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In this, the last episode of Series 2: A Guide to Podcasting Equipment, I'm covering the bits and bobs of podcasting – all of the things that are too small to merit their own episode, but are just as important as those that have come before. That means audio cables, microphone stands and pop filters, along with another 1 or 2 little bits and bobs. Enjoy!
Mentioned on This Episode
I recommend spending some good money on audio cables. I'm always surprised when people spend £100s on a really good quality microphone, a brilliant mixer and a great recorder, only to skimp on their cables. This just means you're sending a great quality audio signal down a crappy line, and no doubt ruining it along the way. It essentially turns your £100+ equipment into budget stuff.
Here's an example: Planet Waves cables are top quality, but they're definitely not the cheapest in the shop. Alternatively, pop down to your local music shop and ask the guys there. They'll be able to recommend you a good cable.
There are two types of mic stands out there: the normal, free-standing style, or the fancy boom-arm type.
Free-standing stands tend to be a lot cheaper, and super reliable. They're solid as a rock, but they take up a lot of space and don't move around very easily during recording.
Boom arm stands are a little more fidgety at the lower end of the pricing scale, and tend to be a lot more expensive no matter what end of the scale you're on. They take up very little space though, because they clamp to the desk, and they're super adjustable.
I use a Neewer Boom stand myself, although I'm the first to admit it's not the highest quality thing in the world. It's lasted me 6 months so far, though, and still holds up my MXL990 just fine, so I think it's a bargain at the price! If you want to jump in at the top level, then go right to the Heil PL-2T. It'll last you for years and can hold rock-steady with a hippo attached to the mount.
A pop filter will save you from the dreaded plosive; essentially the banging noise produced in your microphone when you blow popping ps into the diaphragm. There's not too much to say about these, they're simple bits of kit and little more than a pair of tights stretched over a hoop! You'll find a pretty big range of pop filters here.
If you're recording a show with two people in the same room, and you want both to be able to monitor their audio, then you need a headphone splitter. This is essential if you're talking to a 3rd person via Skype or similar, otherwise one of the co-hosts wont be able to hear the person on Skype.
On the show, I mentioned two different types of headphone splitter. First was the very basic 3.5mm version. This is for a simple split between two hosts with no individual control over volume. Next, you have something a bit more sophisticated, and not much more expensive: the Behringer Microamp MA400. This little bargain lets you connect 4 sets of headphones, and offer complete volume control over each channel. Now each co-host can listen at whatever level they like.
What Other ‘Bits and Bobs' Do You Use?
I'd love to know the other ‘little things' that you find super-handy when podcasting. I've covered a range of big kit on this series, but there are tonnes other essential little gadgets – what do you use?
View the Transcription for the Show
Hey folks, I'm Colin Gray and welcome to another episode of Podcraft. Back again with hopefully the last in the series of the podcast equipment episodes. Now, I say hopefully because… actually, it’s not hopefully at all, it’s possibly the last in the series.
My idea of doing this series format was that you’d be able to listen to a particular series on whatever it was you were looking for right at that moment in your podcasting career. So if you’re, right now, looking to upgrade your podcasting equipment, obviously you can just look at series 2 of the Podcraft show and then you can find out all about the different types of equipment.
Now, my plan going forward is actually to possibly just expand these series as we go. So if there’s other elements of podcasting equipment that come up in future then I could actually just add another episode to the series 2 list. It might well be that these series aren’t exactly in chronological order. So I could add another episode to the end of this series: just another element of podcasting equipment, something else that’s asked, maybe even a FAQ type of thing, and add it onto the end of the series. And that means if anyone wants to go through that series in particular, there’s always the most up-to-date, best material there, even if it’s not quite in chronological order.
Now, I realise that’s not exactly the normal way to record a podcast, but I am experimenting with different ways to do podcasting. And I think that the standard, just release an episode on a different topic every week is becoming a little bit, not tired exactly, but it might be becoming a little bit out of date. I just feel sometimes that, when I'm listening to podcasts, quite often a podcast producer, no matter how good they are at their content, no matter how interested I am in their content, it’s very hard to keep track or keep up with everything that’s going on with them, just because they keep changing things every single week, different things every single week. And sometimes, actually, I want to go back and look at everything they did on a particular topic. In fact, quite often I'm finding that these days. So this is my attempt to get around that issue, actually group different topics into different series. And that means that, as a new listener, or even as an existing listener, you can always go back and find all of the episodes on a particular topic at any point in the future. But let me know what you think about that. It would be interesting to know what your thoughts are.
Obviously, you lot out there, you’re keen podcasters, possibly running podcasts yourselves: what do you think of the format, what do you think of that idea? Do you think that, a year from now, if I record a new podcast equipment episode, possibly on some new type of podcasting equipment, should I add that to this series? Is that something that makes sense, or should I add that to the latest episode on the podcast?
Also thinking about updating as well, equipment changes, so it might be that my podcasting microphone episode, for example, new microphones come out, old ones drop off the radar. If I update that episode, should I put that on the end of the series, or should I actually just update the episode back in this series itself, so actually just replace that episode? So it’s always one episode which tells people what I think are the best microphones for podcasting.
I believe I'm going to do the latter. I think I'm going to keep that episode updated; I'm going to keep the mixers episode updated, so I'm always just going to have that one episode on mixers or microphones that people can refer back to. And it’s like having an article, I guess, that you’ve written that you can always refer people to. And I think the benefits there are that people always know where to go for my most up-to-date recommendations. But, again, let me know what you think. Let me know what you think of that format, we’d love to know. If you want to leave some feedback, just pop over to podcraft.net/206.
And final comment for the introduction, this episode is sponsored by outsource-typing.com, where you can get excellent quality transcriptions for your podcast, all of which really helps with SEO, getting content onto your site and that type of good stuff.
Anyway, enough of that stuff, let’s get on with the content. This time around, like I said, we’re talking about the extras, the other little things that you buy in order to be able to run a podcast, or to be able to create your podcast in easy ways and good ways, that type of stuff. The first on the list are cables. Now, cables are probably not something you’ll think about when you’re buying a podcast. Not the most exciting bit of podcasting kit. But if you imagine that you’re spending a lot of money on a mixer, a lot of money on a microphone, a lot of money on a recorder and they buy yourselves the cheapest set of cables you can, you’ve got to imagine that’s probably not the wisest thing to do.
You’ve got really good quality audio coming out of your mic, flying into your really good quality mixer and into your excellent quality recorder, but those great quality audio signals are basically being degraded completely by your cables, if they’re rubbish quality. So you want to be spending money on good cables. Cables are possibly even the most important part of your setup – not quite, but they’re very important because they’re the ones that carry the signals between the other devices. If you’ve got a good mic, you want to have a good quality cable in there to carry that good quality audio signal straight through the audio sequence.
Now, you get good quality cables all over the place – just go to a music shop, ask for some decent quality cables. They’re not going to cost you a fortune, but you’ll definitely see, if you go along to your local audio shop or look on Amazon, there’s a big range of prices. You’ll get some XLR or quarter inch jack cables for only a few pounds at a time. But then you’ll see others that are £10-£15 for a couple of metres, and you’ll get some very expensive ones as well. You even get some people who are really into their audio that end up building their own cables. They actually just buy the cable as a length and then put on the jacks on the end themselves, so they know exactly what quality they’re getting, that the build is all right, there’s no loose connections, all that kind of stuff. So people can get really picky about their cables and that’s because of the interference, the quality degradation, the effect it can have on your audio.
So, in terms of standard cables, what can you get? You get XLR, you get quarter inch jacks. They’re the standard, professional level cables. The benefits of each, I’ve had this question a few times. Quite often, when you get a microphone, it can take an XLR cable coming out of the mic, but then it could turn into a quarter inch going into the mixer. So quite often you get the question of whether you should use XLR or a quarter inch at the other end. To be honest, the quality of each is about the same, there’s not much difference. If you’re using quarter inch cables that are balanced, which is pretty standard these days, then it’s just as resistant to interference, it’s just as good quality, making sure that you get that decent quality signal through to the other end.
XLR is always balanced. Balanced essentially means that there is a certain way that they create the cables that protects against that interference – interference coming from anything like a mobile phone close by, or electrical supply close by. There’s a way that they put them together, which has two cables which are balanced together that roots out those interferences, stops that buzz or that hum that can come in quite easily. And this is especially important if you have really long cables. So if you have a long cable going from one end of the room to another, you want to make sure they’re balanced. It used to be in the olden days that XLR was better for that because they were balancing quarter inch jacks that quite often weren’t balanced, but you get plenty of balanced quarter inch jacks these days as well, so it’s not too important that way.
