthew: Yeah, cars a good wee studio, apart from when there’s grass cutting going on outside.

Colin: You could just drive though, a movable studio.

Matthew: Yeah exactly yeah. So initially we were using the old Zoom H2 and I had a screw in handle for that and I was basically sitting in the passenger seat, the driver seat and I’m just passing this mic back and forward like a television reporter. So obvious cons from that were I got a bit of a sore wrist from sitting in a car with a guy for a couple of hours

Colin: [laughter] yeah you didn’t tell your wife that.

Matthew: Again, you’ve got the mono track as well so you are both on if you record. You’re both on the same channel basically. We wanted a better setup so we went down the route of… we got the Zoom H5 and a couple of lav mics that we tend to talk about quite a lot here at the podcast host. The ATR3350’s, we’ve got a review of them on the site as well, put a link to them in the show notes. So we were able to get a couple of 3.5mm to quarter inch adapters, plugged them into the zoom H5, got audio on both channels and immediately it became a much better conversation because I didn’t have to worry about the audio because it was all feeding into the recorder. We could sit back, we could move around a bit more and it just really improved our setup and it’s a good sound quality too.

Colin: Yeah I mean that’s a really good setup isn’t it. The H5 is a bit of an expensive piece of kit but it’s so versatile isn’t it? You can use it in so many different places. I mean we’ve got it sitting in front of us here, we’ve got an H5 right in front of us which is recording this session. So it’s not just for out and about, you can use it for studio recording too but yeah the lav mics are just great because you forget they’re there don’t you. You want a much more natural conversation and especially if your talking about interviewing people who aren’t particularly used to speaking on mic.

So somebody in your industry, they’re not used to being interviewed, they’re not used to being on media then you put a mike in front of them, even if it’s an H2 on a handle and they can totally freeze up or be really formal. They feel like they have to speak all like lawyer speak and sort of use big words and make themselves look impressive where as a lav mic, you stick it on their shirt and they just forget it’s there and it becomes much more natural throughout the conversation. So yeah it just leads to better content I think. Better conversations.

Matthew: Yeah and you don’t have to do as much of the coaching about the mike technique. Repeatedly telling them you know “you better come closer a bit” or “stop looking away when your answering a question…” all that goes out the window. Like you say it’s just so much easier.

So that setup, the ATR3350 will have mics running into the H5 but most recorders will accommodate that.

Colin: Aye, we talk about the Zoom recorders more than anything else, just because we like them, they’re good and the Zoom H1 is their basic one for about £60 isn’t it? We’ve done lav mic interviews with that using a splitter. So using something which lets you plug a few different mics into the one input. We’ve got a lot of these setups shown in our community actually and fanfission. So if you over to then you can get full instructions on a lot of these setups over there but there’s lots of different ways to do it from a cheap ‘bodgy’ way… so with the H1 you only get it in one channel obviously like you were talking about don’t you? You don’t get to split it out…

Matthew: Yeah the sounds not quite as good…

Colin: But with an H5 you can have a lav mic in each channel. You can separate people out. You can work on them much more. You’re a lot more flexible in how you work with that audio track.

Just quickly, the other option there is actually a similar one. H5 with two hand held mikes. The down side, maybe one of the cons of the lav mikes is that if you’re in a more noisy environment, they are relatively omni-directional kind of. I know maybe technically they’re not but they do pick up a lot of background noise. So if you’re in a noisy environment it can not produce the greatest sound. So if you’re at a conference for example, maybe you want an H5 with two dynamic mics, like an SM58 which are really good at cutting out the background noise. You can get them to hold the SM58 right up to their mouth. You do the same and suddenly you have really good interview quality but with a little bit of the background buzz but not too much and you can do that with an H5 as well because you can plug the pro version XLR mikes into that.

Matthew: Yeah, you’ve got a trade off there. Like you say your lav mikes are always omni-directional, they’re going to pick up the environment. When you plug a dynamic directional mic in… the issue with dynamic mics going into these recorders tends to be that your noise floor immediately raises. I think its because of the pre-amps so again your priority is going to be to capture the vocals so that’s the better option in my opinion there than getting a lower noise floor but your background noise is so loud that you can’t actually here what somebodies saying.

You’re sometimes going to have to make these decisions aren’t you, when you’re not recording in an actual recording studio

Colin: Yeah, what about in the studio then? So I think they are the two that we would recommend for out and about isn’t it. You’ve either got your lav mics or if you really want to you can use some hand held mikes or the basic, just a digital recorder back and forth or one microphone between 2 people as well.

So what about if you are in the studio like we are just now. If you’re watching the video then you can see that we’ve got two mics in front of us, boom stands all set up, the mixer in front of us. This is a full studio setup. So do you want to talk us through this?

Matthew: Yeah, well in the studio here we’re running through the Yamaha MG10 mixer. So we’ve got our mikes plugged into that and the audio is coming out of the mixer into the Zoom point 5. This is the sort of setup that… we have it setup all the time. We can come in here and just switch everything on and we’re ready to go but if your studio is maybe your kitchen table or a table in your bedroom or something like that, that also has different purposes. Colin I think your old recording studio, was it not your son’s bedroom as well back in the day?

