Plenty of podcasters go out and buy fancy microphones, only to use them improperly. This can be discouraging, especailly when they hear good recordings made with the same equipment and wonder what they are doing wrong.

I’ve been told a number of times that the sound quality of my podcasts rivals that of NPR. Yet, for almost all of of my interviews, I use microphones that cost far less than $100, and for Boston Behind the Scenes, I usually use a mic that cost me $15!

What’s the secret? Not fancy post-processing or editing, but simple microphone placement. This isn’t hard, but it ususally needs to be taught.

The simple lesson is this: put the mic to the side of the speaker’s mouth, and as close as possible without picking up unwanted noise. The distance varies from setup to setup, but a good rule of thumb is that a foot is almost always too far away.

Here’s a little demonstration video (I’m not a video guy, so go easy on me!):

 
icon for podpress  Microphone Placement Demo [2:59m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
 

The “Hat Mic”

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This is a trick I learned from NPR’s Tony Kahn.

Microphones scare people and are hard to use properly. Anyone who has ever tried to get someone to talk into one knows this first hand.

The “Hat Mic” is a novel solution to both of these problems. To construct one, take a small, high quality microphone (anything from a Giant Squid Audio Lab Podcasting Omni Stereo Microphone to a Neumann miniature microphone) and clip it to the brim of a baseball cap. Small binder clips work well with my Giant Squids.

That’s it.

Why would you want to clip a microphone to a hat? For a number of reasons:

  1. While almost nobody knows how to use a microphone, everyone know how to wear a hat.
  2. The microphone will stay in position as the person moves their head. This is both easier and more natural, meaning that you’ll get a more consistent, genuine-sounding recording.
  3. The microphone will be out of the way of most unwanted sounds (“popping P” and “hissing S”). You may have a bit of a problem with F sounds if you don’t get the placement quite right.
  4. The brim of the hat forms a bit of a mini sound booth, blocking some outside sounds and enhancing the voice a bit.

All of this, wrapped up in one funny hat!
Hat Mics

Listen here for how it sounds:

 
icon for podpress  Hat Mic Sample [0:24m]: Play Now | Play in Popup | Download
 

I haven’t downloaded it or tried it yet, but Adobe yesterday released a free public beta of their new Soundbooth audio application. According to this Macworld article, “Soundbooth will target the same professional market as Apple’s SoundTrack Pro.”

“I think they are probably going after the same market, ” Hart Shafer, senior product manager for Adobe Audio products, told Macworld. “However, I think one of the key differences is that SoundTrack Pro is built for audio people — we think that we have a more focused product for the creative professional market.”

As a Mac user, I’m concerned that Adobe is stepping away from support for the PowerPC chip. Most new Mac software is “Universal” — it will run on both Intel- and PowerPC-based Macs. The multimedia software company said back in February (PDF) that “Adobe has plans to support both Intel and PowerPC microprocessors in the next versions of its creative applications for the Mac OS.” However, it looks like new products may be Intel-only. In their Soundbooth FAQ, Adobe answers the question “Will there be a PowerPC version?” this way:

No. Apple is quickly moving its focus towards Intel Macs, and no longer sells Power PC systems in many places. By focusing on Apple’s future, we have been able to bring this powerful application to the Mac platform much more rapidly, and with a stronger feature set.

 
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© 2010 Adam Weiss: Podcast Consultant