Podcast Set Up
Audio quality is like subtle design: no one notices it, but they have a pleasant experience. The content should be what people focus on, not how hard they must work to hear you.
Do you want to know how to go from crappy audio to pretty darn good audio with video capture?
This was a long and occasionally frustrating process that got increasingly expensive. But sharing is caring, right? Hopefully, some of my research and decisions might help you.
- Original Setup
- Webcam only
- Blue Yeti microphone
- Comparison: Blue Yeti Pro vs. Webcam
- Accessorizing your microphone (pop-filters and such)
- Video Capture
- DSLR as Webcam: Using a Capture Card
- DSLR + Webcam: recording two views at once using OBS Studio
- Shure MV7 microphone
- Hidden costs of great microphones.
- Trade-offs between environment control or expensive set-ups
- Comparison: Blue Yeti Pro vs. Shure MV7
- Sound Proofing
- This has to be better than nothing, right?
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1. ORIGINAL SET UP: webcam
Beginners suck. Or at least I do.
Initially, I used my Logitech HD C920 HD webcam for audio. That was rough, even after running it through Adobe Audition to reduce the noise.
You know how you lie to yourself when you don’t want to work hard or spend money?
I convinced myself the content is more important than the audio quality. That meant I wasted a lot of time and effort trying to fix what my bad equipment produced.
Tip: Audio clean up
You can “Capture Noise Print” then run “noise reduction” from the sound print profile, and it does a great job removing ambient noise.
2. FIRST UPGRADE: Blue Yeti
I did a little research, and everything I read demanded you get a dedicated microphone. It seemed like the $100 – $150 price range most highly recommended beginner microphone was a USB Blue Yeti. And it looked kind of Fallout 4 retro-cool.
But, I thought, “what if I actually keep doing this and get decent at it… will the extra XLR function be something I will want?” And, of course, I thought, “yes… I love spending money.” So, I bought a refurbished Blue Yeti PRO for about $194.
(as of December 2020, they are about $350-$400 probably due to the COVID Pandemic and popularity.)
You can hear a distinct difference as I started using this microphone. Better clarity of vocals, even though the sound is not totally clear. The Blue Yeti has some cool options, such as the ability to change the condenser to pick up for interviews (2 directions), one voice (1 direction), or a group of people (omnidirectional).
Recorded with Webcam mic
Recorded with Blue Yeti mic
Problem: this Blue Yeti microphone sits on the desk, and every time you bump into the table or brush against anything it picks up the vibration. Also, you have to bend over to talk into the microphone, which is just annoying if you talk for more than 10 minutes. Unless you have a low chair or bad posture… then this mic is for you.
So, to stave off neck problems I got a boom arm, a shock mount, and a pop filter… I think half of it was functionality, and half was because I love toys. Altogether this was about $100.
3. SECOND UPGRADE: video capture
How do you video capture using two cameras and keep your audio quality high?
I decided to try video capturing after my buddy Joey gave me some grief for not having my face visible. I tend to think the ideas should carry themselves, but part of growing your audience or brand or whatever is marketing and having a face your audience can put with the words, so for the sake of marketing and growth, I am gonna try it.
First, to use a DSLR as a video camera (I have a Sony a7 ii mirrorless) connected to your computer it is easiest to use a ‘capture card.’
There are workarounds, if you want to mess with it.
I bought the external El Gato HD60 S ( about $150). You can also use the El Gato Link 4k (about $120) or you can put a card into your PC (internal), but I like the idea of being portable if I ever need to do this with my laptop in a back-alley while running from bounty hunters or nueromancers.
El Gato Capture Card
Sony A7 ii Mirrorless Camera
Then, I needed a software/program to run it through because El Gato’s “Game Capture Utility” (software) is set up for video game live streaming. While it would it would probably work, Joey and Ian both recommended OBS Studio as an open-source and powerful live broadcasting software that has lots of tutorials and is used by pretty much every streamer.
Here are a series of Tutorials or How-to videos that were helpful.
An interesting problem I didn’t encounter the first time I used OBS + El Gato together is a time-lag between the audio and the video. To fix this, you need to delay the audio to align with the video, which means figuring how many milliseconds your lag or latency is off, then adjusting it in the advanced audio properties.
Despite the tutorials, fixing the audio lag took longer than expected.
It wasn’t following the tutorials I had trouble with. I had a problem finding the correct microphone/input and headphone/output settings that didn’t conflict with the software. At this point, I have about eight inputs and eight outputs to choose from. The multiple programs running each have settings that can override the other programs and the default settings of your computer, as well as controlling the volume on different devices.
Seriously, the El Gato Game Capture has an audio input, the Sound Capture has an input, the microphone has an input, the Focusrite Scarlett has an input, the Logitech webcam has an input, OBS has an input, and my RealTek audio driver has 2 inputs.
I found that after getting El Gato to work (to recognize my Sony camera) by using the “Game Capture Utility” the Sony camera feed would show up in OBS studio. Awesome. It essentially went from the camera, into the El Gato device and software, which allows it to be a video feed… then I turned on that video feed in OBS studio.
From there, my best advice is to quit messing with the settings in El Gato Game Capture Utility and the El Gato Sound Capture program. Just close them both so they do not attempt to override or interfere with OBS.
