Some more thoughts on recording
Haven't posted here in a while. So just a few thoughts about sound recording that have come-up. Currently working on a project where quality of sound is at a premium (wherever the guest may be) so have become rather more adept at "simulreccing" - the basic technique is this.
- You and the guest speak over the phone
- You also record your questions using a mic and digital recorder at your end
- The guest records their answers at their end
- The guest emails you the recording of their answers
- The two halves are mixed together in something like Audacity
- The result should sound like you are in the studio with the guest.
Simulreccing scores high on sound quality - but it's slow and it does require the guest to have sound recording equipment. Having done it a few times I'd recommend asking the guest to make a test recording before you start. Laptop microphones, headsets etc can sound better than a phone but they need careful handling, and even professional microphones if connected to a computer can cause problems with hiss etc. Just a short test recording emailed to you will help you spot potential problems.
Lastly if the guest has a mobile phone and a portable recorder it's worth thinking about where you record. Richer sounds may come from recording in a location with plenty of atmosphere - even just opening a window on a street facing side of the house can add evocative atmosphere.
A cheap and cheerful guide to recording Audio
Paul Parkinson of Podcast User Magazine and I got together to produce a simple guide to cheap and cheeful recording. Among the various methods of recording we tried were:
- Recording using a £10 headset into my laptop
- Recording using a Nokia mobile phone
- Recording using an £20 iriver mp3 player (the ir799 family but the 256mb version)
- Recording using an Edirol and Beyer mic
- Recording using an Edirol and a £1 mic
FYI we recorded it all down a local pub and didn't apply compression or EQ to any of it. Edited it all in Audacity.
I think the results were quite suprising. You can download the whole thing here
Compact Flash Recorders Compared
There are three main compact flash (the little cards your digital camera uses) recorders. In LA, one very well respected radio journalist uses a Marantz 660 another equally respected one an Edirol R1. I've yet to see anyone with one of the M-Audio Microtrack recorders.
For speech podcasters considering buying a CF recorder it can be hard to know which is the best. Here are some thoughts:
Big Pluses: XLR connectors, none of those funny noises when the minijack lead turns in the plug. Phantom power (you can run that condenser mic) Lots of proper batteries- a long recording life.
Minuses: It's big! You wont be doing any undercover work with this one. I also belong to the larger they are the harder the fall school of technical robustness. Drop this and it will break, or break your foot.
Sound: Some questions about pre-amp problems and hum. No one I know who has one has complained of any issues.
Big Pluses: It's smaller than the marantz. It's not a big black brick. It has some nice built in stereo mics as well as a mic-in jack. You could use this without drawing too much attention to yourself. It's cheaper than the Marantz. Unlike the marantz it fits into the palm of your hand even if you aren't an orangutan.
Minuses: The minijack mic-in is not ideal. No phantom power. Its buttons and interface are said to be a bit fiddly. It does look quite fragile. Some reviewers complain of not being able to t-mark recordings
Sound: No complaints from any users I know. But have read reviews on the net that complain of built-in mic's not switching off.
Big Pluses: Cheaper. Smaller. Looks cute. Has both minijack and 1/4 connectors. Looks quite robust.
Minuses: From the OMG I can't believe they were so stupid school of design it runs off its own built-in rechargeable batteries...now you did remember to charge it before you interviewed Dr Kissinger didn't you? What! That the press conference is going on longer than expected and you are almost out of juice etc. etc. etc.... honestly built-in batteries is a big reason not to buy if you are planning any kind of intensive use.
Sound: ...I'll tell you when it finishes recharging... but seriously I've not heard any complaints, which is an improvement over both of the above where one sees occasional reports on the web of some users having problems.
So there you have it. For the occasional user they're all much of a muchness. For rough, tough intensive radio-hack type work though I have questions about all three... but on balance the Marantz probably comes out on top
What's really frustrating is that the Sony Hi MD's would probably beat all the above if it wasnt' for the stupid proprietory software they insist on foisting on users. I've read conflicting reports about whether one can transfer a .wav or .mp3 recorded using them out of sonic stage the sony software that interfaces with the PC freely. The spokesman at the PodCon said you can, a few user reviews say you can't. The bottom line is I don't trust Sony not to play games with DRM and proprietory formats etc. This is a real shame as I am a huge fan of my little recording Sony minidisk. It's getting on for 5 years old, works perfectly, is a lovely lime green colour, is small, records for 2hours on one AA battery. Has been dropped several times from height onto hard surfaces and still works. And doesn't hum/hiss or distort, though it does suffer from the minidisk flutter at the start of recordings (so run the tape for 10secs before you record dimbo!) Sony should take a long hard look at this product and think about why their new products don't match up.
A Broadcasters Wish List for Skype
In my day job I've been using Skype for recording interviews and doing live radio 2-ways. It's very, very useful but there are several features I'd add to an ideal Skype for Broadcasters
- The ability to adjust the relative volumes of conference call participants during a call. How many times have you set up a conference call where one member of the group was VERY LOUD and the other was very quiet?
- The ability to add conference call participants on the fly with silent rings. Why can't I bring a second participant into a conversation after its started
- A web interface on Skype.com for recording and sending voice messages. I know it's a distributed computing model but not everyone is able to download the software.
