Here is the equipment we use to record The Overwhelmed Brain podcast.
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The Overwhelmed Brain Podcast Equipment Setup
Before we begin, I’ll define some terminology:
I shall do my best to describe each component and how they are connected.
One of the main components of my system is the Heil PR-40 Microphone. I selected this for its excellent short-range pickup. It does a fantastic job of picking up only the noise closest to it, and the occasional loud siren outside. And by learning to project my voice, I was able to keep the input levels low enough to avoid as much background noise as possible.
As a separate purchase, I got the RE320POP Fine Mesh Metal Screen Pop Filter (That’s the round black-rimmed thing in the front). This thing minimizes the sound of fast moving air from your mouth hitting the mic. For example, the sound of the letter P is usually accompanied with a breath.
Like so many other pod/broadcasters, I love this mic.
My PR-40 is mounted in what’s called a shock mount. The idea of a shock mount is to minimize vibration that typically comes from the mic stand or boom. In other words, if I accidentally hit my desk, the vibration that travels along the boom arm will be diminished when it hits the shock mount. The shock mount I use is the Heil PRSM-C. It is specifically designed to fit this microphone.
What holds the microphone in place, as if it were levitating in front of my mouth, is the carefully balanced boom. This comes with a clamp that opens to about 2″ to use on a desk or table. It also hides the cable pretty well in a channel built into the arm. The boom I use is the Heil PL2T Heavy Duty Mic Boom Arm with C-Clamp.
The central hub to where all the audio signals are sent is the Mackie 1202-VLZ3 mixer. The mixer’s main job is to receive audio from any number of sources, and distribute it to any number of devices. Being able to control volume levels from the different sources, both incoming and outgoing is vital. You can podcast without a mixer, but if you have more than one sound source (tablet, mp3 player, phone, etc) you may not be able to get all the sound into your computer. The mixer allows you to plug in more than one sound device at a time and control the volume of each.
The reason I chose this particular mixer is because it has Aux Send output sockets. That means I can send audio to different devices at different audio levels.
In other words, if I wanted to raise or lower the volume of my voice going back into the laptop, I could just turn the AUX 1 dial left or right. This dial is helpful for several reasons because it can distinctly control the volume of any output signal.
For example, when you’re interviewing someone on Skype or some other service (have you tried appear.in? It’s excellent!) but they keep hearing their own voice echoing back into their ears, you could “minus” their voice from their mix so that wouldn’t happen. This is called a “mix minus” setup.
You can also use AUX 1 for other reasons as well. It can come in handy if you want to control a volume level to a device like a digital recorder. It all depends on your needs. I plug my headphone jack from my cellphone into the Aux 1 port when I have to use my cellphone to record guests. That’s a tad advanced if you don’t know the basics but worth it if you care at all about audio levels (which you should) and professional sound (which is optional, but highly recommended).
From my microphone, I use a Mogami 10′ female XLR cable to male XLR. Head’s up on this… Mogami is a pricey brand and there are alternatives, so it’s up to you how high quality you want to go. I chose top of the line.
This XLR cable goes straight to the MIC 1 XLR socket of my mixer:
Not only do I want my voice coming into the mixer, but I also want my guest’s voice as well.
During my initial setup, I ran a cable from the mixer directly to the headphone socket of my laptop. I found that to be a terrible idea. The mixer is so sensitive that it picked up all the noises from the electronics inside the laptop and amplified them.
The components of a laptop are all mashed together, so unwanted noise (bleed over electronic noise) travels freely into the mixer. What I did to counter that was purchase a USB interface designed to clean up the sound and minimize the noise. This USB interface cleans up the signal before it gets amplified (pre-amp) has both XLR and TRS connections so that you can use either type of cable.
I bought the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface, which solves both the hardware connection limitations of a laptop (just a headphone and mic socket), and the unwanted noise and “dirtier” signal that a laptop sound card typically puts out.
I am using the Scarlett’s headphone port to connect into the stereo inputs, channel 5 – 6 on my mixer. This allows me to get a full left, right stereo signal. I don’t necessarily need a stereo signal for speaking, but I play music that has left and right sound so I made sure I had stereo ability in my hardware.
These next two pictures show both the RCA cable I used, and the adapters necessary to make the connections.
Now that I have the signals in my mixer, I want to distribute them to three different sources. One of those sources is back to the laptop.
The reason I am sending audio back into the laptop is because I want my guest to be able to hear me. Plus, if I were to plug in an MP3 player, or tablet, or cell phone into the mixer, they would also be able to hear that as well.
Another reason I send audio back into the laptop is because I like to use a software recorder as well as a hardware recorder, depending on what I’m doing.
The software I use is now an antique, but I love it. It’s Sony Acid Pro 6. I’m just used to it and it does everything I need.
UPDATE 4/13/16: I’ve finally moved on from Acid Pro to probably the best Digital Audio Workstation one could ask for: Reaper.
I purchased a new PC and wanted to use updated software so I searched around and found Reaper. Sony Acid Pro stopped at version 7 many, many years ago and they’ve not updated it since.
Reaper does everything Acid Pro did for me, plus a ton more. Every day in one way or another, I find another way to save more time. It has made my life so much easier, and it’s packed full of features with the ability to use plugins and a whole slew of other things.
The best part about Reaper? If you think about what you’d like it to do, it probably already does it. You’ll be using it one day and think to yourself, “I wish there was a way it did this… oh wait, it does!”
Anyway, let’s get back to work. The way I get audio to go back into the laptop is to utilize the special Aux 1 socket:
The second device I send the audio signals to is my Roland R-05 Wave / MP3 Recorder. This device is pretty awesome. In conjunction with a 4 GB SDHC card, you can record about 60 hours of audio. I don’t have a power supply for mine, but it’s supposed to last about 16 hours during recording, or 30 hours during playback on two AA batteries!
