Podcasting studio setup

A friend and I have been recording a podcast for over a year now, and we're looking to upgrade our equipment. Right now, we're using a dirt cheap Behringer mixer with a 1/8" TRS to dual 1/4" adapter going into the mic port on my laptop. We've pushed that just as far as we can.

I want to do a solid setup. Right now, the biggest question I have is whether to do a mixer with a USB output (such as this Mackie), or whether it would be better to use a conventional mixer with an audio interface. I can't use firewire, so the input into the computer has to be USB 2.0.

We're using Audacity for recording and editing on a Windows 7 64-bit laptop.

Thoughts?

Do you need the mixer for doing actual mixer-y stuff, or are you just using it as a mic pre-amp? If it's the latter, you could just get a small audio interface that has enough pre-amps for what you need. There are tonnes of options for USB2.0-based audio interfaces with preamps, most of which have phantom power, too (I don't know if you need that for your mics, but it's always handy to have). I'm partial to Focusrite gear, so I'd probably look at the Saffire 6 USB, but there are stacks of options.

Honestly, I'll be setting the mixer to the appropriate levels and doing my best not to fiddle with it any longer. I'm by no means an audio expert. I've been figuring this out as I go along. That being said, we do want to sound as professional and clean as possible, so the simplest way for me to do that is what I'm searching for.

I can't use firewire, so the input into the computer has to be USB 2.0.

We're using Audacity for recording and editing on a Windows 7 64-bit laptop.

My knowledge in this area is pretty limited, but it's my understanding that the GOOD devices are mostly on Firewire. Do you have a PC Card slot you could plug a FW interface into, or are you absolutely stuck with USB2 only?

I'm using a laptop to record, so I'm pretty fixed on USB2.

Right, that's why I asked whether you had a PC Card socket. Used to be called PCMCIA. It's sort of a PCIe slot on the side of the unit. Not all laptops have them, but if yours does, you could add Firewire to it.

Malor wrote:
I can't use firewire, so the input into the computer has to be USB 2.0.

We're using Audacity for recording and editing on a Windows 7 64-bit laptop.

My knowledge in this area is pretty limited, but it's my understanding that the GOOD devices are mostly on Firewire. Do you have a PC Card slot you could plug a FW interface into, or are you absolutely stuck with USB2 only?

That's really not the case any more -- even heavyweights like RME are producing USB devices these days. USB devices are often lower quality because they're cheaper, but there are plenty of good USB interfaces out there now. Perhaps Firewire is still fundamentally better when you get to high channel counts (my Firewire interface can be expanded to 20 ins and outs, for instance, and I can daisy-chain extra units to get even more channels), but there's no reason to go to the hassle and expense of a Firewire-based solution in this case.

It's worth mentioning that if you do ever look at Firewire for audio, try to make sure you get a Firewire controller with a TI chipset -- just about every manufacturer of Firewire audio devices recommends them. Other chipsets should work just fine, of course, but that's not always the case.

trichy wrote:
Honestly, I'll be setting the mixer to the appropriate levels and doing my best not to fiddle with it any longer. I'm by no means an audio expert. I've been figuring this out as I go along. That being said, we do want to sound as professional and clean as possible, so the simplest way for me to do that is what I'm searching for.

A simple USB interface definitely sounds like the way to go, then. How many mics do you have, and what kind of mics are they? Do you record each mic separately?

pneuman wrote:
trichy wrote:
Honestly, I'll be setting the mixer to the appropriate levels and doing my best not to fiddle with it any longer. I'm by no means an audio expert. I've been figuring this out as I go along. That being said, we do want to sound as professional and clean as possible, so the simplest way for me to do that is what I'm searching for.

A simple USB interface definitely sounds like the way to go, then. How many mics do you have, and what kind of mics are they? Do you record each mic separately?

2 Sterling Audio condenser mics (I got them used from a friend for pretty cheap), but when we have guests I bump it up as many as four, using some Behringer C-4 mics. That's why I haven't moved to a strict audio interface yet. Anything with more than two XLR inputs seems to be quite expensive. I was told that I could use a mixer, route the main output to an interface, and use the interface to link to the laptop, but that seems a bit convoluted. The only audio interface with four XLR inputs within my budget I could find was this one, and the reviews are very mediocre.

