Cause & effect, Affect & fix

I noticed over the last year that no matter what mic I was using I was getting an increasing amount of noise in my side of the show’s recordings. Some times it’s less noticeable in terms of relative noise levels and volumes, but there was a constant hiss. The commonality was using the USB interface on my Macbook. That was the common part whether I was using my pro-level M-Audio audio interface, a direct USB mic or a gaming headset. The noise was there and at times, very distracting (at least to me in post production editing).

My Logitech headset is pretty cheap and low-end, so I expected it to by noisy and sloppy. My microphones, however, are both decent quality units – a Samson C01-U and a Blue Yeti. Part of the problem is that using good quality condenser microphones is a sure way to highlight and exacerbate any noise floors you have. Over the past few shows I was recording in a newly-emptied bedroom and between the condenser mic’s ability to pick up room noise, echo and the omnipresent noise on the interface, I nearly trashed the whole recording for a couple of shows and went without.

Ultimately, I didn’t and was happy that we got the shows out, but even a guest spot that James and I did on the Rant-Fu podcast made me sound like a rank amateur with the crappy sound quality. This was all doubly frustrating as I’m not a newcomer to audio engineering; back in high school I spent some time working at a recording studio, and I was involved in the A/V at school and with the bands for which I was playing. I generally know my way around equipment. But hey… “it’s just a hobby podcast, so who cares, right?”

Uh… no. That mindset only carries you so far, especially since, for me, this isn’t just a hobby podcast. This is something about which I’m pretty passionate and I truly love doing. So… it’s time to step up my audio quality.

First things first, I unpacked my used Shure SM58 dynamic mic, I found a used but good Yamaha 10-channel mixer on eBay (as well as a used and dirt-cheap Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer that’s still in the shipping box) and I wired it up. I tinkered around with the settings and figured out how to set up the mixer for one and several mics and other line-level inputs. I got it all wired up so I can do Skype mix-minus recordings on the computer or, eventually, perhaps to some external digital recorder.

Once I figured out that the mixer I have will do what I need, I sold my M-Audio pro interface. It’s entirely overkill for our needs and for 1/5th the price of the M-Audio, the Yamaha mixer is perfect for my needs. I have several other dynamic mics for when I host guests here at the house, and frankly doing multiple mics on the M-Audio was never just as simple as it could (should?) have been. The Yamaha is much simpler and more intuitive. Plus, the extra money is nice.

Now, for most of the shows, even the mixer is overkill. Most of the time, all that’s necessary is the mic, the computer and me, as James and I record the shows over Skype from our respective homes. With that in mind, I also found an ART tube mic pre-amp on Amazon for crazy cheap. This will allow me an even simpler interface – nearly as simple as using the USB mics – for most of the shows, but without the increased noise of the condenser mics and USB interface. Win.

And yes, Mr. Ravenscraft, I *do* record into a computer. I don’t have a spare $200-$400 laying around for the Edirol. Yet! 😉

So, this is a long-winded way of saying I’m sorry about the recent crappy sound quality and starting with our first show of 2011, my end of the recordings should sound much, much better in terms of noise and general sound quality. I can’t do anything about my crappy voice, other than suggest you buy ear plugs. 🙂

Happy New Year everyone, and we look forward to more great shows and community interaction in the Near Year.