question for the podcasters

I’ve been working on a new episode of RFB most of this morning, and I’m incredibly sad to reach the conclusion that it’s just not going to happen.

I don’t have anything original or interesting to say, but I figured it wouldn’t be the biggest deal, because the bulk of the show would be audio from the Star Trek convention and my audition on Tuesday. The big problem is, that audio is just for shit. It’s so blown out that listening to it gave me a headache and actually made me feel a little sick to my stomach by the time I gave up trying to clean it up in garageband.

I’ve been using an iRiver 795; I’ve noticed that the last few times I’ve used it, the built-in mic is so sensitive, that with the encoder set at 44 kHz and 160Kbps, unless I’m speaking very quietly or there is absolutely no ambient noise, the audio is useless at best, and painful at worst. I’ve tried the line-in with a clip-on mic, but without some sort of pre-processing, the levels are too low.

So, can any of you experienced radio people or podcasters out there suggest an extremely portable, very affordable solution to my audio problem?

(Thanks to Matt D. for catching a picture of the official RFB truck in action!)

41 thoughts on “question for the podcasters”

  1. The iriver 795 is a great tool for recording audio and keep it discrete.
    There’s a setting in
    –Control — Voice Recording
    for AGC on or off. That’s automatic gain control. If you turn it off, it makes the built in mike more sensative.
    Maybe with AGC On, it can make the clip on mike MORE sensative. Have you played with that setting?
    As for other solutions, I’ve tried several other “portable” flash recorders, including dedicated voice recorders from Sony & Panasonic, the result is mediocre at best (with the exception of the Sony portable DAT recorder)..
    Otherwise, Iriver’s philips DSP is one of the best out there.

  2. Scamper uses the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-100 for the Scamper Podcast.
    It works great – only $100 and it gets great sound quality. We did a podcast from our show with Kay Hanley (episode 2 at and even in a noisy rock club you can hear my voice incredibly clearly. Check it out.

  3. I can’t help with your actual posts question, but Happy St. Paddy’s Day to you Wil!
    Love your show, and keep up the great posts.

  4. Correction:
    AGC OFF makes the mic LESS sensitive.
    AGC ON makes it MORE sensitive.
    It may also have an effect on the clip-on.

  5. Also, try using the latest firmware for the Iriver. Currently, the latest version available is 1.65. I have noticed differences in sound quality with the different firmwares. Started off with 1.24.

  6. I’d strongly suggest you get a very basic mixer, like Behringer Eurorack MX602A. They’re quite affordable, and have decent preamps for the money.

  7. I’ve got the iRiver-899 and an external mic. When you hold down the little “joystick” button, you get a menu that you can change all sorts of settings on. I find the default mic input level waaaay to hot, and generally turn it down to around 24. You can always amplify, but if you clip out (over moduldate) you’ll never get that lost audio data back, and it will sound very rough where the waveform gets cut off.
    It’s a tough balance, but i tend to err on the side of too soft.

  8. I’m sorry, but I was just watching Hustle and Flow and then popped on here to read what’s up and it gives your search for the perfect mic a whole new meaning.

  9. Sorry Will, I too use Audacity. Sure would love to hear the Stories though.
    Just taped Journey’s End – one of my favaortes of yours that I decided would be a keeper. Wil’s rite of passage – way cool.
    But wanted to pass on the neatest thing you might wantto share with your kids. – shere you will find stunning stunning pictures from Hubble set to music and available as a screensaver.
    Since it looks like we will be losing Hubble, might as well smell the roses while they are here. – Give it a look when you grab a moment.
    congrats and applause on the progress with the audition! Fingers crossed and prayers for best outcome!

  10. Hi Wil-
    Long time reader, first time poster. As a podcaster (castress?), I figured now would be appropriate to add a comment.
    We use Audacity exclusively for recording and editing. We thoroughly researched GarageBand, Logic, Logic Express and even Protools, but found that even paying hunderds of dollars couldn’t get us the flexibility of editing and tools we have with Audacity.
    I’ve got one of the boys looking at the hardware we use now for the names/model numbers. It’s all worked great for us for over 25 shows, and we skype in guests and the whole nine yards.
    I’ll post again with the hardware info, hope that helps out.
    You can hear us at:
    Good luck!
    :) Kirnakaterre
    TavernCast Cast Member
    A World of Warcraft Podcast
    Part of the PC Gamer Podcast Network

  11. Why not just use a camcorder or something, pull it into iMovie and just save the audio?
    This is assuming you have a camcorder, of course.

