Audio Gear for Video Casting Meatbags

Since I'm doing a lot of video casting lately, I've invested in some decent gear. It is, after all, a write off.

Software

This article is primarily about the hardware I use, but you might as well know about the software too.

For editing screencasts, I started out recording using QuickTime (the one that comes with your Mac). I had a copy of Adobe Premiere from previous employment, and so tried that to edit the videos. That shit is complicated. You can figure it out, but it's harder to do simpler things than it should be. I never aspired to having "proficiency in Adobe Premiere" on any resume, so I looked for alternatives.

That lead me to Screenflow, which I can't recommend enough. It strikes a really good balance between control (aka complexity) and sensible defaults (aka ease of use). For example, exporting a video in Screenflow is super easy for sending right to Youtube or Vimeo. If you export an edited video to disk, you get a lot of options, but not so many that you feel like you need to be an expert to wade through them.

Editing sound and video is intuitive. Adding affects, adjusting volume, hiding the mouse, showing keys hit, adding annotations and similar popular uses cases are all fairly easy to add.

I haven't used it, but I'd also check out Camtasia if you're looking for alternatives.

Anyway, onward to audio stuff!

First Feeble Audio Steps

About a year ago, I made one or two videos using the ubiquitous white earbuds of Apple fame. As you might suspect, the quality was horrendous.

Cost: 1.5 Apple Pricing Units. Apple seems to have a baseline of $19.99 for even the cheapest item, so I've started calling $20 an "Apple Pricing Unit". It's a thing. I swear.

Next Attempt

Searching for better quality, I moved onto using the popular Blue Yeti (eventually also adding a pop filter). The quality is much improved, but varied a lot depending on how close I was to the microphone. Since it comes with a desk stand, this created a few issues:

  • To get close enough, I had to lean forward uncomfortably while speaking into it, which was super awkward when also typing/mousing around while recording. Picture Quasimodo using a computer for the first time.
  • As the Yeti sat on my desk, ALL desk vibrations were recorded as terrible, bassy thuds. This includes both the times I accidentally grazed the desk with my fingers, and any keyboard typing. Worse, it could even be heard after putting the Yeti on thick stacks of paper to help absorb vibrations.
  • This is a condenser mic, and therefore picks up just about all stray noises. If you ever wondered how attractive your breathing and wet, sloppy mouthing noises were, grab yourself a condenser mic. Humans are seriously a pile of disgusting wet meat.

please get this reference

The fix for most of the vibration issues would be a desk-mount (or floor stand) and shockmount. However, the Yeti is really heavy, making it a poor choice to put on most stands, which have a hard enough time keeping normal microphones in position without drooping.

You can see the dismal reviews for Blue's Radius shockmount on Amazon, although that may mostly be fixed with the Radius II mount.

Cost: $130

Research

Researching better audio equipment should inform you of the trade-offs to decide between, rather than as a way to find "the one true mic". You can buy a better microphone, but in reality, you might just be buying a "different" microphone.

Although with a reasonable price increase, you likely are getting both different and better.

One of the larger trade-offs to make between microphone types is in deciding between condenser and dynamic microphones.

Condenser microphones, like the Yeti, pick up a LOT of background noise. This is actually "good", in that they have a good range/frequency of audio they can record. From what I read, this is great for things like music. In a studio. With lots of sound proofing.

This is not as good when you have a dog slopping from a water bowl (gross mouthing noises from across the room!!), or a community pool outside your window (don't these people have f&%^#@!$ jobs!?).

Dynamic microphones do a great job at filtering out extraneous sounds. In fact, they do such a good job, that you may find yourself needing an amp so people can actually hear you.

In any case, dynamic microphones are great for podcasting / screencasting. These need to pick up voice, but not necessarily require the frequency range desired for instruments and singing.

Plenty of people recommend dynamics for singing. This depends on the microphone brand, quality and your needs. Everything is a trade off between underlying technology and the quality/focus of a specific product.

What I needed was something to have great quality for voice, but not pick up every little bit of background noise.

Where I live, at any given hour, there's usually a gaggle of attractive, pool-side Abercrombie models just galavanting around like they don't have a care in the world.

Actually from an Abercrombie magazine. I found it by googling 'abercrombie nude on horse', remembering a picture I saw when I was a lot younger.

Reducing background noise is really important to me.

Current Setup

I landed on the Heil PR40. This is based on personal recommendations and reviews, which emphasized the greatness of this mic for podcasts and voiceover - just what I do!

Of course, selecting the microphone is just to start. Then you realize you may need a lot more supporting equipment. Here's everything I got:

  • Heil PR40 ~ $330
  • Heil Overhead Broadcast Boom - Because I refuse to awkwardly sit forward and try to type while recording. ~ $130
  • Heil shockmount because vibrations are a thing and they suck on any microphone. ~ $105
  • Shure X2U Adapter - Most dynamics aren't USB, so this converts your XLR to a USB signal while providing extra "Phantom +48v" power, which I believe is for condenser mics instead of dynamics. This comes with a USB cable but not an XLR cable. It's nice to have to test various mics with, in case you own or test one that doesn't support USB. ~ $99
  • Cloudlifter CL-1 - I picked this up to help boost sound output, as dynamic mics can come through a bit soft. I haven't tested the mic with vs without the Cloudlifter yet. ~ $150
  • Mogami Studio Microphone Cable - I'm wary of cable prices, but went with good/expensive cables here since I was in the mindset of "investment for my business". Probably a bit of self-justification, but so far so good on quality! I guess. I don't really know. ~ $40 - $55
  • Mogami Studio Microphone Cable - Listed here a second time because you need at least two XLR cables, one between the microphone and Cloudlifter, and another between the Cloudlifter to the Shure XLR to USB converter. Don't forget that like I did :D ~ $40 - $55

 

Here you can see just about everything. I had the Cloudlifter just hanging off the back until I got a longer cord. The Shure X2U is the black gizmo on the bottom right, under the monitor.

heil pr40 and friends

The Shure X2U is really nice. It lets you adjust volume and gain. To help you know what levels are good, it has a green light that blinks when sound is too low, is steady when it's just right, and turns orangey/yellowy when you're too loud.

What's fun is to learn that "S" sounds are something like 4 times as loud as any other sound we make. You can see that because anytime you make an S sound, the light on the X2U will turn orange. There are techniques to combat all this madness.

After rounding a bit, and because I ended up with 3 XLR cables (guessed wrong on the lengths I'd want), I spent ~ $940 on all of this. You can spend less or much much more depending on your heart's desire.

I love this microphone though. Having it over my head is very nice - it's out of the way. I can move it with me, so I can sit comfortably while casting. The shockmount and pop filter really helps with sound quality and in reducing vibration-based noise.

I still need to use my trackpad instead of my mouse when recording, as the scraping noise of my mouse comes through (I don't use a mouse pad, because I'm a rebel). Keyboard noises comes through as well, however just the tapping of the keys rather than the bassy vibrations caused by physically hitting the keyboard.

So that's it! One large blog post to brag about how I am writing off $940 dollars as a business expense this year.

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