It's hard to get an audio interface with a lot of preamps without going to a BIG device. I'd go with a MotU 4Pre. It's USB and Firewire. MotU makes outstanding hardware and quality drivers too.

If that's out of budget, I'd go with this Mackie mixer. You'll only be able to record the stereo mix but that sounds like that's all you want anyway. Mackie pres are great even though these aren't the Onyx pres.

You'd be a lot better off recording the tracks independently with the MotU interface though so you have more flexibility in mastering.

Yeah, what LiquidMantis said Ideally, record each mic separately (and ideally in to something like Reaper -- Audacity is pretty lousy once you go beyond very simple stuff), but if that's beyond your budget, your original USB-equipped mixer idea seems like the best option.

Reaper looks fairly intimidating. Keep in mind, everything I know about audio production I've learned by fiddling around. With Audacity, I can compress the levels, remove the noise, and quickly remove any sounds of hobo beatings. How difficult is Reaper to learn?

Reaper has a LOT of power as it's a commercial-ready DAW. However it's actually really easy to get up to speed for basic production work. There are deep rabbit holes there, but there's no need to explore them until you're ready for some LSD cake. If you can record in Audacity you can be recording in Reaper in a short amount of time. It's a very popular product and there are great tutorials on Youtube.

If I were to do the MotU 4Pre, does that have enough power to run four condenser mics at the same time? My current mixer struggles a bit when I have all four condensers plugged into it.

The reason I was asking about Firewire was specifically to see if you could use something from MOTU, which I've heard makes truly oustanding gear. If they've got USB equipment, you should be very happy -- and the combo of USB and Firewire will give you flexibility for later.

trichy wrote:
If I were to do the MotU 4Pre, does that have enough power to run four condenser mics at the same time? My current mixer struggles a bit when I have all four condensers plugged into it.

MOTU makes professional gear and this is designed for that very purpose, so no, you won't have any problems with insufficient phantom power.

Woah that Motu 4pre is nice but I just checked the price online it's like 450 bucks! Yikes! Not worth it when you can get a decent mixer with a USB interface for half that price!

I would also recommend going with something like Reaper to edit. Way more flexibility, doesn't crash like Audacity does.

EDIT: I was ranting about how reaper didn't have a split item under mouse feature, and realized I hadn't really done much google searching on it, only to find it does have that feature you just have to load the option into a toolbar! WHY NOT MAKE THAT A DEFAULT!

Guess it's time to switch over to Reaper myself! Yay!

Woah that Motu 4pre is nice but I just checked the price online it's like 450 bucks! Yikes! Not worth it when you can get a decent mixer with a USB interface for half that price!

Are you sure? An awful lot of people seem to like MOTU's stuff really, really well.

MOTU makes nice gear, and they're a great company.

The thing is, decent mic pres are expensive, and there are not a lot of choices for audio interface hardware with 4 XLR ins that are both affordable and not cut rate Chinese trash.

If I were in the market, the least expensive one I'd be willing to consider is this:
http://www.sweetwater.com/store/deta...

Personal anecdote: I have used a PreSonus FirePod as my main interface for years, and except for the egregiously slow development time on 64-bit Win7 drivers, I've had no complaints. The thing has been rock solid.

You guys do realize he is just looking for something to podcast on right? Suggesting he get something 300.00 dollars or over is a bit much.

If they want to record in from four separate mics simultaneously, then there's really not much out there that's going to do it for less than that. I'd agree that the MOTU box is overkill, though -- they make nice gear, for sure, but for podcasting I don't think it's necessary. They're also dicks to the Linux community, which sours me on them somewhat, but I wouldn't expect that to colour anyone else's impressions of them.

I know the OP didn't say that he really wanted to record everyone on to separate tracks, but if he's going to go to the expense of some kind of upgrade anyway, I think that's the next logical step to take, since it'll give them a lot more flexibility while editing, and I think that's going to have a bigger impact on the quality of a podcast than just having better audio quality.

To add more detail to my original post:

Thanks to some generous donations from our listeners and the little bit I've stashed away since we've begun, our equipment budget is $675.00. We have two condenser mics, but we're planning to step up to four. We also need a new portable recorder for when we do author interviews at conferences, and we have to replace the POS mixer that we've been using. I already know the recorder and the mics we want to use, and they will cost $175 total. That leaves $500 left earmarked for the mixer/audio interface.

