Stephanie’s profile here is the first installment in our new series “Caviar sound on a cat food budget”, of people other than the Feens who get great sound on almost no money.
Here’s a reprint from her website of how she gets such great sound on such a low budget:
Many people have remarked on the professional sound quality of Porc Therapy and the various narration and voice over projects that come out of my studio. I’m proud of the studio – which I built myself for less than $800, including the studio computer and all the equipment. You could do it for even less by purchasing only some of the following equipment and re-purposing some of your existing furniture instead of getting new stuff – and you can have the same professional quality sound.
This post will also serve as a how-to for those wanting to make a podcast with a high quality, professional sound.
Here’s a look at the Porc Therapy studio – and a guide about how you can replicate my setup!
Here’s some information about my studio and the tools I use to put on Porc Therapy and other audio projects.
Microphones: The heart of any studio! I have two AT2020 microphones.
They provide excellent audio quality, especially when combined with a few simple accessories, and these are very affordable.
I make great use of the two mics I have. Mic #1 is my main mic for Porc Therapy. Mic #2 has a dual purpose. It either sits in front of my large monitor and is used for my narration and voice over projects, or swings around to the outside of the table and can be used as the co-host’s microphone.
I may get a third mic at some point so that I can have two guests or co-hosts on the show at once or do group narrations.
Windscreens: A good windscreen is essential for creating a professional sound. They help dampen breath sounds, “p,” “b,” “s,” and “k” sounds. I use this, the MXL WS-002 Foam Windscreen.
The MXL WS-002 is a thick windscreen and is worth the higher cost.
Before using the MXL windscreen, I tried the GLS Audio Mic Windscreens.
They are rather thin and just did not provide enough shielding. I even tried doubling the GLS windscreens up (one over another) and it still did not produce the sound I was looking for. So I went for the higher quality MXL WS-002. Luckily I discovered later that I could still use the GLS Audio Mic Windscreens on my Blue Yeti travel mic (more about that later).
Pop filter: Pop filters are important – they provide even more dampening for “p” and “b” sounds. They can make a big difference in helping you attain professional sound quality.
The pop filter that I’ve tried that I like best is the On Stage ASFSS6 GB Dual Screen Pop Filter. It has two screens to provide maximum pop filtering. Previously I had tried another pop filter, the Nady MPF-6 Clamp On Microphone Pop Filter.
The Nady pop filter served me well for about the first year of Porc Therapy. I had even been using it before that with the Blue Snowball microphone that Mike and I used in the early days of Porc Therapy (more about that later). But since the Nady only has one screen, I had to increase it’s filtering capacity by putting a nylon dress sock over it. I have seen other people do this, including a voice artist who showed a video of herself modifying the pop filter with a pair of nylons in the Amazon reviews. You could do this too, but it’s not necessary if you get the On Stage dual screen pop filter (the price difference is not that large between the two – maybe even less than the cost of a dress sock).
Headphones: I need headphones to monitor my voice in real time, as well as hear callers, co-hosts, and music beds on Porc Therapy.
They have to be comfortable enough to wear for an entire 3-hour show, or long narration recording session (on average 3 – 4 hours). I chose these Audio-Technica ATH M20 Stereo Monitor Headphones. They were recommended with the microphones I chose, and I can see why. They are great quality and very comfortable for the reasonable price. They come with a 1/8 inch jack and a 1/4 inch adapter, both of which are useful in different situations.
Microphone stand: I purchased this very reasonably priced mic stand/boom arm, which includes a shock mount and an XLR cable to connect the mic to the mixing board.
It is the Griffin Suspension Arm Mount Stand. It clamps right onto the table – no drilling required. There are several different joints where it can rotate and swing.
Mixer: I spent a lot of time searching for the right mixer, and ultimately settled on the Behringer X1204USB 12-Channel Mixer.
I needed to find something that had enough channels so that I could plug in everything I wanted to put into the main mix, but didn’t have so many channels that it was overly expensive or took up my entire desk space. Think about how many microphones you want to plug into your mixer and then go from there. For podcasting that will probably be your biggest concern. I figured I probably wouldn’t want more than 3 mics, so I went with this 12-channel mixer which has 4 XLR ports for connecting microphones (you can see in this picture that the mics are plugged into channels 1 and 2).
This mixer also has some built in compression on channels 1 – 4. This is nice, because basically it takes the sound and equalizes the volume of it in real time. It creates a more uniform sound. It also has some settings on the mic channels where you can increase high, low, or mid tones in the audio to bring out the richest possible sound in your voice. It makes a big difference to have this. They need to be tuned empirically.
Channels 3 and 4 on my mixer have 1/8 to 1/4 inch male-to-male cables plugged into them. Channel 3 takes the input from studio computer #2, which runs Skype during my show. The audio from the main mix goes out via the “headphones” port to computer #2 so that the caller on Skype can hear the host/s and the music beds. Channel 4 I usually use just for fun – I plug the 1/4 inch jack into my phone and play podcasts or music through the mixer. One of the main mix outputs goes to some speakers in the studio so I don’t have to wear headphones to listen to it.
