One of the most often asked and most difficult questions for podcasters is, “How can I take live telephone calls on my show?” People have resorted to all sorts of techniques to bring live telephone callers on the air, including connecting a cell phone to the mixer using a TRRS cable and even holding a phone’s speaker up to a microphone. Neither solution is particularly robust.
Almost every Internet broadcaster uses Skype to connect with guests for a show. Using Skype can be frustrating because it is a half-duplex service, meaning that only one person can talk at a time. If the host and the guest talk at the same time, the louder of the two is going to cause the other person’s audio to duck or decrease in volume. Ducking can be a real problem when the show is about a hot topic and the host and the caller are really motivated. It is also a problem if the host tries to play music or send return telephone audio to the guest.
There is a simple solution to prevent Skype from ducking calls. When you hear it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t think of it already. In professional broadcasting, the on-air talent on a remote broadcast almost always has return audio from the producer or the control room back at the studio. Notice how even the weather guy on your TV station has an ear piece so that he can receive his audio cues from the director.
If you’re connecting your Skype computer to your mixer with analog cables, make sure you’re doing it correctly. Be aware that there is one little issue that can damage or at least compromise the performance of some computers.
THE INPUT SIDE
Most Internet broadcasters and podcasters are (or should be) using an auxiliary send on the mixer to send a mix-minus feed to Skype. That feed is mono. Most desktop and USB computer sound cards have stereo inputs. Skype really only looks at the left channel for its input, but some cheap, no-name sound cards may actually get the channels reversed internally. Therefore, it’s a good idea to feed the audio from the aux send on the mixer to both the left and right channels of the computer sound card.
Do you get a lot of “snap, crackle, and pop” with your audio connections? Do you hear disgusting noises when you touch or rotate an audio plug that is connected to your mixer? If so, you probably have oxidized connectors!
Oxygen reacts with metal and causes oxidation, which is casually described as a layer of crud that acts as an insulator and prevents a connector from making good electrical contact with its mating connector. The problem is really annoying with audio connectors because you can hear the discontinuities that the crud creates.
All sorts of techniques have been used over the years to eliminate oxidation, including removal by sand paper and pencil erasers. It’s not a good idea to use abrasives with metal connectors because you’ll remove some of the plating, particularly gold plating. Most people have a can of cheap spray contact cleaner, which probably doesn’t work well or last very long.
Here’s another microphone shootout. The mics tested here, in order of price:
1. Audio-Technica AT2005 (same as the ATR2100) ($50)
2. Heil PR40 ($325)
3. Electro-Voice RE20 ($450)
4. Telefunken M82 ($499)
5. Sennheiser MKH-416 ($999)
6. Neumann TLM67 ($2400)
It’s always fun to do microphone tests and let you pick the one you like best. After you listen, rate them according to your preference with “1” being your favorite.
The test is not only non-scientific, it is not even done very well. For starters, there is room noise, just like most podcasters have. Great care has not been taken to perfectly balance the levels. (I’m not even sure how to do that with voice.) The levels were normalized in Adobe Audition, but again, no processing was applied. It would be best if all mics were set side-by-side with the same passage being recorded at the same time into a multi-track recorder, but I don’t have my studio set up for multi-track, so each read is unique.
If two equally educated and socially equivalent friends walk into an art gallery, there is a great chance that one person will view certain pieces as true works of art while the other person will scratch her head over why those pieces are in the museum. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
People often ask, “What’s the best microphone?” The answer is simple: The best microphone is the one that provides the sound you want. Recording studios constantly experiment with various extravagantly expensive microphones to find the one that best suits a particular voice or application.
If you have ever participated in a microphone shootout or a double blind test, you have seen that not everyone agrees on which microphone sounds best. For some people, the Heil PR40 is the only option. For others, the ElectroVoice RE20 is the winner. Some people choose the Shure SM7B. If it’s what you like, that’s what you should get.