Geeky Stuff

Tools

My recording gear consists of the following:

 

Whys and Wherefores

I chose the gear I did specifically because I wanted to record stereo, wanted low noise, and knew I was going to be doing interviews. The Zoom is a little flimsy-looking compared to other portable recorders, but the Cubase LE bundle and its low price made it attractive. I love the fact that I can run it without a computer being present (no Windows beeps, no fan noise, no keyboard clicks!) and with the 2 gig SD card I can record a huge amount of content with it in MP3 mode. Best of all, there are no device drivers, antivirus updates, etc, to worry about. I was being interviewed for someone else's podcast and the poor guy's Windows instant update kept wanting to reboot the machine in the middle. Give me a single-purpose device, please!

The Zoom has 2 XLR / quarter inch connectors and I set it up with one microphone in each for stereo recording. If I'm recording a phone interview, one XLR input goes to a microphone on the table in front of me, and the other XLR input goes to the capture side of the broadcast host. The broadcast host has a separate level adjustment knob that's very convenient for quickly level-adjusting the person on the other side of the line. In Cubase I have enough control that I can do EQ adjustment on the channels separately to make them match, sound-wise, then I can flip/overlay and pan them to make it sound like two people standing about 5 feet apart.

One thing I'm not super impressed by is the Cubase bundle. The software is powerful and reliable, but it comes with an MP3 encoder that's good for 20 file saves. After that, you can either click on a nonexistent link to a site where they try to upsell you on a full version - or you can just encode to .WAV and convert to MP3 with LAME. I guess marketing idiots think that customers are going to be impressed with shenanigans like that. Steinberg offers virtually no support for LE - of course. So if something goes wrong, you're on your own. There are annoying little details in Cubase that just scream "programmer that needed a beating" - for example, if you somehow get the start/end markers of an audio track reversed, when you go to export it, it gives you a useful error like this: "Export failed." Never mind that you should never be able to put the start of an audio clip after its end (duh?) that's just a useless error message. I guess Steinberg doesn't care because they know they're either not getting any of your money, or they're selling you a new version.

The only aspect of my rig that I am not completely thrilled with is the headphones. The Sennheisers sound fantastic but they are large and don't fold up. They do not fit in the pelican case with the rest of the gear. I tried recording once using my Bose sound-damping phones instead, but since the Bose phones are amplified, I couldn't really tell what was happening to my sound levels. The Sennheisers sound fantastic, are very light, and comfortable, and - other than the fact that they are big - are perfect for my purposes.

The JK Broadcast Host has persistent line noise. A subtle hum. On the other hand, it's recording phone calls, which aren't exactly wonderful quality, either. I'm not very happy with it but when I compare it to the high-end pro gear, I'm not sure my little podcast is worth $1000 to me. There are good deals to be had on Ebay for the pro gear, but that's a potentially painful route. I've had several people suggest I use skype - but: a) I am not impressed with the reliability of VOIP and b) I am on dialup.

I'm not a hard-core audiophile - I have pretty bad tinnitus, actually, and have spent too much time firing large-calibre weapons - but I wanted a set-up that gave me good enough quality that my voice and microphone skills are the weakest link in the system!