Published February 16, 2015
My friends and I publish a weekly podcast called “So That Happened!!!“, where we mostly riff on chick flics and the occasional “macho” movie.
There have been some growing pains along the way, but as of So That Happened Episode 017 we have arrived at a setup that works pretty well for us on my limited (non existent) budget.
In this post I will outline to you the gear that we use, a very general overview of the process, and how much things cost to get to where we are.
There is a ton of gear on the market, so I don’t mean for this to be a rock solid, carved in stone blueprint of the only way to do things. There are many paths that all lead to the same result, this is simply the road we’ve taken.
In our podcast we regularly have four hosts with an occasional guest. We record on site in the studio so this post will not address recording Skype conversations, Google Hangouts, or telephone interviews.
That said, here is a rundown of the gear:
It’s getting pretty long in the tooth at this point, but it gets the job done and I already own it.
I’m running an original 2009 Lifehacker Hackintosh build that is still on Snow Leopard 10.6.8. Spec-wise it is a Core2Quad Q9650 3.0GHz quad core CPU, with 8GB of RAM and an NVidia GeForce 9800 GTK+ with 512MB of RAM. It has 4 hard drives installed, one 1TB drive for OSX, one 1TB drive for Windows 7, and two 2TB drives for media and working files.
For the purpose of the podcast (and the majority of my computer activities) I run OSX.
We use Audacity because it is free, does basically all that we need, and is available for all operating systems, which is very handy if I happen to get so busy that I can’t mix an episode myself by our deadline; I can just send the project files over to one of our other hosts and they can finish the editing.
As far as editing, Audacity is a great solution for us… and for me Audacity is great for recording on the Mac, unfortunately on Windows our recording interface will not work “out of the box”.
In order for our recording interface to work with Audacity in Windows I would need to compile Audacity from source with ASIO support.
In the future we are most likely going to move on to Adobe Audition, but that requires an OS upgrade on my part.
For mixing and monitoring a good set of headphones is crucial, especially if you aren’t mixing on studio monitors. Ear buds need not apply. Since 99% of our listeners will be listening to our podcast on headphones I do the entire mix in my headphones.
When we first started the podcast we were working with what I had on hand, which happened to be an ancient M-Audio 2 channel USB audio interface and a inexpensive first generation Alesis MultiMix mixer that the internal USB convertor had died in.
For microphones we typically used two borrowed Shure SM57’s and my own Neumann TLM103, which we mixed on the Alesis, sent the stereo output from the Alesis to the M-Audio USB sound card and then recorded in Audacity.
The Neumann is a fantastic recording mic, but it’s less than ideal for podcasting as it is so sensitive that it picks up ANY sound anywhere near it, including vehicles driving past the studio on the street. Another problem we had was that the stereo source mix didn’t give us enough control over individual levels or audio edits. It was time for a true multi-track audio interface.
Since we actively record at least four different microphones at any given time I went with an audio interface that has several inputs and outputs.
I settled on the TASCAM US-1800 which has 8 XLR Mic inputs with switchable phantom power, 2 switchable guitar or line level inputs, an additional 4 line level inputs, 4 line level outputs, a stereo monitor output, one coaxial digital input, one coaxial digital output, a headphone output and MIDI in and out, for a grand total of 16 inputs and 4 outputs all connected to the computer via USB.
When I am recording the podcast I use the XLR mic preamp inputs. This allows me to individually adjust each track. If I need to increase the volume of one person and decrease another, I can. If I need to edit out one person coughing, I can.
Microphones are a subject that could span several blog posts in and of themselves, but what I ended up going with is a very good value as far as performance versus cost.
We needed to have 4 mics for ourselves, and then I wanted at least two extra for guests or as spares in the event that one of the mics fails.
I settled on the Behringer ULTRAVOICE XM1800S Dynamic Cardioid mics. They come in a package of three microphones with three microphone clips stored in an injection molded, foam lined carry case for about $40. I picked up two packages, which gave me 6 microphones to work with.
Obviously to go with the microphones, you will need microphone cables. I picked up a 6 pack of 20ft Griffin brand cables from Amazon. There really isn’t anything fancy that I can say about these.
Since we record while we are all sitting around a table, there was no need for more expensive stage or boom stands.
I went on eBay and picked up six desktop mic stands listed as “PC-01 Base Stair Lifting Desktop Microphone Stand“. As a bonus, the seller mistakenly sent me five “PC-01” stands and one “PC-02” stand, so I now have one telescoping stand if I need a few inches of height adjustment.
These are inexpensive, mostly plastic stands with a sand filled plastic base. They come with mic clips.
They aren’t fancy, but they get the job done.
