Group podcasts on the cheap?
February 28, 2009 7:06 PM   Subscribe

Researching cheap and cheerful equipment (mics, mixers, etc.) for recording podcasts. The caveat: there will be several people in the podcast.

There are a bunch of guides that say it's really cheap to get started with podcasts, and a lot of them recommend USB mics of varying sorts (the Blue Snowball and the Samson C01U seem to be mentioned a lot). But all these guides seem to assume your podcast will only have one speaker, and don't cover what you should get if you plan to have several people talking roundtable-style for a podcast.

The best options I could think of are a) buy an omnidirectional USB mic like the Snowball, or b) get a bunch of normal mics and a mixer. Asking a guy at the local music store led to a discussion of $400 USB mixers, though, which suddenly seems like a lot once you buy three or four mics to go along with it. We don't know if the podcast is going to be all that successful or gain a regular audience, and $700+ seems like a lot of money to spend on something that's far from a sure thing.

On the other hand, I've read comments that suggest the Snowball's omni mode is little more than a novelty unless everyone leans in really closely. Plus I'm worried about it picking up room noise that cardioid mics would cut down on. So maybe this isn't the answer either.

Are there any solutions, preferably less than $500 (and the lower the better!) that would allow three or four people to put together a podcast that sounds, if not amazing, at least decent? Or should we just bite the bullet and splash out for the mixer and mics when (if) we have the dough?
posted by chrominance to Media & Arts (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
I recently asked this exact question of a sound technician at a major radio station. He recommended this, the Microtrack 24/96 Professional 2-track Mobile Digital Recorder with mini stereo mic, which uses a compact Flash card and costs about $360.

I haven't used it personally, and neither had he, but it was the equipment his station had bought for recording streeters (ie, pieces recorded on the street or in other real-world settings, not in studios), and he was happy with the quality of file his producers were returning with. He said the built-in mic on that device was fine for recording voices, should be OK for more than one voice, and could get location sound at web-broadcast quality. He also warned to always use headphones while recording with it, to keep an ear on the levels. I was surprised that such a little gadget would be good for all that, but he said it seemed to be working fine.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:42 PM on February 28, 2009


Given the $500 budget, you're not going to get an idea setup, but you can get something that will get you started an hopefully be upgradeable if/when the time comes.

Ideally, you'd record each participant to their own track, but in your situation, you can get away with mixing two people to a track.

Mixer: Behringer Xenyx 1202 A cheap mixer with 4 mic preamps. $106

Mics: Shure PG58 A budget version of the venerable SM58. $63 each, with cables.

Interface: Behringer UCA202 A no frills 2-channel usb interface. $40

So that takes you to $400 before taxes, and it'll get the job done.

Toss in some Mic Stands and some decent headphones for you to monitor the recording with, and you're all set up. Well, except software. Audacity is decent and free.

Pan two of the mics far left and two far right and you have a little more flexibility in post in case someone is louder / quieter than the others.

Sorry for the messy reply, in a hurry to get out the door.
posted by jjb at 7:49 PM on February 28, 2009


If I may venture an opinion, you can probably get away with some pretty cheap microphones. There is, for example, this mic from Shure; I'm guessing that it would be more than good enough for what you're doing. Amazon also has the Behringer mixer and USB interface jjb mentioned for a bit less money.
posted by sinfony at 8:48 PM on February 28, 2009


Lots of good advice here already, but I think you can get it done for under two hundred.

First, the mics: get a cheap set of pencil condensers. I use Samson's CO2 mics, but anything in the $100 should do just fine.

Now, the mixer: ANALOG. You're not recording T-Pain here, you're not going to be multitracking, and you're probably not even going to have to fiddle with the levels too much once you've got everyone's voices checked. Get a cheap mixer with at least two phantom powered XLR inputs, then buy an RCA-->1/8" cable to interface with your laptop. Use Audacity. It's free. The mixer will probably run you $50-75. You don't need anything too fancy. You probably don't even need faders. Boom, there you go.

The setup: stack the pencil condensers on top of one another so that the capsules overlap. Then angle them so that they're pointing a little less than 90 degrees apart. Put the mic setup about five or ten feet from you and your friends, who will be sitting side-by-side at a table. Bob's your uncle, and he's your uncle for $200.
posted by The White Hat at 9:09 PM on February 28, 2009


I wouldn't go with condensers unless you've got a really quiet room to record in. With condensers, you're going to pick up everything in the room (and probably the neighbor kids, traffic on the street...)

Stick a dynamic right in the face of each speaker and you've got good clean sound from everyone and don't have to worry so much about outside noise creeping in.

