microphones

With feature updates and new accessories, the RODECaster Pro is a podcaster’s dream come true

Posted by | audio equipment, Audio Recording, Gadgets, hardware, microphones, podcast, Podcasting, Reviews, rodecaster pro, RØDE, TC | No Comments

You might have been considering — or have already started — picking up a new hobby this year, particularly one you can do at home. Podcasting seems to be a popular option, and RODE is a company that has done more to cater specifically to this audience than just about any other audio company out there. The RODECaster Pro ($599) all-in-one podcast production studio they released in 2018 is a fantastic tool for anyone looking to maximize their podcasting potential, and with amazing new firmware updates released this year, along with a host of great new accessories, it has stepped up even further.

The basics

The RODECaster Pro is a powerful production studio, but it’s not overwhelming for people who aren’t audio engineers by trade. The deck balances offering plenty of physical controls with keeping them relatively simple, giving you things like volume sliders and large pad-style buttons for top-level controls, and then putting more advanced features and tweaks behind layers of menus accessible via the large, high-resolution touchscreen for users who desire more fine-tuned manipulation.

RODECaster Pro includes four XLR inputs, each of which can provide (individually selectable) phantom power for condenser mics, along with four 1/4″ headphone outputs for corresponding monitoring. That’s great, because it means if you have guests used to recording podcasts and high-quality audio, they can listen to their own input, or you can opt to just have one producer keeping track of everything. There’s also a left and right 1/4″ audio out for a studio monitor speaker or other output, as well as a USB-C connector for plugging into a computer, and a 3.5mm in for connecting a smartphone or other external audio source. Smartphones can also be connected via Bluetooth, which is very handy for including a call-in guest via wireless.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The main surface of the RODECaster Pro includes volume sliders for each available input and pre-set sound effects; volume knobs for each headphone and speaker output; buttons to activate and deactivate inputs; large buttons for playing back pre-set audio files and a large record button. There’s also a touchscreen that gives you access to menus and settings, and which also acts as a visual levels editor while recording.

RODECaster Pro is designed so that you can use it completely independently of any computer or smartphone — it has a microSD slot for recording, and you can then upload those files via either directly connecting the deck through USB, or plugging the card in to a microSD card reader and transferring your files. You can also use multitrack-to-USB or stereo USB output modes on the RODECaster Pro to effectively turn the studio hardware into a USB audio interface for your Mac or PC, letting you record with whatever digital audio production software you’d like, including streaming software.

Design

The RODECaster Pro’s design is a perfect blend of studio-quality hardware controls and simplicity, making the device accessible to amateurs and pros alike. I was up and running with the deck out of the box in just a few minutes, and without making any adjustments at all to the sound profile or settings, I had great-sounding recordings using the RODE PodMic, a $99 microphone that is optimized by RODE to work with the RODECaster Pro out of the box.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

All the controls are easy and intuitive to manage, and you shouldn’t need to read any instruction manuals or guides to get started. The eight-button sound effects grid is likely the most complicated part of the entire physical interface, but even the default sounds that RODE includes can be useful, and you can easily set your own via the RODECaster companion app for Mac and PC; in the box you’ll find guides you can use to overlay the buttons and label them to keep track of which is which.

The sliders are smooth and great to use, making it easy to do even, manual fade-ins and fade-outs for intro and outro or pre-recorded soundbites. Backlit keys for active/inactive inputs, mute status and the large record button mean you can tell with a quick glance what is and isn’t currently active on the track.

RODE has smartly included a locking power adapter in the box, so that you won’t find the cord accidentally yanked out in the middle of a recording. Each of the XLR inputs also includes a quick release latch for secure connections. And while the RODECaster Pro definitely takes up a lot of space with roughly the footprint of a 13-inch MacBook Pro, it’s light enough to be perfectly portable in a backpack for on-location recordings.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The touchscreen display is another design highlight; it’s high-resolution, with a matte cover that makes it viewable in a wide range of light, and very responsive touch input, It’s a great way to extend the functionality of the deck through software, while still ensuring nothing feels fiddly or hard to navigate, which can be the case with hardware jog controllers like you’d find on a Zoom recorder, for instance.

Features

Balancing simplicity and power is the real reason RODECaster Pro works so well. If you’re just starting out, you can basically just begin using it out of the box without changing anything at all about how it’s set up to work. That’s especially true if you’re using any of RODE’s microphones, each of which has built-in profiles included for optimizing sound settings instantly.