  12. Something quick, highly portable, and that can be triggered on a whim with little thought is what I think Wil is aiming for.

  13. I use a Sony Minidisc player with external mic. Excellent sound quality. To upload the audio back onto my ibook I use the Griffin iMic (because I don’t have a line-in). I think the Powerbook has a line-in but I’m not sure. Anyway, the audio transfer is in “real time” since there’s no USB transfer but the quality is top notch. I use this all the time to record shows of my friends bands, etc.

  14. Hello,
    Email your buddy David Lawrence, he’s spoken about a mic that has a built in compressor / expander, that he’s used with the iRiver. I’m sure he can also tell you what digital filters to apply to clean up audio files.

  15. If you have a video camera with a mic line-in jack, I would use the camera to just record audio! It works great, and is often used as back-up to the DAT they use to really record sound. One of those new-fangled high-def cameras that are in the prosumer price range would work great. Just slap an actual hand-held mic (like the ones you would use a lead singer in a band) and you are good to go. Funny thing is, people react to the big microphone differently than to a small device or smaller mic.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!!!!
    -Keith Coogan

  16. I’m not sure if its exactly what you are looking for, but one of the coolest portable recorder’s I’ve used is the Marantz PMD-660. It is completely solid state (no moving parts) and records compressed or uncompressed PCM audio files (I think either MP3 or WAV). It has a built in mic or takes XLR mic cable connectors and can record 2 tracks at once (stereo or interview style). I’ve used it for sampling and production recording. The coolest feature is if you have it in record pause and hit record, it starts recording 3 seconds before you hit record (buffered… really slick trick).
    As for cleaning up audio, Sound Soap is good and easy to use. There are a bunch of other consumer level products that work as well. But to completely salvage bad audio, find a post facility with a Cedar Cambridge. They are pure magic. Let me know if you ever have a project that you need it on.

  17. Have you thought about something a little more singular in function like the Olympus DS-2 Digital Voice Recorder? I’m so not tech inclined, so I’m not sure if the quality is comparable to teh iRiver, but it’s an idea.

  18. I’ve always been intrigued by the “Radio Expeditions” on NPR so I started looking around for high quality portable digital records– you know, so I can wander around the woods and record crickets in hi-def audio. Gripping.
    I saw this review back in November for the M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 Pocket Digital Recorder on
    The review features sample recordings that give an idea of what to expect. It’s around $400 at Amazon.

  19. I use the Olympus VN-480 for recording interviews, and a Plantronics DSP-500 headset for podcasts and VOIP. The Olympus dumps to .wav over USB, and has 2 mic sensitivity settings, for $60 at RatShack.

  20. Because I deal with this stuff all day long I can actually make a few suggestions:
    EDIROL R1 is probably right down your alley price wise. Here is a link you can check out:
    Probably just as good if not better is Sony’s PCM-D1
    which is a lot more expensive:
    Sony has several less expensive options that use mini disks including this one:
    Good luck with your audio/video ventures!
    PS. Any chance you can use Sound Forge for your editing?

  21. Hey Wil,
    I enjoy listening your podcast and can’t wait for the next one. I also listen to Leo Laporte’s podcasts and would love to see/hear you on This Week In Tech or TWIT as its known. I’ve heard Leo mention that other podcasters have good luck with using iRiver and a good quality mic.
    I look forward to the next podcast and reading your blog entries.