I'm fine getting the MOTU 4pre if that's the best solution. I would like to record in separate tracks, and if there's software like Reaper that would increase the quality and/or streamline the process, I'd be fine with that as well.

The biggest thing I'm looking for is simplicity. I'm not an audio engineer. What I know I've learned from YouTube videos and bugging the recording industry professors at the local university for tips. As I said, I'm okay with investing some cash into our equipment, but if it's going to frustrate me and cause more problems, I don't want to deal with that.

If you have 675 bucks I would spend more on better mics and a portable recorder than on an amazing mixer. It won't matter how great your mixer is if you have crappy mics. Same thing goes for a portable recorder. You want something you know works great and gets you the audio quality you want every time.

A USB mixer is only going to allow recording the stereo mix. Arguably that's okay for his needs but it's less flexible and he'll need to be much more attentive to the initial set-up. The lower noise floor with a quality interface and good pres should not be down played either. I could say it doesn't matter how good his mics are if he's running them into crappy pres on a low-budget mixer with a bad SNR.

Admittedly, my experience and desires come from a more demanding musical angle where you need that quality as well as quality drivers that provide low latency.

They're also dicks to the Linux community,

Oh? Have any further info on that? I've sort of been eyeballing one of their Firewire units for a long time, and I'd hate if it didn't work well with Linux. (admittedly, Linux sound is just absolute sh*t, but still.)

Gaald, I'm not sure that a real cheapie would work for him, if he needs to drive four mics. While you may be right that putting money toward better mics may improve the sound more, that's only true if the mic has power and is working.

Malor wrote:
They're also dicks to the Linux community,

Oh? Have any further info on that? I've sort of been eyeballing one of their Firewire units for a long time, and I'd hate if it didn't work well with Linux. (admittedly, Linux sound is just absolute sh*t, but still.)

There's a brief summary from Paul Davis, author of Ardour and JACK, here. On a podcast once Paul described one of his encounters with MOTU engineers, in person at a trade show -- apparently, when he asked them about getting documentation so that the open-source community could work on Linux drivers, they didn't just refuse, but insulted him for even asking.

A few MOTU devices do happen to work, due to having similar hardware to other devices that are supported, but you'll have much better luck with Focusrite, ECHO, and Edirol devices; they all supply hardware and documentation to Linux developers. Firewire devices are supported by the FFADO project, which maintains a list of supported devices.

It's worth mentioning that Firewire devices only work with JACK; that basically means that they're for pro audio use only. You can run desktop sounds through them with some effort, but it's a hassle to do. That may change in future, though -- some ALSA Firewire drivers are in the works.

A USB mixer is only going to allow recording the stereo mix. Arguably that's okay for his needs but it's less flexible and he'll need to be much more attentive to the initial set-up

http://www.zzounds.com/item--ALEMM8U...

A USB mixer that sends several channels to the computer. Not saying he should get this one, just wanted to point out an incorrect statement. Shame on you Liquid.

There's a brief summary from Paul Davis, author of Ardour and JACK, here.

Wow, that's a bummer. Yeah, they just lost me as a customer for sure.

Why on earth would you be actively hostile toward the OS that's probably running on more devices than anything else on the planet?

Gaald wrote:
A USB mixer is only going to allow recording the stereo mix. Arguably that's okay for his needs but it's less flexible and he'll need to be much more attentive to the initial set-up

http://www.zzounds.com/item--ALEMM8U...

A USB mixer that sends several channels to the computer. Not saying he should get this one, just wanted to point out an incorrect statement. Shame on you Liquid. :)

Hey, cool. That one is discontinued but there's a new version.

I'm looking for updates on "How to Podcast"? The few I found in search on the site seem to be years old (though this appears to be one of the more recent) and I'm guessing there's a place somewhere given the video podcasting etc.

My wife is getting ready to start a podcast. A few notes:
- We have Macs
- She'll likely be interviewing people mainly from the Arts who are less tech savvy and will not be physically present with her. Skype is the most common way she communicates with the most far flung.
- It's a non-profit enterprise so hosting information would be helpful as well.

Thanks and I'll move this if I find a better thread.

I'm going to bump this one more time with the hope you all might save me from making horrible expensive mistakes

Thanks for any ideas.