The Secret Behind Exceptional Podcast Audio

UPDATED: Added Video, Software and Settings section

I host the Windows Developer Show – a weekly internet show for Microsoft developers and enthusiasts. My brother, Travis, and I started the show in January of 2010 and have watched in amazement as the show has taken off.

We’ve been featured in the N.Y. Times, Engadget, Gizmodo, Arstechnica, ZDNet and more.

We’ve climbed the charts in the Zune and iTunes marketplace as one of the most subscribed to technology podcasts.

We’ve had the great fortune to rub elbows with amazing guests, such as, Mary Jo Foley from ZDNet and All About Microsoft, Paul Thurrott from WinSuperSite and the TWiT network, Alex Wilhelm from TheNextWeb, Ed Bott, Rafael Riveria, the folks who created “Plants vs. Zombies” and many more. Travis even appeared on the TWiT network with Leo Laporte. For those who don’t frequent podcasts that’s a pretty cool deal.

One of the questions we constantly get asked is, “What equipment and software do you use to record and broadcast the show?” For whatever reason, within the podcast community, this sort of information is rarely shared, hard to find and treated as “trade secret”.

So with no avail, here is what we use each week. The configuration aims to be minimal - using the least amount of equipment possible to produce a high quality sound. Using this gear has the side benefit of decreasing the amount of post production time required to “cut” an episode. Significantly!

We’ve had great success with our audio. I hope it works for you too!

FULL DISCLAIMER: I utilized Amazon Affiliate links on most of this gear. If you found this post helpful and plan to purchase any of the gear it would be great if you used the link below when you go to buy!!! :)

Microphone

I’m not going to lie, the Heil PR-40 microphone featured below isn’t cheap. That said, both of these microphones are industry renowed. The Shure SM58 microphone is used nightly, all over the world, at every major music concert in the world. The Heil PR-40 microphone is widely used by radio broadcasters. We started with the Shure microphones and moved to the Heil PR-40. We kept the Shure microphones and use them for guests during road shows.

Additionally, you’ll need something to “hold” the microphone. For the Heil PR40s we use a broadcast boom with a shock mount. With the Shure microphones we use a standard desk microphone stand.

Finally, to keep the sound “pop free” we use a pop filter on the Heil PR-40s. This helps filter out breathing, blowing or pop sounds, such as the sound produced from pronouncing the letter “P”. For the Shure microphones we use a standard issue foam ball windscreen.

Option 1 -Heil PR-40 w/ Shock Mount with VAC-PR40 pop filter and Overhead Broadcast Boom
Option 2 -Shure SM58-LC Cardioid Vocal Microphone without Cable with foam ball windscreen and a desktop microphone stand

Mixer

A standard USB mixer with one special feature – “send/return”. Why this is important will become apparent in our next section. Suffice it to say, finding a small mixer that supports “send/return” isn’t easy. We’ve been happy with the Alexia USB mixer. Travis and I each have one.

We have a bigger mixer for road shows. This mixer also supports “send/return”, powers 4 microphones and is pre-amped for external speakers!

Option 1 -Alesis IO2 Express 24-Bit USB Recording Interface
Option 2 -Behringer XENYX X1622USB Premium 16-Input 2/2-Bus Mixer with XENYX Mic Preamps & Compressors

Compressor, Limiter & Gate

This is the “secret sauce”. A compressor, limiter & gate (CLG) accepts pre-processed sound from the mixer via a “insert cable”, processes it and sends it back to the mixer. The mixer then sends the processed sound out the main. This is done in real time. It’s awesome!

So what effect does the CLG have on the sound? The compressor brings down the highest peaks, leaves the lower levels and produces a more dynamic range of sound. Said another way, it makes you sound like an radio DJ. The limiter ensures that if YOU YELL it won’t peak the sound wave. In essence, it limits or places a ceiling on the audio so it doesn’t sound overdriven. Finally, the gate closes the microphone when you’re not talking. This is huge. While Travis is talking my microphone is closed meaning it doesn’t introduce any sound into the mix e.g. sirens, dogs barking, etc. This is a gigantic post production time saver!

