PODCASTING EQUIPMENT – what to buy

The following is a guide to what you need equipment-wise to start podcasting. If it’s in CAPITALS it’s pretty much essential although if you’re on a really tight budget you can get away with just a computer and its built-in microphone plus some free software.

Most people already have a COMPUTER that’s good enough for making podcasts. Anything purchased within the last few years will do because it will almost certainly have a reasonably good soundcard pre-installed. And while each has pros and cons there’s not really that much to choose between Macs and PCs. A laptop gives you added flexibility. You can turn it into a mobile recording studio with the addition of an audio interface (see below) and, of course, you can take your work with you wherever you go and edit at home or on location late into the night with a glass of red wine (or whatever takes your fancy).

Of all of the AUDIO SOFTWARE available I’d plump for Audacity. It’s free and what’s more it’d still be a bargain if it cost £100. So Google it or click http://audacity.sourceforge.net/

You’ll also need a bit RSS SOFTWARE to help you write the really simple syndication files that let your subscribers know when there’s a new episode. I like FeedForAll which you can buy with complete confidence for under £30 by clicking on a logo below. This clever package also uploads your podcast audio and any associated images. The first logo is for PC users. If you want to try before you buy can download a trial version here (PC only).The second logo is for Mac users.

Buy FeedForAll

Buy FeedForAll Mac

There is syndication software available without this dual function but then you’ll need a separate bit of FTP SOFTWARE. I use a combination of the file transferring abilities built into Dreamweaver and a free piece of software called Cyber Duck which is designed specifically for Mac users. Find it at http://cyberduck.ch/

Strictly speaking you don’t need a RECORDER because you could use your computer to capture the audio directly into the Audacity software via your computer’s built in microphone (if it has one) or via a microphone plugged into the miniature jack socket on the side, back or front panel. But you’ll pretty soon end up needing a field recorder if you’re doing podcasts more ambitious than a single voice. The advantage is they’re cheaper than laptops so losing or breaking them in the field is less painful. And because they’re designed to do just one job (i.e. record sound) they tend to do it better than a multi-tasking computer. The best in my view is the Tascam DR-100 Portable Digital Recorder.

Tascam DR-100 digital audio recorder

This is one of the few reasonably-priced recorders that has what are called XLR inputs which enable you to directly plug in professional microphones. It costs £325 from Dolphin Music (a reliable firm that I hold no particular brief for but from experience has a great ethos and even greater customer service). Check it out at http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/61174-tascam-dr100mkii-handheld-recorder.html

The DR-100 MkII comes with a MEMORY CARD but it’s fairly small so you’ll probably want to get a bigger one. I’d go for an 8GB Sandisk SDHC memory card which will set you under £5 and can carry more than five days of audio recorded in mp3 format. You can get cards with up to 32GB of storage but why bother? On the longest of records I’ve never needed more than eight hours of storage and, in any case, when the disk reaches capacity you can transfer the audio to your computer to free up space. A short USB cable is included with the Tascam DR-100 for this purpose. Check out a range of memory cards here at Jigsaw 24 – another supplier of audio equipment that I’ve found is pretty reliable and competitively priced – http://www.jigsaw24.com/search/sandisk?ct=disabled&3991=SDHC PC World is also pretty good.

It’s worth investing in good quality MICROPHONES. Your choice is dictated by what and where you’ll be recording. A good quality, general purpose microphone is the Beyerdynamic M58. It’s called a reporter’s microphone because it’s the sort carried by radio and TV reporters and is good for short, news-style interviews and vox pops and, when coupled with a stand (see below), is okay for recording voice overs and longer interviews. You’ll also need what’s called a male-to-female XLR lead to connect the microphone to the XLR socket on the bottom of the recorder. Dolphin Music sell the M58 bundled with a 3m lead (long enough for most situations) at £132.06. See http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/4512-beyerdynamic-m-58.html

Holding a microphone still for any length of time is difficult and can give you cramp so a STAND is helpful. At £17.99 the Dolphin Music black microphone stand is good value. See it at http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/43815-dolphin-mic-boom-stand black.html

If you’re planning to do lots of interviews and want the interviewer’s voice to be recorded as well as the interviewee’s then you’ve got two options: either move one microphone deftly from one person to the other with a flick of the wrist; or get a second microphone. Two microphones are preferable because It’s easy to forget to point one in the right direction. For this reason a lapel or clip microphone (so called because they clip on to a tie or lapel) is worth adding to your podcasting kit, if not initially, then at some later stage.  Then the interviewer can use the reporter’s mic (see above) and the interviewee can wear the clip mic . And there’s an additional benefit – once it’s clipped in place and the sound level’s taken the clip mic shouldn’t need adjusting because the distance between mouth and microphone stays roughly the same.  At £148.80 the Audio Technica AT831B Omnidirectional Lavalier Condenser Microphone is a good quality, medium-priced example. You can find it at http://www.jigsaw24.com/product-details/g950ara/audio-technica-at831b-omnidirectional-lavalier-microphone-(xlr)

