Advanced Podcast Audio: Tips For Understanding Audio Interfaces

What is a preamplifier?

 

A preamplifier (preamp) is a device used to take a microphone or instrument level signal, and increase the signal to a line level signal. Generally, we want things to be at a line level signal when we record them. Preamps universally have a few different features/settings on them:

 

Gain is the main amplifying feature of a preamp. When you hook up a microphone or instrument to a preamp, you increase the gain of the preamp to amplify the microphone-level or instrument-level signal.

 

Phantom Power, sometimes referred to as +48V is a matter of powering condenser microphones.

 

Instrument/Mic/Line Input Switches – Most audio interfaces these days have combo jacks that you can plug a microphone, instrument or line level source into via an XLR or ¼” cable. A microphone level signal is lower than an instrument level signal which is lower than a line level signal.Toggling the switch to “microphone”, will apply more gain to your circuit than “instrument” will. Selecting “Line” bypasses any gain from the preamp being applied to the input signal. Generally, as you move up in price, the quality and quantity of these inputs on an interface increases.

 

How does audio get in and out?

 

In order to record audio digitally, you first connect the output of your microphone, instrument or other gear to an input in your audio interface. Once the electrical signal enters the analog inputs on your interface and is amplified, it needs to be translated into 1’s and 0’s (binary) so that the sound information can be recorded and manipulated in your computer. Enter the analog to digital converter. An analog to digital converter (ADC) takes the electrical signal from your microphone, instrument or external gear and converts it into a digital representation that your computer can understand.

 

Now your audio is in your computer and you’re ready to listen back to it. You need something that takes those 1’s and 0’s (the digital representation of your audio) and translates them back into the analog world of electricity. A digital to analog converter (DAC) does just that. It converts the digital signals in your computer into electrical signals and sends them out to your speakers, headphones or outboard gear via an output on your audio interface.

 

To make a long story short, the better your converters are, the better the representation of the audio you can capture and reproduce in the ADC/DAC process. The quality of converters is one of the big factors that differentiates a $100 audio interface from a $10,000 audio interface.
Outputs

The simplest of audio interfaces have only one set of analog stereo audio outputs that are meant to send line-level audio to your speakers. Generally these outputs are either ¼” balanced TRS or balanced XLR connections, but sometimes can be unbalanced RCA jacks. Generally, as you move up in price, the quality and quantity of these outputs on an interface increases.

 

On bigger audio interfaces, more audio outputs are generally included to allow for more advanced routing of audio to external devices like EQs, compressors, gates, exciters and more. These are especially helpful for routing and processing audio in external gear after you’ve already recorded or manipulated it digitally in your computer.

 

Digital outputs such as S/PDIF and ADAT are also included on larger and higher-end audio interfaces. These digital outputs allow you to send audio in and out of external devices without converting them back into an analog signal, thus preserving the original quality of the signal. The other benefit of these digital inputs and outputs is that you can send multiple channels of audio using only one cable, which can certainly simplify your setup.

 

The last type of outputs you generally see on audio interfaces are headphone outputs. These are either ¼” or ⅛” TRS outputs designed to allow you to plug your headphones directly into them. The quality and quantity of these headphone outputs/amplifiers tends to increase as the price and size of the interface increases.  
Now that you understand the basic components of an audio interface, you’re ready to start choosing the right one for you. It can be a complicated process, and the “right” audio interface for you all depends on the type of audio work you do. Luckily, our whole team of audio experts is here to help! You can get in touch with one of us by phone (301-946-8808), email (sales@chucklevins.com), or live chat at www.chucklevins.com.

 

Podcast Gear Advice from Chuck Levin’s

 

Podcast Polish

So you’ve got your podcast formula sounding clear and you’ve peaked your audience’s interest, but your voice doesn’t quite have “it”. What can you do to really polish your sound and take your podcast to the next level? Let’s take a look at some options.

  1. Microphone: The tone of your voice starts at the source and the microphone you use has a huge effect on your sound. Generally when you talk about podcast microphones, you’re generally in the realm of dynamic microphones. Dynamic mics are the ideal podcasting microphone for the home setup because they won’t pick up as much background noise from things like air conditioners, dogs, spouses, kids and traffic compared to condenser or ribbon microphones.  Here are some mics we’d recommend for stepping up your podcast game.
    1. Shure SM7BThe SM7B is infamous in the broadcast world. It is a dynamic microphone, needing a lot of gain to get your voice up to a good recording level. It has a deep tone, with more detail than you’d expect from a dynamic microphone. If you go down the SM7B route, we’d recommend getting a Cloudlifter. The cloudlifter sits between your microphone and your preamp, and gives you 20dB of noise-free gain. This allows you to get your voice nice and loud without the unwanted added noise of preamp gain.
    2. Electro-Voice RE20The RE20 is a cardioid pattern dynamic microphone with a voice-tailored frequency response. This impressive microphone will give you a condenser-like sound in a dynamic package.  
    3. RODE Procaster –  The Procaster is the least expensive on our list, but it certainly doesn’t sacrifice quality. This end-address dynamic microphone sports an all-metal construction making it a durable piece you won’t need to worry about. The internal shock mount helps cut down on extraneous noise and the internal pop-filter reduces plosives that can overload the capsule causing distortion.
  2. Preamp:
    1. The Clean – Grace M101 or M201 – The single and dual channel versions of this preamplifier are some of the cleanest sounding pres out there. This will give you a crisp, clear reproduction of your voice with not much added.
    2. The Warm – The Warm Audio WA-12 is a fantastic single channel preamp that will give you a warm, full-bodied tone. Great for fattening up a thinner sounding voice/microphone.
    3. The Versatile – The Shadow Hills Mono Gama is a single channel 500-series preamplifier that gives you a choice between 3 preamplifier tones. Choosing between Steel, Nickel and Discrete allows you to experiment with different tones at the turn of a knob. This is great for when you have guests on your show, allowing you to experiment on the spot and find the right setting for their voice.
  3. Compressor/Gate: A compressor and gate are two invaluable tools in your podcast arsenal. A compressor helps even out the dynamics of your voice, making the quieter parts louder and the loud parts quieter. Compression is an incredibly important process to make sure that your podcast volumes are smooth and consistent throughout your show. A gate helps cut out external/background noise by only allowing the input signal to pass through if it is above a certain volume threshold. Used correctly, this means that audio will only be heard through the microphone when you are talking directly and intentionally into it.
    1. The Workhorse – DBX 266xs – This single channel Compressor/gate gives you the option to smooth out your dynamics without much added tone or texture. It cost effective and will get the job done.
    2. The Warm – The Warm Audio WA76 will add some punch to your voice in the classic 1176 limiting amplifier format. It is very reasonably priced and can double as a great piece of gear for studio recording, mixing and mastering in the music world.
    3. The Compact – The Golden Age Comp 3A is a leveling amplifier based on the classic LA-3A. This will add some warm but not too warm tone to your voice and comes with a handy Limit/Compress switch to allow you to easily switch between two compression modes. All of this comes in a compact 2U half-rack unit.  
  4. The Audio Interface: Your audio interface is the brains of the operation. It is how all audio gets in and out of your computer and understanding the key parts of one is so important, it deserved its own blog post. Check that out here: Understanding Audio Interfaces

 

 

Ramona Rice

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Meet Ramona!

Ramona Rice is the vibrant co-host, and diligent producer of Sports Gal Pal, and We Should Not Be Friends, Real Estate 101 podcasts. She is also a social media phenom, and works as the Community Manager at Podcast Websites. She lives in Virginia with her two tiny, amazing humans.

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