Our $2,000 Skype Podcasting Studio

 

MacBook ($1,600)
  

CAD GXL2200 Studio Condenser Mic ($100)

Behringer UB802 Mixer with effects loop to act as mix-minus bus ($50)

Zoom H4 portable digital audio recorder ($250)
 
 

Notes

This information page assumes you have a basic understanding of the ins and outs of audio equipment (literally the logical flow of audio going in and coming out of different units and channels, making level adjustments throughout the chain) and the difference between pro and consumer gear.

Why is this so complicated?

We're recording a Podcast with a co-host that lives out-of-state via the Skype application that runs on a computer (we know there are other Skype solutions that don't).  If we were doing a program with a caller via telephone (or Skype device that acted like a telephone), we'd add a Telephone Hybrid to our setup.  At that point, we could even dispense with a computer (for the recording portion of the Podcast) and record directly onto the H4.

The creates a mix-minus bus, a special audio channel that includes program audio (host, sound effects, music, etc.) for the caller's benefit, but excludes the caller's own voice (hence program mix, minus the caller).  If the caller's voice is bounced back to him or her, at worst, it would cause squealing, echo or thin-sounding audio, and at best, an incredible distraction.

If we were recording a one-person Podcast without guests & co-hosts, we could do everything with a computer and a good microphone.  To add co-hosts or guests, we might add a USB microphone mixer and record onto the computer.  It's the remote element and the need for a mix-minus bus that forces this complicated arrangement.

There are Skype recording applications that greatly simplify things!

We've tried a few and found them to be troublesome and unreliable.  This is, of course, subjective to our own experience; I'm confident that someone has had more success in this area.  However, as experienced broadcasters, we know what does work well and this is a rock solid solution, albeit seemingly convoluted.  While we believe in innovating in development stages, in the field we prefer proven techniques to reduce costly surprises.  Until an integrated Skype Podcast unit is built, this works nicely.

Now let's get started with the connections.  You'll need some cables and adaptors.  We use XLR mic cable; standard RCA cables; an RCA Y-adaptor; a couple RCA-male-to-stereo-male-male cables and a few RCA-female-to--inch male adaptors to make the connections.  Aside from the mic, none of these connections are considered 'balanced' by broadcast standards and do not require TRS plugs.

  1. Connect MacBook headphone output to UB802 #3/4 input (adaptors needed)

  2. Connect UB802 MAIN OUT jacks to H4 INPUT jacks with -inch cables

  3. Connect MacBook mic input to UB802 FX SEND (mix-minus bus)

  4. Connect GXL2200 to UB802 #1 input with XLR mic cable

  5. Connect headphones to H4 headphone-out jack

Power up and start Skype.  If you're using a condenser mic, push the UB802 PHANTOM switch (blue power indicator lights up).

Adjust the mic level by turning UB802 #1 input level knob.  Adjust caller audio by turning UB802 #3/4 input level knob.  Adjust what caller hears by turning the red-topped FX knob for UB802 input #3/4  (turn FX knob for input #3/4 all the way down or the caller will hear himself/herself and cause an echo).  All other FX knobs can be turned all the way down or you can introduce unwanted noise from unused input channels that the caller won't appreciate.

Skype's audio settings will also effect these levels, so adjust accordingly.  Remember that any channel you want the caller to hear will have to be adjusted through the FX knobs.  So if you're playing sound bytes from an external source, you can plug that source into an available input, adjusting that channel's input and FX levels so that the levels you and the caller hear are comfortable.

You can't control the quality of the caller's audio, but ideally they have a good microphone, such as a Samson USB studio microphone, and not a cheap headset, whose cables tend to rub on clothing and make creaking sounds that are very unpleasant and distracting to your audience.

Set H4 to record using inputs instead of its onboard microphone.  By default, the H4 input adjustment is ideal for mic-level inputs, so this level has to be adjusted downward to better match the louder line-level output of the UB802.

Now you can adjust the UB803 MAIN MIX level in conjunction with the H4 input levels to ensure both level indicators are within a comfortable range.  To proof the final recording, use the H4 VU meters and your headphones to judge level and quality.  The reason you connect your headphones to the H4 and not the UB802 is so that you can properly judge the quality of the final product.

Make a test call and record it.  This creates an MP3 audio file onto the SD card of the H4.  Copy this file into your computer and open it in your audio editor, examine it for levels and general quality, then process it to even out differing audio levels.  You can also apply EQ and noise filters to compensate for defects.  Optionally, you can introduce an external audio compressor/limiter to your setup and help maintain consistent levels in real time.

The resulting Podcast should be a good, clean program that's pleasant to listen to and peaks at about 0 decibels.  The bottom line is that your audience should be able to enjoy the show at a normal volume without having to continually re-adjust.

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