LPX is produced out of my home office using a mishmash of pro and amateur gear and software.
Here’s a list stuff I currently use to interview people from all over the world, record the results, and mix everything together into a podcast. I’ll update this page if/when my setup changes.
Sennheiser MD421 II ($380)
This is a classic microphone that’s often used for recording drums, but it also make a great vocal mic. It’s a dynamic microphone which does a pretty good job of minimizing background noise in my home office, which is useful because the room hasn’t been acoustically treated.
Sennheiser’s mic also has a five-position bass control built in, allowing you to adjust the tone to find the best options for recording speech or music.
You can find decent condenser microphones that sound almost as good for a fraction of the price (I’ve got an AKG Perception 100 that sounds pretty great), but they tend to record a much hotter signal, which means they’re more likely to pick up background noise including echos bouncing off the walls or noise from people on the street outside my house.
When I was setting up my home studio I had been tempted to buy a $450 Electro Voice RE-20 cardioid dynamic microphone, which is what we use at WHYY. But the $380 Sennheiser MD421 is a more affordable alternative that I think sounds pretty good.
It doesn’t hurt that I bought mine on sale for about $100 below the usual price.
Yamaha MG10XU ($200)
After using an Alesis Multimix 8 USB on and off for about a decade, I decided to upgrade to a mixer with a good reputation for clean preamps, built-in compression, and a similar array of good inputs and outputs.
I probably would have kept using the Alesis mixer, but I noticed an increasing amount of noise when using it with my preferred mic.
So at the end of 2016, I picked up Yamaha’s MG10XU mixer. It’s similar in size to the Alesis mixer, but the preamps do sound better, there are an extra two channels, and perhaps most importantly, there’s no loud buzzing noise when using it as a USB audio interface for my PC.
That eliminates the need for the USB audio inputs listed below… in some situations.
Another fun fact: a little over a month after buying this mixer, I accidentally spilled water on it, causing two of the mic inputs to stop working temporarily. So I shut off the power, unplugged the mixer, and disassembled it.
After removing a lot of screws and taking off all the knobs, I was able to open up the case and my wife helped me carefully clean off all surfaces to make sure that the spilled water hadn’t damaged anything when it came in contact with live electronics. Then we dried everything off with a hair dryer, let it sit for about two days, and upon putting the mixer back together, everything works again.
In addition to using this mixer to connect my mic to a computer, I can use it to set up a “mix minus” that allows me to record Skype interviews with my voice on one channel and a guest’s on another channel.
Tascam DR-60mkII ($200)
This is a recent addition to my audio gear, and for the most part this $200 recorder has replaced the Sony PCM-D50 listed below, even though it sells for 1/3rd the price.
I’m still keeping the Sony as a backup, but a few buttons on that recorder have stopped working, so I decided to look for a new recorder… and was pleasantly surprised that I could find such as versatile recorder with clean preamps (not a lot of hiss) for such a great price. In fact, the Tascam DR-60mkII is often on sale for $30 to $50 off its list price of $200.
This recorder is designed to be used with external mic or line inputs and lacks any built-in microphones. But unlike the Sony, it accepts XLR, 1/4th inch, and 3.5mm inputs. It can also record up to 4 channels at once since there are two XLR inputs and a 3.5mm stereo jack.
I bought this recorder primarily for use in the field, since it allows me to plug in two microphones and control the volumes independently when doing interviews for the Loving Project podcast. But I’ve also found it’s a great solution for making backup recordings at home.
When recording voice tracks or Skype interviews from home, I can use the Yamaha mixer to send a signal to my PC… but I can also run an audio cable from the mixer to the Tascam recorder so that both my computer and the portable recorder are saving files at the same time.
The Tascam DR-60mkII was designed for use with DSLR cameras, but it’s actually quite useful for podcasters, journalists, or other audio producers. Tascam also has several other models in this series that have additional mic inputs, but I chose the DR-60mkII because it’s both cheaper, and has more physical buttons, which means you don’t have to dig into the on-screen menus to get at some settings.
