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What would be the best affordable setup for recording a 3-4 person podcast all in one room?
I think my main problems are with the hardware...
I've tried a few things: using a condenser (Samson C01U http://www.samsontech.com/products/productpage.cfm?prodid=1810) but there'd too much white noise, I tried connecting a few usb mics to garageband but their reception range was just too close (you literally had to eat the mic to get a proper voice out, maybe they were just crappy...).
I would imagine that an optimal setup would include a personal pinned microphone for each speaker and an external mixer but I was hoping maybe there's a word of advice before purchasing those (affordable is the key) or just an advice which ones to get.

I use osx's garageband to record and levelator after recording.

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  • Can they take turns sitting in front of the mic? :) These kind of condensers are really meant to be a few inches from the speaker. – endolith Dec 21 '10 at 16:25
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Having a good microphone is essential, and a condenser like the Samson has the basic qualities in it. I have no experience with USB microphones though, so I'm not sure if you can do anything about the white noise.

The white noise is most likely coming from a mismatch of levels, that the microphone preamp is set too low, and that the level then is boosted somewhere else, in the recording software or in the computers input mixer. Make sure you set the microphones level as high as you can without getting distortion. According to the manual there is a utility you can install to set the level that also has a VU meter. The level should be almost reaching the top, but not quite, when you are sitting as you are when recording the podcast. If you then are getting distortion it's because another level (like the recording level in OS X or garageband) is too high. Setting these level correctly should minimize the white noise.

If this doesn't work, then the white noise is coming from the preamplifier itself (which is built into the mic). It's then either broken, or just surprisingly bad quality (but I'd guess broken, it should be good enough).

As you say giving each person a little lapel condenser is the best option, because it means the microphone is close to each persons mouth, so you don't get much echo from the room. But as you also not, it's expensive. If your room isn't too echoey, having a condenser microphone that is not of the USB variety and a separate microphone preamp should be good enough. But that's still probably a $200 affair or so.

  • Some tips on how to set the level on the mic without the software: wiki.audacityteam.org/… Should be recording only the left channel on a mono track, or your signal will cancel out. – endolith Dec 21 '10 at 16:34
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    That's definitely worth a check, even if it's Linux only. Having an out-of phase signal on the second channel is unexpected. – Lennart Regebro Dec 21 '10 at 21:25
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I used to run a small two-person podcast first using Windows/Audition and later OSX/Garageband. The best setup we ever had was one mic per person, into a mixer, and record the output of the mixer. We used two dynamic mics at first and later switched to one USB dynamic and one condenser, going into separate inputs (so no mixer).

It was important to keep the input gain on the mic preamp high enough that there was a high signal to noise ratio, but low enough that the voices didn't bleed too much into the wrong mic. But fortunately, since this was just a podcast, it was okay if there was a bit of bleed.

There is no reason that you couldn't use a USB mic. Conceptually It's the same as any other mic, just with a built-in preamp and USB interface, although USB mics tend to be more inexpensive. If they're truly that low-output when you used them, check your recording preferences in OSX. The inputs might just be turned down.

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I use 5 dynamic mics (actually taken from a drum kit set) through XLR leads into an 8-way USB interface (A Focusrite 18i20) then each onto separate tracks in logic pro on a mac.

Use a cheap popping shield on each mic, about £5 from Amazon for one that clips over the ball of the mic.

You can get much cheaper interfaces, such as the Behringer 8-way or 4-way one, which would be fine for a podcast. You can record multitrack to Audacity for free.

Perhaps this is overkill for an amateur podcast, but doing it this way lets you keep everyone separate, then you can use a noise gate, set volumes, and delete any accidental noises on a channel where no-one is speaking, to get the best audio.

The alternative is a mixer with a USB interface, but then all decisions on volume, gating etc. would be fixed at the time of recording.

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