RØDE

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 create the best at-home videoconferencing setup, for every budget

Posted by | Amazon, articles, Bluetooth, driver, Gadgets, hardware, HDMI, Laptop, Logitech, microphone, Microsoft, microsoft windows, operating system, operating systems, Philips, RØDE, smartphones, Sony, TC, technology, telecommunications, Teleconferencing, usb, video conferencing, webcam, wi-fi, wireless earbuds | No Comments

Your life probably involves a lot more videoconferencing now than it did a few weeks ago – even if it already did involve a lot. That’s not likely going to change anytime soon, so why not make the most of it? The average MacBook webcam can technically get the job done, but it’s far from impressive. There are a number of ways to up your game, however – by spending either just a little or a whole lot. Whether you’re just looking to improve your daily virtual stand-up, gearing up for presenting at a virtual conference, or planning a new video podcast, here’s some advice about what to do to make the most of what you’ve got, or what to get if you really want to maximize your video and audio quality.

Level 0

Turn on a light and put it in the right place

One of the easiest things you can do to improve the look of your video is to simply turn on any light you have handy and position it behind the camera shining on your face. That might mean moving a lamp, or moving your computer if all your available lights are in a fixed position, but it can make a dramatic difference. Check out these examples below, screen grabbed from my Microsoft Surface Book 2 (which actually has a pretty good built-in video camera, as far as built-in video cameras go).

The image above is without any light beyond the room’s ceiling lights on, and the image below is turning on a lamp and positioning it directed on my face from above and behind the Surface Book. It’s enough of a change to make it look less like I got caught by surprise with my video on, and more like I actually am attending a meeting I’m supposed to take part in.

Be aware of what’s behind you

It’s definitely too much to ask to set dress your surroundings for every video call you jump on, but it is worth taking a second to spot check what’s visible in the frame. Ideally, you can find a spot where the background is fairly minimal, with some organized decor visible. Close doors that are in frame, and try not to film in front of an uncovered window. And if you’re living in a pandemic-induced mess of clutter, just shovel the clutter until it’s out of frame.

Know your system sound settings

Get to know where the input volume settings are for your device and operating system. It’s not usually much of an issue, because most apps and systems set pretty sensible defaults, but if you’re also doing something unusual like sitting further away from your laptop to try to fit a second person in frame, then you might want to turn up the input audio slider to make sure anyone listening can actually hear what you have to say.

It’s probably controllable directly in whatever app you’re using, but on Macs, also try going to System Preferences > Sound > Input to check if the level is directly controllable for the device you’re using, and if tweaking that produces the result you’re looking for.

Level 1

Get an external webcam

The built-in webcam on most notebooks and all-in-ones isn’t going to be great, and you can almost always improve things by buying a dedicated webcam instead. Right now, it might be hard to find them in stock, since a lot of people have the same need for a boost in videoconferencing quality all at the same time. But if you can get your hands on even a budget upgrade option like the Logitech C922 Pro Stream 1080p webcam I used for the clip below, it should help with sharpness, low light performance, color and more.

Get a basic USB mic

Dedicated external mics are another way to quickly give your setup a big boost for relatively low cost. In the clip above, I used the popular Samson Meteor USB mic, which has built-in legs and dedicated volume/mute controls. This mic includes everything you need, and should work instantly when you plug it in via USB, and it produces great sound that’s ideal for vocals.

Get some headphones

Headphones of any kind will make your video calls and conferences better, since it minimizes the chance of echo from your mic picking up the audio from your own speakers. Big over ears models are good for sound quality, while earbuds make for less obvious headwear in your actual video image.

Level 2

Use a dedicated camera and an HDMI-to-USB interface

If you already have a standalone camera, including just about any consumer pocket camera with HDMI out capabilities, then it’s worth looking into picking up an HDMI-to-USB video capture interface in order to convert it into a much higher quality webcam. In the clip below I’m using the Sony RX100 VII, which is definitely at the high end of the consumer pocket camera market, but there are a range of options that should give you nearly the same level of quality, including the older RX100 models from Sony .

When looking for an HDMI interface, make sure that they advertise that it works with videoconferencing apps like Zoom, Hangouts and Skype on Mac and Windows without any software required: This means that they likely have UVC capabilities, which means those operating systems will recognize them as webcams without any driver downloads or special apps required out of the box. These are also in higher demand due to COVID-19, so the Elgato Cam Link 4K I used here probably isn’t in ready stock anywhere. Instead, look to alternatives like the IOGear Video Capture Adapter or the Magewell USB 3.0 Capture device, or potentially consider upgrading to a dedicated live broadcast deck like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini I’ll talk more about below.

Get a wired lav mic

A simple wired lavalier (lav) microphone is a great way to upgrade your audio game, and it doesn’t even need to cost that much. You can get a wired lav that performs decently well for as little as $20 on Amazon, and you can use a USB version for connecting directly to your computer even if you don’t have a 3.5mm input port. Rode’s Lavalier GO is a great mid-range option that also works well with the Wireless GO transmitter and receiver kit I mention in the next section. The main limitation of this is that depending on cord length, you could be pretty limited in terms of your range of motion while using one.