If you want to go with an all-in-one sort of unit, the Zoom H2 could be slapped down in the middle of the four of you and do a pretty decent job for around $300. I've heard some really good recordings out of it.
posted by jjb at 11:56 PM on February 28, 2009


The Zoom H2 is actually around $150 if you look around (buy.com has it for $165, including shipping), and if you put it into it's 360 degree recording mode, it'll work just fine. That lets you bypass the whole mixer routine, and if you're just trying out the whole podcasting thing out, it's a minimal investment. You didn't mention what computer platform you'll be using for post, but as long as you throw a dynamics compressor on the recording (which will help bring up each recorded voice to the same overall volume level), you should be good to go.
posted by dbiedny at 11:09 AM on March 1, 2009


Computer platform is Windows, though at least one of us has a Mac and could probably do the editing there if necessary (seems like the community for this sort of thing favours Macs). We're in Canada, so the $150 prices don't seem to apply up here; best I could find the Zoom H2 for online was about $230.

It sounds like the Zoom's our best bet; it sounds like a really versatile piece of kit for the price, and probably good enough for podcast work. It also sounds cheap enough that it won't be a big deal if we dump it in favour of a full mic/mixer setup down the road (and would still be useful as a portable recorder).

Thanks, everyone. I'll keep checking in in case anyone has other ideas (or thinks the Zoom's a really bad idea).
posted by chrominance at 12:13 PM on March 1, 2009


Here's a review of the H2 from O'Reilly with a whole bunch of sample clips.
posted by jjb at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2009


Related: I just found a place selling the Alesis MultiMix8 USB 2.0 (the $400 mixer recommended to us at the music store) for $380, but ALSO the Alesis MultiMix8 USB (non-2.0) for $190. Is there a good reason why we would go with the USB 2.0 version at twice the price? And if we could score the USB 1.1 mixer for $190, would this change anyone's thoughts on the Zoom H2? Seems like mics would still run us about $100 each so it'd still be more expensive, but less than the original mixer+mics option we were given...
posted by chrominance at 1:25 PM on March 1, 2009


I'll tell you why the Zoom makes sense - when you think about microphones, you also have to factor in a mic stand and pop filter for each one. Just holding a decent mic in your hand will create some very problematic noise and rumble effects, not a good thing. Say there are 3 microphones, you'll need 3 desktop stands and 3 pop filters, which will run you at least another $25 US per mic, give or take. With the H2, it's all self-contained, you'll need nothing else. Save your money, if the podcast works out well, you can always find a used mixer and mics later, and the H2 is a fantastic field recorder (here's my review of it). Check Craigslist before anything else, it's become very popular for selling used music gear.
posted by dbiedny at 2:47 PM on March 1, 2009


If I recall, the USB1.1 version of the Alesis is a 2/2 interface rather than the 10/2 of the USB2.0. Thats probably not a big deal in your situation, but something to be aware of. It's effectively the same as the little behringer mixer and the seperate USB interface, just all in one package.
posted by jjb at 3:51 PM on March 1, 2009


Grabbed the Zoom H2 in the end. We haven't really done the podcast thing yet but our test seemed to pick up decent enough sound, given the constraints (two guys sitting on the couch playing video games and randomly talking at the mic). If we were in a round table setting it'd probably do even better. Thanks!
posted by chrominance at 8:59 PM on May 20, 2009


I know this is an old AskMe post, but I thought I'd throw in my two cents, for the sake of people who might come across this question in the archives.

I co-host a gaming podcast with some friends. Here's how we do group podcasting on the cheap:


Software:

JazlerShow! Version 1.5.1: This version is freeware. This software allows you to quickly integrate bumpers, promos, sound f/x, and other audio as you're recording your show. Windows only.

Audacity (R) is free, open source software for recording and editing audio. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, and other operating systems.

Levelator: Levelator is free software that adjusts the audio levels for variations from one speaker to the next. It's not a compressor, normalizer or limiter although it contains all three. Very simple to use. Available for Windows XP or Vista, OS 10.4 or 10.5, and Linux (Ubuntu Feisty Faun only)


Hardware (mostly via Radio Shack):

Mixing Board: 4 Channel Stereo Microphone Mixer (catalog# 32-2056). Supports up to four microphones. Requires 9-volt battery (available anywhere) or AC adapter (ask at your local Radio Shack) to operate.

Adapter to connect the board to your laptop or desktop's microphone jack: 6-Ft. Y-Adapter, 1/8" Right-Angle to Two RCA Plugs (catalog# 42-2483). This is not showing up on the Radio Shack web site anymore, so ask at your local Shack or at a musician's supply store. One online source is here .

Mikes: Unidirectional Dynamic Microphone (catalog# 33-3038) Decide how many you need. As host, you'll have to have one for yourself. We use the maximum supported by our mixing board--four. The product comes with a mike holder, but you will still need a....

