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podcast microphones

dbx® 286s Review - Part 1 of 2

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dbx® 286s Review - Part 1 of 2

Why do the radio folks sound so much better?

We've all dialed up the radio star blaring through the car speakers, or tuned into NPR to hear the host almost speaking directly into our ears. Whether it’s Howard Stern or Ira Glass, there's that extra something something that seems to make their audio sound WAY better than ours. So what is it?

Well, there is the voice training, the high-end microphone, the awesome sound proofed studio, producer, and post production engineers. But if we can put all that aside for a moment, there is a part of the chain not mentioned here and often overlooked.

Whether you use a mixer, an analog/digital interface, or or any type of USB microphone, there is a built-in component that affects the volume (or gain) of the microphone's signal. This is called the preamplifier. Now for most this is simply a knob you turn to make the microphone "louder". For those with a bit more audio engineering background, it's a chance to manipulate and enhance the sound of your voice before it gets recorded.

 

The dbx® 286s microphone preamplifier.

Enter the secret weapon of broadcasters and savvy podcasters alike - dbx® 286s. There are dozens of great 'preamps' out there, ranging anywhere from $60 to multiple thousands. In today’s example, I’m looking specifically at an industry favorite, the dbx® 286s.

From the manufacturer’s literature: The dbx® 286s is a full featured Channel Strip Processor that delivers a studio quality microphone/instrument preamplifier and four processors that can be used independently or in any combination. Why mic up vocals and instruments through a noisy, blurry mixer? The sonically pristine dbx® 286s Mic Preamp has all the features you need, including wide-ranging input gain control, switchable +48V phantom power, and an 80Hz high-pass filter to remove low frequency hum, rumble or wind.

This sub $200 unit resides, for most, between the microphone and the analog to digital audio interface. For example, my signal chain is as follows: Shure SM7B Microphone > dbx® 286s > Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 > MacBook Pro. Notice that I have the preamp “driving” the microphone as well as preprocessing the signal ahead of converting it to digital audio for the computer.

Now this is where the unit really shines. Not only does the preamplifier sound great, it has plenty of juice to feed the gain-hungry SM7B. After the preamp, the signal is passed to the patented dbx OverEasy® compressor. Here we can really accomplish that “in your face” FM broadcast DJ sound, or dial it back to a warm, smooth NPR style close-mic compression. Next in the chain is a de-esser and enhancer. These controls (used sparingly) can round off the sharp edges of the signal, add a bit of ‘oomph’ to the bottom end, and a bit of sparkle to the top frequencies. Now that we have a big fat, warm signal, it’s time to kill some noise. The expander/gate is a powerful tool to tame the worst rooms. I personally use it two-fold: 1) as a noise gate to mute the channel when there is low or no input (in between speaking); 2) to cut off the echo of my given recording room. Last is the output before sending the signal via ¼ “ to the Focusrite.

Did I lose you? Not to worry. I’ll be showing you how to adjust all these yummy knobs in Part 2, so check back in a few weeks. For now, let your geek flags fly and know that there is a lot of power and sonic goodness in a small package, at a very reasonable price.

 

Don’t put the cart before the horse.

If you’re currently on a low-end microphone, like the Audio-Technica ATR2100 or another dynamic cardioid you picked up for under $100, a preamplifier might not be the best, next equipment investment. Stepping up your microphone quality first is a better way to go.

Consider podcaster favorites like the Shure SM7B or the Heil PR40 as the front of your signal chain. Either of these professional grade microphones connected directly to a nice USB interface such as the Focusrite 2i2, will give you incredibly improved sound over your USB microphone. See here, Podfly client and Podcast Producers co-host, Jessica Rhode’s new set up.

She went from the ATR2100 to the Heil PR40 and Focusrite preamp, and the difference is very noticeable.

So, the first step might be looking at getting a better microphone first. However, at $200 for this preamp, maybe you deserve to take the credit card out for a spin and get both. Hey, you’re worth it.

The sound quality of my podcast sounds so much better with the Heil PR40. The ATR2100 was a great mic, but a year and a half into my podcasting journey, the time came to up-level my game. I noticed that with the ATR2100, while my sound was clear, there was a bit of distortion in comparison to the Heil PR40, with which the sound is crystal clear
— Jessica Rhodes, Interview Connections/The Podcast Producers

 

It’s still all about the instrument (your voice).

Have you ever heard the phrase “you can’t polish a turd”? Crude, but true. This applies very well in the audio industry. There has always been a misconception in the record industry that studios somehow can magically make bad singers sound good. There must be some fancy equipment, computer software, and a little bit of fairy dust up the engineer’s sleeve that can make anyone instantly sound like Celine Dion. Not true.

Yes, there are ways to correct pitch and enhance aspects of the voice. But there is no “talent” switch, and definitely no “make me sound amazing” knob. All this incredible technology is designed to elevate the quality of something that is good in the first place.

Have you ever met someone and their voice simply floored you? They start speaking and immediately something in you says, “wow, you have a great voice!” Well, that’s not coming out of a $200 preamplifier.

Remember that upgrading your equipment can improve your audio quality. It cannot, sadly, improve your voice. That said, you wanna be sure to be making this purchase to improve what's already good, rather than try and fix what might be broken.

