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An Intro to Audio Interfaces for Podcasting
Want broadcast quality podcasts? Beef up your sound with an audio interface.
By Sam Mallery
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A common misconception among first-time podcasters is thinking that sound quality isn't really that important. If the program material is eventually going to be compressed and streamed on the web, why worry about sound quality? Well, if the master copy of the show that you create starts out at low quality, it will sound even worse when compressed and transmitted through the web. If your audience has to struggle to understand what you're saying, or if the sound is so poor that it's tiring to listen to, people will be less inclined to subscribe to your show, and you will be losing your audience right off the bat.

If you're producing a video podcast, and you're using a videocamera as the primary recording device, you can improve your audio dramatically by using an XLR adaptor. If the camera you're using has a mini-plug microphone input, a Beachtek box can be used. A Beachtek allows you to plug high-quality microphones into your camera, or input an audio signal from a mixing board.

Note:
Not all video cameras have mini-plug microphone inputs. Make sure the camera you're using has a mini-plug microphone input before purchasing a Beachtek.

If you're producing an audio podcast, we strongly recommend using an audio interface for your computer.

Audio Interfaces for Computers
In order to plug high-quality microphones into your computer, you need an audio interface. A good-quality audio interface will get you on the right track to achieving the highest possible sound quality for your production. Before you purchase an audio interface, you must first answer one question:

What kind of port is available on my computer?
Specific audio interfaces are built for specific kinds of computer ports. USB and FireWire are the two most common ports, however, they're not universally found on all computers. Have a good look at your computer to determine which ports are available:

USB
There are many USB interfaces available that can produce excellent-sounding audio, and it's likely that your computer has a USB port available. Here are a couple of popular USB interfaces:

Digidesign's Mbox2
The Mbox2 allows you to plug in two microphones and comes with Pro Tools LE software. The Mbox2 Mini is also available at a lower price, and it features a single microphone input.

Digidesign's Mbox2 and Mbox2 Mini
M-Audio's FastTrack Pro
The FastTrack Pro also features two microphone inputs. It's a solidly-built, affordable audio interface.

FireWire
FireWire interfaces transfer data at much faster rates than USB, and therefore are capable of accomplishing more tasks. Many FireWire interfaces allow you to record with more than two microphones at a time. Here are a couple of popular FireWire interfaces:

Presonus's Firepod
The Firepod is one of the least expensive interfaces around that allows you to plug 8 microphones into your computer. It's a rare example of a low-priced, high-quality piece of equipment.

Presonus's Firepod features 8 mic inputs
Alesis's MultiMix 8 FW
The MultiMix 8 FW is a small mixing board with a FireWire output that allows you to connect 4 microphones to your computer. Alesis also makes the MultiMix 16 FW with 8 microphone inputs.

If your computer doesn't have any FireWire ports, it's likely that you can install one. Desktop computers with an available PCI slot can add a FireWire card. On laptops, FireWire cards can be installed through the PCMCIA card slot. Audio interfaces are also available that plug directly into PCI and PCMCIA slots.

Keep in mind, B&H also sells a variety of complete podcasting kits for both USB and FireWire. They have everything you need to get up and running.

Once you've zeroed in on the perfect audio interface for your show, you're going to need some microphones and other equipment to round out your podcasting set-up. B&H has more information about podcasting and other audio-related topics available in The B&H Pro Audio Update. You can also speak to one of our Pro Audio experts at 1-800-416-5090 if you have any more questions.

Top Pro Audio categories:

Recording | Desktop Audio | Keyboards & Synths | ENG, EFP & Broadcast | Live Sound & PA Accessories


Please email feedback on this article, or suggestions for future topics, to emailfeedback@bhphotovideo.com.