Note: My camera continued to work in OBS even after the El Gato game utility is closed, but I needed to start with El Gato Game Capture Utility open to recognize the input.
Note II: I have 2 USB 3.0 ports, but for some reason El Gato only works on one of them. Gotta love technology. I’m sure it’s fixable, but I don’t even want to touch it now that I figured out what works.
In addition, you will probably need better lighting and a battery-to-power adapter for your camera. The cool kids use RGB lighting, but I just couldn’t work up the nerve to make my podcast look like a rave.
Tips: Post-Recording Audio Cleanup
Tutorial on How-to remove plosives in Adobe Audition [link]
To remove some echo, I use “DeHummer” in the effects panel, but too much flattens it out.
I also run a “parametric equalizer” for voice on the audio.
4. Third Upgrade: Shure MV7
The next issue is how to reduce the distance and echo. Even with the Blue Yeti, my audio still has “space” or “airy-ness”, despite running Adobe Audition‘s Noise Reduction and playing with multiple filters until I sound like a robot in a tin can.
After talking with Ian F. Thomas we did a Zoom call. He has a background in music and his microphone sounds AMAZING. He has a Rode PodMic ($100) which runs through an XLR cable, which means the signal is more analog, and you have to convert the signal to digital for your computer. For this, you need the $100- $160 Focusrite Scarlett, and to boost the weak analog signal, you need a Cloudlifter, which is about $150. (~$300 for XLR quality)
There seems to be a set of trade-offs here: spend a lot of time/money on sound-proofing, which makes it super challenging to shoot video, but you can get good audio from a cheaper microphone, OR spend a lot more money on a really good microphone -and the peripheral connections- so you don’t have to fight your environment quite so much.
Ian and I discussed several microphones, and I ended up going with the more expensive Shure MV7 ($250).
There are several reasons for this, but primarily, it sounds great.
Secondarily, I like having the option of USB or XLR, where I can travel with the microphone and plug it into a computer without the peripherals. Still, I hope this microphone will not become obsolete if I get more fancy and advanced.
Since I now have two microphones with USB and XLR outputs, I made an impulse purchase for the future, deciding to get the Scarlet Focusrite 2i2, which allows multiple XLR inputs, in essence, letting me plug two microphones into one unit and have them feed into my computer. This will be great to have when I start doing in-person interviews once COVID-19 is no longer an issue. And it is a step towards being able to have a full-on professional setup.
But… I now want to sell my Blue Yeti Pro for a Podmic, spend the extra money on a Cloudlifter, and have a Super Pro set up.
My last podcast I recorded using the Shure MV7 (XLR) to the Focusrite 2i2, but for some reason it only had Left channel audio coming in. This might be normal: I don’t know.
But to work around it for the podcast, I had to mirror the audio feeds from the left to the right channel.
Here is how to do that:
5. Sound Proofing
This is not a HOWTO, but a “you should.”
Since I am in a mostly glass and wood studio, there is almost no sound absorption, so the echo and ambient space detract from that clean sound we are seeking.
Friendly tip: turn off you Air Conditioner/Heater when recording or you will lose a few takes. I learned this the hard way.
I have contrived a few 2×4 rectangles of acoustic foam into position around where I record. I am sure it is helping some, but I can’t say exactly how much. But between the new microphone and the sound-proofing, the “noise reduction” I do now has very little to trim out. I now need to up my overall post-processing game to really tune up my voice.
Note: the thicker the block of foam, the more it absorbs deep bass sounds, so you don’t need to buy 4″ thick blocks for vocals.
JBER 24 Pack Blue and Charcoal Acoustic Panels Studio Foam Wedges Fireproof Soundproof Padding Black Wall Panels 2″ X 12″ X 12″
As you can see in the tutorial section below, there are many different ways to do this. What makes me laugh are the DIY solutions that require cutting up 47 towels and making stretchers. And I am sure they work, and maybe they look cleaner from a distance, but I doubt they are truly cheaper or easier. (Seriously, just wood for stretchers is pricey, much less a half-ton of towels.)
I spent about a half-hour spray mounting $50 of foam blocks onto 1/2″ insulation foam that costs $12 for an 8’x4′ sheet at Home Depot. I cut it into 2’x4′ strips with a box cutter, mounted the foam acoustic blocks, then I put 2 nails in the wall and pushed the foam onto it.
More work to do: Speaking
I have a tendency to suck in air at the end of a sentence, like a dying fish, which can clearly be heard in the audio, along with me snorting like Slavoj Zizek. So, I have to train myself not to do that.
Also, Booth Junkie talks about how to talk across a microphone rather than straight into it, which reduces the plosives that really pop. I have not mastered this skill, but realize that to help my listeners out it sure would be nice to not explode their eardrums.
Conclusion / Summary:
I hope you have found this little journey useful.
My thoughts for audio equipment parallel my sentiment on shop tools: it is better to purchase a really good life-long tool one time rather than waste money moving from beginner to novice to semi-pro to professional. Like many people, I just didn’t realize (or believe) the degree of difference and how important it was to the final product.
If I had to do it all over again, I would skip the journey, drop $400 on the Shure sm7b and $400 on peripherals, and know that I was at the top of the game.
But to be fair, I didn’t realize how into podcasting I was going to get.