In the prior two posts, we walked through much of the set up of the computers for a podcasting/webinar studio. In this post, we will walk through how to do the microphones.
Audio is easy, right? Just put on a USB headset and you are all set? Yes?
Sort of – for a studio where just one person presents, the easiest audio solution is a high quality USB headset plugged into the presentation computer. In this set up, GotoMeeting is likely to easily recognize the headset, the presenter can hear anyone else on the webinar if it is a joint webinar with someone else dialing in from a remote location, and the boom microphone on a headset provides high quality audio content.
The challenge starts when you want multiple people in the same room to participate on a webinar. One terrible solution that many people use is the speakerphone. Nothing gets me down more than to walk by a conference room and see a bunch of people presenting around a speaker phone to an audience of 100’s or 1000’s of people. The room acoustics are terrible giving the call an echo, and the sound quality of using an analog phone line when a pure digital solution is available (connect audio through the computer) makes a huge difference to anyone listening on the webinar. Said another way, when most of your listeners will dial in through their computers, using an analog audio source just doesn’t cut it.
So how do you connect multiple people in the same room to the same computer through a high quality microphone?
If you look at the design of a traditional radio station, you see each person has their own microphone, on a boom and it is generally right in front of their mouth. This design has more to the do with microphone acoustics than anything to do with the mode of transporting that signal, FM, to listeners. Hence a podcasting studio uses a similar set up. Each speaker should have their own condenser microphone on a boom, in front of them. A quick google search for a podcasting microphone with a brand name like Shure will get you to the right microphones.
But a couple of caveats here. First, you want to connect multiple microphones into your broadcast computer. To do this, you will need to connect multiple microphones to a mixer, then connect the mixer to the computer.
We played around with USB mixers that use USB microphones as their source. For whatever reason, these were hard to find AND, most importantly, GotoWebinar didn’t always recognize a USB mixer when we plugged it into our broadcast computer.
For this reason, among others, we use analog microphones in our studio that we connect into an analog microphone mixer. Since these are analog microphones, they are connected with XLR cabling which is a three conductor audio cable. The microphones are connected with XLR cables to our mixer that has XLR inputs for each microphone
Here is an example of a microphone mixer from Shure. It has four microphone “Mic Level Inputs” on the back with these funky looking XLR inputs. If you buy the right microphones, they will connecting using XLR cables like the one pictured. These are the standard for professional audio recording. We buy colored cables so we can more easily trace the wires.
We originally used traditional audio mixers, but they were just too complicated to use. These types of microphone mixers are nice and easy to use with just a couple of switches. Look at traditional audio mixers and your head will hurt with all the switches, sliders, overrides etc.
On the back of our PA mixer, notice the “12V PHANTOM” power button. High quality microphones are actually powered. They need power to work. This button allows you to turn on power for these microphones.
Now how do you get this mixer to connect to your PC or MAC? On the OUTPUTS part of the panel, you will see there is MIC/LINE outputs and a variety of cable connections. PCs will have both microphone inputs, where the PC is expecting microphone like audio signals to more LINE IN connections, where the PC is expecting a higher voltage. You can read about the differences here. On some PCs, the input port can be changed in software. What is key here, is that if you use a MIC output from the MIXER, then you need to connect to a MIC input on the PC. Conversely a LINE output should connect to a LINE INPUT on the computer. Again, check your PC to see what ports you have and whether they can be software configured.
Once you figure out how you will connect the mixer to the PC then you will need to order the right cable. Cables come in various sizes from 3.5mm connectors for the PC end of connection, to XLR size cables for the output of the mixer, or even 1/4″. For the mixer above, you would need either an XLR female connector that goes to a 3.5mm male connector for the PC, or a 1/4″ male to 3.5mm male connector depending on how you connect the mixer to the PC.
WOW – that was a lot for a single post. Follow these instructions, order the parts above, and you will have a podcasting studio almost complete.
Next up – how to connect the headphones.