How to Get the Best Audio Quality Out of Your Podcast
Podcasting is currently the fast-growing sector in digital media. As of 2018, 48 million people listen to podcasts every week in the US alone, with fans tuning in more frequently and for longer periods than ever before. And more and more journalists, storytellers, academics and businesses are trying their hand at making podcasts, with varying degrees of success.
Aside from the content itself, the most important aspect of making a professional-level podcast is the audio quality. The definition of “good quality audio” may be subjective, but what we’re talking about in the context of podcasting is clear, consistent and audible voices, distortion-free audio, and minimal ambient noise (meaning no echo or reverb). There are many factors at play here and covering all of the criteria to ensure your recordings sound the best they can require time, experience and a lot of money. Until now.
The new RØDECaster Pro is an all-in-one solution for creating professional-quality podcasts. Our goal was to put a professional level studio in the hands of every podcaster – whether they are just starting out or seasoned broadcasters – and this involved covering every conceivable base when it came to audio quality.
With its Class A servo biased preamps to the APHEX® Exciter™ and Big Bottom™ processors delivering rich, creamy tone, the RØDECaster Pro sounds incredible right out of the box. Let’s take a look at how you can get the best audio quality out of your podcast, and how the RØDECaster can help you create professional-quality podcasts seamlessly with a single, powerful platform.
Let’s start with your immediate surroundings. Nothing screams amateur podcast like a recording drowned out by background noise. A reverberant room is one of the main culprits here, but you also need to think about factors like traffic noise and other ambient sounds. This isn’t to say you need a 100% acoustically ‘dead’ studio to record professional-sounding podcasts – not by any means. But you will need to consider your environment and what you can do to subdue any undesirable background noise.
This may involve buying some studio foam to place over any reflective surfaces (if you want to go even cheaper, egg cartons are an effective alternative), using a sound shield, laying rugs down on the floor, putting up wall hangings, or draping heavy curtains over windows. Keep your desk space clear to curtail any close reflections and, if possible, record as far away from walls as you can.
A great way to determine what you may need to address when it comes to background noise is to use headphones to monitor your recordings, do a couple of tests and try to identify anything that is undesirable. Turn your channel and master volume up more than you normally would when recording and listen closely – you never know what you might pick up.
Microphones are one of the key tools when recording podcasts and, like any audio production process, it’s important to use the best possible. This doesn’t mean the most expensive, but using a high-quality end-address microphone that can produce pristine, accurate audio - and that is suited to vocal applications - is extremely important. -
Dynamic and condenser microphones are your best bet. Dynamic mics are rugged and reliable and will do a great job at reducing ambient noise. Condensers will give you that extra level of depth and clarity, however, they are more sensitive than dynamic mics and will tend to pick up more background noise, so you may want to stick with the latter if your recording environment is not completely soundproof. The RØDE Broadcaster and Procaster are both excellent choices. For single-person/USB podcasting, the Podcaster or NT-USB are fantastic for plug'n’play podcasting.
INPUTS AND PREAMPS
The next stop in your signal chain is the inputs on your mixer or interface. These are what receive and amplify your microphone’s signal (mics typically put out very low voltage) so that it’s ready to be processed down the line. This is the role of the preamp – converting a ‘weak’ mic-level signal to an output signal strong enough to be processed by EQs, compressors and other effects and sent to a recording device. An unglamorous job perhaps, but extremely important nonetheless.
Not all preamps are created equal. Typically speaking, better mixers will have better quality preamps, which will result in clean, pure, low-noise audio. The RØDECaster Pro is loaded with four Class A preamps, one for each of the XLR mic inputs, which produce a clearer, more accurate signal with minimal distortion and low noise. They are also servo biased, ensuring that they maximise the available dynamic range at all times, keeping distortion levels low and free of any DC offset. In other words, they sound absolutely gorgeous.
Keeping an eye on levels is an important part of ensuring your podcast’s audio is clear and consistent. Most mixers and audio interfaces will have a slider or knob that allows you to set the level of an input, as well as a meter to see where the level is at. Where you set the level will depend on a few things: what kind of microphone you are using, the volume of what you are recording, how much ambient noise there is, and so on.
The key is to make sure that your level meter doesn’t ‘peak’, meaning it doesn’t go into the red. Orange is ok when the sound source is at its loudest (for example, a laugh or yell), but you’ll want to be well in the green for the majority of your recording to get the best overall audio quality. That being said, setting your levels too low will mean that the recording may be inaudible in the mix. Find a sweet spot, somewhere near the centre of the level meter.
Each of the channels on the RØDECaster Pro has a tactile slider for easily setting levels. The meters for each channel are mapped on a full-colour, high-resolution LED touchscreen that is clearly visible in any environment.
EQ, COMPRESSION AND OTHER EFFECTS
Once you have your clean, pristine signal, you can then apply certain processing and effects to give your audio greater presence and depth, and it’s here that you will start to hear it take on that distinct ‘broadcast’ quality. EQ, compression, and other effects can be applied to achieve a certain tonal quality to the audio and ensure the mix is clear and consistent.
Equalisation – or EQ – is the process of adjusting where a signal sits across the frequency spectrum. Everybody’s voice is different, so you may need to adjust the EQ on your mixer to tame any undesierable frequencies. Vocals tend to have a pronounced low-end, particularly on radio shows, so adjusting EQ to reduce low frequencies may be necessary. Applying a high-pass filter is another effective way to tame low-end (see below).
Compressors control the dynamic range of a signal. This is achieved by pulling down the loudest part of a signal (the ‘peaks’ if you are looking at a waveform), such as ‘puh’ and ‘tuh’ sounds in words, laughs, and particular ambient sounds. Compression is a complex process, and there are multiple parameters that you can adjust, but overall it can make a vocal sound fuller, tighter, and more well-defined according to the characteristics of the speaker.
There are a range of other effects and processes that are crucial to producing the best audio quality for podcasting. Some of these include:
De-essers - 'De-essing’ is a method for taming sibilance in a vocal recording. Sibilance is the harsh, piercing frequency made by ‘ess’, ‘t’, ‘shh’, and other sounds that can make particular words sound unpleasant in a recording.
High-pass filters - A high-pass filter (HPF) is a filter that only allows frequencies above a certain cut-off point to pass through, while attenuating frequencies below the cut-off point. As vocal recordings tend to have a prominent low-end, HPFs are an effective way to mould a signal to be more pleasant in a mix.
Noise gates - Noise gating is a process that controls when an audio signal passes through a channel based on its strength or loudness. If a signal is too low, it simply will not be allowed to pass through the ‘gate’. Using a noise gate is an effective way to reduce any unwanted external sounds in a podcast recording, such as traffic noise.
Ducking - Ducking is an effect that controls the volume of a signal based on the presence of another signal (or signals). In radio or podcasting, ducking is an effective way to ensure a certain speaker (such as a host) cuts through in a mix by boosting the volume of their channel when other signals are present. Perfect for keeping rowdy guests in line.
All of these effects come pre-loaded onto the RØDECaster Pro and are easily controlled on each channel with a touch of the LED touchscreen. The sound can be further sculpted using the on-board APHEX® audio processers, including the Aural Exciter™ and Big Bottom™ audio enhancers found in top broadcast studios. There are also presets crafted specifically for certain voice types (deep, medium and high; soft, medium and loud), giving your voice the pro-quality you’re looking for.
The RØDECaster Pro is a revolutionary product that is unlike anything out there. With a range of simple yet powerful parameters that are tailored specifically for creating professional-quality podcasts quickly and simply, it is the only solution podcasters of all experience levels need to tell their story. Find out more about it here.