 



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Podcast Equipment and Setup

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Podcast Equipment and Setup

There is a daunting array of podcast equipment setups available nowadays. In this edition of Podfly Academy, we break it down into two basic configurations:a USB microphone or an XLR microphone, with an audio interface or mixer.


Podfly Recommendations

Review of the NT-USB

We recently reviewed the Rode NT-USB. This microphone has fast-become a popular choice amongst podcasters looking for a great-sounding condenser microphone with easy setup. As noted in the review, this microphone is optimal when you are in a quiet, sound-controlled environment. Loud, echoey rooms and this microphone do not play well together. This is by no means a flaw in the microphone itself, rather it is the nature of condenser microphones, which tend to be relatively more sensitive.


Our favorite “starter” microphone.

Far and away, the clear, entry-level choice is the Audio-Techinica ATR2100. The price point is low, the quality is good, and it gives you lots of flexibility in terms of connections. Being both USB and XLR compatible, this has become a staple in any podcaster’s arsenal.


Our favorite USB interface.

We have been using and recommending the Focusrite family of interfaces for years. These units not only sound fantastic, they often come with a software suite of audio plugins and add-ons used by professional engineers. The Scarlett 2i2 is a great starting point, enabling you to connect to your Mac or PC via USB. The new Clarette line of Thunderbolt interfaces have many Mac users excited to add these lightning-fast units to their signal chain.

 


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Before You Record Your First Podcast – Basic Podcast Equipment Needs

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Before You Record Your First Podcast – Basic Podcast Equipment Needs

So you've decided you wanted to get into the podcasting world? Congratulations and welcome aboard! What you'll soon realize throughout your podcasting journey is that it is not only rewarding, but it's also an exciting way to expand your brand, get yourself out there, and connect with new people all over the world. You may have some questions about how to begin your podcast and in today's post we will be going over the necessary equipment and minimum requirements you will need in order to develop a highly successful and engaging podcast. Let's begin!

Computer Stuff

The most demanding thing your computer will have to go through when you're podcasting is recording and processing the audio. The good news is that almost every modern computer built in the last 3 years can do this without a problem. However, if you're running on something a bit older, you might run into some trouble. Below are just a few considerations you will need to make before jumping with both feet in.

Window And Mac Users

For PC users, a good rule of thumb is that if you can run Windows XP or Vista on your computer without any delays, then you're probably good to go on podcasting. If it runs Windows 7 or 8, then your system can most definitely handle the new audio load. The same would apply for older versions of Mac like the OS 9 or X – if you can run that without any trouble, then your system can most likely handle audio processing.

It can never hurt to upgrade your RAM, as that will greatly help reduce your audio processing load. A lot of the professional podcasters and audiophiles have between 8gb to 16gb of RAM, but most modern day computers come with a minimum of 2gb-4gb and that will be just fine for you and your podcast.

In terms of hard drive space, you could technically get away with 10gb, but if you plan on keeping each of the raw audio files you create, then consider making room in your hard drive for around 50gb to 100gb, if not more. This is a great start, but do keep in mind that if you're going to be podcasting for years to come, then you will have to purchase an extra hard drive for your new found profession.

Audio Software

Podcasters need to have some sort of recording software to help record their voice and the guests on the show. The three main ones that are used by a majority of the podcasting community are:

  • Audacity. This is free to use for both Mac and PC
  • Adobe Audition. If you already have Photoshop, then this should already be included.
  • GarageBand. This also should already be installed on your Mac.

To interview your guests who are not in the same city, state, or country as you, then the best way to connect is through Skype. It is recommended to create a separate Skype account for your show, because interviewing and adding different people regularly can really clutter up your personal account.

Microphones

Microphones are the most important part of a podcast. If you're serious about getting into podcasting and are ready to make the commitment for the long haul, then it is recommended that you spend a bit of money on a high quality microphone. Microphone prices are literally endless and you can spend over $500 in sound equipment if you're not careful. For someone who's starting out, you don't have to spend huge amounts of money in order to capture your voice and create a great sounding podcast.

The most commonly used microphones on the market today are the Blue Yeti USB or the Rode Podcaster. These microphones work incredibly well for podcasting and high quality audio work. These two are high investment with the Blue Yeti ranging between $80 to $100 dollars and the Rode Podcaster ranging from $200 to $250. If you're not ready to make such a commitment just yet, then you can use the mic you have now, knowing that the quality will be quite poor, or you can pick up a mid range microphone between $25 to $50 and it will be a slight improvement.

It is best to have the headphones and the microphone separated when you're doing podcast work. If you buy a headset that comes with a microphone, then there's a good chance the microphone will pick up breathing or your recording will have an increase in pitch when you over pounce the S's and the P's. By having these two separated, you can greatly reduce this.

And that's it! That's all you need before you start your very own podcast. If editing the audio intermediates you, then you be sure to check out what Podfly.net can offer you and maybe it's something you can outsource to us instead! All you have to do is worry about recording your show and you can leave the rest up to us! 

For more info about starting your own podcast, contact ayn@podfly.net.

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