I sought a better portable podcasting setup, since my home equipment doesn’t travel well. I didn’t think I’d find the solution in the PlayStation 2 aisle.
The first thing to understand is that for any form of media production, quality matters. Amateurism may be charming, but it gets old fast. A small investment in better equipment — along with a larger investment in learning issues of craft — almost always pays off in the final product.
That’s a very nice way of saying if you record your podcast with your laptop’s internal microphone, I’m sure as hell not going to listen to it.
Thing is, what gets you up to an appropriate quality level quickly and cheaply? When I started podcasting, I went to Fry’s and bought a starter kit with a nice mic (a Shure 8900) and a mic stand. It came out to a mini-plug, like on my Macs, so I thought I’d be fine. Unfortunately, the level was hopelessly low, and boosting what I could get from it left me with very prominent line noise.
Typical mics need power, and Macs don’t provide it with this plug, so I ended up getting a Eurorack mixer (as seen on Coverville), largely for the purpose of providing phantom power to the mic. Instead of running this output right to the Mac’s audio-in, I ended up getting a Griffin iMic, a USB capture device which allows for switching between mic- and line-level input, which is handy when I grab audio from the TiVo or a DVD. Anyways, total cost of all of this was about $130.
Also, it’s totally not portable. I had to lug a backpack full of stuff to JavaOne to do the podcasts there, and setting up my gear to get sound was a 10 minute job that left me unable to move around.
So, since I planned to get some sound from a recent conference for a Distributing the Future story, I set out to get a more portable mic. My goal was to get a battery-powered mic, which would eliminate the mixer from the equation, though not necessarily the iMic.
So as I’m shopping, I indulge my fun side and stroll down the PlayStation 2 aisle… where I find the Logitech USB Microphone for PlayStation 2. This is a device actually intended for use with Karaoke Revolution, the popular series of sing-along video games for the PS2.
But I found myself thinking: “It has to just be a typical USB capture device, since it’s not like the PS2 can require special drivers. Which means it probably works as a Mac capture device. And even if it didn’t work out, I’ve already got Karaoke Revolution and it would be fun to play with a real mic. So how much is this… $20?! That’s it?!
So, I bought it, plugged it into the Mac, and started up Sound Studio, which recognized it immediately and offered it as an option in the application preferences.
I’ve spent $130 on my existing set-up of mic, mixer, and iMic. For $20, the karaoke mic goes straight into USB, gets its power from the USB bus, has a 15′ cord, and is exceptionally portable. Only big downside I see for potential podcasters is that it doesn’t fit a typical mic stand.
But how does it sound? I’ll close this blog with a comparison of five mics - the first is the karaoke mic, the second is my typical setup, and the rest are provided for comparison. In each sound file (compressed to 60 kbps mono MP3, which is what I use for my own podcasts), I identify the mic I’m using and then read a passage from Swing Hacks, one which has some dynamic parts so you can hear louder and softer reading. One thing to note is that on a few of these, the levels are probably lower than they should be, but I didn’t want to risk skewing the results by adding any effects (like amplification), so just adjust the volume as necessary to listen and compare.