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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.