Sony PCM-D50 (older model)
Sadly, Sony has discontinued this hardware. Working as a journalist and audio producer, I’ve been using the PCM-D50 to record interviews in the field for over a decade and it sounds great with every microphone I’ve used, thanks to excellent preamps which add very little noise to the recording.
Sony has replaced this model with the more expensive PCM-D100, but the PCM-D50 is a nice, sturdy option that’s still going strong after years of use.
In my home studio, I can run a cable from the 2-track out of my mixer to the line input on the PCM-D50 and hit record to save a copy of all the audio running through the mixer.
USB audio input
Behringer U-Control UCA222 ($30)
I can connect the Yamaha mixer to my computer with a USB cable, which makes a separate USB audio input kind of unnecessary. But I’ve found that audio recorded via my microphone that way can be a bit quiet.
So I recently picked up Behringer’s relatively inexpensive audio interface with stereo RCA input and output ports. Priced at $30, it’s a bit more expensive than the Sabrent adapter listed below (which is what I used to use), but the Behringer is a bit sturdier and has separate left and right channel inputs and outputs, which could make it more versatile.
Sabrent Aluminum USB external sound adapter ($8)
Since I’m not connecting my mixer to a PC with a USB cable, I’m using analog cables to connect to the mic/line input and the headphone/speaker output.
My primary work computer is a laptop… which doesn’t have separate mic and headphone jacks. So I spent $8 on this little USB adapter. Plug it into your PC and it shows up as an external sound card, and the audio quality is surprisingly good for such an inexpensive device.
Eventually I may update to a Focusrite Scarlett Solo or Scarlett 2i2 to get a higher-quality input as well as a preamp that would let me connect my mic to the PC without going through the mixer first.
But for now, the Sabrent adapter is working quite nicely. There’s an even cheaper plastic version, but I figured the aluminum model would do a better job of holding up to the cables I’d be constantly inserting and removing.
Sony MDR-V6 (or MDR-7506) studio monitor headphones
I’m a big fan of Sony’s MDR-7506 studio monitor headphones, but after years of abuse the 1/8th inch adapter on the end of my old headphones got a little wonky, so I picked up a new set of Sony MDR-V6 headphones as a replacement.
They look and feel almost the same (they’re comfortable to wear and cover your whole ear), but there are a few subtle differences in the sound. They both do a pretty great job of reproducing vocals though, so I’m not sure I really prefer one to the other for studio or field recording or mixing jobs.
The MDR-V6 headphones just happened to be bit cheaper when I was shopping.
That’s not always the case — and as I write this, Amazon is actually selling the MDR-7506 headphones for a few dollars less… and they’re a bit of more of a broadcast standard set of headphones, so if you can find a good deal on them, it’s easy to recommend that set.
Both models usually sell for around $80 to $100.
Setting up mix minus for recording Skype/internet interviews
Right, so the mic plugs into the mixer, the mixer plugs into the audio input and the audio recorder… and that’s all you need if you’re just going to record your own voice.
But recording interviews over Skype, Google Hangouts, or other VoIP services can be a little trickier. There’s software that will do it for you — and I’ll talk about those apps below (I use some of them). But I like to save a local copy so that even if my computer crashes, I won’t lose anything that’s been recorded so far.
There are a few methods for doing this. One is to set up a “mix minus” configuration, which allows you to send every sound playing in your mixer to the person on the other end of your voice or video call *except* their own voice. The other way is actually a little simpler, but it doesn’t make it as easy to make two recordings at once (I like redundancy).
So the second, non-mix-minus method is basically to:
- Send audio from your mic to the mixer
- Send audio from your PC to the mixer
- Record the output from the mixer
That’s it. The cheapest/simplest way to do that would be to just talk into your high-quality mic that’s plugged into a mixer without letting your guest hear the audio from that mic at all. Just make sure the mic from your laptop or webcam is close enough that they can hear your voice anyway.
