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#2: Podcasting Hardware Selection

By | January 3, 2007

Roland StudioYou’ve got your topic selected. You’ve decided how much time and money you want to invest. So now it’s down to the nitty gritty. It’s time to setup your studio.

I’m not gonna be biased as far as PC or Mac. I personally use a PC but in that respect, as far as Podcasting goes, it doesn’t really matter. If you were asking me about setting up a professional, full featured studio, I might lean towards a Mac but that’s mostly due to their reputation in the music industry. You’re gonna see that everything after this point is totally independent of the platform you’re using. I will make one exception and that’s Linux. Although I have had Linux on several machines, I have never seen a sound application that’s as advanced as what’s available on Windows and Macintosh platforms. I’m not saying there isn’t one, but I haven’t seen it and I’m quite comfortable and satisfied with the tools I’m currently using.

The key here is that you obviously have to have a computer. It can be a laptop or a desktop. You don’t want something that’s real slow though because you’re going to be doing some audio work and that can get intense. The faster your computer, the less time you have to wait around.


Now we’re going to start at the beginning of what is called the ‘audio chain’. The audio chain encompasses everything that has to do with audio. It starts with your mic and ends with your speakers. Everything in between is also part of the chain.

The Microphone

Beginners don’t understand how important this step is. I will tell you right up front that you’re not going to find a mic that makes you sound like a radio DJ. Don’t look for the mic to do magic (although it can help with the illusion!). You have to start with a good quality mic because your final sound is only going to be as good as it was in the beginning. If you go to Radio Shack and buy a $20 mic, you’re going to have a $20 voice. That means not only will your voice have poor quality, but the signal will also be pretty noisy.

There are tons of mics out there, so I’m going to take two routes here. I’m gonna give you the general features to look for in a mic, and I’m also gonna tell you what I’m using. First, you’re gonna want a large diaphragm condenser mic. This is a studio mic. It’s not typically what you’d see on stage, but more like what you’d see at a radio station. These mics are generally very sensitive, they also have some adjustments that you can configure. Some of the things you can adjust will be the pattern of where the mic picks up sound. The response, which is how the mic handles frequencies. And a lot of times you can also adjust the levels of the mic, which control just how sensitive it is.

Without going into a lot of audio engineering, you want a mic that can be configured unidirectional. That’s the pattern. Now if your mic is selectable, that’s great, but you’ll want to set it to unidirectional because you don’t want it picking up sound from all around the mic, just what’s in front of it, which will be you. As far as the response goes, you just want a flat response. If you want to boost any frequencies (give yourself a touch of ‘DJ’ sound) we’ll do that later with the software or a processor. And then for the levels, leave it at it’s most sensitive setting. Some mics have like a -10dB attenuation and that’s just for when the mic is used close to a very loud source, like a guitar amplifier.

The mic that I use is a Marshal MXL 992. This isn’t a very expensive mic, it’s around $150-200, I forget exactly what I paid for it. I actually have two so that I can do interviews. It’s a pretty quiet mic, meaning that it doesn’t have a lot of noise that comes from the mic itself, and some mics are very noisy. It has a great frequency response and reproduces voices quite well. All your condenser mics are going to use XLR cables and need phantom power, with the exception that some operate on batteries but that isn’t very popular these days.

There are some alternatives, like a USB mic for example. But since I haven’t used one of those and they don’t offer you the flexibility of tweaking the audio before it hits the computer, I’m not gonna suggest those types of mics. If you’re on a tight budget and you just want to record on your laptop, it might be a possibility but I’d definitely suggest you demo one first or at least make sure you buy it form some place where you can return it if you don’t like it.

 
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