The only downfall is that there is no padding on the base which adds a lot of handling noise and tends to transmit floor and table vibrations to the mic. To solve that issue I picked up some adhesive backed foam from Wal-Mart and cut out circles of foam and applied them to the bases:
A cable tester is a very useful thing to have. You don’t want to find out that one of your mic cables or guitar cables is no good just as you are about to record!!
I picked up a Behringer CT100 cable tester. This little guy tests and tones XLR, 1/4″ TRS, 1/4″ TS, RCA, 1/8″, MIDI and TT cables and is worth every single red cent!! Any audio type person should have one of these in their bag.
Using the multitrack audio interface allows for each person to be on their own track, however since we record around a tabletop there is still bleed through from one microphone to the next and there are some unwanted room reflections as well.
There are commercially available solutions, but they typically cost over $100 a piece and with my current income purchasing six of them just simply isn’t feasible, so I went the DIY route.
I made isolation cubes for each microphone utilizing a Better Homes and Gardens collapsible fabric storage cube, six 12″x12″x1″ panels of acoustic wedge foam, and one 12″x12″ cork sheet.
For these isolation cubes the collapsible fabric storage cubes MUST be the “Better Homes and Gardens” brand, as they are oversized compared to other brands of fabric storage cubes that are on the market which allows assembly of the isolation cube without cutting the foam or cork panels.
First setup a storage cube:
Second, use two sheets of 1″ acoustic wedge foam and sandwich them together, peak sides facing each other, and insert them in one end of the storage cube:
Next take one sheet of cork and place it on top of the sandwiched foam sheets:
Then use two sheets of 1″ acoustic wedge foam and place one sheet on either side of the fabric storage cube:
Next take one sheet of 1″ acoustic wedge foam and slide it into the open end of the collapsible fabric storage cube, opposite the sandwiched foam sheets:
Now take one last piece of 1″ acoustic wedge foam and place it in the bottom of the collapsible fabric storage cube. It will be curved slightly, like the bottom of a bowl, that is the desired placement:
Lastly, place the storage cube (now an isolation box) upright and insert your microphone on its desktop stand:
This setup virtually eliminates cross talk between mics and eliminates room reflections.
Here is what the room typically looks like during a recording session of one of our episodes:
Another nice thing about about using this equipment is that when we are done recording the stands, cables, mics and accessories all fit in one area of my IKEA sideboard:
And the isolation cubes break down and can be stored neatly out of the way in my closet:
So, how much did all of this cost, Bill?
I already had my own computer and headphones, so I won’t factor those into the cost. If you don’t have a computer, make sure that you get something that has at least 8GB of RAM, and at least a dual core processor that is about 2.2ghz or better – otherwise editing is going to take you forever.
If you haven’t already got a decent set of headphones I would suggest budgeting somewhere between $75 and $400 for something good. Steer clear of ear buds and “Beats” style headphones that have an unnatural character.
- Audio Interface ($219.95 ea): $219.95
TASCAM US-1800 16-in, 4-out USB 2.0 Audio Interface
- Microphones ($39.99 per pack; two needed): $79.98
Behringer ULTRAVOICE XM1800S Dynamic Cardioid Vocal Microphones, 3-Pack
- Cable Tester ($29.99 ea): $29.99
Behringer Cable Tester CT100
- Cables ($30.95 per 6 pack): $30.95
6 Pack Microphone Cables Mic Cable Cord Lo-Z 20 ft XLR Pro-Audio Patch Lot Griffin
- Mic Stands ($8.99 ea; Six needed total): $53.94
High-Quality PC-01 Base Stair Lifting Desktop Microphone Stand Black
- Foam for Mic stands ($3.47 per pack): $3.47
Foam Craft Peel and Stick Sheets, Bright Colors, 6-Piece
- Software (FREE): $0.00
- Cloth Storage Cubes ($11.34 per 2 pack; Three packs needed): $34.02
Better Homes and Gardens Collapsible Fabric Storage Cube, Set of 2
- Cork Sheet ($3.32 per 2 pack; 3 packs needed): $9.96
Cork Sheets 12″X12″ 2/Pkg
- Acoustic Foam ($9.99 per 12 pack; Three 12 packs required): $29.97
Acoustic Foam – Wedge 12″ x 12″ x 1″ (12 Pack)
Total Cost (Not including shipping charges): $492.23
All told this is a whole lot of gear and a whole lot of flexibility for what amounts to a little over $550.00 after shipping costs are considered.
Plus, with the exception of the audio interface, it all fits on my coffee table AND the cat approves!
That is basically all that is involved from a hardware standpoint. As time moves forward I am sure that changes will be made.
If you’ve got any questions for me please, ask away!