If you’ve got a little more money to spend, you can connect your mic to an audio interface like the FocusRite models mentioned above so that your guests can hear you… and then use the headphone jack on that audio interface to send audio to your mixer, as explained by PodCastingGuru.com.
A mix minus setup, on the other hand, lets your guest hear all the audio from your mixer. So if you have multiple microphones plugged in, want to play music, sound effects, or anything else, this is the way to go.
It also lets you record everything using PC software at the same time as you’re saving a copy using an external recorder.
So this is the method I’m using:
- My mic is plugged into an XLR input on the mixer. I’m using Mic input 1 for this.
- A stereo 1/8th inch to dual mono 1/4th inch cable runs from the headphone jack on the Sabrent audio device to the 1/4th inch line inputs on my mixer (I’m currently using the Line In 5/6 jack for this).
- A mono 1/4th inch to stereo 1/8th cable runs from the Aux B Send/output of my mixer to the mic input of the Sabrent audio input. You could use a mono to mono cable, but this may help prevent Skype from accidentally picking the wrong channel.
Then you have to adjust a few things on the mixer:
- Turn up the Aux Post volume for the mic and any other inputs you’d like your guest to hear.
- Make sure the Aux Post volume is turned down for the input coming from your computer. This will make sure the guest doesn’t hear their own voice coming back to them a second later.
- Optional: If you’d like to record your voice and your guest’s voice on separate tracks, use the Pan knobs to set your mic all the way to the left (or right) and the PC audio (your guest) all the way in the other direction. That way, when you record a stereo audio file, all the sound from your mic will be on one side and all the sound from your computer will be on the other.
Most mixers will have multiple outputs that you can plug into an external recorder. I’m using a dual mono 1/4th inch to stereo 1/8th inch cable to connect my Sony recorder to the Ctrl Room output on my mixer, allowing me to record the same audio I’d hear in my headphones… if they were plugged into the mixer’s headphone jack. I usually plug my headphones into the recorder, since this lets me monitor exactly what the recording will sound like.
At the same time, I’m using software to record a copy of the interview on my PC. I’ve found that sometimes it makes sense when mixing my interviews to use the audio of my guest recorded on the PC and the audio of myself recorded to the Sony recorder. But you can mix and match.
Note that this description uses the discontinued Alesis Multimix 8USB mixer. Since I’ve upgraded to a Yamaha MG10XU, I had to swap out a few cables to match the appropriate input/output ports, but the basic idea is pretty much the same. It’s just that I use 1/4th inch cables instead of RCA cables for sending audio to my recorder now.
Logitech HD Pro C920
Technically, you don’t need a good webcam to produce audio-only podcast recordings. But the camera on my laptop is pretty awful, and sometimes it’s nice to be able to see the person you’re talking to… and to let them see you.
So I invested in a better camera that I could use when conducting Skype, Hangouts, or other internet interviews. The Logitech HD Pro C920 supports 1920 x 1080 pixel video, features integrated H.264 compression, and seems to do a pretty good job of capturing images, even in a poorly lit room.
If you’re going to use a webcam, it’s a good idea to make sure Skype or other recording software knows to grab video from the camera, but uses your high-quality microphone for audio, rather than the webcam microphone.
Want to record a Skype interview without any of that stuff I mentioned above? This $18 program will do the trick if you’re using a Windows computer.
Mac users can do pretty much the same thing with Audio Hijack Pro for $49.
Just fire up Total Recorder, walk through the recording wizard, and you can record both sides of a Skype conversation without either participant hearing their own voice as feedback.
This should work with pretty much any Voice-over-internet service, including Skype, Google Hangouts, and others. There are also options for recording just the sound from a microphone, all the sounds your PC is making, sounds from a line input, or from other sources such as a CD or DVD. And you can opt to separate your voice and your guests’s voice into left and right channels.
