Tech Refresh @podcasthq

For a long time now I've used a variety of technology to record podcasts for this portal. I experimented with a MacBook Pro and Cakewalk/Garageband etc and really hated using proprietary technologies that didn't really do what I wanted, I then (after spending a lot of money) went back to basics and used Fedora 16/17, Audacity and Pulsecaster. Pulsecaster I came across by accident, just a simple tool long since deprecated and no longer developed (sadly - and I have no time to lend a hand - or I would...).

Pulsecaster is probably the BEST Linux podcasting tool if you run Pulse. It just captures the audiochannel you want and dumps it as high quality OGG file. If you've used SoundFlower on the Mac theres no difference. However since recent updates to Fedora17 affecting Python 2.7 I've lost sessions, had crashes and just been driven to distraction. So as of today Pulsecaster is retired and I'm sadly going hardware only. I keep getting asked by people what kit I use and what I recommend. When I first started out some months ago I was lost and I spent hours watching YouTube and following other guidance that really didn't help. So this article is overdue and is my potted recommendations to getting started and getting stuff out and what kit to buy and not buy.

Now getting the best hardware to podcast is not easy. Behringer, Alesis and Mackie all do their own external USB mixers, all of them high quality in build but all of them handicapped by lack of thought and lack of flexibility when it comes to options and mixing on the fly. In fact I have all of them and I can't recommend any of them.

So the fact I can save my employer transportation costs recording remote podcasts of high quality is testament to Linux. A lot of people do remote podcasts using Skype and then record the audio at each end remotely and then try and fix it in the mix. The solution I have now is even higher quality, far quicker and home built.

Some reliances mean that the remote party needs to have a good quality USB microphone or a external mic and USB mixer. However in tests for remote parties we've now found that a $20 Logitech external USB desk mic or the amazingly versatile Samson GoMic ($40) gives better remote sound than a $90 Blue Snowball or alternative. The other advantage with the GoMic is it has live zero latency output so you can listen to yourself talk and therefore control your input/output locally via your sound levels on your local OS. Really is the best mic for the money anywhere and fits in your pocket smaller than a matchbox.

Once you both have decent mic's you then kick off Google Hangouts and you kick off a session and output from your side to a mixer, in my case aux output to two x RCA into a Belkin Tunestudio. The Belkin Tunestudio is the BEST podcast mixer you can get - except they stopped making them in 2007 and you have to trawl eBay for them. I have two, one spare in case my main workhorse ever dies. It supports 2 x XLR or balanced mic's allows you to slot an iPod in to record directly onto as well as being a duplex soundcard that allows connectivity via USB to Mac / Linux / PC. It is by a mile the best piece of kit you can ever buy for podcasting. The Rolls Royce standard.

You simply kick off the session and then record direct to iPod on the TuneStudio and at the same time have Audacity on your main workstation as recording backup. Using the TuneStudio you can control and EQ/balance/mix gain levels/compression levels on your own mic (I use a Red RV6 but also recommend hugely the cost effective Stagg condenser microphones - Shure quality for tiny budgets) and the TuneStudio supports phantom power etc. I also recently discover Thomann in Germany thanks to Red Hat's Werner Gold and have supplemented my kit for Red Hat office use with two Elvis microphones which have a great sound and are non phantom powered XLR mic's that are ideal for recording in situ in the studio. Thomann rock. Germany's best kept secret. Wish I'd found them earlier.

With the external input of the sound from the Google Hangout session you can control the volume, bass, gain and eq of the other remote party as if they were sat next to you using another mic in the studio.

Perfect mixing - and within five minutes of the session finishing you have the actual output you'll broadcast.

Remote recording

When I am recording on the run I have been playing with a LOT of different equipment. I really rate Samson/Zoom products. I did have a Zoom H1 and the H2 but I retired both as they both didnt really do what I needed, I now have the Zoom H2N which is a 2ch/4ch recorder with support for memory cards up to 32gb capacity, supporting an additional microphone line in when in 2channel mode ideal for interviews but also supporting XY cardiod and a very clever stereo near field recording mode with adjustable sound field for broadcast work. I really rate it.

My goto gear for the quick interview where you need something on a desk to record something fast or you want to record yourself with a powered lavalier clip mic is the Tascam DR-05, its bulletproof, solid, well made (much better made than the Samson / Zoom recorders) and adding a cheap light tripod and a foam windshield means you can do two person interviews stably and effectively. Very little cleanup of the recorded audio is required and the microphones on it although not XY (I am not a fan of XY configuration mic setups but if you are try the DR-07) are optimally placed for you to record two people sitting three feet apart across a table. The DR-05 is just so well made you can chuck it in your case. The only thing I'd say is that the DR-05 cannot be used as an external USB microphone where the Zoom H2N can - however I pack the GoMic the DR-05 and the iRig Mic (see below) in my luggage so am covered for every eventuality.

If you have an iPad or iPhone (I don't use iPhones although I am an iPad addict) and you like mixing the output and you want to just carry something easy that plugs into your iPad there are two options for you. If you want something very cool and don't want to prat about plugging a USB camera connection kit in then I really recommend the iRig Mic and paying for the iRig Recorder application and features that cost about $5.

The mic is very professional has three gain settings, is competent and I've used it a lot, comes with a mic clip and carrying case and allows you to do live ultra low and low latency monitoring. The iRig recorder app allows you to sync via iTunes. No good if you're a Linux user although it does support wifi extraction of the files (never got it to work) but I ftp to a host and grab the files from there. It also allows you to do a lot of mixing of the completed audio. Can sound tinny so you need to have Audacity in your corner. More than good enough for remote on the road use. iRig also have the MicCast which also plugs into the audio jack just like the iRig Mic. It's cardioid and omni directional and also supports the low latency monitoring with a line in jack. It's NOT as good as the big brother iRig mic but I suppose if you just are at a conference and want to capture audio from a mic half the size of a Zippo lighter then it's ideal. You WILL need to play with the recorded file and clean it up, although not as much as you'd think.