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Getting geared up

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BY TY STOCKTON
I received a Facebook message from a fellow OWAA member when I got home from this year’s conference that really made me do some deep thinking. Tony Dolle asked me if I were starting a radio show today, what equipment would I need?
The reason it made me stop and scratch my head was because I got into radio completely by accident. I had a computer at home with a pretty good sound card and I had just gotten a Turtle Beach headset with a boom microphone. When I started doing my radio show, I just made it work with that and a copy of Cool Edit software.
But as the radio gig has progressed, I’ve been thinking off and on about upgrading my equipment. Dolle’s question made me kick that research into a higher gear.
There is a lot of radio production equipment you can spend your hard-earned money on, but is it all really necessary? Should I even mess with my setup, which so far has produced satisfactory results?
Unfortunately, I have to upgrade my software. I bought the Adobe CS4 Master Collection a few years ago with the intent to switch to that package’s audio program. I have been too timid to delve into it, though, and now CS5 has already been replaced by CS5.5. And since Cool Edit was bought a number of years ago by Adobe, the CS5.5 version of Audition seems to be the way to go for software. I hope to be able to give you a brief tutorial on Audition in a coming issue.
For now, I’ll focus on the hardware.
MIXER BOARD
As I mentioned, I simply use the mini jack on my sound card for my microphone, but there are now a number of companies that make mixer boards that connect to your computer through the USB jacks. The benefit of these mixers is that they can use XLR connections, which allow you to use better quality microphones to get better quality sound. I haven’t used one yet, but I’ve been looking at the AKAI EIE I/O interface. It’s roughly $200.
MICROPHONE
For a home studio, a good microphone is crucial. If you don’t use a mixer board, you’ll need a microphone that can plug directly into your sound card, usually through a mini jack. A better microphone with an XLR connection would be a good investment, though. The Rode M2 handheld is a good bet, and it’s not terribly expensive at around $180. Keep in mind you’ll need a mic stand, too. The less you have to mess with it, the less extraneous noise you’ll get.
If you’re doing interviews, Keith Patankar from Hunt’s Photo and Video suggests using a wireless lapel lavalier microphone, like the Sennheiser EK 100 G3 system. The kit includes the transmitter and receiver, and it runs about $600.
HEADSET
You don’t have to have a headset, but if you use one, you can better monitor outside noise that might creep into your recordings. I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of money on a headset, but you can expect to pay $100 to $300 for a good pair.
PORTABLE RECORDER
Patankar says a really good portable sound recorder is the Zoom H4N, which costs about $300. It has stereo sound, records to memory cards and can be connected directly to your computer through a USB cable, if needed. The H4N has great sound quality and is simple to use anytime you want to get some sound bites while you’re away from your home studio.
SOUNDPROOFING
If you find your recordings picking up extra noise in your home studio, a cheap fix is to tack eggshell foam on your walls. This doesn’t look very classy, but it dampens the noise extremely well.
For a more rustic look, consider using burlap coffee bags, which you can probably get from your local coffee shop. They’re cheap, they knock down the noise very well, and they look pretty cool — especially if you get bags that have neat designs on them.
For a little more sound-dampening capability, cut some of that eggshell foam to size and slide it into the coffee bags before you hang them on your wall.
GET STARTED
You can do like I did and jump into radio recording on the cheap — I think I spent a grand total of about $300 to get my home studio up and running. But if you’re looking for a little better sound quality, you might have to spend $1,000 to $3,000 for equipment and software. It’s a good investment, though, so do your research and buy gear that’ll last for several years.
Good luck!♦
Ty Stockton hails from Cheyenne, Wyo., and has been a member since 2001. Stockton is a freelance writer, photographer and radio host. Contact him at stockyty@gmail.com.
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