The biggest difference really, normally, is that XLR caters to phantom power. So if you’re using a condenser microphone, for example, that required phantom power to make it work then only the XLR outputs on your mixer, or whatever recording device you’re using, will provide that phantom power that will make that microphone work; that cannot happen on the quarter inch jack. So that’s probably one of the biggest differences really, these days.
Essentially, for brands, I'm not going to give you certain brands of cables because there’s hundreds out there, but just make sure you’re not buying the cheapest ones. Make sure you’re spending £10-£15 for an average length cable, or even more if you can afford it. Ask around at your local music shop as well; they’ll be able to give you the best advice on what the brands are available in your country or region.
In terms of length, the only other thing to mention about cable is length. As I mentioned, longer cables tend to be susceptible to more interference, basically because the signal’s going along a longer length of wire and therefore there’s more chance for it to be messed up along the way, or it might pass some power cables or whatever in your wall. So, really, what you want to do is get the shortest possible. Before you buy your cables, think about what your set-up’s going to look like. Think about where you’re going to put your mixer on your desk, think about where your microphone’s going to be, what your stand setup is going to be and think about how long you need those microphone cables to be, because you really want as short as humanly possible. And it’s not only for the interference thing, to be honest, it’s to do with keeping your desk quite tidy. For example, I’ve got a couple of old XLR cables that I use from my mixer to my recorder and they’re just too long. I should really buy some shorter ones to use, but I just haven’t made the outlay yet, just because I have these two good quality XLR cables lying around and I just collar them up, but they still get in the way; it’s still annoying having that extra cable just lying around. So think about the length before you buy them and don’t just buy long just in case you need it.
Okay, next along the list of extras is a stand. You’re going to need a microphone stand for most professional microphones. There’s not many would come with their own stand, apart from possibly the Blue Yeti. That’s one of the benefits of the Yeti is the fact that it can stand itself up, you don’t need to carry a stand around to make it work. But most microphones, like the one I'm using right now, the MXL990, you need a good stand to actually mount it on – and possibly a shock mount as well, if you want to protect from bangs and thuds in your desk.
So, there’s a couple of ways you can do it. You can get a mic stand, which is essentially just a tripod, looks a little bit like what you would normally stick a video camera to, or a normal camera too. But, instead, on the end, it has a larger screw which will plug into a normal microphone holder. Now, they are pretty good. They’re very cheap; you can get these for £10/£15. Quite solid, quite sturdy. Once you screw them up and put some tension in the screws, they’re not going to move anywhere, so they’re pretty good for that. The only thing is that they take up a fair bit of room. You have to think about where they’re going to go. The base tends to be either a big disc, so a really big heavy disc, which will take up a good section of your desk, or, like I said, a tripod setup, so it’s got three legs. I had one of these in the early days and I did have it up on my desk, but I just got so fed up with the amount of space it took up and the fact that, actually, the side that the microphone attaches to is a decent length, of course, but it has this balancing end on the other side. So, when you swing it round to get it away from where you’re speaking, there tends to be this other bit on the other end of the microphone boom arm, which hits all sorts of things, knocking your monitor over, that type of stuff. So they’re just a little bit unwieldy. But then again, if you want to try starting on a decent budget then once of these could work very well for you.
The next level up, and what I use these days and what you’ll probably see most podcasters on the internet using, or most of the prolific ones anyway, is a boom arm. A boom arm is the type of stand that has generally an articulated arm with lots of springs in it. So you actually tend to clamp it to the side of the desk and then that arm can then move around, it can twist side to side, but it can also extend up and down and you can generally just move it around as much as you like into the right position. And it takes up a lot less room because it clamps to the side of your desk, as opposed to sitting on your desk on a stand. So that’s the main benefit: it takes up a lot less room. There’s also the flexibility because, I'm sitting at my desk right now, I’ve got my boom stand in front of me, I can move my head side to side, I can take my boom stand with me – I'm moving currently. Up and down, up and down – you can’t really hear the difference because my boom stand’s nice and smooth, it’s on a shock mount and it gives you that flexibility to move around a little bit more.
The boom stands cost a fair bit more. I’ve got a Neewer boom stand. Neewer as in the brand, as opposed to a more new one! They are decent quality – not the most sturdy things in the world but, to be honest, I’ve had mine for about six months now and it’s still served me well. It still hold up my mic. It’s well strong enough to hold up an MXL990, which is a pretty sturdy mic, so I would imagine it would hold up pretty much any mic in the business. But I got this for a reasonable price – I think it was around £20-£30. You can see the review I have put on the website, on thepodcasthost.com about this stand and you can have a look at it if you like. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes so that you can have a look at it. But I do like this one. You do get sturdier ones, though. There’s a lot of people that swear by the Heil boom stands; they’re really sturdy, professional bits of kit, but they can cost upwards of £100 or so, so they’re not exactly a small investment.
Now, the last thing on that, which I’ve mentioned a couple of times now, is your shock mount. So a shock mount is essentially a mount for your microphone that suspends your microphone in a suspended holder. The one in front of me right now is essentially a ring that holds my MXL990 and that’s attached to an outer ring by elastic bands. So if I hit the boom stand, or if I hit the desk, for example, it doesn’t reverberate all the way up through the stand arm and into the microphone. It actually suspends it a little bit and protects it from shocks; hence the name, shock mount.
So shock mounts can come with microphones sometimes. For example, my MXL990 came with a shock mount that fits it perfectly, but you can buy decent shock mounts as well for not that much – £10-£20. Make sure you get one that fits your microphone. You do get lots of different sizes, so it’s easy to buy a shock mount that might not quite fit your microphone. For the cost of the shock mounts, though, I think it’s well worth investing in them because they do make a difference. It’s quite easy to hit your desk by accident, place something down and it can reverberate right up into your microphone, so it does make quite a difference to the quality of your recordings.
Okay, onto the next thing, and quite related to stands and shock mounts is your pop filter. A pop filter is something that goes between your mouth and the microphone itself to cut out plosives and a little bit of sibilance, that kind of thing – mainly plosives, to be honest for a pop filter. That’s why it’s called a pop filter. I’ll maybe try and demonstrate: if we go, Peter Piper picked a peck of pickle peppers – anything with lots of ps in it, that creates pops. And a pop filter will protect your microphone from those pops. Essentially, it’s you expelling air from your mouth and that air can bang into the microphone, I guess. It hits the microphone diaphragm and creates that big bang that’s much louder than a p would be otherwise. So a pop filter holds up that airflow. It lets the vibrations of the sound through, so that your microphone can record the sound, but it stops the air creating a big bang in the microphone itself.
Now, the simplest this can be is, some people use just a windscreen; that’s the type of a little foam thing that goes over the top of your microphone, so it’s like a foam protection that goes around your microphone. And you’ll have seen these on many different microphones on the TV or elsewhere. And, actually, that’s what I use these days. I tend to just use decent mic technique to not speak straight into my microphone. I speak at a little bit of an angle off my microphone, so that I'm not popping straight into it and that, along with my windscreen, actually makes a decent difference and cuts out the pops as much as I need. But if you want to be able to speak straight into your microphone, you probably need a better or more effective pop filter. And the standard configuration is that you’ll get just a hoop, a ring, with some material that’s a little bit like a set of ladies’ tights suspended between it, maybe a couple of layers of that. And you just speak through those layers of material and then into your microphone. And what normally happens is that ring is on an extensible arm and that arm screws onto the arm of your microphone stand.
One of the reasons, actually, that I don’t use a traditional pop filter is that my Neewer boom stand doesn’t quite hold the weight of my original pop filter. So pop filters can come in lots of different configurations, but the one I had originally was a little bit heavy and actually weighed down my boom stand. So I just put on a windscreen, started speaking a little bit differently into my microphone and I realised that I could get a better boom stand and a proper pop filter. But, to be honest, this works just fine for me and it could work just fine for you as well. But those pop filters do exist and if you do find yourself having trouble with pops, and it does depend a little bit on how you speak, your mic technique, then it might be that you want to do that and make sure you get a boom stand that can hold a pop filter as well as your microphone.
Saying that, you do get many pop filters that are nice and light, much smaller. For example, the Heil PR-40, the podcasters dream microphone that a lot of people talk about, because it’s End-Address, you can fit a different type of pop filter to that which is a lot lighter, a lot easier to fit and you can speak straight into the end of the microphone. So there are different options. And I’ve even seen some people making their own pop filter. If you just get a coat-hanger, suspend an actual pair of ladies’ tights around it then you can speak through that into your microphone.