Each CLG below can handle 2 microphones. Travis and I each have a CLG. On road shows we bring both of our CLGs to provide compression, limiting and gating for 4 microphones.

Option 1 -Behringer MDX1600 2-Channel Expander/Gate/Compressor/ Peak Limiter

Video

We bought a pair of Microsoft LifeCam Studio 1080p Web Cameras. We use these each week AND on road shows. One nice thing about the LifeCams – they can be mounted on a tripod. This is great for road shows.

Option 1 – Microsoft LifeCam Studio 1080p

Cables

No rock science here. To connect the microphone to the mixer you’ll need an XLR cable. To connect the mixer to the CLG you’ll need a 1/4″ dual insert cable.

Option 1 -Hosa Cable STP202 TRS To Dual 1/4 Inch Insert Cable (6.5 Foot) & XLR male to XLR female Microphone Cable – 15 feet

Headphones

Use whatever you want. Just make sure you have a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter. Basically the adapter takes a normal headphone jack and converts it to the larger, studio style, jack.

Option 1 – Any headphones with a 1/4″ jack
Option 2 – If your headphones don’t have a 1/4″ jack than you’ll need a 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter.

Software

One of the gems we found a while back is “The Levelator“. Simply drag and drop a WAV file onto the app and it will normalize the levels. Essential, it makes sure everyone comes in at the same level. This is great for those guests who like to talk low.

We’ve always used Audacity to perform our post work. It’s free and it works. Plus, because the CLG does all the noise reduction, compressing and volume limiting, we only use Audacity to “cut” the episode. We don’t need effects, noise reduction filters or plugins.

For audio and video we use Skype. Again, because Travis is in California and I’m in Texas (God Bless #Texas) we need to connect to talk and broadcast. We use CallBurner to record the Skype audio. CallBurner has NEVER failed us. EVER! We will use the sound file produced by Callburner to cut the audio-only version of the podcast.

To push the audio/video recording signal to the Justin.TV we use XSplit. XSplit is a fraction of the cost of most broadcasting software and has most of the features we need e.g. screen regions, transitions, etc.

Occasionally, when we record audio-only shows, we use TeamSpeak. This connects Travis and I, similar to Skype, but over an audio-only channel, no video. This was recommended to us by a listener and it works great! TeamSpeak also includes the ability to record to WAV! If you are thinking of producing a podcast, without video, TeamSpeak could be the way to go!

From our broadcast machine, where XSplit is running, we use Virtual Audio Cable to wire up various audio sources to the broadcast audio channel.

Settings for the Compressor / Limiter / Gate

Here are our settings for the compressor, limiter, gate. Hope this helps. Don’t forget to heck the audio levels of your mixer under your operating system. Currently I run my operating system audio at 80%. Your mileage may vary. You can fine tune this using Audacity. Simply start a recording and check the audio levels to a point where the audio doesn’t peak.

That’s it. Enjoy!

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Comments

  1. Great post. Thanks for always helping the community. =)

  2. Great post. Thanks for always helping the community. =)

  3. Great write up! The link to the mixer settings on skydrive doesn’t work anymore.

  4. Great write up! The link to the mixer settings on skydrive doesn’t work anymore.

  5. Hey guys,

    Finally somebody is sharing their CLG and mixer settings. Just one problem though… I think the link has expired? Would really love to see your CLG settings as I have the Behringer and it’s a royal PITA to configure well. :)

    Lemme know if you put the details up elsewhere!

    Cheers,

    Ian

  6. Hey guys,

    Finally somebody is sharing their CLG and mixer settings. Just one problem though… I think the link has expired? Would really love to see your CLG settings as I have the Behringer and it’s a royal PITA to configure well. :)

    Lemme know if you put the details up elsewhere!

    Cheers,

    Ian

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