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10 January 2010 @ 07:40 am
Adventures in Podcasting 1  
I’ve been meaning to record podcasts for some time and I’m also a big fan of new, shiny toys. This has led to one or two experiments in sound recording.

Basic Principle – you need a microphone and something that can record sound, and you need to be able to get that sound onto your computer.

Technique number 1 – video camera
As Debbie and I enjoy making amateur short films we have bought a cheap ($400) mini-DV video camera about four years ago. A video camera has a built-in microphone, and most modern video cameras can connect to a computer either through usb or firewire.

Step 1: Record the story onto video camera tape.
Step 2: Capture tape to computer.
Step 3: Edit out stuff-ups (in Premiere Elements)
Step 4: Export audio track (as mp3)

This was a pretty easy process. Video camera mics are omni-directional so I had to make sure I was in a quiet space (no humming fridges or air conditioners blowing). I pointed the camera at myself, sat about two feet away from the camera, and read the story. One advantage of this method is that you get a video track so if you make a mistake you can do something really obvious like wave your hands in front of the camera to make it easier to find when you’re editing out blunders.

As an attempt to get a nicer sound quality I had a go at plugging a microphone into the camera. Experience has shown me that in the world of cheap microphones for plugging into video cameras you shouldn’t overlook the trusty Singstar mic. A Singstar mic plugged into a camera, either very carefully handheld or propped up on a book or in a mic stand about two feet from your mouth gives a nice quality of sound. They’re quite directional so they can help reduce background noise if there are birds chirping outside or cars driving by from time to time. It worked well, although you have to be careful not to bump the mic or mic cord.

Why did you bother to use a camera, dude?
Three reasons. Firstly my home computer is a few years old and the fan on the power supply is a little noisy. After I cleaned out a build-up of dust at the end of the last year it’s all in working order but it’s not exactly whisper quiet. This background computer noise could end up on a recording (though the machine is under a desk so that’s not too likely). Secondly my son’s bedroom is right next to our home office and any sound recording I do is either during his naptime or when he’s asleep for the night. While it’s not a noisy activity I prefer not to risk waking him up! Lastly there’s the strange computers-are-weird phenomenon that the sound quality of recording directly to my computer isn’t as good as the sound quality on a video camera. It’s not bad, it’s just not as clean. I don’t know why though having a cheap sound card may be a factor. I could have spent some time poking around on the internet working out the best direct-to-PC recording solution, but given that I had another, more convenient method available, I went with what I knew. I do have a laptop at school with a built-in mic which is OK, but again not as nice sound quality as the video camera.

Technique number 2 – Olympus voice recorder (WS-210S)
At the end of 2009 the Media Studies department at my school bought a couple of Olympus voice recorders. They’re useful things for students doing interviews or wanting a backup or more present sound recording for a video. They’re also very useful for me if I want to record podcasts :-)

The built-in mics are of good quality but, like a video camera mic, they are omni-directional, designed to pick up sound from any direction. This is very useful in a lecture theater but not so great for a podcast. To improve the sound quality I used a $2 shop lapel mic, clipped onto my t-shirt. I was a little skeptical when I saw a lapel mic in the $2 shop but I have been very impressed with its quality. It’s a cheap little plastic mic but it sounds very good. I went back to get a bunch for the Media Studies class but they’d sold out. Looking around on the internet it appears you can buy a similar cheap lapel mic for about $4 from a couple of online retailers in NZ. Of course, you could buy a more expensive lapel mic if you wanted to (or indeed use your Singstar mic).

Convenience is a great factor of using a voice recorder. I could stand up to read, choose any room in the house, move around a little while talking, and the voice recorder can plug straight into a computer for copying files over. The sound quality is very good with a nice presence (the voice sounds close), volume and clarity (no breath sounds on the mic, not too harsh on the s sounds). Recording with a cheap lapel mic and a not-so-cheap voice recorder ($125 from Trademe.co.nz) has been a real pleasure, and it’s the set-up I’m going to use for the foreseeable future).

Once the sound file (WMA) was transferred to my computer I used Adobe Audition to trim out the errors and save as an mp3, and it was ready to go.

Yesterday I tried out the lapel mic with my school laptop (HP 6730b), to see if it sounded better than my home computer. I recorded straight into the free program Audacity, which was fairly easy to use and had some good editing features. It did indeed sound better than my home PC, but not as clean as the Olympus sound recorder. There was a very slight buzzing sound in the background of the recording. Once the recording had been compressed down to 32kps to upload to the internet that sound was pretty indistinguishable from the compression, but it’s good to know for the future that the Olympus wins hands-down out of all the currently available methods.

All that said, it should be noted that I’m a Media Studies teacher and while I don’t control my department’s budget I am periodically assigned the task of choosing and buying new toys for the department. It’s good to have a range of solutions available to students for their projects, and students sometimes bring in gear from home and put it to inventive use, so I shall be keeping my eyes open for any improvements to this setup!

To listen to the recording made yesterday with the $2 lapel mic, HP laptop and Audacity you can visit my podbean page or (hopefully) click on this (works for me in Google Chrome and IE, but not Firefox):

demongrounddemonground on January 10th, 2010 09:11 pm (UTC)
Hey Matt,

I've been thinking about doing a podcast for an age myself (something RPG focused), if you are interested in pooling resources just holler!