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Request for Comments: Rym's Podcasting Guide v0.1

edited April 2007 in Technology
I know I've talked about writing something like this for a while on the show. I've been working on it whenever I've had free time, which has been woefully uncommon.

I had a spare couple of hours and, in a burst of activity, put the following together. This is so pre-alpha that it's laughable, but I think you can get a sense of the direction and level of tech I'm aiming for.

Aside from formatting, grammar, diction, and incompleteness issues, what do you think so far? Would a guide such as this be useful to the "podcasting community?"

I plan to release it under the Creative Commons, but for now I reserve all rights, at least until I clean it up substantially.

Main  Title


When it comes to actual hardware, I will make two parallel sets of
recommendations: the beginner's/budget setup, and the advanced setup. 
Don't be fooled by the names: the beginner's/budget equipment, if used properly,
will yeild sound quality far above and beyond the majority of podcasts out
there.  The advanced version, while clearly better, is not
monumentally better. 

I cannot stress enough that you should feel no shame whatsoever in working with
the "beginer's/budget" equipment, especially if you have little or no audio
experience.  That equipment is just fine, and you'll learn a great deal by
using it.  Consider it a baseline starting point.  As time goes on,
you'll start to understand both the potential and the limitations of that
rig.  Until then, don't get in over your head.  Don't buy a $300 mixer
until you understand why you need that $300
mixer, and how it's better than a $60 mixer. 

Start small.  While no one wants to admit it, there's always the chance
with any new endeavor that you'll grow tired of it in time.  A budget rig
will give you the time you'll need to figure out if this is something you want
to continue to invest your time, energy, and money into.  You wouldn't buy
a $3000 wide-bore silver trumpet before you took a single lesson: you'd buy a
$200 starter trumpet.  If you lose interest in six months, you're out $200,
and you move on.  By starting small, you're minimizing your potential


Recording audio requires a small amount of specialized equipment, each component
of which relies on the rest.  I would recommend that you read the entire
"Hardware" section before making any decisions.



Microphone choice is important, but that is not to say that you should spend a
lot of money on one.  The difference between a $5 microphone and a $30
microphone is enormous.  The difference between a $30 and a $100 microphone
is noticeable.  The difference between a $100 and a $500 microphone is
almost imperceptible.  Welcome to the world of
diminishing returns.

This is not to say that the $500 microphone is not (in most cases) superior to
cheaper models.  The issue has more to do with understanding what you
actually need, which is often far less than what you might want.  Don't
spend a lot of money on a fancy microphone (or anything, for that matter) unless
you can clearly articulate to yourself exactly
why you need it.  Ask yourself what problem this new piece of
equipment will solve, and how you think it will solve it.  If you cannot
answer that question, then you'll likely be wasting your money.

Types of Microphones

There are a great many options out there, and decisions to make long before you
even think about brand or price.  For the sake of simplicity, I'll break it
down into a few broad distinctions and omit the more technical details or
esoteric options.

Condenser vs. Dynamic
Modern microphones fall into two basic categories: condenser microphones and
dynamic microphones.

Condenser microphones, also known as capacitor microphones, work based on, in
case you couldn't guess, capacitors.  While they typically have slightly
more sensitivity and better frequency response, they have a number of drawbacks.
 They are significantly more expensive than dynamic microphones of similar
quality, even low-end ones costing quite a bit.  They are far more fragile
than dynamic microphones, requiring careful handling.  They require
external (Phantom) power to function, and can be overloaded with too-loud

Dynamic microphones work with a magnet and coil.  Being of far simpler
construction than condenser microphones, they are thus many times more durable
and substantially cheaper.  They are practically impossible to overload,
provide excellent response, and generate very little noise.  Their only
real drawback is magnetic sensitivity: dynamic microphones will record a hum if
placed too close to CRT displays or other sources of moving magnetic fields.

Unidirectional vs. Omnidirectional (vs. Bidirectional)
Different microphones have different pickup patterns.  Omnidirectional
microphones accept sound equally from all directions.  Unidirectional
microphones accept sound primarily from only one direction, ignoring other
ambient noise.   Bidirectional microphones accept sound from two opposite
(180*) directions.