Splitter: How do I hear what everything sounds like in the entire mix? And how do I let co-hosts or the peanut gallery listen in to the show when they’re present in the studio? I connect a splitter to the headphone port on my mixer, then plug headphones into the splitter.
I also use the splitter to send the main mix out to my speakers (when I am editing audio or listening back to the recording of the show).
And, I use the splitter to send the main mix (including my voice, co-hosts’ voices, and the music beds) to a computer running Skype. The audio from the computer running Skype (caller’s voice) comes into the mixing board through channel 3, which I can mute when there is no caller on the line.
Studio Computer #1: The ASUS Eee PC 1001PXD-EU17-BK 10.1-Inch Netbook.
Honestly, I will probably upgrade to something with more computing power at some point. This guy is slow at rendering audio files. But, it’s a dedicated machine for studio tasks that didn’t cost a lot of money and has served me really well so far, and I’m grateful to have it.
I use this computer to do a couple of things:
1) I run Mumble, which streams my show audio to the Liberty Radio Network during the live Porc Therapy show.
2) I record the audio with Audacity. I also record a backup copy of the audio from my live shows with the record function on Mumble.
The audio of the main mix from my mixer comes into this computer via the USB output on my mixer. The mixer also receives the audio from Mumble so that I can hear it on my headphones. Somehow this doesn’t create an echo.
Another reason I chose to get a netbook for the studio is that it’s portable. I’ve done all of my mobile broadcasts using just this computer and a USB microphone. I’ve been really happy with it in that respect.By the way, I use the noiseless mouse because I know you don’t want to hear clicking during my show or audiobooks!
Large Monitor: I needed a nice, large monitor for audio editing tasks. I’ve been very happy with the ASUS VS228H-P 21.5-Inch Full-HD LED Monitor. There’s not much to say about it other than it makes things a lot more ergonomic in the studio, and I can easily tell by glancing over at it during the show whether the backup audio is still recording and we’re still connected to Mumble. For audiobooks and voiceover projects it’s indispensable. I read text that I’m narrating off the bottom half of the screen while keeping Audacity in a narrow window at the top of the screen.
Table and chairs: Speaking of ergonomic, these are important.
I got the light colored table for $108 from Overstock.com, with $2.99 shipping. The chairs are office chairs that I re-purposed for studio use. Make sure they don’t squeak or make noise when the person sitting in them moves! The dark colored desk in the back is one that I also re-purposed.
I use this area rug too – it’s not just for looks, it really dampens the noise from the chairs rolling on the bare floor. And it’s nice to have something below my feet to keep them from getting cold.
Mobile setup: Sometimes I have to leave the comfort of my studio and take the show on the road. When I do, I use the Blue Yeti.
It allows me to bypass lugging a mixing board around in my suitcase, because the Yeti plugs directly into my computer via USB.
I purchased the Yeti because, well, I like yetis, but aside from that, I heard rave reviews of the microphone.
Although I was happy with the Yeti, I’m still curious to try the AT2020 USB microphone. The Yeti has a built-in headphone port, gain control, and can be set for different sound detection patterns (cardioid, stereo, omnidirectional, and bidirectional). The Yeti was also very reasonably priced at around $100.
I chose the Yeti for my mobile mic because of all of the features mentioned above. However, I’m really curious to try the AT2020 USB mic. I use the XLR model of this mic in the studio and I absolutely love the quality of sound it provides for the price, but the USB version could go mobile by plugging directly into a laptop, and hopefully provide the same excellent sound quality. The USB model is around twice the price of the XLR version, and I’m skeptical if that price increase is justified simply because of the USB output. Still, although I wasn’t disappointed with the yeti, I’d still like to try the AT2020 USB.
The mic that started it all*:
*(OK, it didn’t exactly start it all. The first 30 or so episodes of Porc Therapy were recorded on Mike’s laptop internal microphone with that awful fan noise in the background! It’s alright, we learned. And we got the Blue Snowball USB Microphone.)
The Blue Snowball is an excellent microphone for the value for beginner podcasters. It delivers decent sound quality and plugs right into your computer – it’s basically plug and play for both macs and PCs. If you’re using Audacity to podcast you might have to select “Blue Snowball” as the audio input source, but other than that nothing special is required.
I used this microphone until I went solo with Porc Therapy and got the AT2020 mics for my new studio. I used the Snowball for one mobile cast until I upgraded my mobile setup to the Snowball’s cousin, the Blue Yeti. Now I mostly use the Snowball to talk to my friends on Skype. 🙂
I hope you’ve found this peek inside the Porc Therapy studio helpful! If you want to purchase any of the equipment listed here, please consider doing so through the links provided – it won’t affect the prices you pay but Porc Therapy will get a small referral fee. Thanks!