Okay, the last bit of equipment I want to cover quickly is that of headphone splitting. This is a question I’ve been asked a couple of times recently, so I just thought I’d include it, and that is how you can record with two people in the room so that both can monitor their own voices. The way you do this is you have to plug two headphones into your recorder, or into your output, into your mixer, whatever it is you use to monitor your audio. You can use this using a total basic headphone splitter, so you know the kind of thing, it’s just a little 3.5m jack, you might have to convert that to a quarter millimetre to put that into your mixer or recorder, but it will output on the other end as two… well, it will split that into two outputs, so you can plug two sets of headphones in. you can get one of these for £2 or £3 on Amazon. And I’ll link to that in the show notes as well, so pop over to podcraft.net/206 to have a look at that if you like.
The more sophisticated, more controlled method is if you actually have a proper headphone microamp. One of these that works really well and is pretty cost-effective is the Behringer HA400 microamp. Just a little device that just sits on your desk. It’s got four outputs. You put the input into the device, so you go out of the headphone output from either your mixer or recorder into the Behringer device and then, out of that, you can get four different headsets. So you can output four different headphones and, actually, there’s a volume control for each one individually. So people can set their own levels, depending on how they prefer to listen to things. So that’s quite handy, just in the fact that some people like to listen loud, some people like to listen more quietly. It can be good to have that control. And the device only costs about £15-£20 so, actually, it’s pretty cost-effective. So that’s quite good, nice little device and it works very well if you have more than one person in the room. Say you’re recording with two co-hosts, or a co-host in the studio and one on Skype, that type of thing, you want to be able to both monitor the Skype output.
Okay, so that’s basically all I wanted to cover in the extras. So that was cables, stands, pop filters and headphone splitters. If you have any questions about them, pop them onto the comments at podcraft.net/206. Please do pop them in there and let me know what you use, or what you would like to use. Also let me know if I’ve missed out any other extras. If there’s any other little things that should have been included in this episode, pop them in there and we’ll add them to the show notes and hopefully help anyone out who’s looking for all the little bits that make up your audio chain that I haven’t covered so far.
That’s essentially the end – for the moment – of the podcast equipment series. I hope I’ve covered the bulk of podcast equipment. I’ve covered everything that most people need to need. As I said at the start, I might well add some more episodes to this as we go, so if you’re listening to this in the future, there might well be an episode or two after this – have a look and see, if I get plenty of questions. Otherwise, I hope I’ve answered all of your podcasting equipment questions. In the meantime, we’ll wait for the next series, which will be coming up very soon. I'm not going to have much of a pause between this and the next series. The next series is going to be on presentation skills and speaking skills. So it’s all about how to deliver your content, it’s all about how you can get better at actually planning episodes, delivering episodes, how to speak, how to interview, all that kind of stuff. So it’s more about, rather than the equipment, which has been this time around, next time around it’s more about how you deliver your content. I'm hoping that’s going to be really interesting and help you upgrade your podcasting skills somewhat.
If you’ve enjoyed this series, I’d really appreciate it if you could give me a review on iTunes. It’s a way that we can really get the show out to more people, hopefully help more podcasters get more people into this wonderful thing that we call podcasting. If you just pop onto iTunes. Presumably, if you’re listening to this, you’ll be subscribed. Just go onto iTunes, look through your subscriptions and find Podcraft and then just click the reviews button. If you’re listening on anything else, for example Stitcher, then you can review the show on there as well. If you could take the time to go and give me a review, I would really appreciate it, it always helps out loads. And I hope to hear from you on the comments on the show. Get over to podcraft.net/206 and let me know what you think.
In this episode we're looking at Audio production software, commonly know as a Digital Audio Workstation in the audio production industry. We'll look at the most common options out there to give you an idea of which one might suit you.
A digital audio workstation is simply an audio editing package that lets you cut out mistakes, splice together different clips and add in music or sound effects. It also allows you to process your audio with a range of different effects, all of which can make your Podcast sound much better. Listen to the episode here to find out more:
Resources Mentioned on this Podcast
Audacity is a free open source digital audio editor and recording computer software application, available for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and other operating systems. Audacity, even though it's free, has a huge range of effects built in, such as compression, noise reduction, equalization, fade outs, amplifiers and a lot more.
GarageBand is Apple's standard DAW, designed for hobby podcasting and music creation. Garageband is free and has some really nice templates for podcasters, so it can give you an idea of how to setup a podcasting project within it.
This powerful sound editing app is designed to accelerate audio and video production workflows and deliver the highest standards for audio quality. It is probably the most popular, most accessible and most commonly used paid digital audio work station in podcasting.
There is a few different meet-ups going around the country and we’re going to hold one up here in Dundee, Scotland at the end of October. If you want to find out more about podcasting meet-ups associated with the UK Podcasters group, please visit the link above.
Check out my youtube channel if you’re looking for a range of Audacity tutorials.
People Mentioned on this Podcast
Outsource-Typing provides top-quality support and is a reliable, affordable back-up plan during busy times, sickness/holidays, or simply when you want an experienced assistant to complete your typing, transcription and admin tasks. Fiona Frame provides transcription for this podcast.
Mike runs Audio Production Masters, a website that provides a whole ton of video tutorials, particularly on Adobe Audition.
Let Me Know What You Think!
Please drop me a comment below to let me know what you think and to ask any further questions about Audio Editing Softwares. If you are using one of the Digital Audio Workstation that I mentioned, let me know which one you use to edit your podcast and why you like it. Tell me what you do on your podcast, I’d love to hear about it.
Finally, if you could leave me a review on iTunes I’d be so grateful – it really helps to get my podcast out there to more people.
Thanks again for listening and I’ll see you on the next episode!
The image used in this podcast is by PaulSh.
My name’s Colin Gray and this is Podcraft, where we’re honing the art of podcasting. Today, we’re talking about digital audio workstations; this is what you use to edit your audio podcast. Let’s see what’s available.
Welcome to another episode of Podcraft. Thanks for joining me again, as usual. This time we’re going to talk about software, so we’re getting into the technicalities of editing your podcast. This is the packages you can use to actually record your audio directly, to edit it, do post production, that type of stuff, everything you need to do to clean up your audio and get it ready to be put out into the outside world so that your listeners can actually listen to it.
I'm not going to go through every single digital audio workstation out there, we’re just going to go through the ones that are most commonly used by podcasters, including a couple of free options and maybe one paid one. But we’ll cover everything, pros and cons, between them all so you can get a good chance to see which one you think might suit you. So we’ll get onto that in just a minute.
Just before that, a couple of introductions. As usual, we’re supported here on Podcraft by Fiona Frame with transcription. So you can find Fiona’s services over at outsource-typing.com. She provides the transcriptions for this podcast and if you’re looking for a similar type of thing for your podcast, by all means check her out at that web address I’ve just mentioned.
Next of all, I just wanted to mention before getting into the content, National Podcasting Day. So I'm not sure if you’ve heard about this. But if you’re listening to this podcast, no doubt you are a podcast producer, or you’re at least interested in the world of podcasting. Therefore, National Podcasting Day should be on your radar. Really, the idea of National Podcasting Day is to get the idea of podcasting out to more people. As you probably know, even if you’re producing podcasts, you know a lot about podcasting, but it’s still a pretty niche topic. There’s still plenty of people out there that don’t really know what a podcast is. And, really, obviously, we think they’re missing out on a lot! So the idea is to get the concept out to more people, to get more people listening to podcasts in general. And also to get more people making podcasts; to get people interested in the fact they can do it themselves. So National Podcasting Day aims to do all of that.
There’s a couple of things I'm doing around this. I'm going to put the Podcasting Day logos on the website, so you can see it there, advertising just the fact it exists. I'm also organising a podcasting meet-up at the moment. It’s associated with the UK Podcasters Group, so UK Podcasters on Facebook. And there’s a few different meet-ups going on around the country and we’re going to hold one up here in Scotland, particularly in Dundee. It’s going to be in Dundee at the end of October and if you want to find out a bit more about that, then you can go to www.meetup.com/ukpodcasters and you’ll see all of the national meet-ups around the country. Obviously, I’d love you to come along to the Dundee one, that’s the one I'm organising, but there’s plenty around the country if this isn’t close enough for you. Obviously, I realise we are way up in the north, but if you are a Scottish podcaster, or at least close enough to make it, it would be great to see you there. Drop us a line in the comments on the episode here, which you can find at thepodcasthost.com/podcraft/205 and you can let us know if you’re going to come along. But it would be great to see you there at the event. So that’s one of the things I'm going for National Podcasting Day.
The other thing is what everyone can do, and something I'm contributing to, is post a picture of your studio. It’s one of the things they’re asking for us to do, just to get the word of podcasting out there. So take a picture of your studio, take a picture of what it is you use to record your podcast and post it out on Facebook or Twitter, whatever you use, with the hashtag: Podcast Day, and we can all have a look at the kit that we use. If you’re into podcasting, tends to be you’re a little bit of a, well, most of you will be a kit geek like me so it’s good to see what kind of other stuff, what equipment people are recording on. So, by all means, take a photo of what you’re using, Tweet it out on #podcastday.
