How I Podcast – Hardware Setup

This post is a continuation of my series on how I create a typical episode of one of my podcasts: The SportsFathers (TSF).

Other posts in the series:

Podcasting setup

 

Hardware Setup

There are many different setups that people use to record podcasts. The ultimate task is to get the sound from my microphone (and in my case, Skype) into a digital format which can be processed and released as the final product. Many podcasters record everything through a mixer and onto a digital recording device, while others (like myself) use a computer to capture the audio.

As a result, you might find a different method that works better for your situation. What I do is certainly not the only way to do things. I’m essentially using hardware and software which I already was using for recording musical instruments, and it seems to work nicely for podcasting.

 

Goals

This is what I attempt to accomplish with my setup:

  • record my microphone audio in a high quality format
  • record my guests, who usually join me via Skype
  • have the capability of inserting sound effects on the fly in a way that can be both recorded and heard by myself and my guests
  • use separate tracks as much as possible to allow for the greatest flexibility in editing the final product

 

Hardware used:

and of course…

  • MacBook Pro (15″, mid-2012 model)

 

I’ll begin by briefly showing how everything is connected, and then we’ll get to my rationale for connecting things this way.

 

The Hardware Connections

Hardware connection diagram (ack!)

Hardware connection diagram (ack!)

 

Yeah, it looks complicated. But hopefully it’s not too horrible… Let’s look at this, step by step.

 

1. Connecting the Microphone

As noted in Part 1, I principally use a Shure SM7B dynamic microphone. I’ve found that this microphone excels at ignoring room echo and other random noises, and overall it produces a great sound. Many other podcasters are using microphones like the Heil PR40, or a microphone with a direct USB connection such as those produced by Blue Microphones. Sometimes my Skype guests simply use the ear buds that came with the iPhone, and the result isn’t all that bad.  I don’t think this option would be suitable for myself as the podcast’s host, but as a guest option it works reasonably well.

The microphone is connected to a dedicated preamplifier (preamp), which amplifies the microphone signal before it goes into a mixer or other device. This step isn’t strictly necessary since most mixers already have decent preamps built-in. However, in my case I have a FiveFish Audio SC1mk2 preamp for recording musical instruments. I liked how this preamp sounded with my voice, so I figured I may as well use it for podcasting! :-) But if you don’t have a dedicated preamp, simply connect your microphone directly to your mixer; you should still get great results.

FiveFish Audio SC1mk2 preamp

FiveFish Audio SC1mk2 preamp (homemade; I like electronics but I’m not that great of a painter!)

The preamp is connected to my mixer, which then goes to an audio interface (see #3 and #4 below) and gets recorded by my computer.

 

2. Recording a Skype Call

Until recently, many people would use a special piece of software to record a Skype call directly to an MP3 or WAV file. However, Microsoft recently announced that they are planning to change Skype so that these Skype recording programs will no longer work.

Other pieces of software exist that record everything that is playing on your computer’s speakers. One such piece of software is Audio Hijack Pro, and this would be an option if your budget isn’t too high.

Finally, a number of podcasters use a mixer to mix all of the audio sources together onto one track, and then they use a dedicated recording device such as a Zoom H2 to record everything at once.

To retain greater flexibility while recording, I use a hardware/software setup that records my voice+effects on one track and my Skype guests on a separate track. This allows me to edit the audio and adjust the levels/equalization more easily.

So how do I do this? It’s the Skype Preferences panel to the rescue!

skype-inputoutput

The Skype Preferences panel (Mac version shown above) allows you to set the input device (“Microphone”) and output device (“Speakers”). I’ve set the input to my audio interface, which is a PreSonus Firepod. The output is set to my Mac’s headphone port.

Then I take my Mac’s headphone port and connect it to my mixer, which then sends the audio to the PreSonus Firepod so that I can record it on a separate track (see below).

 

3. The Magical Mixer

I have a very basic mixer (Behringer UB1002), and this is where most of the magic happens. It combines the different audio signals together and outputs them onto two separate, stereo channels.

Behringer UB1002 mixer

Behringer UB1002 mixer

  • On the “Main” channel I combine two separate sources:
    • The microphone signal that comes via the preamp
    • the headphone output from my iPad. My iPad is used to play sound effects while I’m recording.

The “Main” channel (stereo) is then sent to my audio interface, the PreSonus Firepod (see below).

  • On the “Control Room” channel I take in the feed from my Macbook Pro’s headphone port. This is the audio from my guests on Skype.  I use the mixer’s  Control Room section to more easily control the sound levels coming from the laptop.

The Control Room channel is then sent to my audio interface, on a separate track from the Main channel.

Aside: I was having trouble with an annoying, low frequency hum coming from the Control Room connection. It resulted from something called a ground loop between my computer and the mixer. A “ground loop isolator” (seen in the diagram above) is designed to minimize this problem, and it works very well! It was about $25 from a local home electronics store.

 

4. Audio Interface

So now that my microphone, iPad audio, and Skype audio have been combined in the mixer, how do I get that sound back into the computer so I can record it? This is accomplished by using a device called an audio interface.

I use a PreSonus Firepod (FP10). It is an 8 input unit that uses a Firewire interface. (Other similar devices are available that use USB.) Since I originally bought this device for recording musical instruments, it’s probably overpowered for simple podcasting. However, it does allow for more flexibility, such as on the (rare) occasions when I’ve recorded multiple guests in person with multiple microphones.

PreSonus Firepod (FP10) computer audio interface

PreSonus Firepod (FP10) computer audio interface

I’ve connected my mixer’s main outputs (left and right) to inputs 1 and 2 on the Firepod. Skype shares what it receives from input 1 with everyone in the conversation. So, this means that everyone in the Skype call can hear both my voice and my iPad’s sound, which have been combined by the mixer.

Aside: I usually record in mono to save disk space and processor horsepower. However, if I desire to record in stereo, this setup gives me the option of doing so. In stereo, Input 1 is the left side, and Input 2 is the right side.

The audio from my guests on Skype gets routed through my mixer’s control room channel and is sent to inputs 3 and 4 on the Firepod. As with my voice/effects track, I usually record my Skype guests in mono (input 3), but I can add input 4 for a stereo recording if I desire.

 

That’s it?

Pretty much, at least for the hardware side of things! I’ll discuss software in my next post.

 

Questions? Comments?

Was this as clear as mud? Please feel absolutely free to ask any questions below!

Do you have any better ideas or other comments? Please share those as well! I love learning about this stuff!

 

Other posts in this series:

Author: Fr. Darryl Millette

A priest of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.

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