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

Podcasts - A New Microphone Frontier

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

The audio quality of many podcasts ranges from awful to barely listenable. Muffled, distant, hyper compressed... some pods hovering near AM-audio quality- a multitude of sonic sins committed in the name of getting your voice heard on the interwebs.

I have consulted with hosts of nationally-distributed podcasts. At least some of them have taken my suggestions, changed their setup and fine-tuned podcast quality and delivery.

I am sharing a few of these suggestions:

1. Clean up your mic and recording chain. Throw that plastic mic that came with your uncle’s Wollensack recorder back in the carton, and buy any of the excellent, reasonably-priced Audio Technica or entry-level Neumann condensers.

You can see lots of people using SM7s, a few use RE20 for their podcast work. So why not use any old dynamic mic, you ask?  Because lots of podcast listening is done while driving, jogging, biking, and other situations with a high amount of ambient background noise. So every bit of extra detail, speed and added mid range resolution helps against listening fatigue and fighting noisy environments.

2. Bypass the analog audio input on your laptop with its low quality A/D and mic pre, and hook your new mic up to one of the surprisingly cheap but high-res A/D pre amps, like the Scarlett Solo (or the two-channel 2i2 if you record interviews or work with pod partners) and plug that directly into your computer’s digital input.

3. As you likely won’t have money to spend on good room acoustics, make it a habit to keep your mouth within 5 inches from the mic. Covid-era Zoom and Skype interviews have proven that there is nothing more annoying than the excessive amount of room sound from a speaker several feet away from the built-in computer mic.

4. If you have a guest or two on the pod, make use of at least a slight stereo spread, panning the speakers to, say, 11:00, 12:00 and 1:00, which still sums nicely to mono. When listening with EarPods, spreading and separating the speakers in your headspace keeps them distinct and intelligible, especially when their voices are similar and it's hard to identify who is who, or when they talk on top of each other.

That's a good start towards a 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 mics in this application would be a combination of 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?"
Same with books-on-tape. I don't know what % of people are actually generating income doing it, but it doesn't seem to be enough to need or want an audio professional in the room.

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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