Mixers and sound cards for podcasting

At the other end of our microphone cables is the mixer. This is in many ways the centre of the set up. It takes the audio signal from the microphones and any other sources, combines them and sends them on their way to their destination, in our case the laptop which records and sends the audio to the Internet. Our mixer is a Soundcraft M12, which doesn’t seem to be widely available any more. The current equivalent appears to be the Soundcraft EPM12. It doesn’t have all the features of the M12 (it only has two stereo channels and doesn’t have direct outputs for each microphone) but it’s pretty close. We’ve never used all twelve microphone channels on the M12, so we could have been quite happy with a smaller mixer from the same range like the Soundcraft EPM8.

We have a Behringer Composer Pro-Xl Mdx2600 connected to the insert connectors of the M12. (Insert connectors allow audio to be taken off to some piece of equipment, processed or treated in some way and then returned through the same physical socket.) We use this to automatically reduce the volume of any overly loud noises and hopefully prevent any distorted audio being broadcast or recorded.

The M12 has stereo monitor output jacks. These can be connected to studio monitor speakers or to a secondary recording device, but we connected them to a Behringer AMP800 4-way headphone amplifier which allows all the presenters to listen to the same audio at the same time.  The AMP800 used to be fairly cheap and readily available but does the job. It has the advantage of being small enough that we can plonk it in the middle of the floor and it doesn’t get in the way.

I use Sennheiser HD280pro headphones during broadcasts. They are very good at cutting out background noise and comfortable to wear even for a long time. They have a lovely long spiral cord too which is helpful for moving around during a recording, like when I have to throw a cat off the mixer!

The output of the mixer is connected to the input of an Alesis IO 2 USB Audio Interface which is in turn connected to a laptop. We use the digital output from the M12 as it stops us having to worry about electrical interference from all the other cables around. If the Alesis is too expensive at the moment, there are cheaper external USB sound cards which should serve most purposes. It’s better to use an external sound card rather than rely on the laptop’s own on-board sound chip as these tend to be low quality and have small buffers which can cause skips in the audio.

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