Unidirectional microphones can be broken down into cardioid, hypercardoid, and
shotgun types.  Very simply, cardioid accepts sound from a narrow angle in
the direction the microphone is facing.  Hypercardioid accepts a much
narrower angle from the front, but also accepts some sound 180* from that (the
rear of the microphone).  Shotgun accepts sound from an extremely focused
frontal angle, with small bits of sensitivity to the left, right, and rear.

In general, unidirectional microphones reduce background noise, reverb, and
feedback.  They allow you to isolate a single sound source to the exclusion
of anything else going on in the room.  They do, however, colour the sound
somewhat when compared to omnidirectional microphones. Interestingly, this
effect can be used to your advantage.  Unidirectional microphones will
provide a substantial bass boost at very close ranges (0-5cm) due to something
called the proximity effect.  Many
radio personalities' distinct, booming voices are the direct result of
"close-miking" in order to take advantage of this colouration.

Omnidirectional microphones do not typically colour the sound, and will in
general give you a more accurate representation of your voice.  Also, since
they are sensitive in all directions, you do not have to be as careful to always
speak from the proper distance and angle.  They will, however, pick up any
ambient sound in the room, which can be especially troublesome when trying to
record multiple voices simultaneously.

Bidirectional microphones are often very useful in face-to-face interviews, as
they essentially function as two unidirectional microphones, one for each


  • Choosing a Microphone

    In most cases, especially in podcasting, there is very little reason to bother
    with condenser microphones.  Their benefits are subtle at best, and you can
    get dynamic microphones of equivalent quality for far less money.  Couple
    that with the durability and ease-of-use of dynamic microphones, and it's no
    contest.  You'll run into the limitations of your other equipment long
    before you'll be at a point where a high-quality condenser microphone would do
    you any good.

    By the same token, there is little reason to use an omnidirectional microphone.
     Unidirectionals, particularly cardioids, have too many benefits to
    ignore.  This is especially true if you're recording more than one person
    in the same room.  In general, you don't want a source to be heard by more
    than one microphone, nor do you want to pick up passing trucks, computer fans,
    or other environmental noise.

    The Beginner/Budget Option
    I recommend a Radio Shack unidirectional microphone.  Most microphones at
    this price point are roughly equivalent, so don't fret too much over the
    brand.  You'll get adequate sound quality, reasonable directionality, and
    generally sound better than the majority of podcasts from the get-go.

    This microphone uses a 1/4" unbalanced connection (see "Cables" below for an
    explanation of what that means), so you'll be able to plug it into just about
    any mixer or pre-amplifier.

    The Advanced Option
    I recommend the Shure SM-57 Instrument Microphone or the Shure SM-58 Vocal
    Microphone.  They are both unidirectional with cardioid pickup patterns,
    extremely durable, and relatively inexpensive.  Both are very widely used
    by professionals, and they are considered staples of the recording
    industry.  The 57 is the standard microphone of the President of the United
    States for all of his public speeches, and has been for a great many
    years.  The 58 is the most-used stage vocal mic in the world.

    If you purchase the SM-57, you'd might as well get the AWS-2 Windscreen to go
    along with it.  Aside from being generally useful and cheap, it can serve
    as a somewhat decent pop filter (see below).  Also, note that neither of
    these microphones come with cables, and furthermore that they require a special
    "XLR" kind of cable.  Refer to the cabling section for more information
    regarding these.

    Microphone Accessories

    To effectively use a microphone, especially in talk radio, you'll need a few
    other things to supplement it.

    Microphone Stand/Boom and Mount
    Outside of live stage shows, you never want to be forced to hold a microphone in
    your hands.  It's distracting, and your hand will invariably generate all
    manner of noise as you move about.  You also want the ability to handle
    papers and read as you're speaking.  Thus, some form of microphone stand is

    Most microphones, including the Radio Shack Unidirectionals and Shure SM57/58,
    come with plastic mounts, accepting your microphone on one end and having a
    threaded hole with which to affix it to a stand or boom on the other. 
    These mounts are largely standardized, so you can buy just about any stand you

    Sit down in the area where you'll be recording and think about how you want to
    position yourself.  Buy whatever stand will put the microphone where you
    want it: generally between 1 and 6 inches from your mouth.  If you pick up
    vibration hums or thumps against your desk, invest in a cheap shockmount.

