Free and low cost equipment to record audio podcasts for your blog

by Heather Cowper on February 27, 2011

In this second article about making travel podcasts I’ll explain the equipment you may need for recording your audio podcast and the free software you’ll need to edit it. You can read Article 1 in this series – Why you need podcasts for your blog here. There are a few different ways that you can record audio, although I’m using some more than others. I’ve focussed on what you will need to get you started that’s either free or low cost, although there is plenty of other equipment such as high quality microphones and mixers that will imrove your audio quality once you’re ready to invest more in your podcasting. This article first appeared on my travel blog at Heatheronhertravels.com

The ways that I started recording podcasts with minimum outlay were;

1. Recording into a portable audio recorder – ideal if you’re recording while you travel.
2. Recording direct onto your laptop – ideal when you’re at home or in a hotel.
3. Recording an interview using Skype – for recording telephone calls.

I mostly use a portable audio recorder and sometimes record onto my laptop, so I’ll be able to give you most advice about these.

1. Recording with a Portable Audio Recorder

H2 Zoom Handy audio recorder

H2 Zoom Handy audio recorder

I record using a portable H2 Zoom handy recorder – it costs around £155. I can’t pretend I did any research on this, instead I asked Chris Christensen from the Amateur Traveler podcast what he recommended and this was it. I’ve used it a lot and been really pleased with it.

I’ve also heard the Edirol R09 Digital audio recorder recommended by a number of professional podcasters.

Things I like about the H2 Zoom handy recorder;

  • It’s relatively small an easy to fit in a pocket
  • It records onto a normal memory card like the one I use in my camera, so I can switch them around
  • It runs off normal AA batteries that you can buy anywhere, or alternatively you can plug it into the mains.
  • It gives a pretty good sound quality

Things I don’t like so much about the H2 Zoom handy recorder;

  • Sometimes, when I’m trying to decord discreetly, for instance in a restaurant, I wish it was even smaller.
  • The batteries seem to run out pretty quickly, especially when I forget to turn it off in between recording. Those days, I wish it had a rechargeable battery pack.

Tips for using the H2 Zoom handy recorder or a similar device;

  • Always use the sponge wind sleeve when recording for better sound quality and to avoid ‘popping’ noises.
  • Always record on high gain (you’ll find the switch on the side) – it’s easier to edit down the volume later than throw away a recording because you can’t hear it properly.
  • Always do a short test recording before you start and play it back to check it worked. For instance, when the memory card is full you may think you’re recording but end up with nothing.
  • Carry some small earphones to play back recordings (I haven’t discovered a way to do play back without earphones).
  • When recording in settings with high background noise e.g. restaurants, don’t be shy, hold the recorder close to your mouth, or you’ll be drowned out.
  • To record in settings with high background noise e.g. restaurants more discreetly, you could experiment with a small plug-in microphone that you can hold to your mouth while leaving the recorder on your lap.

Once you’ve completed your recording, you can easily transfer the audio files to your computer from the memory card in the same way as you would with photos. I tend to do a quick edit at this stage and delete any useless clips as the audio files can start to eat into your computer memory.

2. Recording onto your computer through a microphone

Cute Dog with headphoneThis is fine if you’re at home or in a hotel room but there are some things to consider;

  • Think about the background noise when you record and choose a room that isn’t too echoey.
  • You’ll need a computer that’s not too old, or it probably won’t have a high enough specification to record good quality audio or store it easily.
  • If you don’t have much memory on your computer, you may want to buy a portable hard drive for extra storage space.