Okay, so that’s enough of the introductions, let’s get into the content. Let’s look at digital audio workstations.
So what I'm going to do is I'm going to go through three of the most popular digital audio workstations, commonly known as audio editing software. What I'm going to go through is Audacity, GarageBand and Adobe Audition. Now, I’ve always used Audacity, so I’ll go through that one first. Let’s look at the advantages of Audacity. Now, first off, Audacity’s free, so no cost. You can get hold of Audacity just by downloading it from the web. So that could be seen of one of the biggest advantages. But, obviously, no matter how free something is, it doesn’t matter; it’s not worth even free if it’s a bit rubbish.
So let’s look at what it can actually do. Now, Audacity, while it is free, is a hugely powerful package. One of the biggest advantages of Audacity – particularly over GarageBand, probably its main competitor – is the fact that it’s got a huge range of effects. So it’s got all sorts of things that you might need. The most common ones that podcasters will tend to use are things like compression, noise reduction, possibly a bit of equalisation and amplify as well, so you can standardise out your audio. Now, you can do all of those on Audacity, along with a range of other ones, like fade-outs and a few other things. So, Audacity does have a huge range of effects all built into it and most of them are good quality, with plenty of customisation available there as well. Essentially, it’s about as powerful as any amateur podcaster will need, and even a lot of professional audio producers as well, so it’s really powerful in that sense.
Next thing is, Audacity is totally cross-platform, so you can use it on PC or Mac, which is really useful if you do work across different platforms, so you don’t want to have to learn two different things to use it on different computers. GarageBand, for example, is Mac only, so if you do learn GarageBand then you move over to a PC, you’re going to have to learn something new. So that is a definite advantage of Audacity.
I would say Audacity, another pro for it, is the fact that there’s quite a lot of tutorials around, so it’s easy to learn. Now, it does look quite intimidating at first. I’ve taught Audacity in face-to-face classes quite a lot, as well as online, and people do get quite intimidated by it. The interface doesn’t look the most friendly – loads of knobs, loads of buttons. If you’ve not done any audio editing or video editing, that type of stuff before, the multi-track interface and the way the audio wave appears can look quite intimidating at first. But, once you get over that, once you start to learn it, it is really easy to learn. It is quite quick. Most of the stuff you will need is really easy to access and really easy to use as well. And I would say the range of tutorials out there are really powerful, they really get you through that initial learning curve. I’ve actually created a range of tutorials myself, so if you’re looking for a decent range to go through then, by all means, check out my YouTube channel, which is youtube.com/colinmcgray and you’ll find a range of Audacity tutorials there, taking you up from up from the total beginner steps to some of the more powerful tools in it, too.
Now, talking about a not so good aspect of Audacity, a lot of people complain about the MP3 encoder in Audacity. Essentially, it’s an add-on that’s called Lame. You download it and you add it into Audacity so Audacity can export MP3s. Now, it’s known not to be the best quality in the world. It’s quite good for variable bit rate encoding, which is used often for music. But, for us podcasters, we tend to use constant bit rate encoding and it’s not so good for that. So you can do a lot better, which I’ll talk about a little bit later. But just to be aware. A lot of people advocate exporting a WAV from Audacity, which is the really high quality audio format, and then converting it to an MP3 in iTunes, for example, because iTunes has a really good quality MP3 encoder. So just to be aware, Audacity doesn’t have a good built-in MP3 encoder. And, also, it’s known to be a little bit flaky. So, on the downside, when you’re working with Audacity it can pause, it can be unresponsive a little bit. It doesn’t crash often for me, but it has happened. So just to be aware of that. While it’s a free application, and there’s a really good team behind it, but possibly it won’t be as robust as some of the more professional ones, such as GarageBand or Audition, which is the other one I'm going to talk about.
A final pro for Audacity that I just want to go through is the fact that you can do chains within it. So once you get a bit more advanced, once you know what you’re doing, you’re doing the same processes each time, then you can set up automation for some of those processes. To give you an example, what I normally do for my podcast is that I will apply a bit of compression, I’ll apply a bit of amplification and a bit of equalisation as well. Now, I’ve experimented over the years to figure out the best compression, the best equalisation that suits my voice, so I know the settings that I use on Audacity. And, in the early days, what you have to do is actually select the whole track and, basically, run those effects, put in the settings that you use each time and then run it. And it can be a little bit cumbersome, but it is possible within Audacity to set up a chain, which essentially means that you can set up the settings for each of those processes and then just click one button to run that chain and it does all of it at once with those pre-set settings. So I just have to click once these days and it runs my standard compression settings, my standard amplification and my standard equalisation, all three of them all at once and gets it all done very quickly. So I do like that about Audacity; it does have a bit of workflow stuff in there to make things a bit easier for you, make things a bit more efficient. That’s what I would say about Audacity. That covers pretty much the standard Audacity pros and cons.
So let’s more move on to its main competitor at that level, which is GarageBand. Now, again, GarageBand is free, so doesn’t cost anything to get. Now, full disclosure before I go through this, I don’t use GarageBand at all. I don’t have a Mac, never have been a Mac person. So really what I'm working on here is a bit of research and chatting to people that have used it a lot. So I do know a fair bit about it just through talking to people about it, and this is basically what I’ve found.
Now, the first thing that people always talk about is the fact that it’s very easy to use. I mean, it is Apple that’s created it, after all. Apple are known for their ease of use, making stuff just basically simple as anything, really nice interface, great usability. So it’s very easy to get into podcasting with GarageBand. Because it’s Apple, and because Apple are one of the main instigators of podcast through iTunes, it does have some really nice templates in there for podcasters. So it can give you an idea of how to set up a podcasting project within GarageBand and it can help you do the standard stuff, the standard processes that you need to do as a podcast producer.
There’s also, because of that, Apple provide quite a lot of loops and sound effects. So there’s quite a lot of music in there that you can use for free – royalty-free music – some sound effects as well, and plenty of loops so that you can have nice music beds, some stuff at the start of your podcast, like some theme music that then goes into the background and you can talk over it for a little while. And I hear that GarageBand is really good for setting up those loops and letting a loop run for a certain amount of time and then fading it out. So, apparently, it’s very easy for that type of stuff, bringing in that music and processing it alongside your vocals. So that’s a really nice little advantage, actually, because Audacity doesn’t make that quite so simple; you’ve got to get used to bringing in music, getting used to using the audio envelope, the volume envelope tool to make sure it fades out in the right place. Running loops, you have to make sure you copy it, duplicate it, put them right next to each other, that type of stuff. So GarageBand makes it a bit easier to run that type of process, getting your music set up. And also just the fact that it actually provides those for free is pretty handy. The only downside of that, of course, is that, because they’re free, because they’re in one of the most commonly used podcasting packages, which is GarageBand, they’re used a lot, so you probably will recognise quite a few of them if you listen to a lot of podcast. You will have heard them around the podosphere in the past; there’ll be a few podcasts using these.
So to the big disadvantage of GarageBand and that’s the fact that it doesn’t have a huge amount of processing features. It’s not great for noise reduction, compression, that type of stuff. It has got some features along those lines but, really, for deeper audio processing, you want to be using something like Audacity, or Audition, which is the one I'm going to talk about next. It doesn’t offer you a huge amount of the more professional audio editing effects and processes. But, then again, a lot of people don’t really need those kind of things. I mean, there’s movement at the moment towards going back towards more natural-sounding voices, so less compression, less processed. And I do think that’s quite a good thing, because there are a lot more of really over-processed podcasts out there. So it could be that you don’t need any of that stuff and, actually, it just extends your workflow, doesn’t really provide that much benefit.
I’ve also been told that, in GarageBand, you can only do it on certain sections of the track, so the effects that you can put in, you can only do it… sorry, to full tracks, you can’t do it to sections of the track. So, for example, in Audacity, I can choose a little bit of my track and I can amplify that a certain amount, or I can choose a little part of my track and compress that a certain amount. But, apparently in GarageBand, you can only select a whole track and process that whole thing at once, which seems pretty crazy, to be honest, but that’s what I’ve been told. By all means, if that is not correct; if you’re a keen GarageBand user and you know that that’s not true then stick a comment in the comments on today’s podcast notes and I’ll correct that in an upcoming podcast. Because it does seem a bit strange to me; I did look around for a bit for that, but I didn’t find anything to contradict that claim.
