I’ve frequently been asked what kind of setup I use for recording my podcast interviews, especially those conducted over the phone. This is a seemingly simple task that actually can get quite convoluted, and I thought it might be instructive to let folks know exactly how I accomplish this. To hear the results in action, simply visit the Contrabass Conversations website and click on any interview episode.
I use Skype for all my interviews. I pay for a yearly SkypeOut account (around $30 a year), which allows me to call any land line or cell phone number for free in the US. It also allows for conference calling, which is a real benefit for the podcaster.
I have played around with different setups for recording Skype interviews, including through a mixing board, with software, and with an external hardware recorder. The big problem with recording Skype is that the output from your computer doesn’t include your voice, so trying to find a solution that allows your guest(s) to hear you, you to hear them, and the whole thing to be recordable with control over levels and electronic noise is really hard to do.
I used to use Hotrecorder (a software program), which I would avoid at all costs–I lost interviews and had terrible latency problems as the interviews progressed. I finally figured out a good setup at the end of December 2007, and all my interviews since that point have gone off without a hitch.
Here’s what I do:
1. I use a Griffin iMic external USB sound card to keep any internal computer noise out of the signal
2. I have two Sony ECM MS957 stereo microphones with 1/8″ output jacks set up, and I talk into both of them (I know it’s weird, but it works)
3. one mic goes into the input of the iMic (so that my guests can hear me talk)
4. I run an 1/8″ stereo cable from the output of the iMic into a Monster cable headphone splitter with individual volume controls–the signal from the computer output is REALLY hot for me, and this allows me to adjust the overall volume of the guests. I usually end up turning the Monster volume to almost zero–otehrwise I get nothing but clipping from my guests
5. I use another Y splitter (a gold series Radio Shack Y adapter, to be precise) and plug the monster splitter output into one channel of the Y adapter–for some reason, I can’t just use the Monster cable splitter–it won’t work with my mic
6. I plug the second stereo mic output into the other side of the gold Y adapter
7. I plug the Y adapter into an iRiver IFP-899 – this product isn’t sold anymore, so I recommend a Zoom H2 (which I also own) for the same purpose.
8. I plug my headphones into the headphone output of the iRiver
Using this setup means that I don’t have to worry about the computer freezing or crashing (both of which have happened during interviews) or a software program crashing. Keeping the recording process out of the computer itself and on another device really helps with stability. Also, since I’m listening through the output of the recording device I’m hearing exactly what’s being recorded and hear my voice in the headphones (a real benefit), and since I have a second mic running directly into the device there is no delay at all in my headphones. I can adjust the volume control on the Monster splitter if necessary during the interview to make sure that my levels are OK.
After recording the interview, I use a wonderful software program called the Levelator to equalize the voices. This program basically makes guests sound the same volume regardless of how high their levels were during recording, and it does a much better job than regular software compression.
There are much more elegant designs that other podcasters use, but mine is cheap, efficient, and works all the time. I also bought a Behringer UB 802 for around $100 (it’s less now) but had so many problems with background hiss noise that I ended up never using it. Also, a mixing board is yet another thing to plug in and haul around, and since I set up and take down my recording setup each time I do an interview it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Here’s a summary list of all the components and software that I use:
- Skype (free – $30/yr for SkypeOut to land lines and cell phones)
- Two Sony ECM MS957 mics (around $200 each)
- Griffin iMic ($40)
- Zoom H2 ($200) or iRiver IFP series – not the new iRivers – they won’t work! (around $100 used on eBay)
- Monster Y adapter with volume controls ($10)
- Radio Shack Gold Y splitter ($6)
- one 1/8″ stereo cable ($5)
For this kind of setup (minus the computer), you’re looking at a solid $650-800. It is definitely possible to do it on less of a budget–you could kill one of the mics and either split the signal (something I never had much success with) or use a cheap $20 mic for your guest’s input and the good one for the recording output. You could also buy cheaper mics in general, and if you use an iRiver you could spend as little as $200-300.
It is also possible to just do a podcast with a cheap USB mic, Skype, and a copy of Hotrecorder. I did this myself for a while, but the latency problems, lost interviews, and lower audio quality of this kind of product drove me nuts after a while. In the end, though, the content is what counts, and I am all about starting simple and cheap and growing from there.