Next you’ll need to consider what microphone to use, if you want your recording to sound professional. Personally, I’d start with something moderately priced and invest in something better once you’ve done a few podcasts and think you’re going to continue. You can consider the following options;

  • No additional microphone – just use the built in microphone on your laptop. I’ve used this option in the past and it will get you by, but the audio can sound hollow and echoey.
  • Small clip-on microphone – this is a cheap option (mine cost around £10 or £15) and it will produce slightly better quality audio than just your built in laptop microphone, but it may also pick up the sound of your computer motor or fan.
  • Headset microphone – you may have one of these already is you use Skype for internet phone calls, and the advantage of this kind of microphone is that it will be positioned close to your mouth, even if you move around.
  • Inexpensive desktop USB microphone – the advantage of a USB microphone is that it won’t pick up the noise from your computer fan price aprox £10-20
  • Mid-price USB microphone – a mid price microphone that I’ve heard recommended by Gideon Shalwick is the Blue Microphones Snowball microphone price aprox £80
  • High End microphone – for a higher price broadcast quality microphone you could try the Rode Podcast microphone, price aprox £135

At the time of writing I haven’t personally invested in any of the more expensive microphones, so I can’t recommend any from personal experience. You should be aware that professional podcasters debate over whether it’s better to use a condenser microphone or a dynamic microphone, depending on whether you want to pick up or exclude surrounding noise from your recording. Once you have your computer and microphone ready, you’ll need to make your recording using a programme called Audacity – I’ll give you more details in a moment.

3. Recording onto your computer using Skype

Although I started recording with the first two methods, I’ve started also recording interviews over Skype. This will enable you to record interviews with people on the other side of the world., as long as you both have a reasonable internet connection.

If you don’t already have Skype on your computer then go to the Skype website and download it to your computer. The person you’re interviewing will also need to have Skype downloaded on their computer. Once you’ve both got Skype installed, you can make contact with your interviewee by searching for them as a contact or just ask them for their Skpe user name. You’ll also need;

  • A headset microphone to plug into your computer
  • A good internet connection
  • A quiet place where you can record your interview uninterupted

In order to record your Skype conversation you’ll need some additional Pamela Software. You can download this directly via Skype by going to Tools/ Extras/ Get Extras/Get Pamela MP3 Recording software. You can use the free version of Pamela to record continuously for around 20 mins, so if you want to make longer interviews than this without breaks, you will need to upgrade to the paid version. Click on the Pamela icon and the software should start downloading automatically.

When you’re ready to record, you call the other person, then click on the Pamela icon at the bottom right of your screen which will bring up the recording task bar. Once you’ve started and stopped the recording, an MP3 file will be created that you can save to your computer. Don’t forget to make sure you have the other person’s permission to record the call.

Chris Christensen has recorded a couple of videos on Youtube on how he creates the Amateur Traveler podcast shows, recorded using Skype, although he uses CallRecorder software to record his podcasts. I’ll be writing further articles on the practicalities of recording, constructing and editing your podcast, but if you want to jump right in, these videos will give you a headstart.

Part 1 – Making of the Amateur Traveler
Part 2 – Making of the Amateur Traveler

4. Audacity Free Audio Editing software

To record direct onto your computer or to edit MP3 files you’ve already recorded, you’ll need to download some recording software onto your computer. The most widely used programme for this is Audacity, which is both FREE and has an excellent reputation. Audacity is the software you’ll use for editing your audio files, and there are versions available for both Windows, MAC and Linux. If you are using a Mac you also have the option of using Garageband audio editing software, which comes with your Mac. Click on the download link on the home page and you will normally be taken to a second page with the appropriate links for your type of computer e.g. PC or MAC. There are two things you need to download here;

The Audacity software itself

I’m on windows and the steps I took to download are as follows, although these might be slightly different for MAC or if the Audacity web page changes over time

  • Click the installer link for the version you would like to download (currently the recommended version currently Audacity 1.2.6 installer) and the download should start automatically.
  • Once this download is complete, then also click on the link for the LAME MP3 encoder which will allow Audacity to export MP3 audio files. Follow the instructions and click on the subsequent links that are appropriate for your type of computer finaly download the version that is for windows.
  • When you’ve completed both downloads, go to where you saved the Audacity Software on your computer, click to open and complete the installation.

In another post I’ll take you through the basics of editing in Audacity, but if you’re feeling brave just open Audacity and start experimenting using the instructions in the Help to get you going.

Photo credit: Zoomar

This article is published at My Blogging Journey, but originally appeared on my Travel Blog at Heather on her travels where you can find travel tales, videos and podcasts from Europe and around the World.

You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at our travel blog at Heather on her travels .

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