I mount my R-05 to a small clamp called a Clampette by High Sierra:
I get the signal from my mixer to the recorder using the MAIN OUT sockets.
Coming from the mixer is a dual TS 1/4″ plug to single 3.5 mm mini plug, plugged into the Line In on the recorder (see UPDATE below, I have since changed this. The setup I describe here does work, but I chose a different route).
The next device I output to is my pair of MDR-7506 Sony Dynamic Stereo Headphones. These sound beautiful, fit comfortably (if not a tad tight), and bring out the highs and lows nicely. They come with their own 3.5mm to 1/4″ TRS adapter.
The last equipment I output sound to are my “studio” speakers (also called monitors) – not pictured. They are a pair of Creative PC speakers. I only use them for general listening purposes, not while editing audio.
However, I will show you where I plug them in:
The speakers come with the typical PC jack: a 3.5 mm mini plug. I have that cord plugged into a female 3.5 mm mini plug to dual 1/4″ TS Plugs. The reason I have them plugged into Control Room is so that I can control the volume to them with the CTL ROOM/SUBMIX knob.
UPDATE: I recently changed one connection that has made a world of difference in the level of audio coming into the recorder. With the above connections, you really have to crank audio levels on the mixer for the Roland recorder to pick them up well. My voice always ended up sounding lower than my guest’s.
But, I found a way to send much louder signals into the recorder, and that’s to use Aux Send socket #2. The only thing I record on my Roland is my voice, so it can be a single, mono signal. I decided to use Aux Send 2 because I have an individual volume control for Aux 2 on each channel. I simply turn the Aux 2 dial as I’m talking until I see the Roland peak levels bouncing high, but not high enough to blink the red light (peaking). This is a fantastic way to level out the sounds during recording, but one of many setups you can do (there are many more).
So if you want to do this, unplug the dual TS 1/4″ plug from the MAIN OUT sockets on the mixer, and get yourself a single TS 1/4″ plug to a 3.5mm jack conversion cable. Note: This setup will record your voice on only one channel of the Roland because it has stereo inputs. If you want to record your voice to both channels, you’ll need a mono to stereo 3.5mm female to male adapter to be able to send a single mono output to both Left and Right inputs of the Roland. You still only use the one Line In port on the Roland, but it records on both left and right channels.
If that sounds confusing, leave me a comment and I’ll clarify. This is now my setup however, and I very much like the levels now.
Well, there you have it! This concludes the tour of my podcasting equipment. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
And now I’ll share the most important lessons I’ve learned in setting all this up:
- The shorter you can get the audio cables, the less likely you will hear unwanted sound and interference
- The higher quality the cable, the less unwanted sound and interference
- The higher quality the equipment, the less unwanted sound and interference (do you see a theme here?)
- The less adapters you use, the less degradation of the signal.
- Using an external recorder allows you to keep your computer free for Skype, playing music, etc.
- Turn off the mixer when plugging things in, unless you want to blow out your eardrums
- Background noise can be decreased by playing with both the Gain and Level adjustments on the mixer
And here’s a list of every item, and what I paid for each:
- $269.99 – Mackie 1202-VLZ3 mixer
- $199.00 – Roland R-05 Wave / MP3 Recorder
- $5.95 – Lexar 4 GB SDHC card, for the Roland recorder
- $11.95 – Clampette by High Sierra
- $279.00 – Heil PR-40 Microphone
- $105.00 – Heil PRSM-C Shock Mount
- $120.00 – Heil PL2T Heavy Duty Mic Boom Arm with C-Clamp
- $60.00 – RE320POP Fine Mesh Metal Screen Pop Filter
- $149.99 – Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface
- $77.95 – MDR-7506 Sony Dynamic Stereo Headphones
- $18.95 – 10′ female XLR cable to male XLR
- $3.88 – dual TS 1/4″ plug to single 3.5 mm mini plug
- $4.99 – 3.5mm female to dual 1/4″ TS plugs
- $49.99 – Mogami male to male TRS cable (I opted for the pricey one, but it’s not necessary)
Here’s my Amazon link if you’d like to look for similar items there.
Please let me know if you have any comments or questions, I’m happy to help.
Oh, if you want the source for all things podcasting, Visit Podcasters’ Paradise. I joined when the doors opened because I didn’t know a thing about podcasting. Now I know what I need to know.
Workflowy – Great for note taking and making checklists. I tried Evernote, but just can’t get past the clunky interface. Too slow and too many steps.
WordPress – The defacto standard for creating a professional looking blog. It’s free, comes with a couple free themes (layout, colors, etc), and looks super clean. This is the .org site. If you want a very simple, no frills blog or website, head over to www.wordpress.com.
WordPress Lifestyle Pro Theme – For my WordPress website, I use the Studiopress Genesis framework, with the Lifestyle theme. If that doesn’t make any sense, go to WordPress.com and use their free service. Otherwise, dive into WordPress.org, then pay for a premium theme like this one. It makes life so much easier.
aweber – This is how I add subscribers to my email list, and send automated follow up emails. Phenomenal tool, super easy to use. They even give you the WordPress widget to stick in your site. I am in love with this tool!
libsyn – (use promo code “brain” during checkout and get the rest of this month and all of next month free!) The absolute best podcast hosting service. This is the company you want if you are a podcaster. You will need a place to host your audio files, and these guys are solid. I love what they offer. There’s no reason to look any further for podcast hosting.
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Hope you got what you needed from this article. Reach out if you have any questions.