  22. I, too, have a Sony MiniDisc that I used for recording practice sessions with a band I was with, for offline rehearsals. It works great, excellent sound. I got an eeny little stereo mic from the local guitar shop, and then it rocked even better.
    However, I’m still really, really honked off at Sony, so I hesitate to recommend that you give them any money at all. (No, I don’t hold a grudge, why do you ask?) But maybe via eBay, where the money’s not going to the evil ones? Or, heck, I’m not using mine…
    I’m very excited to read all the recs for Audacity–I’ve been using Magix for editing and it has some HUGE problems and limitations. I need better sounds software. *crosses fingers that Audacity is not Mac-only, and heads for Google*

  23. Figure I may as wlel give my two cents in this matter beign a pdocaster and all *coughcoughR5CENTRALcoughcough*
    I have an iRiver as well but it’s one of the more recent models. The thing has the effectiveness of a shotgun mic but I didn’t have a way of togglign it..until just nwo when seeing the comments πŸ˜›
    But if you’re searching around, whatever you do, AVOID the MPIO mp3 players that boast the built-in mics.
    A.) Only 12 tracks
    B.) Only encodes to WAV formate and
    C.) The player itself was evil. Literally, I got it in January and by December, I had wasted otns of money in batteries, the screen was crasked and the battery hing was on the verge of never being able to shut again.
    And in terms of editing, I’ve always used my outdated copy of Cool Edit Pro. I’ve used that for mixing every ep of my show to date in addition to all the radio plays I’ve done over the years.
    One day I’ll get around to using Adobe Audition but I’m in no hurry. Being on a Mac in the meantime, Audacity just annoys me to no end and I’m looking forward to getting Garage Band.
    Hope my ramblings offer some insight.

  24. I like the Sony MD too. However, I too don’t want to feed the Sony beast. No worries: I just buy mine used/refurbed on eBay. And I also buy Fuji MD blanks. Did that with my camcorder too…bought it refurbed on eBay because of political reasons.
    This is also why, as a rule, I buy used DVDs instead of going to theatres, and why I buy used CDs instead of buying new or on iTunes. The RIAA/MPAA need no encouragement.
    Of course, buying something indie is a whole different kettle of fish. No evil cartel or company involved, the creatives get the money, I’m happy.

  25. Hey. I didn’t catch it in the huge crush of comments, but I gotta say:

    That truck pic is awesome

    No, really. I’m impressed with the quality of that shot, and I wanna know what hardware was involved. Maybe with a hella buncha luck, I can shoot something as cool.
    Unfortunately, when the pic was transferred to GIF (from EXIFfed JPG?) it was neutered. Help a cracka out?
    (Mail preferred; may miss the responses in the comment sea! bishopolis@gmail is good)

  26. We use a portable minidisc recorder for voice outings and get great results. For music and other events that require a higher tech of recording ability, we use a Marantz flash recorder. You can pick up a minidisc recorder for very cheap and it’s small enough to compare to the iriver but with a greater range.
    I love Adobe Audition but it’s not available on the Mac platform. Go with Audacity.

  27. I was going to suggest the Bias Sound Soap, but Joe beat me to it.
    For voice recording, Cromwell Radio usually uses a Sony Memory Stick Pro ICD-MX20 – but a very simple voice recorder from Sharper Image works just the same with close to the same quality, and is about $140 cheaper – but then, it only has about 128 MB storage as opposed to the Sony’s hybrid memory drive that saves up to 32 MB1 on flash and has the use of removable memory cards/sticks.
    Our Sony’s been used so much that it’s starting to wear out and were thinking of getting an iRiver – but many of our jocks are technologically illiterate when it comes to settings, so we’ll probably just be getting another Sony.
    If you have a Sony and want super-sensitive recording things – like, your subject is at a distance from you or there is a lot of background noise (say a con crowd) I recommend getting the Sony Super Zoom mic. It’s AMAZING when we use it at games and concerts.
    When it comes to cleaning up files, I see a lot of people leaving comments to use Adobe or Audacity … but personally? I like simple Cool Edit Pro – it’s basically Adobe, only easier to navigate and I think it IS available for Mac.
    And that’s all I got.

  28. I have been working in radio for about six years. I have had very good luck with Marantz equipment, though it might be a bit pricey. A Sony MD recorder is also a good option, though it does have the downside that you may have to dub the audio from the MD in real-time, which is time-consuming.
    Have you considered simply upgrading the microphone that you’re using? Built-in microphones are notoriously poor.
    I’d recommend the ElectroVoice RE50B (everyone and their mother uses them) for a good interview/vocal microphone that will take a beating.

