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How can I add phone interview audio to my existing podcasting setup?
January 20, 2013 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm interested in making a new podcast/audio interview series for the web. What's the best way to integrate quality phone interview audio into my series, either using my existing podcasting equipment or with new equipment?

I'm interested in making a new podcast/audio interview series for the web. The interviews would be exclusively conducted over the phone, either via Skype to Landline, or Landline to Landline. I have a bunch of audio equipment in storage from my old podcasting days, and I'd like to figure out the best way to integrate quality phone interview audio into these recordings.

I currently have an M-Audio MobilePre USB mixer along with an AudioTechnica AT2020 condenser microphone that plugs into the M-Audio device with an XLR cable. However, I am open to purchasing a new piece of hardware for phone interviews if the price isn't too excessive. On the software side, I use Adobe Audition.

I know of this related question from 2008, but it's nearly 5 years old and doesn't address my exact situation.

I have used Skype call recording programs with a USB headset for other purposes in the past, but always found the quality lacking. Also, I'd like to be able to use my condenser mic on my end for optimum and consistent sound quality.

So, what are my options for broadcast (or near-broadcast) quality recording of telephone interviews?
posted by iamisaid to Technology (6 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This was a fairly recent Ask that has some relevant answers & links.

Phone line audio quality is inherently quite limited - the frequency range is essentially 300 Hz to 3 kHz (basically mid-range, very little lows & highs.) Using your AT condenser mic could very likely just mean that you sound great & your interviewee sounds awful.

Mostly phone interviews are accomplished via a "phone hybrid coupler", which can vary widely in price. You would probably be fine with one of the under $200 options.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:21 PM on January 20, 2013

Thanks for the links. I read through that thread and browsed the Pro Audio products page, and I'm finding myself pretty confused as to which option will most affordably meet my needs. I'm fine with using a landline and it sounds like that may be the best way to go, but it seems some of those products don't have the input/outputs I need.

Essentially, I want to hook my landline up to a device that will allow me to use my condenser mic with or without a mixer to conduct an interview with with the person on the other end of the call and feed the combined audio into Audition on my computer. Any specific suggestions?

Also, should I completely rule out using Skype for recording landline calls if I want quality? What if I were to purchase a USB condenser mic like this one and use it as my Skype input device, combined with one of the Skype call recording programs? Any idea how the quality of that might sound compare to using a landline and coupler?
posted by iamisaid at 9:06 PM on January 20, 2013

The point I was making in that other thread is this: people are used to a phone-call level of quality in audio recordings of phone calls. You can achieve this level of quality by sticking a mic up to a phone and recording it. Make sure not to interrupt your interviewee too much; speak clearly and project so that the caller can hear you through the speaker phone from about a foot away, but for standard "they talk a lot then you talk a little" interviews, this method sounds totally normal. Listen to NPR, not Terry Gross but some normal news show when they talk to someone calling in from somewhere--that level of grainy, phone-call sound is JUST FINE and what you'll get out of my cheap, simple method. Analog baby.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:53 PM on January 20, 2013

Skype on the other hand can be a huge nightmare, especially if either connection is shoddy. It can sound OK, but even at it's best, has a bleeding distorted sound that, on the other hand, people are NOT used to. It sounds odd, and low-rent. Just my 2c of being an amateur podcaster for a few years and avid listener for more.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:56 PM on January 20, 2013

To achieve the best possible quality recording, have the other party record their end of the conversation, and then join the two recordings together. The easiest way to do this is likely to talk over Skype (or similar). You should record both ends to be sure that you have the audio. This Macworld article explains how to, in detail, using Skype and Garage Band. The details will be different, of course, for Audition, but the theory should be the same. The short version is that you record your end using your microphone, interface and software. You select that interface as your source for audio in in Skype, so that your voice will record to Audition and also go out across the Skype call. Record the Skype conversation either using your DAW software or a tool like Skype Call Recorder or MP3 Skype Recorder.

Of course, that is only most effective when the person on the other end of the conversation is sufficiently tech savvy to set up that call/recording setup. For phone calls, you can use Skype to call to a phone, and record both parts of the call from your computer, but as noted, the quality can vary, but you won't need any additional hardware to make it work.
posted by andrewraff at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not familiar enough with Skype or other VOIP systems to give an opinion, but andrewraff's system & linked MacWorld article make sense to me & seem worth trying.

hook my landline up to a device that will allow me to use my condenser mic

This is the part that complicates things.

Basically, the landline phone system is pretty much self-contained - interfacing other audio sources with the phone system has complications for a variety of technical reasons.

Broadcast quality is broadcast quality because they're using some fairly expensive gear operated by experienced tech people, so . . . . . . I mean, I get that you have a sort of sound in your head that you're aiming for; but the reality is that getting that sound may be beyond your budget and/or tech skills, so at some point you may have to decide, "Well, that's close enough."

As far as I can think of, you have three options:

1) As in the other thread, I'm gonna second Potomac Avenue's super-simple method (do the interview over speaker phone, record it with your mic thru the MobilePre) as worth trying. You'll want to do some experimentation with placement of the mic and the phone and yourself, but you won't need to buy anything else, and again, phone lines are inherently "low-quality" audio - your results may be perfectly usable, your listeners aren't expecting CD audio for a phone conversation.

2) The Radio Shack device or the JK QuickTap linked in the other thread which get both sides of the phone conversation off the phone handset itself. I get that's not what you're looking for, but it is a possible solution that may get you acceptable results.

3) Actually using your mic for your end of the phone interview will require some more gear. You'll need to buy something like a Mackie ProFX8 mixer (you need a mixer with auxiliary or "aux"/"mon" outputs) and a phone hybrid coupler like the JK Audio AutoHybrid. Disclaimer - I haven't actually used either of these specific pieces myself. Those are just two products I found pretty quickly, there are certainly pieces out there from other manufacturers.

Plug a phone line from the wall into the "line" jack on the AutoHybrid, and a line from the "phone" jack to a phone.

Plug your mic into channel 1 of the mixer, set the gain. Each channel of the mixer has some knobs labeled "aux" and "mon" - these route the audio to additional outputs of the mixer besides the main output. Run an audio line (you may need a plug adapter) from the "mon" output jack on the mixer to the XLR input of the hybrid (labelled "Send" on the JK audio piece, if you're looking at the user manual). Turn up the "mon" knob on the channel your mic's plugged into. This is what sends the audio from your mic down the phone line to your interviewee.

Then you run an audio line from the audio output of the hybrid (labelled "Caller") to channel 2 of the mixer. Do NOT turn up the "mon" knob on this channel, as this will cause feedback. This gets the voice of your caller into your mixer.

You send the main outputs of your mixer into your computer to record - on the Mackie I linked to you'd do it via USB. Now you have a setup where your caller can hear your voice down the phone line while you use your mic, and you have control over the volume of your voice and the audio signal from your caller.

You'll probably have to do a trial run to set levels before you actually record, and you'll want to monitor via headphones rather than any kind of speaker to reduce the chance of feedback or echoes.

This is the kind of system I've used professionally a few times in a live production context. It's certainly possible that someone else out there has a simpler way to make this work, maybe with a more software-based approach.
posted by soundguy99 at 6:16 PM on January 21, 2013

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