I mentioned above that the RODE PodMic is optimized for use with the RODECaster Pro in this way, and the results are fantastic. If the price tag on the RODECaster Pro is a deterrent, it’s worth considering that the PodMic is a fantastically affordable dynamic podcasting mic, which produces sound way above its class when paired with the deck. So the overall cost of a RODE podcasting setup using both of these would actually be relatively reasonable versus other solutions.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

If you’re ready to dive in and customize sound, you can toggle features like built-in compressor, de-esser and other audio effects. You can also manually adjust each of these effects, as the release of Firmware 2.1 earlier this month lets you adjust the processing of each included sound effect through the RODECaster Pro companion app for a totally custom, unique finally sound.

The ability to pre-load and call up sound effects and other audio tracks on demand on the RODECaster Pro is another killer feature. It’s true that you could achieve a lot of this in editing post-recording, but having it all to-hand for use in live recording scenarios just feels better, and it also enables genuine interactions with your guests that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. That 2.1 firmware update also brought the ability to loop clips indefinitely, which could be great if you want to place a subtle backing track throughout your recording.

One final feature I’ll highlight because it’s fantastic, especially in a world where it might be hard to consistently get guests in-studio, is the smartphone connectivity. You can either plug in via cable, or connect via low-latency Bluetooth for terrific call-in interactivity, using whatever software you want on your smartphone.

Accessories

RODE has done a great job building out an ecosystem of accessories to further extend the capabilities of the RODECaster Pro and enhance the overall user experience. Among its recent releases, there’s the RODE PodMic, mentioned above, as well as colored cable clips that correspond to each input backlight color for easily keeping track of which hardware is which, 1/4″ to 3.5mm stereo jack adapters for using standard headphones as monitors, a TRRS-to-TRRS 3.5mm audio aux cable for smartphone connections and a USB power cable to replace the adapter for easier plug-in power on the go.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The small plastic cuffs for your XLR cables are simple but smart ways of keeping track of gear, especially when everyone’s using the same mic (as they likely should be for sound consistency) — and it helps that they enhance the look of your overall setup, too. And the USB power cable in particular is a great addition to any RODECaster Pro kit that you’re intending to use outside of your own recording studio/home, as you can use it with any USB charger you have to hand — so long as it can provide 5V/2.5A output.

The real must-have accessory for the RODECaster Pro, however, is the RODE PodMic. It’s a no-fuss, well-built and durable microphone that transports well and can work flexibly with a wide range of mounting options, and in a wide variety of settings, including open air and in-studio. Yes, you can get better sound with more expensive mics, but with the PodMic, you can afford a set of four to complement the RODECaster Pro for the same price you’d pay for one higher-end microphone, and most people won’t notice the audio quality difference for their podcasting needs.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Bottom line

The RODECaster Pro is a fantastic way to upgrade your at-home podcasting game — and a perfect way to take the show on the road once you’re able to do so. Its high-quality hardware controls, combined with smart, sophisticated software that has improved with consistent RODE firmware updates to address user feedback over time, are a winning combo for amateurs, pros and anyone along the spectrum in between.

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How to make the most of your at-home videoconference setup: Microphone edition

Posted by | audio engineering, audio equipment, Gadgets, hardware, microphone, microphones, Recording, Sennheiser, shure, Sound, TC, video conferencing | No Comments

Working from home isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and a slew of companies just announced longer-term initiatives to make their remote work practices either extend or permanent. That means for some it’s the perfect time to take their at-home videoconferencing setup even further, so we’re going to take a closer look at various core elements to build on our initial exploration of what can help you improve your video call or live broadcasting game. Today, it’s all about audio.

Microphone basics

In our initial feature, I highlighted some great entry-level options for add-on mics that you can use to produce better sound than what your Mac or PC can produce alone. Those included the Samson Meteor Mic, a longstanding favorite that connects directly via USB and that produces great, full-bodied sound without any customization required.

There’s also the Rode Wireless GO, a simple and affordable wireless mic pack kit that you can use on its own, or pair with a lavalier like the Rode Lavalier GO for a bit better sound. Rode also makes a great USB mic, that, like the Meteor Mic, just works and comes in at around $100 — the Rode NT-USB Mini. It features some design decisions like a magnetic desk stand that could make it more flexible for use for certain setups versus the Meteor Mic, and the sound it produces is also fantastic.