    Pop Filter
    Certain consonant sounds, such as "p," are prone to causing an effect known as
    popping, where a burst of air generated from your mouth during speech strikes
    the microphone, creating a loud "popping" sound.  Aside from being
    generally annoying, these sounds can easily clip (see "Clipping" below) and
    greatly reduce the perceived quality of your audio.  The closer you
    position yourself to the microphone, the more pronounced these sounds will be.

    The simplest solution to this problem is the pop filter: a small screen that
    prevents the air burst from striking the microphone but allows your voice to
    carry through.  Professional pop filters often come with flexible mounting
    arms and are very sleek, but can cost some $30.  You can, however, 
    create a very effective pop filter yourself for a few dollars.  Simply
    stretch some thin pantyhose over an embroidery loop and fix it to some sort of

    Regardless of how it is made, place the pop filter directly between your mouth
    and the microphone.  Be sure that it is not
    touching the microphone itself, and also
    see that it will not move under the force of your breath and strike the
    microphone while you speak.

    The need for a pop filter depends greatly on the nature of a person's speech
    patterns and their proximity to the microphone.  Listen to your recorded
    audio and decide for yourself if one is necessary.

    All microphones require some form of preamplification in order to get usable
    audio from them.  Even cheap PC microphones are preamplified in your sound
    card.  While you can purchase standalone microphone preamps, I recommend
    that you simply use the ones included in your mixer.  Refer to the mixer
    section for more information.



    The mixer is a crucial part of audio recording.  It is the interface
    between your hardware and your PC.  It merges all of those microphones,
    compressors, and gates, strange connectors and assorted mish-mash, into a
    single, simple wire from which you can record.  It is a powerful and
    indispensible tool that, when mastered, will afford you a great many
    conveniences.  With a good mixer, you won't need a seperate microphone
    preamplifier or phantom power source, nor will you suffer the hassles of
    recording multiple streams in software.

    Even if you're running a one-man-show, you should probably purchase a
    mixer.  It will allow you to easily incorporate other audio sources such as
    Skype or your iPod, accomodate interviews and guests, incorporate hardware such
    as noise gates and compressors into your show, and use better microphones.

    What a Mixer Does

    Simply put, you'll plug all of your microphones (and other sources) into your
    mixer, and then plug the mixer into your computer.  The mixer, internally,
    has all manner of circuitry which allow you to route these sources to where they
    need to be and at what volumes you desire.  Below are the main functions
    broken down.

    On their own, microphones produce extremely quiet sounds.  You might have experienced this if you've ever plugged a microphone into your computer's
    "line-in" port instead of its "microphone" port.  (The latter actually has
    a tiny preamplifier built in).  As such, these sounds need to be amplified
    before they can be used.  A preamplifier does this before your audio hits
    any other piece of equipment, bringing it up to "line level."  This way,
    you can assume that all of your audio will be coming in at relatively similar

    Standalone microphone preamplifiers exist and have their uses, but I would
    recommend simply using the ones built into your mixer.  They are more than
    adequate, and it is highly unlikely that you would notice any substantial

    Independent Volume Control
    Different audio sources come in a different levels.  People speak at
    different volumes and through different microphones.  It is incredibly
    annoying to listen to a show where one host is twice as loud as the other, or
    where the music is barely louder than the background noise.  Thus, each
    source of audio, be it a person, iPod, Skype conversation, or what-have-you, has
    to have its own volume control.  The mixer provides this, allowing each
    input to be controlled independently.