Lastly, the thing about GarageBand is that it doesn’t actually output MP3s, which seems a bit strange! But probably partly because it’s part of the iLife family, which means that it integrates with iTunes. So what you do is you output your AIFF, which is a really high-quality audio file, similar to WAV, and you put that in to iTunes and then iTunes will create your MP3 for you. So the bonus of that is that iTunes has a really good MP3 encoder, so you’ll get a really good quality MP3 out of iTunes. But then it is an extra step on top of the processing, so it’s something else to do in your workflow, which you don’t need to do on Audacity. On Audacity you can export the MP3 directly from Audacity – even if it is lower quality – whereas in GarageBand you have to take that extra step to put it into iTunes.
Okay, so that’s about it for GarageBand. Now let’s move on to Audition. Adobe Audition is the first paid one that I'm going to talk about – the only paid one that I'm going to talk about. Basically because it’s probably the most popular and most commonly used paid digital audio workstation, in podcasting, certainly. There are a whole range of similar applications, audio editing packages out there used by audio engineers, audio professionals. But Audition is probably the most accessible one out there, certainly for podcasters, and it’s promoted by quite a few podcasters around the podosphere.
So what do you get for this money? Once you pay for it, you do get a lot of extra features straight away. Essentially, when you first look at Audition you’ll see it’s just a different level of quality. The interface is much more polished, much nicer, more user-friendly – possibly not in GarageBand; GarageBand, of course, is a really professional package, produced by Apple, of course, so it’s going to look nice, designed well. But, in Audition, the interface is so well set out for audio editing, introducing all those much more powerful editing tools, but making them look nice, making them, sort of, just to hand. Usability is great so that everything is really easy to use.
Of course, being a professional audio editing package, all of the features are there, so you get everything Audacity has and more, such as compression, the normalisation, all that kind of stuff. All of the effects, all of the processes that you can think of will be in Audition, so anything you want to do to process your audio is there. And one of the great things about Audition is they come with a lot of presets as well. There are quite a few. So say you’re applying compression for the first time, you have to experiment quite a bit with the compression settings to see what suits your voice. And also compression for vocals differs from compression for other instruments, or music, so Audacity isn’t just so much tailored to vocals. So you’re playing around with the compression settings, trying to find something that suits vocals, whereas Audition has presets that work for vocals, for instruments, for music, that type of stuff. So you can try the compression presets and it might save you a bit of time in finding something that works really well. Similar with the other features as well, like equalisation and the like. So those presets can be really useful and give you a good pointer if you’re just getting into using these types of audio production processes.
Next, while Audacity does have noise reduction and it does work pretty well, Audition is on a different level. Audition is known for its audio clean-up powers, so you can get rid of all sorts of noise in Audition, you can get rid of clicks, you can get rid of regular noise, regular buzz in the background. You can get rid of things like seagulls in the background. You can get rid of regular clicks and buzzes and all that kind of stuff. So Audition is really known for being great at cleaning up audio. It’s partly the fact that it offers a few different ways of doing it. So it has the standard audio wave where you can cut out parts, you can have a look at it and see what’s there, but it’s also got a spectrum analysis type of view which basically shows you a colour map of the different frequencies that happen. So if there is a regular noise like a click, or a beep that’s going on in the background, it’s possible that you can find that, isolate that particular frequency and cut that out using the spectrum analysis. And doing something like that affects the rest of your audio a lot less because you’re being so specific with the frequency that you’re getting rid of. Suffice to say that one of the things you’re paying for in Audition is the fact that you can really tidy up audio very well with it.
Next thing around is the fact that with Audition the navigation is so much easier and you can navigate your way around an audio file really well. In Audacity, obviously, you can scroll side-to-side, you can find certain bits of the sound wave, but it’s just so much quicker and easier in Audition. Zooming in and out, finding the right place, navigating between different tracks. Audition is just set up so well for navigating your way around. It just saves you time, frustration and all the rest when you’re trying to edit your file.
All of these things come together to say that Audition is a better package. It’s easier to use, it’s more powerful, it’s better designed than Audacity or GarageBand, but obviously it costs a fair bit of money. You’ve either got to subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is something like £500 odd a year, or you’ve got to buy it individually which is multiple hundreds or pounds or dollars. It changes, so I'm not going to say the exact price at the moment, but it costs you a fair bit anyway. It will save you time, though. It will give you a lot more power. So it’s up to you whether you’re going to actually use these effects enough, whether you’re going to save enough time to justify that money; depends on how much your time is worth to you, I suppose. If you’re running a business, for example, it might be that it’s a no-brainer and, actually, your time is worth a lot of money and, therefore, it’s well worth paying the money to get Audition. If you’re just doing it as a hobby, it might be that Audacity is absolutely fine; you don’t need the higher processing powers, all that type of stuff, and actually Audacity is just fine because it’s free as well.
The last thing to mention, just before I finish up on Audition, is that it does use the better MP3 encoder as well. It’s the Fraunhofer MP3 Encoder, so it is better quality than the Audacity one, so you don’t have to worry about exporting from Audition to put into iTunes, you can just do it straight from Audition, so that’s a nice little time-saver as well.
Now, just to mention on Audition, a friend of mine, Mike Russell, runs a website called audioproductionmasters.com, where he provides a whole ton of Audition tutorials. There’s a lot of tutorials out there, but his videos are really good for using Audition, so I’d really encourage you to go over and check out audioproductionmasters.com. And he does a podcast on audio production as well, which, often, is all about Audition, because he’s a bit of an Audition fan-boy. He’s well into Audition and he’s one of the reasons why I'm actually swapping over to do a bit of this stuff; a bit of my editing in Audition these days because he’s convinced me that it’s worth the effort to swap over. So if you want to know a bit more about Audition, check out Mike’s site over there.
But that’ll do it for today’s episode on digital audio workstations. I hope that gives you a good idea of what to choose and the reasons to choose each of them. By all means, if you have any more questions on that stuff stick them in the comments. Just go to thepodcasthost.com/podcraft/205 and you’ll find the comments at the bottom of the page, past the show notes and the transcription. So get on there, ask me some questions, give me some feedback, let me know what you use to edit your podcasts. And it would be great to hear about your processes, too: what is it that you do to your audio every single time? Tell me what you do. Do you compress? Do you equalise? Do you amplify? Do you normalise? All that kind of stuff. Tell me what you do on your podcast, I’d love to hear about it.
So just to finish up, folks. Thanks against for listening to another episode of Podcraft. This time around, I'm going to encourage you and plead to you to give me a review. I haven’t had a couple of reviews in iTunes for a little while, so it would be great to get some reviews on iTunes. Please do pop over to iTunes, find my podcast in there – just search for Podcraft in iTunes, you’ll find the podcast there and you can give it a review and just, well, whatever stars you think it’s worth. I would hope you will put in a little five star review, that would be absolutely brilliantly appreciated, but any kind of review at all will be excellent. It really helps to get the word out to the world about this podcast. So that’s all I’ll say for this time around and next time I’ll continue on with series two on audio podcasting equipment. So, thanks again and talk to you next time.
There are two broad ways to do this:
- Monitor Through Headphones
- Monitor Through Speakers
Whichever way you go, you're always looking for equipment which is labelled ‘monitor' or ‘studio' – eg. studio headphones or audio monitors (speakers). The difference is that these types of headphones and speakers have a flat frequency response – ie. they don't ‘colour' the sound. They give you exactly what you should.
In the podcast I go over the various pros and cons of using headphones and speakers, and what you should be looking for in either.
The headphones I mention in this Podcast include:
I also talk through the following audio monitors which I was recommended by Caled Wojcik in an article he wrote on monitoring for video editing.
What do You Use for Monitoring?
I'd love to know your audio monitoring approach. Do you use headphones or speakers? What kit are you using? Tell me in the comments below.
View the Transcription for the Show
My name’s Colin Gray and this is Podcraft, where we’re honing the art of podcasting. Today, we’re talking audio monitoring: whether you should be using studio monitors or monitor headsets to edit your podcast.
Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of Podcraft. As I mentioned, this time around we’re looking at the world of audio monitoring. So it’s all about how you’re editing your podcast. There’s quite a lot of questions come in around this area, people confused about whether they should be using headsets as opposed to speakers, in particular. That’s the main worry, so we’re going to have a quick look at that, what reasons you might use either of them.
First off, just to mention, we’ve got a wee sponsor for the show now. It’s Fiona Frame, from Outsource-Typing and she’s providing some transcription for our podcast. Now, transcription is a big benefit to any podcaster. Obviously you get some good written content for your website, as well as the fact that people can consume your content in a different way. So that’s always good. So if you’re interested in getting your podcasts transcribed then, by all means, get in touch with Fiona at outsource-typing.com.