To improve your Rode Wireless GO setup a bit further, or to use a wired lavalier-style wearable mic plugged directly into your computer or audio interface, there are a couple of great options available from Sennheiser that provide subtle but noticeable sound quality improvements no matter how you’re using them.

The Sennheiser MKE Essential Omni is a great lavalier mic that’s often used in stage productions and other professional settings, with a tiny profile that you can pretty easily hide in clothing using the included clip, or even in hair, or in tandem with an earset holder for putting it right on your cheek next to your mouth. You’ll get slightly different sound profiles depending on how you wear it, but it generally produces great, warm sound and doesn’t cost too much, at just under $200 (on the relative scale of sound equipment prices).

Sennheiser’s ME 2-II is another, lower-cost option at $129.95 that also produces great results, and works with wireless transmitters like the Rode Wireless GO, but it’s a bit less warm and present than the MKE Essential.

Getting serious about sound

High-end lavalier mics are already starting to get into high-expense territory, but as with most audio equipment, the sky’s the limit here. That’s also true for shotgun microphones, which is another option for rigging your setup for the best possible audio without compromising on things like unsightly microphones in frame, or some of the trade-offs that come with using very physically small microphones like lavalier and lapel mics.

In our original post, I talked about using a Rode VideoMic NTG as one option, and that is indeed a great, mid-level shotgun mic to experiment with, with the added benefit of being terrific for use on-camera in the field thanks to its built in battery, compact dimensions and intelligent compatibility with a range of modern cameras.

But for home studio use, there are shotgun mics that are much more appropriate to the task. The Rode NTG3 is a personal favorite, and a popular standard in the broadcast and film industries — for good reason. The NTG3 is a tubular mic with a standard XLR output, that requires 48v phantom power and that is perfect for video shooting scenarios where you’re staying relatively still in a fixed location with cameras also mounted in fixed positions — i.e. exactly how most people have their home working spaces set up.

The Rode NTG3 is a bit of a budget-buster, however — it’s $699, which is more than even some very high-quality standard podcasting mics out there. But for the price, you get an extremely high-quality piece of hardware that has built-in moisture resistance for shooting outdoors, if that’s ever something you want to do, and that sounds great even when mounted out of sight beyond the frame of your camera’s lens.

It’s also supercardioid in its pickup pattern, which means it does an excellent job of picking up sound directly in front of it, but not sound to either side. That’s a great advantage to have in most shared home office spaces, just like it is with on-location film shoots.

Another top option that’s a popular favorite, and that comes in at a lower price point, is the Sennheiser MKE 600. At around $330, it’s roughly half the price of the NTG3, and it has a built-in battery in case you want to take it with you and plug it into your camera. It also uses XLR, which means you’ll need a preamp like the Focusrite 2i2 or the recently released Audient EVO 4 to make it work with your computer (or the iRig Pre if you’re running it to a deck like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini, as I was).

The sound from the MKE 600 is still top-notch, but it doesn’t do quite as good a job as the NTG3 of eliminating any self-noise, and of capturing a deep, rich tone that’s suitable to deeper voices. You can check out a comparison of both boom mics, along with the Sennheiser MKE Essential, in the video below.

Another option is to use a pole or boom-mounted mic like you generally see podcasters or radio personalities use. These include popular options like the Shure SM7B, which you’ll probably recognize immediately from its distinct profile. I’m partial to the Shure Beta 87A supercardioid mic for home recording of audio podcasts, but as you can see from the video below, there are some reasons that you might not want to use it for live video conferences, meetings or events — even if it sounds great even untreated.

There are a range of other options, of course — including differently priced options from both Rode and Sennheiser, most of which offer great quality for what you pay. The nature of audio is that it’s also a highly personal preference, with different people preferring sound that either favors the higher end, the low end or that’s more or less balanced, so it’s going to take a lot of comparison shopping and listening to samples to figure out what works for you.

Bottom line

In the end, sticking to quality brands with established reputations in the film and video industries is a great way to make the most of your setup. Mics like those I use above benefit even more from physical sound isolation, including measures that are fairly easy to accomplish, like laying down carpets and towels, as well as more advanced practices, like picking up dedicated sound-isolating materials, including foam pads and mounting them on your walls.

Sound is probably the trickiest part of any videoconferencing or virtual event setup to get right — it’s as much art as it is science, and there are a lot of variables that are hard to control, even with the best equipment, especially in live settings. But going the extra mile can mean the difference between coming across polished and professional, and appearing unprepared, which is bound to make a difference in our increasingly virtual face-to-face world.