Both the Beyerdynamic and the Audio Technica are wired microphones – that is they need to be connected to the recorder with a wire. In most circumstances wired microphones are fine but wireless, or radio, mics are essential if you’re recording in any situation where a wire would get in the way or present a trip hazard. I’ve used them to record interviews with rock climbers whilst stationed safely at the bottom of the rock face! Radio mics always come in pairs – a transmitter attached to the interviewee and a receiver attached to the recorder. The Sennheiser ew 122P G3 Wireless System including ME4 Clip-on Microphone will set you back £364 exc VAT but is a nice bit of kit. Find it at http://www.jigsaw24.com/product-details/g982ara/sennheriser-ew-122p-g3-wireless-system-including-me4-clip-on-microphone

Sennheiser K6 System with ME 66 Shotgun head and Rycote Softie/Handle

If you’re feeling really indulgent or have a huge budget and are planning to record a lot of sound effects – especially outside – then what’s called a gun mic might be a worthwhile addition. The Sennheiser K6 System with ME 66 Shotgun head and Rycote Softie/Handle is excellent and comes complete with a wind guard (see below) but will set you back £379 plus the VAT. See it at http://www.jigsaw24.com/Default.aspx?IP=&ITEM=JIGSG178AHA

WIND GUARDS are fluffy coats or foam covers that fit over the business end of microphones to prevent, as the name suggests, wind ruining the recording. For what they are – a bit of foam or a dead cat – they’re expensive little blighters but well worth investing in if you’re going to be recording outside because even the lightest breeze can spoil a recording. So too can shaking hands (think nerves or cold) which can be cured by SHOCK MOUNTS. These, in essence, are like pistol grips that hold the microphone in a rubber band cradle to give your poor old microphone a rattle free ride.Have a browse at http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/category/recording/microphones/mic-accessories/wind-guards/ and at http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/category/recording/microphones/mic-accessories/shock-mounts/ Wind guards and shock mounts tend to be microphone specific so if you’ve got three mics you could well need three wind guards.

Beyerdynamic DT770 Pro 80 ohm headphones

HEADPHONES are essential to check the quality of the recording as you go along. The best ones are those with padded earpieces that cut out, or rather muffle, the ambient or background sound and let you concentrate on what the microphone is actually “hearing.” Beyerdynamic is a good brand and the DT770 Pro 80 ohm costs £118.84 at http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/16774-beyerdynamic-dt-770-pro-80-ohm.html

I find a foam-filled FLIGHT CASE useful for keeping everything together and safe. I got mine from Machine Mart for under £30 http://www.machinemart.co.uk/shop/range/guid/F0EF10AF-B1F1-4BA8-94BB-03006FB10F0A A better option if you’re travelling a lot is a Lowe Pro soft kit bag. They come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes some that are worn like rucksacks and some over the shoulder. Whilst designed for still and video cameras they’re perfect for audio recording equipment too. Check out the range at http://www.lowepro.com/

M-AUDIO Fast Track Pro 4 X 4 Mobile USB Audio/Midi Interface with Preamps

The only other thing you might need and something I recently added to my kit is an AUDIO INTERFACE. This enables you to plug professional microphones into your computer – not a bad idea because the built in microphones are hopelessly tinny. Think of the interface as a middleman – the black box (some of them are pink!) plugs into a USB or Firewire port on your computer and the microphones plug into it. I got the M-AUDIO Fast Track Pro 4 X 4 Mobile USB Audio/Midi Interface with Preamps (sounds more like an car doesn’t it?) which set me back £125. But this bit of kit is no longer available new so instead I’d go for the Tascam US 200 which as far as I can see (without road testing it) does exactly the same job http://www.dolphinmusic.co.uk/product/57920-tascam-us-200-usb-audio-interface.html for £129.

If you’d like us to take away the hassle we can source all or any of the above at the most competitive prices and supply it to you under a single invoice with a day’s face-to-face set up and training. Please contact me for details via http://www.acmtraining.co.uk/contact.asp or post a comment below.

And remember we offer podcast training workshops to either mixed groups or in-house. Find out more at http://www.acmtraining.co.uk/podcasts.asp

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Rich

Rich

Helping you communicate with the written word, the spoken word and body language.

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