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YSDC Podcasting Equipment 2013 - Part I
In the Beginning
Before detailing our 2013 set-up it may be useful to provide a little context as to how we started back in 2004/5. During this earliest time in podcasting it was easiest to make use of what was immediately to hand, in this case an iRiver iFP-790. Holding a then hefty 256 MB of solid state storage this little device had the ability to record and hardware encode directly to MP3 as well as play back files like any normal MP3 player. The simplest and most unobtrusive method of production?; hanging the device from the light fitting above our heads and editing the resulting audio in the freeware program, Audacity. It was a while yet before moving onto the heady heights of an old baked bean can and a lapel mic stuck on the end of a pencil...
Fast Forward Nine Years
During the intervening decade many equipment configurations have been used, sometimes changing from show to show, however of more immediate interest may be the system we use (as of writing), to produce shows such as The Silver Lodge.
The following describes the hardware, software and workflow used in 2013. I'm deliberately not using the term "today" as experience has taught that its use can become outdated relatively quickly (though the set-up described here is quite stable).
I'm going to start with probably one of the most important pieces of equipment and it's likely not what you think it might be. Many articles about podcasting start with microphones, however here I'm going to talk about room treatment, i.e. the use of acoustic panels.
In The Silver Lodge (and other "in studio" recordings) hanging on the walls at strategic points are a series of portable panels covered in Auralex acoustic foam. The pyramid-shaped foam helps dampen acoustic reflections from nearby flat wall surfaces (that is, it cuts down on the hollow echoey sound you often hear when recording in small rooms). Without some sort of treatment, even a great microphone will pick up the hollowness of the room (although with wonderful clarity).
As mentioned, our own sound absorbing foam is mounted as movable panels which can be put up and taken down when needed. The panels run as a discontinuous strip (c. 0.25m high) at about head-height (when sat down) around the perimeter of the room. The difference between using the panels and not can be dramatic. The effort in using them has proven worthwhile.
An alternative to sound treating a room is to move somewhere that already has some echo dampening qualities (such as a clothes closet) or perhaps recording under a duvet (yes, we've done that - never again). Neither are ideal, but certainly feasible for single host shows. Another popular approach is to use a dynamic microphone (limited range sensitivity) and simply get in close to the mic, but this does require more "mic discipline" and can lock you in to speaking in a certain posture.
However, moving on to the microphones used at YSDC...
The Lodge uses Rode NT1-A microphones for each host. These are high quality condenser microphones with XLR (analogue) connector outputs. This mic is often a favourite of singers & musicians on a budget. It has very low self-noise (noise produced by the electronics in the equipment itself) and high sensitivity. The latter of which may be a boon or a bane depending on circumstance.
The NT1-A mics were chosen primarily for their high fidelity. Condenser mics require power to operate ("Phantom Power", typically designated as +48V) and their sensitivity means that hosts don't have to be so close as to "eat the microphone" to be heard clearly. Often this does mean that additional sounds from the surrounding environment may be picked up as well, but that can sometimes be an advantage, to help put the recording in context (it depends on your show). It certainly allows our show hosts a greater degree of physical freedom.
Besides the NT1-A mics, there is also a Heil PR40 dynamic microphone sat in an SM-2 shockmount that provides a different vocal timbre which is useful when doing "X+1" shows where having one of the hosts sounding a little different can be useful (such as for a quiz show host as we have in QuizziQal - 4 contestants +1 game show host).