R/E/P > Klaus Heyne's Mic Lab

Podcasters: How To Improve Your Delivery

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Itís high time to survey the burgeoning Podcast scene, now that two of my three friends have started one, too.

Audio quality of many podcasts ranges from awful to barely listenable. Muffled, distant, or hyper-compressed vocals - some pods are hovering near AM-radio quality - a multitude of sonic sins are committed, mostly by print media veterans or other stone-cold novices with no prior audio engineering history.

A few of the hosts of nationally-distributed podcasts have actually taken my suggestions, changed their setup, and improved and fine-tuned podcast quality and delivery.

I am sharing a few of these suggestions:

1. Pay attention to your mic and the rest of the recording chain. Throw that plastic mic that came with your uncleís Wollensack recorder back in the carton, and buy any of the reasonably-priced dynamics made for podcasting, like the Shure SM7b, or EV RE20, or step up to one of the entry-level Audio Technica or Neumann condensers (AT40330/TLM103).

So why not use any old mic, you ask? When lots of podcast listening is done while driving, jogging, biking, and other situations with a high level of ambient or background noise, every bit of extra detail and added mid range resolution helps fight noisy environments and prevents listening fatigue.

2. Bypass your laptop's analog audio input with its low quality mic pre and A/D and hook up your new mic to one of the surprisingly cheap, high-res A/D pre amps, like the Universal Audio Volt, or Scarlett Solo and plug them directly into your computerís digital input.

3. Likely you wonít have money to spend on good room acoustics, so make it a habit to keep your mouth within 5 inches from the mic.  Zoom and Skype interviews done via laptop have proven that there is nothing more annoying than excessive amounts of room sound when podcasters speak several feet away into the computer's built-in mic. Apple EarPods or AirPods are a decent start on the way to a dedicated podcast mic down the road, as long as you stay away from blank walls and other reflective surfaces when you speak.

4. If you have a guest or two on the pod, make use of at least a slight stereo spread, panning the three to, say, 11:00, 12:00 and 1:00 (i.e. half left, center and half right), which still sums nicely to mono. Spreading and separating the speaking voices keeps each distinct and intelligible, especially when they have similar sounding timbres, or when they speak over each other.
Here is a great example of how that is done well: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qykl/episodes/downloads

And if you cannot remove reverberant, ambient background noise from your vocals, check out Goyo (https://goyo.app). It's a new AI plug-in miraculously eliminating reverberation and background noise from vocals, currently $29 for its Beta testing model.


That should be a good start towards a more professional-sounding, impactful podcast, as long as the contents are equally exciting.
I invite others to add more tips.

Happy New Year Klaus!

I assume Zoom experience is relevant here. I teach a college class in recording, and have been at least partially on Zoom for the past year and a half...
Zoom has improved their audio quality over that time, but it's still relatively low-resolution.

That said, my sophomore-level audio students definitely notice the difference in mic choice and placement.

My initial choice was a KM84 with a large Rycote windshield (22mm BBG). While most everyone else had a dynamic, USB, camera or computer mic, the difference in tonality and resolution was obvious to everyone.
They also can clearly hear differences in proximity effect - when I lean in close for the "NPR" sound.

One day, I tried my U87i instead, and the reaction from a few students was "Wow!", and "Why weren't you using that all along?"...

So - despite the knee-jerk reaction that "it's Zoom quality, it doesn't matter", the differences are audible and impact their engagement and enjoyment.

Two observations I would add:

1. Zooming and Podcasting expose ignorance of plosives. Please use some kind of pop filter or windscreen.

2. Another downside to typical moving coil (dynamic) mics in this application would be a combination of low preamp quality and mic placement - resulting in increased noise floor.

I would think the Neumann KMS line would be excellent choices for this kind of work - while being a useful mic above and beyond.

Glad you added ZOOM to the list of new microphone frontiers.

One thing worth exploring: optimizing audio settings in Zoom.
Here is a short tutorial for better Zoom sound, copied from a colleague and posted with permission:

In Settings, Audio:

*Uncheck automatically adjust microphone volume

In Settings, Audio, Advanced:

*Check Show in-meeting option to Enable Original Sound from microphone.

*Disable Suppress Persistent Background Noise

*Disable Suppress Intermittent Background Noise

*Auto, Echo Cancellation.

Regarding Zoom settings:

Student feedback tells me that Original Sound: Off sounds better than Original Sound: On.
That may depend on the background noise the mic is picking up.

Also, when using Share Screen, the Share Sound checkbox defaults to Mono. You have to select Stereo (High Fidelity) if desired.

(Slightly OT, as this doesn't affect the mic pickup, but any shared computer audio eg; DAW).

As a recording engineer, my involvement in podcasts has been limited to eg; "hey, if I buy you lunch, will you tell me what kind of mic to buy and how to make my room sound better?"

But we know that the right choice of mic will, among other things, increase listener engagement/enjoyment by accentuating certain elements of each individual voice. Just like, and no less important than, recording a vocal for music. Not to mention, for some of these things, it's only the voice - nothing to tap your feet to, nothing to sing along to.

Sadly, it's too often cheapness and convenience over aesthetic and quality. I assume one of the fallouts of the surge in podcasts will be tech-landfills full of "USB mics".


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