    Note that this is distinct from preamplification.  A preamplifier is for
    bringing a very quiet source up to a reasonable level, amplifying it a great
    deal.  Volume control is for fine-tuning the volumes of different sources
    of audio so that they sit well together.  A microphone will be preamplified
    AND volume controlled: a Skype conversation or iPod will simply be volume

    Level Monitoring
    In addition to allowing volume adjustments, most mixers provide a visual
    representation of the loudness of your audio, in the form of a bar or
    meter.  Far better than going entirely by ear, these meters provide
    objective, numeric data.  You can observe not just that a source is louder
    or quieter than the others, but also by <i>how much</i>  it is
    so and adjust accordingly.  Almost all mixers provide a final volume meter
    for your combined audio.  Better ones provide meters for each input as

    Many mixers, in addition to providing level information, will also include clip
    indicators.  These serve to warn you if an audio source is too loud for
    your equipment to handle, a situation which often results in distortion and poor
    audio quality.

    The primary purpose of a mixer is, of course, mixing.  By setting your
    preamplifiers, watching your levels, and tweaking your volumes, you'll mix all
    of your audio into a single, recordable stream.  ....
  • RymRym
    edited April 2007

    Choosing a Mixer


    Noise Reduction


    Effects Processors

    Sound Cards/Recording Equipment

    Setting up your Rig



    Using your Microphone(s)

    Actually Recording

    Recording Software






    General Concerns



    Quick and Dirty Guide

    The following is a succinct set of recommendations
    without the associated rationale andbackground information.


    Basic Setup

    Radio Shack unidirectional microphoneBehringer UB802/Xenyx Whatever mixer
    Samson C-Com Stereo Compressor

    Advanced Setup

    Post edited by Rym on
  • You couldn't just make a document file up and link to it?
  • You couldn't just make a document file up and link to it?
    That's so 1998. ^_~

    I'd share it in Google Docs, but I wouldn't expect many people to look at it and I certainly am not seeking direct collaboration.
  • After your introduction you might consider adding a brief list of the parts one needs to do a podcast. Sort of like here is a list of the following components you will need to do a podcast. Blah blah now lets talk about microphones. Also USB or Midi? Section would be good to. I'm only assuming this might be a good idea because I'm personally wondering if ones better than the other.
  • Rym, you know that you're never going to finish this now that con season is starting.
  • I like it, it seems detailed and organized :D
  • As far as mixers go, I just picked up an Alesis MultiMix8 USB mixer and looooove it. It's compact, has all your standard stuff and has full USB functionality. Very handy not only for our regular recording, but will be great on the go.
  • edited April 2007
    Great start.

    But, what about a headset with a microphone so your mouth is always at the same distance as the microphone?

    And, a personal question: there are some USB logitech microphones. It seems like it's not possible to have two of those USB microphones hooked up at the same time with Audacity without a mixer. Is there a way around this?
    Post edited by Rym on
  • But what about - a headset with microphone so your mouth is always at the same distance as the microphone?
    Cheap headsets sound like garbage. Good headsets are very expensive compared to traditional microphones.
    And a personal question - there are some USB logitech microphones - it seems like its not possible to have two of those USB microphones hooked up at the same time with audacity without a mixer. Is there a way around this?
    I've never used a USB microphone, but it seems that you'd have to record multitrack from two different USB sources. Try playing with your OS sound mixer settings.
  • The problem with USB microphones and headsets is that they are basically the same as USB sound cards as far as the computer is concerned. In order to record from two at once you need some software that can record from two different sound cards simultaneously. Either that, or you need to somehow route the two sound card inputs into a single virtual sound device in the OS. This is not easy.
  • edited April 2007
    The problem with USB microphones and headsets is that they are basically the same as USB sound cards as far as the computer is concerned. In order to record from two at once you need some software that can record from two different sound cards simultaneously. Either that, or you need to somehow route the two sound card inputs into a single virtual sound device in the OS. This is not easy.
    Thanks. I always wanted to get a straight answer.

    And Rym - as for the headsets, that's what I thought you might say (that the good headsets are expensive).
    Post edited by Rym on
  • edited July 2007
    So I was just wondering if there is any update to the podcasting guide, as I am looking into doing a podcast while I am in Japan. Basically doing things over the weekend then having one or two people, and myself, talk about our experiences over the weekend and put it on my website/feed. I've scoped out some hardware and Rym if I could get an opinion from you as to the possibility of using these for a podcast, I would be greatly appreciative.

