I think it's time to revisit that age-old question of "What is the best setup for recording my podcast and why is it always wired mics directly into a mixer?" and share some of our experiences setting up the show!
Crash Course DM is in the 5th episode now, and we have another few episodes in the editing room. It's been super fun, putting all of the pieces together! And we've learned a ton so far.
The TLDR of this article is DON'T USE WIRELESS MICROPHONES! Save up a little, get a wired mic setup. They don't even have to be expensive.
Bonus: Make sure all of your guests can hear themselves and the conversation via headphones.
A net-new setup isn't complex.
If you want to skip my trials and tribulations, here's a list of the physical things you'll want:
Mixer with phantom power (get one with a usb port to record to a computer or built in storage/recording)
One or more condenser microphones
Xlr cable and a mic stand for each microphone
An application to record with and/or edit audio. (Audacity is free!)
My current preferred podcasting setup, because I got heckin' sales or already had it (affiliate links):
Separate powered mic track and headphone input for each speaker, up to 8
Shows audio levels of each speaker while recording
No need to record to laptop
Sound board is cute/fun
cheaper than some other mixers
How did we get here?
A big part of the CCDM podcast is me screwing things up, owning it, and fixing it.
Another big part of the podcast is me making things harder on myself than they need to be.
Scenario one happens a lot. :)
We had a few sound requirements to handle for the podcast:
Great audio quality
Movable setup (so we can play in different places)
Quick to set up
Not going to break the bank
Comfortable for the players
Support up to 7 players.
Initially I was trying to be incredibly scrappy and use only equipment I could get cheaply, or already had. I'm a musician, among many other hobbies, so I already had a few options I could try out.
Setup 1: Chonky Mixer with Mics
Obviously my 2 channel recording interface and Bluebird mic wouldn't work for this situation. I wanted separate lines of audio for each player and myself and there were 4 of us, soon to be 5, playing. But it worked (and still works) perfectly for capturing the briefs and debriefs of each episode of CCDM.
The Studio Live 32 is a chunky piece of kit, really intended to travel with a large production or live in a studio. My recording space didn't have room for it to be set up, and it certainly couldn't travel to someone's house or a TTRPG lounge. We never got to use it for a game, the setup was just infeasible. (another mark in the column for selling this mixer I'm not using)
Setup 2: A pretty lavalier attitude
The wireless lav mic setup interested me the most, but I'd done a lot of reading online that said to avoid it. It would greatly increase the amount of post production work and, in my experience working with electronics, introduces another potential element for failure.
The Zoom R16 worked great as an alternative to the larger Studio Live mixer.
BUT...for all of the potential complexities, the setup was incredibly mobile. I could pop it into this fuzzy carrying case and take it down to The Silver Key Lounge for episodes 3 and 4.
And I thought I had a handle on any sound quality issues!
We got some pretty clean sound using it for another podcast I get to tag along on occasionally, One Shot at a Time, for their Unnamed Magic Kingdom Episode.
If you listen to the first few episodes of Crash Course DM, we can all agree I did not have a consistent handle on the sound quality issues. :) I found, during multiple CCDM sessions, they were really susceptible to wireless interference and caught a LOT of extra noise.
The other feedback we got was that the lavs are just low quality and when they work...don't sound great. And it needed to be great.
Back to the drawing board!
Setup 3: Lil Mixer and Mics
The R16 was really nice, but we abandoned the Lavs pretty quickly (we're just like Critical Role now!). In going back to the physical microphones, the R16 lost it's "really nice" almost right away.
There were 2 channels with phantom power (5 and 6 in the image) , and the other 6 were un-powered so....that was a problem. Then I thought about chaining together the iD14 and the R16, to 'combine' and get 4 powered inputs (which would technically have worked) but the idea of remembering to set it up correctly every time, and then having to have a computer out to record for the Audient, even now stresses me out. So we didn't go that route.
Time to sell some stuff!
I knew after a few sessions the kit I had wasn't going to cut it. It was time to adjust. I had a feeling when I started this project that I would need some different equipment, or at least more and had already created listings on OfferUp and Craigslist to sell gear I wasn't using anymore and not likely to use again.
Setup 4: The Current Hotness
With some of that income from selling gear, and the timing of a sweet deal on Sweetwater.com, I was able to grab a Zoom P8 Podtrak at a pretty good price! (not as good as the price on the affiliate link above, though) Since this new device had some headphone out jacks, I also found a good deal for Labor Day on the Sony Headphones. The photo shows a simplified version of the setup. We have power strips, XLR cables, etc. But basically it's the P8, some headphones, and a mic for each speaker. Takes about 8 minutes to set up from tucked away in the travel bag.
With the new setup I could have wired mics for each player, and myself, and capture clean audio with minimal noise and cross-talk. From there we had a couple of great sessions and had other, new audio issues to deal with! But more on those later.
The big takeaways for us were: don't skimp on audio quality, invest a little more in the device you use to capture and mix your audio, and it is really nice to be able to hear yourself speak on the mic with your other casters.
We don't have any episodes out yet of Crash Course DM on this kit, but there are 2 One Shot at a Time episodes with our 'new setup' that sound great and are fun!
Bonus Episode: Legends of the Hidden Friendple
Bonus Episode: Bang!!!! w/ Josh Greenway
The next project for the audio setup is putting together a better travel case setup for the Podtrak, Mics & headsets, and a good bag situation for the cables. Keep an eye out for more updates on testing new audio setups with Crash Course DM and One Shot at a Time!
What are your thoughts? Have you had better success with wireless lavs for your podcast? Or maybe you have a whole different approach/setup? Maybe you've used the P8 and actually edit on-device?
Recording in person is dictated by the format of our show, but there's also a lot to be said for the world of remote podcasting and recording in multiple locations, too! There is no one right answer, but there are definitely wrong answers (cheap wireless audio).
Catch ya later,