In my previous article on YSDC's 2013 podcasting equipment I dealt primarily with the equipment used for producing The Silver Lodge. This time I'll be talking about what we use for mobile and games recordings, along with the use of webcams.
When out and about there are two primary recording set ups put to use (depending on the situation). These are:
iPhone 4S with iRig PRE, Shure SM58 Microphone, Hindenburg Field Recorder software
This set up works well for one on one interviews. The iRig PRE connects the iPhone to the Shure SM58 mic via a short (0.5m) XLR cable. The SM58 is a dynamic cardioid microphone which means you have to be quite close to the other speaker to pick up an effective sound. This does mean however that combined with its rugged construction, the SM58 is ideal for recording in noisy and busy places like conventions as the cardioid (heart-shaped) pick up pattern will reject a lot of the surrounding extraneous sound. The iRig PRE is also versatile enough to provide phantom power for condenser mics should you need it.
For recording in outside spaces (such as in the street) a windjammer is used. You'll have seen these typically on TV at news events, stuck on the end of boom poles. It makes the microphone look like a hairy rat - or in our case it's a matter of "Talk to the Tribble". It does a very effective job of cutting down wind noise that might otherwise end up overpowering the recording.
To actually record the audio that comes into the phone we use the smaller partner to our main editing software, Hindenburg Field Recorder. It's a powerful and effective iPhone app that features a big button to hit for recording, file markers, the ability to alter mic sensitivity, edit on the phone (if needed) and the ability to share and upload to other locations. The latter is worth mentioning in a little more detail.
Hindenburg Field Recorder can export its audio in a number of ways, including sending by email, uploading files via FTP to a designated server and also uploading to SoundCloud. Any of these are useful ways to ensure you have immediate back-ups of your recordings elsewhere (just in case you lose your phone). Using the SoundCloud service you can also share your recordings directly with an audience. Another very handy feature of HFR is that if it's on the same Wi-Fi network as the Hindenburg Journalist desktop program it can wirelessly transmit a selected file straight into an open window on the desktop program in a matter of seconds. No need for cables or syncing, it just appears right in the chosen editing window.
While the above describes an ideal and prepared set-up, sometimes an unexpected recording opportunity can occur (no external mic or connectors), in which case recording straight into the phone can still do a great job (as long as you're indoors and out of any wind). It's said that "The best camera is the one you have with you.", the sentiment of that maxim is also true for audio.
Zoom H4n Handy Recorder
This is probably one of the few times where the marketing name of a device actually lives up to its promise. The Zoom H4n Handy Recorder was discussed in the previous 2013 article as a back-up recorder for The Silver Lodge shows; it also performs double duty for making seminar recordings. The device (which for some reason always reminds me of a weird Star Trek Tricorder) is able to produce stereo (and even four channel) recordings. The XY configuration of the mics, if placed near the panellists/speakers, does seem to help reduce some of the ambient echo. The Zoom H4n is usually mounted on a Joby Gorillapod to allow for a range of placements, or attached to the end of a Rode Boompole when using a Rode NTG2 shotgun mic with W6 windscreen. The H4n is able to run off two AA batteries for several hours and accept high capacity SD memory cards such as Kensington SDHC cards, this is a high quality and versatile audio recorder. Its ability to accept two XLR inputs is an added bonus when connecting to external microphones.
When making field recordings, running off batteries is the most convenient way to power the machines. In these cases it's far better to invest in some decent recharagables designed for high power consumption devices such as Uniross Ni-MH 2700 mAh or higher. If you can, always charge a few more batteries than you think you need...
Game Recordings - Binaural
The game recordings YSDC produces are a specialist format. Back in the day we used the old trusty iRiver iFP 790 (hung from the light fitting as usual). Fast-fowarding once more we've now settled on a dedicated set-up that makes use of the binaural recording technique.
In short, binaural recording endeavours to replicate the way people hear sound naturally, by placing two small microphones in a position similar to where human ears would be. Sometimes (as we do) a dummy head (Kunstkopf) is used for easier placement of the mics and to better copy the natural listening experience.