    Here's what I have so far. I'm wondering if the firewire audio interface is a good idea or not necessary, and I'm really wondering about the software side of podcasting. So if you could post more or just give some suggestions that would be a great help.
    Post edited by Corbin on
  • So I'm curious as to what equipment you use for your podcast. Could you list the equipment you use?
  • Could you list the equipment you use?
    It's listed here.
  • Something to add: "Okay, why do you want to start a podcast?"
  • You know, some simple graphics would do wonders next to some of those paragraphs, like demonstrating the angles of sound on the mics.
  • edited October 2007
    Except for a few typos, that was helpful. I've been looking to get into audio work/podcasting for a while and most of the online documentation that I've come across hasn't been too helpful. So this would end up being a great resource if you finish it.
    Post edited by Rym on
  • So I have to ask, how is V0.15 coming?
  • Just found this discussion on microphones. If Rym sees this, thank you for the information.
  • Just wondering. But now that Rym has freed up some evenings is the Podcasting Guide going to have regular updates?
  • Dammit Rym, I finally am interested in reading this and it still hasn't been updated. Any plans to soon?
  • Dammit Rym, I finally am interested in reading this and it still hasn't been updated. Any plans to soon?
    What with podcasting not exactly being a growth market at the moment, I haven't updated this since late July. To be perfectly honest, I've largely lost interest in the project. Partly, since I'd intended it to be a comprehensive guide, I would have had to include a great deal of information targeted at both complete nubs and more skilled technicians. The former is so uninteresting that I've had trouble motivating myself to write it all out.
  • edited October 2008
    To save Rym's time and generally help other interested parties, here are the two main sources I consulted when I tried to figure all this stuff out. First is, a German music store with an excellent and well structured online guide. They explain, in a way that's easy for a complete layperson to understand, what the different components are, what all the weird words mean and, most importantly, what all the different little nobs do. The following sections are required reading, if you want to set up a "high quality" (meaning not just a headset plugged into your laptop) podcast.

    Audio Interfaces
    Mic Preamps

    After you have read the above, you may find this to be of help as well. It is written much more haphazardly, so I really recommend getting to know the jargon first.

    21 ways to put together a rig
    Post edited by Dr. Timo on
  • On Twitter I just saw an announcement for a new podcast app called Overcast, and one of the features stood out to me:

    "Smart Speed

    Pick up extra speed without distortion with Smart Speed, which dynamically shortens silences in talk shows.

    Conversations still sound so natural that you’ll forget it’s on — until you see how much extra time you’ve saved."

    This reminds me of the "Make Rym and Scott sound more intelligent" filter you use, one that I've wanted on MANY other podcasts I listen to. Now it seems that as long as I listen to those podcasts on this app (I've not tried it yet though) I'll get the same benefits. For example, maybe I'll finally get to the end of a Hardcore History episode.
  • Interesting to do that on the client side, actually.
  • I'll report back in a bit if it's worth it.
  • I know that ours took a good deal of tweaking to sound natural.

    Of course, we stopped using it around 2010. GeekNights is all natural now. ;^)
  • I'm just trying it with a podcast that normally has lots of pauses, and it's almost unnoticeable. I replayed the same section a few times with it on and off, and I couldn't tell the difference from the audio quality, but it got through at 1.21x the speed.

    This is another feature which will be handy for when I'm out on my bike or sitting in a hot tub:

    "Voice Boost

    Boost and normalize volume so every show is loud, clear, and at the same volume.

    Listen in more places, such as noisy cars, and still hear what everyone says without cranking the volume so high for quiet people that the loud ones blow your ears out."

    That decreases the quality, but there are some shows with such rough dynamic range that I can only listen to in very quiet places.
  • I hate podcasts that can't balance their dynamic range, but the thing I hate more is when I listen to Pardon the Interruption and the Nascar Nationwide promo is way louder than the rest of the show. It's bad enough that the sound quality is like 32 kbs, at least balance the God forsaken podcast.
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