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YSDC Podcasting Equipment 2013 - Part I
Don't skimp on the cables. That's the primary advice I have here. Again you can have fantastic equipment but it can all be for naught if you've got cheap and "noisy" cables connecting it all together. To connect our devices I use Van Damme Neutrik XLR cables at the minimum length required to reach where they need to go. Get decent cables, and like the rest of your equipment, look after them.
You can get away without using headphones, but virtually everyone who records uses them for good reason; it's highly advantageous to monitor your own sound to check if there are any issues. If you do a show that includes audio clips, then you'll need headphones to hear them anyway.
Any decent set of headphones will do for monitoring purposes. I settled on Sennheiser RS120 headphones, primarily because 1) I already had one set as a birthday gift, 2) Being wireless they free up hosts to be able to move around (even walk away from the table) as necessary. The trick is you've got to remember to charge the batteries beforehand...
Many people use a mixer (of various sorts) to get the audio from their microphones into their recording device (computer or other hardware) which is something we did for a long time before moving to a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 interface. This magic box can in theory take up to 40 inputs (hence the number in its name) but more importantly for our purposes, it provides a high quality connection for up to 8 XLR inputs (though we rarely use more than four or five at once). The Saffire Pro 40 connects via FireWire to an Apple iMac computer and is managed by its own software on the Mac (Saffire Mix Control) that allows independent management and routing of the outputs from the audio interface. This is a versatile piece of kit, especially for adding in new sound sources.
Computer & Software
I've used Apple Macs on and off for over 20 years (mostly "on") and one of their strengths has always been their audiovisual capabilities.
The Apple iMac used for producing our shows takes the FireWire output from the Saffire interface and puts each independent input (each mic) into its own track in Apple GarageBand. GarageBand is free with Mac computers and remarkably this program has recorded everything, every time for us (not that it's our sole reliance - see below).
The end result of the recording is a set of tracks each carrying the primary output from one host (due to the nature of the recording location co-hosts are invariably picked up to some faint degree on the other tracks), giving each person their own track means that audio levels can be adjusted individually in the edit if required.
For our recordings there is another track; one for audio clips. For the playing of clips during shows I've found Ambrosia's Soundboard to be the most effective and easy to use. Sounds loaded into Ambrosia's sound cart are fed into the Saffire Pro 40 interface and then from the Saffire into GarageBand. Why not feed the Soundboard output directly into GarageBand?; simply because what the hosts themselves hear is the output from the Saffire hardware interface, not the output from the GarageBand software (this eliminates any possible monitoring delays into the hosts' headphones).
In 2013 The Silver Lodge began regularly transmitting live shows (having done so on a casual basis previously). Live transmission adds an extra kink into the mix (so to speak). The way we've implemented it is as follows: The output from GarageBand is fed into Rogue Amoeba's Nicecast broadcasting software which then flows into an Icecast 2 streaming audio server as a 128 Kbps MP3 stereo feed. The audio stream provided by Icecast can then be picked up by anyone who knows the URL and can be listened to via computer, phone or tablet.