Audio can be saved as WAV, MP3, OGG, or WMA files… although if you plan to do any audio editing, I’d recommend recording to WAV and then compressing the audio later.
Not only can you use Skype to make voice or video calls to other Skype users, often with better audio quality than you’d get from a normal phone call, but you can use Skype to call phones.
In fact, using Skype to call phones allows me to use all of the existing tools described above, so it’s my preferred method for recording phone calls from home.
Basic Skype service is free, but you either need to pay a monthly fee or pay by the minute to call telephones. You can also sign up for a Skype Number that will let people call you as if they were dialing a phone number.
You know how I said Total Recorder was the only app you needed to record an interview conducted over the internet? Epishow makes things even easier.
Sign up for an account, click the “new recording” button, and get a link that you can send to your guest. They click the link and you can see and talk to one another using nothing but a web browser.
When you’re ready to record, just hit a button and Epishow will record both sides of the conversation on separate tracks. When you’re done, hit stop and after a few minutes of processing, Epishow will let you download each track separately or a mixdown with the whole conversation on a single file.
At least that’s the idea. Epishow co-founder Randall Bennett tells me eventually the service will also support tools for editing and distributing podcasts, and maybe even for monetizing them.
Right now, it’s still in beta and I’ve had mixed results using Epishow, so whenever I conduct an interview this way, I also save local copies of the recording using my Sony recorder and/or Total Recorder software.
Audio editiong software (Reaper)
Speaking of editing, there are plenty of options for editing software, ranging from free and simple to free and complicated to expensive and complicated.
Reaper splits the difference. It’s $60 for non-commercial use and $225 for a commercial license. And it’s ridiculously versatile. The basic user interface is simple and easy to learn, but there are a ton of options and effects plugins for processing your sound.
You can use Reaper for editing podcasts, music, or just about anything else.
A simpler alternative for producers primarily working with spoken word recordings might be Hindenburg Journalist, which sells for $95.
Audio processing plugins (Izotope RX 5, Waves NS1 Noise Supressor, and Acon Restoration Suite)
While Reaper comes with some basic effects tools that let you clean up noisy audio or make other tweaks, some of the first interviews I conducted for the LPX Show were problematic enough to lead me off in search of third-party plugins.
The best way to improve audio quality is to start with high quality source material. But since I conduct most of my interviews over the internet or over a phone line, there’s only so much I can do in terms of mic placement and quality and record volume.
Fortunately I found a few excellent tools for cleaning up audio… and I’m actually glad I recorded some low-quality audio, because these plugins can also help improve the sound I’m recording in my own home studio.
Update: After deciding that Waves NS1 was surprisingly good for the price, but lacking in settings options and that Acon’s software has a habit of leaving digital audio artifacts, I eventually just bit the bullet and purchased Izotope RX 5 Audio Editor.
Actually, first I bought the cheaper RX Plug-in Pack, but eventually decided to go all out and buy the fuller-featured version with more bells and whistles. I’ve been very happy with that decision.
If you have a limited budget, I’d consider checking out the Plug-in Pack, which has a list price of $129, but which may be available for a lower price at AudioDeluxe (price in cart). The Waves NS1 plugin is also a pretty good option for minimizing background hiss. The Acon package is still useful for removing some clicks and pops, but overall it’s not as good as Izotope’s software.
Original article continues below:
First I looked at Izotope’s RX 5 Audio Editor suite, which includes some excellent tools for removing noise, setting EQ levels, repairing clipped audio (when the input source is so loud that the peaks and valleys of the sound wave are cut off) and more. The free trial demonstrated to me that the RX 5 suite is truly pretty great… but the full version costs $349. So I went looking for more affordable options.