Before we get into the main content, just a couple of quick updates. Just to let you know, I did a podcasting workshop just last week at the Content Marketing Academy with Chris Marr. Really great workshop, actually. Some great people there, it was really nice to meet everyone. So if you’re listening to this podcast, following the Content Marketing Academy then, yeah, appreciate you paying attention and not heckling me too much when I was doing my talk there and I hope you got a lot out of the workshop. But it was just to reiterate the fact that I think that events are just so good for getting out there and meeting people. If you can get out there and speak at something like this it’s really great. Really a great way to make more contacts, to get your content out to the world, but even if you just go along as a participant, really, really encourage that. So I’ll be looking forward to the Content Marketing Academy next year. Chris has already got that in planning, I think. So hopefully it can get bigger and better every single time.
But let’s get on to the content. Now we’re going to be looking at audio monitoring. The big question here, really, that always comes up is headphones versus speakers. Now, there’s a few things, a few factors to this. First off, though, let’s explain what we mean by audio monitors as opposed to standard speakers, and this applies to both actually standing-on-your-desktop speakers as well as headphones. Now, you can listen on a standard pair of speakers, you can listen on a standard pair of headphones, but those types of equipment generally tend to be built to make standard music sound better. So they tend to amplify certain frequencies, possibly bass or possibly mids, that type of stuff; they’ll colour the audio in certain ways. Essentially that means a frequency response, which is the technical way of saying it isn’t flat across the range, so it doesn’t give a completely accurate view or a completely accurate representation of your audio.
What I mean by that is, if you’re speaking, your normal voice is recorded. If you listen to it through a normal set of headphones or a normal set of speakers, they might add what might be the equivalent to a bit of EQ to them. So your bass might be a bit higher, your mids might be a bit higher, your highs might be a bit higher, that type of thing; it might not give you a complete and utter accurate picture of what your audio is like. So when you’re audio producing anything – a podcast, anything at all, music, whatever it is – you obviously want to be able to hear what your voice actually sounds like so that you can apply your own EQ, you can apply your own compression, that type of stuff, so that you’re making sure that the audio that is coming out is the best you can possibly make it. You’re making sure that the stuff you’re applying to your audio in terms of the effects is exactly what you need to apply to make your voice sound better. And you want to make sure that what you hear is the same as what your audience hears so that you’re giving them the best possible experience.
So studio monitors, or monitor headsets. Well, the whole point is that they give you a completely flat frequency response. They give you just a total, basic, unaltered version of your audio. So, technically, listening through a set of studio monitors you should hear exactly what the sound sounds like and, hopefully, the best representation of what your listeners are then going to hear. I mean, that’s not to say it’s exactly what your listeners are going to hear because obviously they’re going to be listening through probably pretty standard headphones or standard speakers, so their speakers will then alter it. But at least you’re putting forward the best edit you can create of your audio, which their kit then represents in whatever way it will.
I suppose the most basic example of that is, in fact, something that I did recently, which is get myself a new pair of studio monitors. And that was because I had, up until then, been editing mostly using a pair of headphones. I’ll talk about the types of headphones later on; I’ll talk about the ones that I use. But I had been on my PC editing using just a set of standard PC speakers and I’d come to realise through listening on the speakers and my headphones – my good quality monitor headphones – that the speakers really didn’t represent it very well at all. They were very thin, actually. They didn’t put a lot of bass in and there were lots of highs in there. Essentially, I was overcompensating and trying to up my bass a little bit using the EQ when I was listening to my own edits, using these computer speakers and then realising that every time that I listened when I was out and about using my headphones my bass was too high. So, basically, I was putting out what was not a great sound because I was editing it; I was altering it in a bad way to compensate for how bad my speakers were! And I'm not saying my speakers were even that bad, actually, they were a pretty good set of computer speakers, but they still weren’t as good quality as a decent pair of studio monitors. And, actually, it’s quite low cost to get yourself a decent pair of monitors, certainly an entry level one anyway, or even the headphones, too. So we’ll get into that just in a little while.
But let’s start off with headphones in the first place. So, when you’re recording, you’re going to be using headphones in any case. Why would you be using headphones? Because, obviously, when you’re recording you don’t want anything else going into your microphone except for your voice, or except for your co-host’s voice. And, therefore, you won’t be monitoring your own audio using speakers. That is probably more relevant if you’re with a co-host. So if you are on Skype and you’re recording a two-way Skype call as your podcast then, obviously, you need to be able to hear the person on the other end of the Skype and you want to be using headphones for that, as opposed to speakers, because the speakers will play at the sound of them speaking and it will possibly go back into the microphone and set up a feedback loop.
Now, some software is actually pretty good at filtering out that kind of stuff. It is possible to do a Skype call using your laptop, the internal mic and speakers and it doesn’t feedback too much, but it still does reduce the quality a great deal. So what you want to be doing is using headphones to cut that out; always record when you’re using headphones so that you can monitor your sound, hear the other people, hear the music, that kind of stuff, without the sound leaking out and getting back into the mic, creating that feedback loop. So that’s why you want to be using headphones always for recording in the first place. Even if you have a good set of studio monitors, you won’t be using them when you’re recording.
Now, why do you want to be using headphones at all? If you’re recording just by yourself, just like I am just now, no co-host, why wouldn’t you just not use a set of headphones? Well, there’s a few benefits that headphones bring. First of all, they let you monitor your own voice. So you can monitor your own levels much more effectively using a set of headphones, because you can hear what you’re saying. You actually speak into the microphone and that then goes through your recording system, whether it’s a mixer, whatever, and comes out through your monitoring headphones into your ear. So you can hear how you sound. Now, some people actually find that quite off-putting in the early days; they can’t really get used to the sound of their own voice in their ears, because it changes the way you sound to yourself, obviously. But it is really worth persisting with. There’s things like once you get better at your mic technique… well, it helps you improve your mic technique, I should say. Because the problem with speaking into a mic is often your direction, often the way you use your mouth, that type of stuff. So, for example, turning your head; I'm speaking away, I'm trying to speak straight into the microphone the whole time so that my voice is always the same level, it’s always directed into the microphone. But, in your early days, before you get used to it, you’ll turn your head quite often, you’ll make it sound like it’s going away – just like I'm doing just now. So I'm facing away from the mic, I'm coming back onto the mic and those levels go up and down. Now, I could hear that difference in volume through my headphones as I turned my head away there. So it makes it more obvious to you when your mic technique is not so good.
Next, you’ve got mouth noises. So you’ve got things like your tongue moving around, or slurping, all that kind of stuff, the standard mouth noises that come out when you are speaking! The one that I'm always prone to and I'm aware of, but I still do it sometimes, is just before I start speaking I’ll do a [mouth click] and then start speaking. So there’s that little, kind of, click as you open your mouth. And wearing headphones, it makes me more aware of that because it amplifies that. It echoes it back into my head so I hear it, and that helps me cut out those type of noises. So, yeah, monitoring your own voice is one of the biggest benefits of using a set of headphones in the first place.
So what do we want to look at in a set of headphones? What are we looking for in a good set for your podcast editing? Well, first off is that flat frequency response. So pretty much any set of headphones that you see that’s labelled either studio headphones or monitor headphones, they will have that flat frequency response. You obviously get a huge range of quality. So you have some that are really good quality, some that are not so good quality. Generally, on average, same as anything else, you get what you pay for. So the lower cost ones won’t be as good quality, but that’s not to say you can’t get a decent quality set of headphones at a decent price. But anyway, yeah, that’s the first thing we’re looking for, that studio or monitor label that’ll say that a headphone does do a flat frequency response.
Next off, you want comfort. The thing with editing is that it takes a while and it’s a bit annoying; takes a wee while to do. And recording as well, if you’re recording a session that’s maybe an hour, two hours long – some of my podcasts, when we’re doing it as a group, can take up to two hours. You don’t want to be wearing these pair of things on your head that actually just start to cut into your scalp, start to hurt your ears, so you want comfort. I find that the cheaper headphones, that’s where they fall down. They quite often have harder, more sharp plastic around the ears, they crinkle into your ears, or the headband across the top isn’t quite well padded or just not to well fitted, so it starts to dig into your skull a little bit and just give you a wee bit of a headache. I’ve even heard of some people recording podcasts that talk about getting headaches off headsets just recording for half an hour or so. So that’s obviously just a badly fitting set of headphones.
The ones I'm wearing just now, which I’ll mention in a little while, are really comfortable, both around the ear and across the top of the head. And I’ve used quite a lot of headphones in the past that are nice and comfortable. But if you have the chance, it’s always good to try them out. So if you can go into a music shop or something similar where they have some demo headphones then do try them out, put them on your head, listen to a couple of songs with each one, make sure you’re happy with the fit.