- Manual volume levels option on the main call screen not just in options.
- AND time marked recordings made on PC's at both sides of the conversation which Skype automatically recombines after the conversation has finished for sure fire glitch free interviews.
I'm sure there are others.. perhaps a "happy to be interviewed" tag for people living in interesting parts or the world on the Skype directory. And an option to give me a baritone voice, cut out all the umms, ahhs and deliver a mild electric shock everytime I introduce a sentence with "Well", say "you know" or "sort of".
Google talk vs Skype Part2
I've sadly neglected this weblog time for a bit of updating. Firstly I've now recorded several interviews on Googletalk and on Skype (computer to computer) Here are my thoughts.
a) Googletalk is more stable, but it sounds as though it has a narrower frequency response
b) Skype has a better frequency response, and better sounding codecs, but it's less stable and it's compression, or what sounds like it, can bring up background noise.
So it's really a case of horses for courses. However, I've not tried recording over low bandwidth connections with Googletalk, whereas I have with Skype which may be a decisive factor for some users.
I have a G4 mac - it's great for audio, but to be honest not much else - the DVD drive, for example, has NEVER managed to burn a DVD, and for some reason it was built with mini-mini-jack mic-in (what were Apple thinking). I'm debating which mixer to connect to it for use as an audio workstation. The Phonic firewire mixer looks good, overcoming the main problem with the USB version - the low bit rate of recordings. - Reports of problems with the drivers on Alesis mixers are a major turn-off, and Mackie are sadly out of my price range. I'm also far from convinced that USB is a big enough pipe for high-quality audio recording. The Phonic has the added advantage of shipping with Cubase LE..which while not a great audio editing programme for speech will at last provide a sequencer for Reason. I've tried using a cheapo Cakewalk sequencer on the laptop but the latency is terminal.
Thought this might be of interest to podcasters who like to mix the whole show "as live". Cool Play is a very nice, free to download, piece of audio play-out software. You'll see from the link that it's used a lot by BBC News Radio people. It's very stable, has nice big buttons and handy countdown displays. Works with .wav files. Don't think it's available for Mac.
Seven Rules of Effective Podcasting
I just found this list of the seven rules of effective podcasting. Interesting, though surely podcasting demonstrates that all the radio rules are there to be broken. Still worth a read...
Skype vs Gizmo
There's a lot of buzz on the net that Gizmo is better than Skype. The built-in recording function is certainly handy though I think you are always better off using a mixer and separate hardware recorder. I'll wait to hear how well that works after my own bad experiences with software recording solutions. The conference calling system looks rather more cumbersome than Skype's (seems to be numbers based) but on the other hand it does look as though you can add in callers "on the fly" this is a major flaw in the design of Skype's system if you are looking to record a show with guests joining and leaving via VOIP
Most interesting is some early feedback that Gizmo calls are of a higher quality. I suspect at this early stage the demands on the Gizmo system may be low - if it really takes off will the call quality suffer?
Personally I'd be very keen to speak with other Gizmo and Skype users and find out what their experiences of it are - even perhaps do a Skype vs Gizmo test and put it up as a podcast. My Skype ID is amazingly "pocketplanetradio"
From the above reviews it's clear that people LOVE the record function but that Gizmo can be a bit buggy. The Digital Radio guys had some problems recording Gizmo calls on a Mac:
Mac users might be out of luck on this tip. A Mac to PC chat with Gizmo recorded perfectly on the Windows client, but the Mac recording was unusable. The Gizmo team is aware and hopes to update the client soon.
For people simply wanting to use Gizmo as a VOIP phone theappleblog has put together an intelligent wish-list. As the note the focus on telephone style numbers in the system is going to be a big turn-off for many I suspect
Bottom line: Nice features, possibly better call quality than Skype - but also some bugs. And if the interview's vital for your podcast I wouldn't entrust it to any VOIP integrated recorder or software solution. Spend $70 and buy a mixer instead.
I've been recording Skype for sometime now. Skype to Skype calls over broadband offer much better than telephone audio quality so there's a clear incentive to want to do this SkypeOut/In calls are cheap too. There are software solutions for both PC and Mac for recording skype. But these are complex and in my experience pretty buggy; I did try hotrecorder but it had a nasty habbit of recording interviewer and interviewee out of sync so that questions overlapped answers.
I record Skype calls onto a minidisk. What follows is a simple guide to how I do this. Firstly you will need a mixer - if you don't have one of these you will only be able to record one half of the conversation. I use a Eurorack 10002 see image (click to enlarge recommended).
Into the big sockets (called XLR's) I plug the mic and also the sound out from the pc (I use a mini-jack to XLR cable). I plug the minidisk into the tape in and out sockets (using two phono to minijack cables). Now you could just plug the main out from the mixer into the mic-in of the PC - BUT then you would be playing yourself plus a mix of the skype call you are listening to back to the guest and they would hear themselves back. So instead I plugged the fx send out into the PC. As long as only the mic fx send is turned up then all the person Skyping in should hear is you. But both of you will be sent to the tape-in so you won't get a one sided recording.