Colin: Yeah, you cannot leave the mikes setup in there…

Matthew: Most people don’t have the luxury of a permanent setup. One of the best bits of kit in my opinion and I’ve had one of these for a couple of years now, is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It’s not actually a mixer, it’s a little pre-amp but it’s got two XLR inputs, again I’ll put a link to this in the show notes. To be honest, I didn’t get this for podcast recording, I got it for audio drama recording because when we were getting together recording our dramas I wanted to have two actors being able to act together at the same time and record the audio straight into the computer and with this it gives you that capability. I was able to record two actors on two different channels. It’s a USB device so it plugs directly into your computer. These are famous for they’re well priced and their sound quality is a lot better I’ve heard than your standard mixer of the same price.

Obviously with a mixer your going to get a bit more flexibility if you also want to do things like mix minus and things like that, you know recording online. But if your always just recording on person, the sound quality on this if your a bit of an audiophile, they are a bit better than mixers which are priced at the same level.

Colin: Aye, I mean saying that I mean the MG10 I found, this is one of the only mixers I’ve found in the under £200 range that actually gives a similar kind of quality. The noise floor in this is brilliant I find. But then it’s not USB so it does add a bit of complications, it’s maybe a less quality. It depends on your sound card in your computer when you’re bringing in the sound into it. There’s all sorts of different factors but yeah the focus rite is a great simple solution I think for a couple of mikes and in fact for even more than that isn’t it because they’ve got their bigger versions.

Matthew: Yeah, so you get the 18i8, again we’ve got a review of this on the site so that’s if you want to bring in 4 people. It’s got the capability to plug in some more mikes as well so you can get these USB devices that have 8 or possibly more channels and if you’ve got something like Reaper or Adobe Audition, you can sit and record all these into their own independent channels.

What about in terms of microphones because what I’ve tended to use with the Scarlet 2i2 is the SM58’s which are famously indestructible mikes, very versatile and you get a really good sound quality with them. Again you’ve got that issue of, they are dynamic and you do get that wee bit more noise floor underneath so recently I went and bought a couple of condenser mikes. The AKG C214’s I think they’re called…

Colin: Cannot remember the codes…

Matthew: Yeah because the names of mikes always roll off the tongue don’t they, just numbers and letters but these mikes are really high end. Again, it’s audio drama production I’m looking at here and I’ve found that they’re exceptional in the studio but when I’m in my house, even though I’ve got a nice little sound treated what I would call studio, it’s actually a cupboard, if my wife’s watching the TV like 2 rooms away with a really low volume, these will still pick them up because they’re so sensitive.

Colin: Yeah, same with any condenser mike isn’t it. They’ve just got so much more sensitivity. I’m using right now the MXL 990 and that is a condenser mike that I’ve found that actually, it’s got a good balance between giving you a bit more richness than a dynamic mike but not picking up a ridiculous amount of the background noise. It’s quite good value as well, I mean it’s only £80 in the UK, maybe $100 US and it’s a great mike.

So yeah that’s a good option I think if you’ve got a room at home with a bit of treatment so there’s little reverb, little background noise, all that kind of stuff, you can get a really good quality out of the MXL 990. Two of them in the studio with a Focusrite 2i2 and suddenly you’ve got pretty pro level quality.

Matthew: And of course we can’t do this episode without mentioning our old friend the Samson Q2U. One of our favourite mikes definitely. I’m recording into one now so the Q2U if you’re not familiar with it, a hand held dynamic mike, you can use it as a USB mike, you could use it as an XLR mike. It’s got the cardioid pattern so it’s going to reject a lot of the background noise around you and they’re just exceptional value. I checked yesterday, they’re set at £54 at the moment.

Colin: Including headphones and a stand as well.

Matthew: Yeah that’s right. So if you’re on a budget… what I would say to somebody generally is go with the Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 and get 2 Samsung Q2U’s. That’s a brilliant setup if you want to record at home with two people.

Colin: Yeah, you can both monitor with a wee headphone splitter. You can both stand them up with the wee stands as well so you’ve basically got a mobile studio straight away with that.

Matthew: And that is the sort of the kit if you don’t mind taking your laptop with you, that you can setup quite easily on location as well.

Colin: Simple as anything yeah definitely. Cool okay. Well I think the Samsung Q2U is a kind of budget one, maybe a digital recorder for on the go. A mixer or the Focusrite with some condenser mikes for a more studio setup. We’ve covered way too much here.

Matthew: It’s also worth mentioning the iRig stuff as well. You get a lot of good iRig stuff…

Colin: You mean for recording on a mobile phone?

Matthew: Yeah for recording on your phone. Again I was looking on Amazon at an iRig pre-amp. So you could actually plug this iRig pre-amp into your iPhone and plug in an XLR mike to that pre amp so that’s going to give you some options if you want to go down that route.

And also we’ve talked about lav mikes, smart mikes are also a very good option and it means if you’re using your phone, you don’t need as much gear on you do you.

Colin: Yeah, two road smart lavs, smart lav plus, I should say, the newer ones. And there’s a little adapter called the Rode NC6 I think and that lets you plug two smart lavs into one phone and basically have the same setup we talk about earlier doesn’t it. For as cheap as anything. That’s about £95 for the two smart lavs and the splitter so that’s actually a really good quality, quite good value setup.

Matthew: so we’ve given you loads of options there so get on Amazon or wherever you shop and start having a look at some of this gear and like I say we’ll add the links to everything we’ve mentioned. We’ve reviewed most of it so we’ll add those to the show notes as well.

Colin: So this is episode 5 isn’t it? So this will be so that’s season 7 episode 5.