Next on the list is isolation. So, there’s a few things to this. Isolation essentially means cutting out sound from both sides. It cuts out sound from the outside, and so if you’re listening to something it cuts out external noise; you won’t hear the cars going by outside so much, you won’t hear computer noise through your headphones, that type of thing. Obviously, all you’ll hear is what’s playing into your headphones directly, so it isolates the sound on the inside.
Similarly, though, it also isolates the sound from the inside to the outside, so if you are listening quite loudly, if you like quite high volumes to monitor with, then if you play your intro music, for example, it’s going to keep that sound inside your headphones and not let it leak out into the outside world and possibly get caught by your microphone. So in my case, for example, right now, I played my theme music at the start through the iPad, so that was playing into my headphones. I’ve talked about my recording set-up in the past in the previous episode on mixers.
So if you want to go back and see how I record – just to explain this, and by all means go back to the previous episode which is on using mixers for podcasting, but my set-up essentially means that my music is playing in my ears as I start to record. And if my headphones weren’t very isolated, if they let that music sound, or my co-host speaking, for example, leak out of the headphones and into the outside world then my microphone might well pick that up and that could create a feedback loop as well. It’s unlikely, because the volume is quite low, but if definitely could alter the sound a little bit and you want to try and cut down on that.
So, essentially, a pair of headphones with high isolation will cut out a lot of sound from the outside. You’ll be able to put them on and, basically, it will cut out all of the sound that you hear around you; it will make things sound really quiet. The other side to that, though, is that some people don’t like that isolation. Some people like to be able to hear their own voice while they’re speaking, and I don’t mean in a monitoring way that way. I don’t mean so that you can hear it through the recording system, I mean actually hear it from the outside, which means, essentially, that you don’t want a closed set of headphones. They shouldn’t isolate so much that you can hear your voice through the headphones, not through the recording system, and this means that you hear your voice more as you know it. So it’s more as you’re used to hearing it when you’re just speaking to other people, rather than that weird recorded voice that doesn’t sound anything like what you think you normally sound like.
I have to admit, I don’t really have a problem with that. I don’t tend to need to hear myself. I'm quite happy speaking away, just hearing myself through the system and wearing a really isolated set of headphones so I don’t really hear myself in the outside world. But some people, and I know a lot of podcasters that don’t really like that. They like to be able to speak normally and hear the outside sounds, hear themselves speaking a normal way. So it’s up to you to try that out. Try yourself speaking in both ways, try covering your ears and speaking into a microphone for five minutes and see if you like that, or whether it’s not very good for you. But that’s quite a personal taste, I would say.
So let’s get to the nitty-gritty, let’s look at the headphones I use, I recommend, I have heard good things about in the past. I’ll go straight to the ones that I use, I mentioned a couple of times. I have a set of Beyerdynamic DT770 Pros. Sorry about all the numbers there, but that’s just what they’re called: DT770 Pro by Beyerdynamic. They’re a pretty professional set of headphones. They’ll cost about £120, but they are well known for being accurate monitor headphones. So they really accurately represent the sound that you’re editing. And they’re the ones I always used to use for editing purposes when I wasn’t using the speakers. If I wanted to get the sound exactly right, that’s what I would put on. So they’re expensive, but they’re very good and they’re really comfy. That’s what I like the most about them, because I wear them a lot. The headband, as I said, it’s really well padded. The earphones as well are very large, so you might look a bit silly wearing them if you’re on a video feed, for example, if you’re recording live on Skype Video or Google Hangouts or something similar, but they fit just about any head. They’ll fit just about any size of ears and are great quality. So if you do have the money, they can be worth it, but I certainly wouldn’t say that you need a set of these by any means.
A step down from that, always well recommended – I’ve not used them myself, but they’re well recommended by quite a lot of other podcasters out there – are the Sony MDR7506. Now, remember, I’ll always put links in the Show Notes for these. So if you want to go and find these products afterwards, you don’t have to remember just now. Just pop on to The Podcast Host and you’ll find everything that I mention in this episode on that page, so you can always get back to find what I’m talking about.
But, anyway, the Sony MDR7506 are a great set of studio headphones, always recommended as I said, and they come in about the £80 mark on Amazon these days. When I saw on Amazon.com they were about the same in Dollars, which is annoying for us people in the UK because that means they are much cheaper over there, but you’ll get them for about $80-$90 in the US as well.
Now, the last one on the list for a more budget area, so about £40 mark, are the Audio Technica ATH-M20X headphones. They’ve got really good reviews. They always get really good reviews. Again, another one I haven’t used myself, but excellent reviews and Audio Technica, barely ever have any problem recommending an AT bit of kit because they always make good quality stuff. But, yeah, so the ATH-M20X at £40 will probably do you very well if you’re entry level, you’re not too worried. I'm sure they’re very good quality in any case.
There are a few studio headphones mentioned on Amazon and the like around the £20-£30 mark. So you do get cheaper from some good brands as well. Sennheiser do a good set. But I would say just having looked at the reviews and having looked at the recommendations, talked to people about it, I think the first one that I found that had a good set of recommendations were those Audio Technica ones, so it might be worth plumbing an extra £20 or so just to get those ones.
Now, just the last point on headphones, just on the technicalities of using them. Obviously right now, I'm recording just myself, just one set of headphones. So just plugged into my mixer, no worries at all. But sometimes you’ll be recording with a co-host in the room and, actually, that can cause a bit of trouble with both of you being able to monitor your voice. The easiest way is obviously just to plug a standard headphone splitter into the headphone jack, so that will turn your one socket into two sockets and you can both listen that way. The only problem that comes in then is if one of you likes the audio a little bit louder than the other, maybe the headphones are a little bit different, somebody needs to turn it up a wee bit, and that’s not ideal. So the next step up is actually just to go for a nice little Behringer splitter. There’s a Behringer splitter for about £20, I believe – last time I looked. It’s the Behringer HA400 Microamp and it takes four sets of headphones, lets you monitor the overall sound and turn it into four outputs and you can actually adjust the levels on each one as well. So you can actually let everyone choose their own volume and split it out to plenty of people. So if you’ve got a group together, one of those little things is really handy and it only costs about £20 as well.
Okay, so that’s it on headphones. Next section is on studio monitors. So, really, a lot of the same stuff applies. I’ve already talked about the reason to get the flat response, all that kind of stuff; that still applies to monitors. The big difference between using monitors and headphones I find is just that it’s just more convenience and comfort than anything else. I’ve just got myself a new pair of monitors about two months ago, and the last couple of months of editing have just been so much more pleasant, I suppose! No other way to describe it. It’s just so much easier when I’ve got these really good quality monitors putting out what I know is accurate audio, not having to pull out my headphones, put my headphones on my head, isolate all the other noises. Even though these ones are comfortable, still I’ve got something on my head and it gets a little bit irritating after a while. Being able to do it just with my speakers is just so easy, convenient, so nice. Plus the volume just helps as well. You just feel the music, the sound a little bit more through a set of monitors. It’s just got a bit more weight to it for some reason. Well, I’m very glad that I upgraded, even though I’ve got a good set of studio monitor headphones. I'm really pleased with the monitors that I’ve now got sitting on my desk, well-mounted on the corners of my desk, giving me some great stereo sound there. And I use it for everything else as well, so I can now listen to all my standard audio, my other podcasts, YouTube videos, whatever it is I'm watching, my training videos, using these monitors. And it’s so much better quality than the old computer speakers that I had that I think it’s worth it for almost just that on its own, never mind the benefits of being able to edit with them as well.
So I won’t talk too much more about the monitors, really. There’s not much to choose to look for in the monitors that I haven’t already mentioned for headphones. So, really, I’ll just pop onto what ones I recommend. Now, I got these recommendations originally from Caleb Wojcik from Fizzle, although, actually, I think he’s just doing the DIY Video Guy now. I get a lot of great technical advice from Caleb just through his website. He was talking about studio monitors a while back for his video editing and that was what prompted me into getting them, actually, eventually. Just prompted me away from my headphones up to the monitors. And the ones he recommended were three levels: M-Audio AV40s. They come in at around £80-£90 or $150 per pair. There’s a range of the M-Audio ones. You get the AV30s and you get AV50s as well, it’s to do with the size of the speaker. So, basically, the power output they can provide. So there are cheaper ones. So the AV30s will be just as good quality sound, just possibly a bit less powerful and they were only about £60 or so. So, I mean, that’s a pretty decent price for a good quality set of speakers. And I love them. I love my AV40s. The quality of the sound out of them is great. They’ve got a volume control on the speaker itself. They’ve also got a headphone output, so if I need to do headphones for some reason, I can just fire my headphones into the output on the front of that speaker and it just makes things so much easier, because it means you don’t have to adjust the default output on your PC to make it go from your speakers to your headset. So I would say even though these were the entry level of the lower level monitors that Caleb mentioned, they’re absolutely fine for me, great quality, so I’d recommend just jumping in there.
