This “quality” question seems to pop up regularly on Facebook and LinkedIn podcast groups. Many answers dazzle the reader with knowledge of compression algorithms and favorite microphones. These obsessive discussions sound like purists arguing about vinyl vs. digital.
Mere mortals need some guidelines to make business decisions.
This article will give you suggestions for getting good quality remote interviews for company podcasts.
We will look at microphone selection, remote recording options, and how a chief engineer for a major radio station would answer the remote interview question.
1. RECORD A CONVERSATION
Please look at the excerpt above and note the phrase “assuming both parties have a quality mic.” To a layperson, they see the size of a microphone and think that it must be good quality. With good reason – below is a standard directional microphone and a USB Yeti microphone, they look the same.
Although deceptive, each is in a different category when it comes to quality. Each of these represents two camps: a condenser and a directional microphone.
CONDENSER. When you buy a notebook computer, it has a built-in condenser microphone. It will record a human voice, but it is the bare minimum at most.
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The next level in quality from a condenser is buying a microphone that plugs into your computer’s USB port. The example would be the Yeti shown above. It is adequate for doing a webinar from a home office and is excellent for a hobbyist podcast. Unfortunately, a USB microphone is not acceptable for a business podcast.
DIRECTIONAL. The industry standard is called a “directional” microphone and uses different technology to record the human voice and uses a proprietary connection called an XLR connection.
Please note – there are no standard XLR connections on a notebook computer. The way to connect to your machine is with an intermediary – most frequently with a box called a mixer. You can get a reasonable directional microphone and mixer for less than $400.
It looks like we have the first part of the microphone for the moderator. Avoid the condenser; use a USB microphone in a pinch. The base level for a company podcast is a directional microphone connected to a computer through a mixer.
What about the other end of the line?
If you are a hobbyist and record on Skype, you can send your guest a USB mic/headpiece and have them plug it into their computer.
Sending a USB microphone in advance is an excellent option for a straightforward reason: it forces the person to stay “on mic” and not drift away. Some podcasts ship a headset to a guest and then have the guest return it on UPS.
2. MAKE A CONNECTION
Generally speaking, a remote guest can use the public Internet, a cell phone, or a landline. I suppose another option is to have the guest call-in from a professional radio station; let’s unpack that later.
If a couple of college students set up a podcast about a basketball team, they jump on Skype, use some open-source recording software, and they are done. You will get the inevitable latency and gaps, and you will never know when or why. Acceptable when talking jump shots and scoring for a college team, not adequate for a business conversation.
Although the large company Microsoft purchased Skype in 2016, there are erratic quality issues that can’t be forecast.
Zoom competes in the webinar market and is also a competitor to Skype. It is still subject to the vagaries of the public Internet.
People will tolerate bad video but will run screaming when they hear lousy audio. For that reason, we will have to abandon technology that is perfectly fine for Rohan’s Roundball Podcast.
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Below are options that are a step above a hobbyist podcast. However, you will have to rely on the “public Internet” or a telephone connection. As we all know, this beast is subject to the changes of location, power, and sunspot activity.
There have been several technical solutions proposed to this problem.
Many of these innovative new products use your browser to connect to a website to have the interview. When considering any of the ones listed, please think about scheduling, guest setup, the number of guests, quality options (MP3 or WAV), video capability, separation of tracks, and what avoiding audio engineers call “audio drift.”
Generally speaking, you record on a website and they give you back a sound file. Please note, most business podcasts will have a mixture of face-to-face and remote interviews. If you commit to one system, this is a partial solution to the problem.
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Many models work by providing a recording quality, commonly referred to as MP3, for free and if you want the better quality, you will have to subscribe. The better level is generally referred to as a lossless WAV file at 16 Khz. and 44.1 bits. (Whew, that will impress somebody.) Just remember adequate is free and premium quality costs.
Necessarily, you will need a fast computer with a great Internet connection. If not, you can get missing parts of the interview.
After years of recording, the best setup that I have found is for the moderator to have a directional microphone connected to a Rodecaster mixer with a built-in phone jack. Guest call a mobile telephone number with a smartphone, and you can patch it into the mixer.
This setup can easily be configured for a home office and is so compact that you can take it on the road. A discrete mixer gives you controls that are much more powerful than the browser-based alternatives mentioned above.
From a business perspective, this setup is time efficient and makes you sound better. Audiophiles will give specific terms for this increase in quality:
· “Big Bottom” The ability to deepen a voice. · “Ducking.” Automatically lower the volume of music under the voice · “De-Esser” improving the consonant “s” it is hard to record.
A purist will prefer to do this while editing, but the mixer controls allow you to spend as little time in production as possible.
In a company setting, you may do a remote interview and have six people from the marketing team want to listen in. One creative option is to connect a splitter to the mixer so four people can plug in earbuds to monitor the interview.
We have reached the ethereal realm of professional sound engineers and recording technicians. We will not even attempt to describe the subtleties of recording music, let’s limit the discussion to regular human to human interviews..
The coin of the realm here is studio or CD quality. These files are enormous and not compressed. Even at that level, radio stations compress the audio and are completely happy.
If a radio station wants the best quality for a remote interview, they would communicate over the public Internet but would have specialized devices that could compress and decompress the signal.
These are called compressors/decompressors or codecs. They can cost as much a $5000 each.
When you listen to a professional radio station, and they interview a colleague in a remote office, it sounds like they are in the same studio. All you need is an unlimited budget and a couple of full-time audio engineers.
“What’s the absolute best way to record a remote podcast interview?” The correct answer is very expensive and is not the right answer for 99.9999999% of podcasters.
Seth Godin says podcasting is the new blogging. When companies begin investigating options for getting the best way to record a podcast interview, please consider a dedicated mixer with a phone connection.
Hobbyists can get by on a low budget, but a company must consider quality. Radio engineers look askance at anything less than a high dollar set up.
What works for you?