The use of the binaural recording technique provides a suitably accurate replication of what is heard in 3-dimensional space (literally "3D Surround Sound"). You can hear what's going on at both sides, as well as front and back, above and below you. To gain the full experience you do however need to listen back to binaural recordings on headphones (so your ears can more accurately reflect where the microphones were placed). The result can be remarkable. There is no need to individually mic the participants, no need for additional wires or mixers, but you do have to accept that there's a disembodied head sitting in the middle of the table, listening everything you say. Strangely enough, you soon get used to it... (we call ours, Phillips).
The current equipment we use for making the binaural game recordings consists of a set of Soundman OKM II Studio binaural microphones, sat in the ear sockets of a Soundman dummy head (ours is black, in a vaguely Art Deco style), the 3.5mm mini cable output of which goes into a Soundman PPA (Phantom Power Adapter) which is then split down two stereo sets of XLR cables. One set leads into a Marantz PMD 670 Digital Compact Portable Recorder while the other feeds into the old faithful Zoom H4n for back-up purposes.
The resultant file is then imported into Hindenburg Journalist for audio levelling and any basic editing. It is critical with binaural files that both left and right audio tracks have the same process applied to them (e.g. volume gain/reduction) or else the binaural effect can be destroyed (so that means no waveform compression can be applied - full dynamic range, only). Due to this being a "noisier" set-up than The Silver Lodge (i.e. not a full XLR cable path) some noise reduction is applied using BIAS Soundsoap (company now defunct).
The final files are produced as 128 Kbps stereo MP3s. Ideally these should either be 192 Kbps MP3s or 128 Kbps AAC files to better cope with stereo encoding, however these latter file sizes and formats remain problematic for some.
As with other recordings the files are topped & tailed with appropriate ID3 tags and album art before being released on the relevant podcast feed.
Something new for us for 2013. Besides producing live audio shows we've been trialling the use of webcams (both stills & video) to go along with the live edition of The Silver Lodge. This can act as an additional element of interest for those tuning in. Dealing with the static webcam first:
YSDCam 1 - Static
The webcam consists of an iPhone 4S placed on top of a Scanbox. The image of the contents placed in the Scanbox are transmitted over Wi-Fi by the iPhone to an Apple MacBook running Evological's EvoCam webcam software, which then uploads an image once every 30 seconds to the YSDC server where it can be viewed online. It's useful for showing close-ups of items we're talking about and has the advantage of being both wireless and portable.
YSDCam 2 - Video
The second webcam is a dedicated piece of equipment, a Logitech Broadcaster. This is again a portable wireless webcam that operates over the local Wi-Fi network. Besides being wireless the Logitech Broadcaster, if desired, also has the ability to stream directly to Ustream at the push of a button (with no need of an intervening machine). The 720p output from the Broadcaster can also be monitored and managed on other portable devices such as the iPhone and the iPad.
We do however have a wire connected to the camera, it provides full audio from the Saffire Pro 40 interface (see previous article), including mics/music/clips, into the external audio port on the back of the webcam (rather than just relying on the camera's own internal mic which would only pick up the hosts' voices fairly inadequately).
The outputs from YSDCam 1 & 2 are delivered to a dedicated web page which also includes a "Zulu Clock" (displaying the current time as GMT/UTC/Zulu) so worldwide, any audience member knows what the current time is in relation to the show.
One of the issues in dealing with live shows and webcams is the matter of bandwidth; specifically the amount of upstream bandwidth you have to play with. YSDC shows are broadcast over a limited 0.5 Mbps upstream. (I look on with envious eyes at those with their fancy Fibre broadband and their 2 Mbps upload speeds... ) In our case, taking into account that 128 Kbps is needed for the audio stream and a periodic 30 KB is needed for YSDCam 1, that means we only have room to run the live video stream from YSDCam 2 at a resolution of 176p (226 Kbps). This is small but hopefully adequate enough to gain a sense of what's going on in the "studio".
Here we conclude my second article on Yoggie's 2013 podcasting set-up. Again I hope it's been informative. If you have any questions, do pop by our Unshowable forum topic on the matter and I'll be happy to answer as I can.
One more thing. Podcasting can be a lot of fun. It's a fantastic way to share your passion with fellow fans. Why not give it a try? Some ten years on we're still having a blast.