  29. I’m not a podcaster, but I have recorded several concerts under noisy conditions. I use a Sharp minidisc recorder (MT-877) and Core Sound binaural mics. If you can find one, the MT-877 costs about $150-250. The CS mics can run from $75-200. If you go for a minidisc recorder, make sure to get one with mic-in. The NetMD models from Sony initially didn’t have that option, which is why I went with Sharp. I don’t know if that’s still true.
    I transfer in real time using a stereo mini-to-mini cord through an external soundcard ’cause my laptop’s soundcard isn’t so great. I record the incoming sound in Audacity, and then manipulate it from there. I do some test recording to get the output/input levels set appropriately first.

  30. Hey Wil,
    How ’bout doing something like you did with the RFB logo with this sound file – post it “as is”, and let some audio guys see what they can do about cleaning it up – I use Adobe Audition and I’ll bet I could have that audio sounding very good in no time. (Some noise reduction, compression and eq etc.) Just an idea, anyway…I don’t know about everyone else but I would LOVE to hear some of that convention audio – I bet its cool as all hell…

  31. In the Journalism program at Concordia University in Montreal, we use Sony minidisk recorders. It’s fairly portable, and the quality is great. But there are some downfalls…
    1) You need a mic… And that’s bulky, but the source of great clip πŸ˜‰
    2) The sound only transfers in real time. From “headphones” to “mic”, fairly straightforward.
    3) Finally, if you’re using Audacity, we all know it doesn’t react too well to long clips… or too many clips.
    Otherwise, Mini disks are amazing :)
    Although I hear the new technology will be flash… like iPods and iRivers. So yeah πŸ˜›
    Back where we started.

  32. Wil —
    Here’s a few of the recorders that I’ve used and how they add up:
    Digital recorder vs. hard drive based recorder/recording:
    Stay away from hard drive based recording, whether it be with your computer with Skye, Audacity, or other means via microphone and pc, or whether it be with a hard drive based mp3 player/recorder such as the Archos Gmini 220 or beyond.
    These cause inevitable problems with hard drive reading and buffering, and may cause periodic and frequent skips in recording. Let’s not forget how you can rock out to “Harry and the Potters” but since they recorded it with their computer and it had access issues, there’s frequent awkward pauses.
    Digital Recorders:
    These digital recorders I have personally used in my documentation during investigations and received plenty of white noise and verify them as medium instead of HIGH sensitivity.
    Olympus VN-480PC – This is a mid-range quality recorder. The sensitivity is set to medium, and you can actually set the recording quality on the recorder itself and transfer the files to your computer via USB cable. You can convert it using many freeware wav to mp3, such as Goldwave, and you may be able to take it into “Audition” which I believe they have a make version (Audition is made by Adobe).
    Olympus VN-960PC – higher end of the first version. Again, you can set the recording level, at most it gives about 5 hours of recording time on highest quality. (Again, you can transfer them and take them into any audio editing program.)
    Sony ICD-BM1 – I don’t reccommend this recorder, biggest problem seems to be able to dete and navigate the file structure.
    PANASONIC IC Digital Recorder RR-US050 – seems to be a pretty good recorder, other than it being pricier than others.
    In conclusion, Olympus does seem to have a good line of recorders that are easy to download the files, and have an easily navigable file structure. Recording quality is set at medium, and never has a “blown out” sound.
    Although, the cheaper the better, for your use. You can pick up any of these at Best Buy so you can buy it at lunch, try it out, and have it returned by dinner if you don’t like it πŸ˜‰
    Let me know how it turns out.

  33. Okay well this is the only advice i can give you. First off you need a better microphone. I recomend a boundary omnidirectional microphone thats on sale at radio shack for 30 bucks. This is a great microphone for conventions since its mostly used for theather productions and conferences. So the microphone is usefull in that it drowns out background noise. I use this for interviews.
    As for programs personally i use Audacity, its free plus pretty simple. So those are my two cents.
    If you want listen to my show.

  34. As a fellow iRiver user, please please PLEASE do not encode your podcasts in VBR. It makes searching and even PAUSING a nightmare. Thanks.
    BTW, yeah, the AGC option can make or break a recording in a high-noise environment.
    With AGC ON, recordings in my car suck. With AGC OFF, even recording with the top down turns out well.
    Please keep the podcasts coming.

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