That’s when I found the Acon Restoration Suite. It’s a $100 set of plugins that work with Reaper (and other audio editors) and offer four tools similar to those you get from RX 5: DeNoise, DeHum, DeClick, and DeClip.
The Clip and Click tools are pretty great. The DeNoise tool works in some cases, but it can be tough to configure so that you reduce background noise without making the primary source material sound robotic.
So I looked for other DeNoise tools which can help reduce fan noise from my computer as well as wind noise and other background noise from the recordings of my guests. There are a ton of tools that can do this, but one of the simplest and most effective I found was the Waves NS1 Noise Supressor.
The NS1 plugin currently sells for about $69, and basically has one setting: a fader that lets you adjust the sensitivity. It does an excellent job of removing only the background noise on most audio I’ve used it with.
RX 5 definitely has some features that these plugins do not. But Acon + NS1 costs less than half the price of the RX 5 suite. And you can typically save even more money by purchasing the plug-ins or other audio software from AudioDeluxe, which applies discounts when you add the software to your cart.
Of course, shortly after I purchase these plugins, Izotope went and released a cheaper alternative to its RX Suite, called the RX Plug-in Pack. It’s a $129 set of plugins without a standalone audio editor. It includes De-Noise, De-Hum, De-Clip, and De-Clip software… basically it’s Izotope’s answer to the Acon tools. And through March 21st, the suite is on sale for $99.
But I’m happy enough with my current setup that I decided not to buy another set of plugins. If I hadn’t already paid for the Acon and Waves tools, I’d definitely consider buying the RX Plug-in Pack though.
Other effects that I regularly use, which are built into Reaper include the ReaComp tool for compression, the ReaEQ tool for equalization (which does a great job of stripping away noise below 300 MHz or above 3200 MHz in phone recordings, for instance), and the ReaFir EQ tool which helps with more complex equalization tasks.
Want some music for your podcast, but don’t want to hire a composer or dig through Creative Commons-licensed music sources? Make your own!
I’ve found that piano/drum/guitar-style apps don’t work very well on my Android phone or tablet, because there’s too much latency. When I tap the screen, it takes a split second for the sound to play, which makes it hard to make music while keeping a beat.
Things are much, much better with iOS — but my aging iPod touch only supports iOS 6, and some of the best music creation apps for iOS require newer versions of the operating system. Plus the screen is really tiny.
So I’ve started tinkering with Android apps that don’t require you to hit keys in real-time, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the results.
This free app has a keyboard with adjustable tones, but it’s kind of hard to use on a tiny screen and there’s that audio latency issue.
But there’s also a sequencer that lets you create musical patterns and switch between them. It’s not the most versatile music app around, but it’s a great tool for getting used to sequencer/loop software, and it’s certainly possible to make some catchy tunes.
Like Plasma Sound, this app hasn’t been updated in a few years… and it has a super-simple, barebones user interface. But it offers far more options for creating different sounds, auto-playing your sequences in the correct order, or saving the output in non real-time.
It took me a little while to realize I could long-press on buttons to change the sounds, but once I did that, it was easy to create unique compositions.
Web hosting and podcast hosting
WP Engine and Libsyn
This website is hosted by WP Engine, and the podcast feed is hosted at Libsyn.
Technically, you can host a podcast feed anywhere, as long as you can create an RSS feed. But Libsyn specializes in podcasts, charges based on storage and features, not bandwidth (it doesn’t cost more to host a really popular podcast), and makes it easy to format your feed for submission to iTunes and other podcast directories.
WP Engine is a managed WordPress hosting site. I’ve been using them to host Liliputing.com for years, and while the early days were a little bumpy, I’ve had nearly 100 percent uptime for the past few years. And if there is a problem with the server, it’s somebody else’s job to diagnose and fix things, not mine. I just have to worry about blogging (and site design, and other stuff that doesn’t involve becoming an expert on servers).
Just FYI: Skype can do group video chat on web. You can’t record it though, but I thought It would be nice to mention. 🙂