Mike Stand: Desk Mic Stand (catalog# 33-370). You need one for each mike. This one no longer shows up on the Shack's web site, but this is an equivalent.

Mike Filter: Large Acoustic Foam Microphone Windscreen (catalog# 33-4001). You need one for each mike. And yes, you need them, otherwise the very act of breathing or saying a word with the letter "P" in it will mess up your audio.

Headphones: the ones we use aren't on their web site, but you want something comfortable, noise-cancelling, and with long cord. Whoever's managing the recording is the only one that really needs headphones, but there may be instances where you'd like others to use headphones.

3-way adapter to hook up headphones to your headphone jack: 6-Inch 3-Way Headphone Y-Adapter, 1/8" Plug to 1/8" Jacks (catalog# 42-2458)

Portable Digital Recorder: The AGC Crew goes to various conventions--GenCon, Origins, and the like--and interview gamers and gamer publishers. I bought the Olympus VN-6200PC digital voice recorder when Radio Shack had them on sale, and I've found it to be fine. It does have a unidirectional mike, so whoever you're interviewing needs to be in front of the mike--if they move to the side you will lose sound. Please note that it only records in WMA format, so it is not Windows or Linux compatible.


When I bought all of this equipment (picked it up in the last year or so), it came to roughly $250. I caught a lot of the stuff on sale, and it helped that Radio Shack marked down the mixing board from $100 to $30.


Please note that the above represents a beginner's-level equipment, and while there are other podcast starter kits out there for beginners, this is the only way we're aware of to have this many microphones available for recording on a tight budget. The other kits we looked at only seem to enable one or two microphones.



The above rig gives you ability to set levels, mix audio, and otherwise manage your sound. If you need a more basic (read: cheaper) set-up, get:

the Jazler, Audacity and Levelator software
the 3-way adapter that lets you hook up headphones to the laptop's headphone jack
three gaming headsets that you know provide good audio and have little foam screens over the mike (like this one or this one)

You're sacrificing ability to manage your audio but otherwise should be able to knock out a very basic podcast.


If you start to get the hang of podcasting, and want to upgrade your recording equipment, there's tons of options available online and through muscian's supply stores. Check out Podsafe Gear to get an idea of what's available to podcasters.



Resources on Learning to Podcast:

Podcast Academy
School of Podcasting Morning Announcements
About.com: How to Create Your Own Podcast - A Step-by-Step Tutorial
How Stuff Works: How To Create Your Own Podcast
Podcasting For Dummies (book)(highly recommended)


Other Podcast-Relevant Materials:

Creative Commons. Covers legal issues for releasing your podcast online for free while maintaining certain rights.
Podsafe Music Network. Primary source of music available for use in podcasting without significant licensing difficulties.
Podsafe Audio. Another source for podsafe music.
Podcast Alley's list of podsafe music sites
Freesound.org and Soundsnap.org (for podsafe sound f/x)
The Internet Archive (for public domain audio)
Gear Bag (to haul your podcasting hardware in)
K7.Net: If your podcast begins to draw a following, you might want to set up a call-in phone # for listeners to use. k7.net is free, you just have to take small steps to keep the line active.
Skype and MP3 Skype Recorder: If there comes a time when you want to interview someone for your show, and that person lives out of your area, Skype and the free Skyper recorder are an excellent solution. Heck, I've used it to interview people across town from me!


"Podsafe", by the way, means any work which, through its licensing, specifically allows the use of the work in podcasting, regardless of restrictions the same work might have in other realms. Some stuff is inherently podsafe, such as public domain works or items released under certain Creative Commons licenses. Others may require certain light restrictions, such as requiring you to give the artist credit when you use their work.


Under no circumstances do you want to use work that is not podsafe, or where you do not have the explicit permission of the licensor to use the work. I cannot emphasize this enough. One, you don't need the legal nightmare of the RIAA showing up on your doorstep, and two, there's enough podsafe music, f/x, and other audio out there that it should not be an issue for you.



Hosting

Podbean provides free podcast hosting. It supports RSS 2.0 and Atom feeds, as well as the extended Apple iTunes podcasting tags. The podcast player can be embedded into web sites and blogs, too.


AGC uses Libsyn to host and distribute our show. It costs a measly $5/month for quality features and support. Libsysn is probably the most popular host for podcasters.


Our official website is on Blogger.com, and serves well for our purposes. However, my experience is that several of the most well-known podcasters prefer Wordpress, which has plug-ins that support podcasting. Not having used it for podcasting, I can't speak from personal experience, but if it's good enough to be recommended by Leo Laporte then there must be something to it.



Hope that helps!
posted by magstheaxe at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


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