Get multiple lights and position them effectively

Lighting is a rabbit hole that ends up going very deep, but getting a couple of lights that you can move to where you need them most is a good, inexpensive way to get started. Amazon offers a wide range of lighting kits that fit the bill, or you can even do pretty well with just a couple of Philips Hue lights in gooseneck lamps positioned correctly and adjusted to the right temperature and brightness.

Level 3

Use an interchangeable lens camera and a fast lens

The next step up from a decent compact camera is one that features interchangeable lenses. This allows you to add a nice, fast prime lens with a high maximum aperture (aka a low ‘f’ number’) to get that defocused background look. This provides natural-looking separation of you, the subject, from whatever is behind you, and provides a cinematic feel that will wow colleagues in your monthly all-hands.

Get a wireless lav mic

A lav mic is great, but a wireless lav mic is even better. It means you don’t need to worry about hitting the end of your cable, or getting it tangled in other cables in your workspace, and it can provide more flexibility in terms of what audio interfaces you use to actually get your sound into the computer, too. A great option here is the RODE Wireless GO, which can work on its own or in tandem with a mic like the RODE Lavalier GO for great, flexible sound.

Use in-ear monitors

You still want to be using headphones at this stage, but the best kind to use really are in-ear monitors that do their best to disappear out of sight. You can get some dedicated broadcast-style monitors like those Shure makes, or you can spring for a really good pair of Bluetooth headphones with low latency and the latest version of Bluetooth. Apple’s AirPods Pro is a great option, as are the Bang & Olfusen E8 fully wireless earbuds, which I’ve used extensively without any noticeable lag.

Use 3-point lighting

At this stage, it’s really time to just go ahead and get serious about lighting. The best balance in terms of optimizing specifically for streaming, videoconferencing and anything else your’e doing from your desk, basically, is to pick up at least two of Elgato’s Key Lights or Key Light Airs.

These are LED panel lights with built-in diffusers that don’t have a steep learning curve, and that come with very sturdy articulating tube mounts with desk clamps, and that connect to Wi-Fi for control via smartphones or desktop applications. You can adjust their temperature, meaning you can make them either more ‘blue’ or more ‘orange’ depending on your needs, as well as tweak their brightness.

Using three of these, you can set up a standard 3-point lighting setup which are ideal for interviews or people speaking directly into a camera – aka just about every virtual conference/meeting/event/webinar use you can think of.

Level 4

Get an HDMI broadcast switcher deck

HDMI-USB capture devices do a fine job turning most cameras into webcams, but if you really want to give yourself a range of options, you can upgrade to a broadcast switching interface like the Blackmagic ATEM Mini. Released last year, the ATEM Mini packs in a lot of features that previously were basically only available to video pros, and provides them in an easy-to-use form factor with a price that’s actually astounding given how much this thing can really do.

On its own paired with a good camera, the ATEM Mini can add a lot to your video capabilities, including allowing you to tee up still graphics, and switch to computer input to show videos, work live in graphics apps, demonstrate code or run a presentation. You can set up picture-in-picture views, put up lower thirds and even fade-to-black using a hardware button dedicated to that purpose.

But if you really want to make the most of the ATEM Mini, you can add a second or even a third and fourth camera to the mix. For most uses, this is probably way too much camera – there are only so many angles one can get of a single person talking, in the end. But if you get creative with camera placement and subjects, it’s a fun and interesting way to break up a stream, especially if you’re doing something longer like giving a speech or extended presentation. The newer ATEM Mini Pro is just starting to ship, and offers built-in recording and streaming as well.

Use a broadcast-quality shotgun mic

The ATEM Mini has two dedicated audio inputs that really give you a lot of flexibility on that front, too. Attaching one to the output on an iPod touch, for instance, could let you use that device as a handy soundboard for cueing up intro and title music, plus sound effects. And this also means you can route sound from a high-quality mic, provided you have the right interface.

For top level streaming quality, with minimal sacrifices required in terms of video, I recommend going to a good, broadcast-quality shotgun mic. The Rode VideoMic NTG is a good entry-level option that has flexibility when it comes to also being mountable on-camera, but something like the Rode NTG3m mounted to a boom arm and placed out of frame with the mic end angled down towards your mouth, is going to provide the best possible results.

Add accent lighting

You’ve got your 3-point lighting – but as I said, lighting is a nearly endless rabbit hole. Accent lighting can really help push the professionalism of your video even further, and it’s also pretty easy and to set up using readily available equipment. Philips Hue is probably my favorite way to add a little more vitality to any scene, and if you’re already a Hue user you can make do with just about any of their color bulbs. Recent releases from Philips like the Hue Play Smart LED Light Bars are essentially tailor made for this use, and you can daisy chain up to three on one power adapter to create awesome accent wall lighting effects.

All of this is, of course, not at all necessary for basic video conferencing, virtual hangouts and meetings. But if you think that remote video is going to be a bigger part of our lives going forward, even as we return to some kind of normalcy in the wake of COVID-19, then it’s worth considering what elements of your system to upgrade based on your budget and needs, and hopefully this article provides some guidance.

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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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