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Rode’s new white Wireless GO and accessories extend the flexibility of the most versatile creator mic

Posted by | electronics, Gadgets, hardware, instagram, microphones, Reviews, RØDE, TC, telecommunications, usb, USB-C, wireless, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Sound industry leader Rode has done an amazing job keeping up with the needs of the fast-moving creator industry, supporting YouTubers, podcasters and Instagram and Tik Tok media mavens with a host of new products at impressive price points. The Rode Wireless GO mic system might be the most impressive of these, taking the quality you’d expect from a more expensive wireless mic pack system formerly reserved for broadcast pros and bringing it to the masses at a very compelling price point, with easy setup and use. Now, Rode has introduced a new white version of the Rode Wireless GO, along with new accessories that increase the flexibility of the already very flexible audio device.

I’ve been a fan of the Wireless GO since its launch, and previously used the original black version in a number of different capacities. The white version doesn’t mess with anything that was great about the original — it just gives you a light-colored option that is more suitable for use with light clothes when you’re shooting video. If you’re not already familiar with the Wireless GO, what you get in the box is a transmitter and a receiver (with built-in clips on the back for attachment to clothing), each of which charges via USB-C, along with wind filters, charging cables, a 3.5mm audio cable and a carrying case.

Out of the box, the receiver and transmitter are synced, so all you need to do is power them on to get started. The transmitter comes with a mic built-in, so you can immediately clip it to your collar to get started transmitting sound. The receiver pack can easily slide right into the cold shoe mount on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and the included standard audio cable can connect from it to the camera’s mic input for direct recording.

The Rode Wireless GO’s USB-C port acts as an audio output, too, so you can use either a USB-C headset or a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter to get direct audio monitoring from the pack, too. On the transmitter side, there’s a 3.5mm input so you can connect a lavalier (or any other) mic to up your audio game even further. Speaking of lavs, Rode also introduced a new white version of its own Lavalier GO lapel mic, which is also a fantastic, affordable option that produces very high-quality results. Below, you can hear both the sound direct from the GO itself, and a sample using the Lavalier GO attached to the transmitter.

The versatility of the Wireless GO means that they’re incredibly useful for a wide range of uses. For instance, I have them connected into a USB audio interface on my main work Mac for use during video calls — I just power them up when it comes time to conference, and no one has to deal with muffled or low-quality audio from my end in terms of clarity and ease of understanding. On the road, the Wireless GO is also a great option for podcasting, providing much better sound than what you can get out of wireless earbuds or built-in device mics. And they’re extremely portable, unlike most USB mics that would also provide a good alternative.

Rode has also debuted a couple of accessories alongside this launch that make them great for even more use cases. The Interview GO adapter, for instance, allows you to mount the transmitter on a handheld mic grip, turning it into a stick mic complete with foam filter to reduce wind sounds and plosives. That means one less mic to carry around when you’re doing on-camera interviews with passersby, or participating in a media scrum.

There’s also a new magnetic clip attachment that means you can easily adapt the Rode Wireless GO transmitter pack to clip anywhere on a subject’s clothing, rather than requiring that it clip to a collar or exposed seam. This is huge for placement flexibility with any outfit, and can help with hiding the pack, too, if you’re looking to get a clean video shot.

Rode’s Wireless GO can also perform some neat tricks that could help with other audio applications, including being able to act as a latency-free wireless converter for any set of headphones. You can connect any input to the 3.5mm port on the transmitter, and then connect a set of headphones to the receiver and get that input piped to you directly.

It’s hard to find any mic system that’s truly a jack-of-all-trades without also having to deal with significant trade-offs in one department or another, but the Rode Wireless GO is pretty near perfect for a range of use at a price point that’s hard to beat. The GO itself costs $199, while the Lavalier GO is $79. The MagClip magnet clip for the transmitter is $19, and the Interview GO handheld mic adapter is $29.

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Inspired by insect ears, Soundskrit wants to make microphones magically directional

Posted by | CES, CES 2018, Gadgets, microphones, research, science, Sound, soundskrit, TC | No Comments

 Voice control is everywhere these days, but to hear people effectively from every direction, devices like the Echo must have a whole collection of microphones in them — but they take up space, require extra processing power and restrict industrial design. Soundskrit aims to replace those many mics with a single one that can clearly hear and separate sound from multiple sources and… Read More

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