If you do want to go higher quality, though, the Mackie MR5 Mk3s are a little bit more. They come about $240. I think I found them for about £150. Now, Mackie, obviously I recommend some of their mixers. Mackie do great mixers and a lot of great audio equipment. So it might be that the Mackie is better build quality. They tend to just make stuff to last a long time. So if you buy a pair of Mackie monitors I'm sure they would last you for a lifetime, so it could be worth the investment for longevity. Maybe that’s where the cheaper components like the M-Audio would fall down, although I’ve got nothing to base that on, just guessing what the difference in price will buy you. That’s usually why you pay a little bit more for Mackie kit, because it will just last you ages and the quality is just great.
Above that, there’s the Rokit 5G3s. They’re the top-level ones that Caleb recommends. So that’s Rokit 5G3s and they are $300 and I haven’t found them in Pounds, so I would imagine you’ll be able to get them for around £200 or so, going by the current exchange rate.
So there’s the three that I would recommend. Well, the one that I would recommend, the AV40s, which is what I'm using, and the other two that I’ve been recommended by an expert in the area, Caleb.
So that’s it for audio monitoring. All I would say just to sum up is that I have noticed a big difference when using my studio monitors. I really would encourage you to maybe jump in and get yourselves a pair. If not that then, by all means, get yourself one of the Audio Technica headsets, the ADH-M20X, or if you can afford it jump up to the one of the other two I mentioned, either that Sony or the Beyerdynamic. You can make sure then that you’re putting out the best quality audio that you can provide, make sure that your EQ’s all good, your bass, all that kind of stuff, and you’re creating great quality podcasts that people can enjoy.
So just to tie the podcast, as always, I’d love to get your feedback. You know that we’re on series two of audio equipment right now. So if there’s any more audio equipment questions you want to ask I would love to put together a Q&A episode at the end of this series, so please do send in your questions and I’ll put them all into that episode. I’ll do a Q&A on audio kit, standard frequently asked questions.
Pop onto the Show Notes page, which is www.thepodcasthost.com/podcraft/4 and you can add a comment there, or you can send me a voicemail. Please do send me in a recorded message and I can put your voice on the podcast. Just record yourself an MP3 and send it through to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Great, so thanks very much for listening and I hope you found that useful and, next time along, we’ll be going through some more podcasting equipment. We’re getting near the end of series two now. We’re only going to have another couple of episodes or so but getting through it and I hope I'm helping you to increase your audio equipment quality.
So thanks again for listening, coming along, and we will speak to you soon.
On this week's PodCraft we're talking Mixers – when and if you might want one. It's not cut and dry by any means! Let's look at the arguments.
When Might You Think About Getting a Mixer?
Here are the reasons you might want to go ahead and starting looking at mixers:
- You want more audio inputs – eg. more microphones, along with Music, Skype, etc
- You want more control over those inputs, such as levels, EQ, compression, etc
- You want to start using pro level equipment, such as XLR condenser microphones that need phantom power
- You want to increase reliability and quality
- You want to cut the computer out of the equation
- You want to live produce, creating your show like a radio show, cutting down on editing.
In the show I go through all of these, and how a mixer can solve the problem.
Why Might you NOT Want a Mixer?
There are plenty of reasons NOT to get a mixer, such as:
- Cost – mixers, decent ones that is, are expensive
- equipment – old stuff will become redundant (USB mics) and you'll need a lot of new bits (good cables mainly!)
- Inertia – that thing isn't going anywhere. Do you need to be mobile, recording out and about?
Which Mixer Should I go For?
Here are the mixers I talk about on the show. Make sure to have a listen to find out which one would suit you – I don't necessarily recommend all of these!
- Entry Level – Behringer Xenyx 502
- Cheap Mix-Minus – Behringer Xenyx 1202
- Bottom of the top end – Behringer Xenyx 1204
- The Good stuff – Get this! – Mackie ProFX8
Resources Mentioned on the Show
The main thing mentioned this week was a resource by the most excellent Ray Ortega from The Podcasters' Studio. I'm no stranger to creating a good explainer video, but why bother when there's one as good as this out there. Go check out Ray's mix-minus training video if you want to know how to set it up yourself.
Let Me Know What You Think!
Please, please, please drop me a comment below to let me know what you think and to ask any further questions about mixers. If you use a mixer already, let me know which one and why you like it. I'd love to know.
Finally, if you could leave me a review on iTunes I'd be so grateful – it really helps to get my podcast out there to more people.
Thanks again for listening and I'll see you on the next episode!
In this episode I'll cover why you might want to use a digital recorder in your podcasting efforts, and how to choose the best one for you.
I've discussed Digital recorders in the past, and in fact you can find my current definitive guide here: The Best Digital Podcast Recorders on the Market. This episode discusses the very same stuff with a little extra detail.
Here's a summary of what I'm covering:
Why Might you Need a Digital Recorder for Podcasting?
- Mobile recording – capture an interview any time, any place
- Risk mitigation – avoid recording to a computer and the crash risk that poses
- Backup – Record to Digitial Recorder PLUS PC for the best of both worlds
What Digital Recorder Should I Buy?
Well, I wont repeat myself, just pop over to The Best Digital Podcast Recorders on the Market and you can read all the recommendations I give on the Podcast, plus links to them around the web incase you're looking to get more details.
I think the key thing is to just in at a level that you're comfortable with – if you think this is just for very seldom use, just to have on you incase you bump into someone interesting at an event, then go for a Zoom H1. If, however, you think you might be using this device often to capture group interviews at events, or co-host recorded shows at various locations, then it might even be worth investing in a Zoom H4n and a couple of really good XLR microphones.
Whatever you end up going for, learn how to use it well and it'll serve you a lifetime of great recording.
A Question for You: What Recorder Do You Use?
I want to know, do you use a digital recorder? What do you use? Please tell me in the comments below. I'll follow up the best comments on the next Podcast.
Thanks again for listening and I look forward to hearing from you!
In this episode, we're talking microphones.
I cover the best microphones for podcasting, and how to choose the right one for you. For the full info, listen to the episode below.
Or, you can always read our popular article on the subject:
Listen to This is Episode:
Series 2: A Guide to Podcasting Equipment
If you've been listening long, you'll know that Series 1 was my Beginner's Guide to Podcasting. 10 episodes took you from the very first steps right up to releasing your first couple of episodes to the public. If you're still looking to launch your first Podcast, you can go back and revisit it at any time through the link above.
This time around, for series 2, we're looking at your next steps in terms of equipment. In this series we'll be going through all of the kit you can use for podcasting, from one end of the audio chain to the other – microphone to editor. For each type I'll be covering Entry level and pro level, and talk about the lifecycle, ie. what you should start with and how/when you can upgrade.
Equipment is where a lot of us totally geek out, spending far too much money on shiny new bits, and I've been more than guilty of this in the past. I'm hoping that this series can help you choose and sensible starting point, and guide you through the upgrade process over the coming years.
I genuinely think that you should only upgrade your kit in line with your presenting and production skills. In the beginning you don't need a £300 microphone, you need to practice talking to your audience.
Then you need to practice your editing and audio production. Then you need to practice your storytelling and writing. THEN, you're ready for really good quality kit.
Don't Upgrade Everything at Once
In a similar vein, don't do it all at once. The most basic reason for that is that you'll spoil the fun of buying new shiny bits by blowing it all at once! The more practical reason is that you really want to make sure you're using every bit of kit you own in the best way possible.
For example, start with the microphone. Learn how to speak into it properly, cutting sibilants and plosives, and maintaining a good distance. Then, learn it's other quirks, such as background sensitivity and recording pattern.
Once you know you're using the mic in the best way possible, THEN you can buy yourself the next bit of kit. If you do it the other way around then you'll end up confusing bad results with one piece of kit with bad use of another. You need to know the first element is working perfectly before you can hone your skills with the next.
This Episode We're Talking Microphones
In the first episode of the series we're talking about the first element in the chain, your microphone. I've already written (and keep updating) my definitive post on the subject – Podcasting Microphones – so I wont add to it here. Check out that article for my latest thoughts, and it's a close representation of this podcast as I record it.
Tell Me, What Do You Think?
I'd love to hear your thoughts – answer one of these in the comments:
- What microphone do you use and why?
- How many mics have you been through?
- Why did you last decide to upgrade your mic?
Thanks for listening and see you on the next episode!