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A Note on Podcasting
Posted by: Dale Franks on Sunday, April 16, 2006

Several emailers, who are also bloggers, have expressed an interest in how we do the podcast here at QandO. They are especially curious to know what equipment we are using to produce it, and how we all get together on the phone to record it. It's actually quite simple, and pretty inexpensive, all things considered.

Here's the setup I use to create the podcast:

The actual equipment setup and cost is as follows.

First, of course, is a standard PC. The PC I use is an older 1.8Ghz HP desktop that I only really use as an electronic studio. The machine is about 3 years old, and, while it is a little slow saving and opening large WAV files, it adequately handles the recording tasks without any problem. So any relatively recent PC should do the trick.

The Mixer is the Alesis Multimix 12FX USB mixer. I picked it up at Guitar Center for $250 bucks. This is a 12-channel mixer, which is probably more than you'll need. There are in fact, a number of cheaper mixers that would work as well for most people, such as the Multimix 8FX. Eight channels is usually enough for almost any podcast solution, and you can pick it up for $150 or less. I went the the 12FX for no other reason than I prefer push faders to turning the dials on cheaper mixers. At the radio stations I worked at, all the mixers used push faders, and I prefer them to the point where I'll pay a premium to get them.

The nice think about the Alesis mixer is that it comes with a free copy of Cubase LE, a 24-track recording software application. Unfortunately, the free version won't allow you to export the audio mixdown in any other format but WAV files, which are pretty huge, and useless for the internet. [UPDATE: Cubase has a MP3 Encoder add-on. It's available at the Cubase web site's online store for $10.00, and allows you to export the studio mixdown into MP3 format, and is now what I use. It allows you to export the MP3 in a variety of sound quality levels, from very bad, to CD quality. I use the 31KBPS Mono setting for the podcast. It gives decent sound quality, without making the MP3 files too large to be convenient.] So, in addition to Cubase, I have an old copy of Syntrillium Cool Edit 2000. I import the Audio Mixdown WAV file from CUBASE into CoolEdit, do any required editing, then CoolEdit exports the final podcast as an MP3. For most of you, you'll want to just pay to register Cubase, and you'll be good to go. I just didn't want to spend the extra money when I already had CoolEdit.

The microphone is a $50 one I picked up at Radio Shack, along with the stand, which was about $20. I'd really love to have one of these, but, obviously, it's not necessary. A standard performance mic will give you acceptable sound, especially as you're broadcasting over the internet in lower quality, plus, no one's gonna be listening to the podcast with audiophile speakers on their laptop.

All of the music is generated from my iPod, which I run through the mixer from the Line Out jack on the back of the iPod's little white recharging stand. Most MP3 Players, CD players, or cassette players can be run into the mixer in the same way.

The really essential bit of the studio is a tiny little black box called the Daptor Two. It costs $159, and it's really the heart of what makes our podcast work. The Daptor Two plugs into the mini audio jack of your cell phone, or any phone with a mini jack for an external headset. It then separates out the sound channel, and runs it into the mixer, and takes the sound output from the mixer, and runs it through the phone's microphone channel. This allows you to do phone interviews, or in our case, since I have conference calling on my cell phone, allows me to get all three of us on the phone, and record it through the mixer.

The cost for the Mixer, Daptor Two and Microphone comes out to a little under $500.

Additionally, BSW Audio offers three different levels—at wildly varying prices—of podcasting packages you can buy: The Starter, Veteran, and Pro packages. Although, at $1,699 for the pro package, I doubt most people will be interested in it. The Starter package, however, is only $249, which jumps to about $399 if you throw in the Daptor Two.

So that's the technical nuts and bolts for you potential podcasters out there.
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