We have stepped up from the Nady DJ-2M headsets with boom mics to a BeyerDynamic DT 290. Its boom mic is directional and noise cancelling, which reduces echo from the guest microphone. We will get a second DT 290 for the guest to wear in field-recording setups.
An XLR-to-mini adapter lets us plug the DT 290 headsets into a Minidisc mic input. A 2-mono to ministereo adapter lets two headset boom mics record on the dual tracks. These must be dynamic mics. Plug-in power mics cannot get the low voltage for their electret condenser mics through the 2-mono to ministereo adapter.
The Sony Minidisc has proved susceptible to AM radio interference. We decided to get the expensive HHB MDP-500 Portadisc recorder (despite lack of LP mode) for the campaign trips to Iowa and New Hampshire. This unit can use balanced XLR microphones. Jay Allison recommended the BeyerDynamic M-58 as the best omnidirectional handheld, so we will get one for field use.
On the digital audio workstation (DAW) front Chris has been very happy with SoundForge editing for his interviews, but we now need to edit in a music bed to create full-length shows and we will be learning ProTools. We have an MBox with ProTools LE, and will probably acquire a Digi 002 Rack "Studio-in-a-box" (plus the DigiPack carrying case that holds the Digi 002 Rack and a laptop computer). The Digi 002 Rack uses high-speed Firewire for multitrack inputs to the laptop instead of USB (like the MBox and our Tascam US-122).
The Tascam US-122 audio/digital interface has worked like a charm. We use it in two configurations. In the studio, the Behringer mixer feeds the US-122 line inputs (1/4" phone plugs). The US-122 line output (stereo RCA to ministereo plug) goes to a Minidisc recorder for a backup, and the USB connection sends digital audio to the laptop.
For telephone interview recording, the Plantronics MX-10 telephone amplifier connects to the Minidisc recorder mic input. Recorder output (ministereo to two phone plugs) goes into the US-122 line inputs.
We are developing a universal media controller that allows a hyperlink to open whatever media player is already installed in the browser. It searches first for QuickTime, then Windows Media, then the Real Player (which continues to open nasty popup ads when the player is closed).
We learned a lot at BloggerCon. An important step is to make a single audio hyperlink that lets users choose their Media Player. Then we can open a special window that avoids the advertising and popup messages that happen when the browser plays the mp3 file by itself.
We succeeded in placing free VoIP Internet calls using speakfreely.org software.
The mixer sends line level signals to the MiniDisc, which sends line level signals to the MobilePre. Headsets plug into the MiniPre for post-laptop (DAW) monitoring. The headphones jack is available on the MiniDisc for post-MiniDisc monitoring. The MiniDisc playback volume level does not affect the recording. The latest info is that a more modern laptop might not crash with the MobilePre drivers.
The studio must fit in a single portable case (under-the-seat maximum size). It should contain everything needed. Power supplies and cabling must be organized and labelled so that Chris himself can set it up and break it down again in just a few minutes. When set up, the studio should occupy just a few square feet of desktop space so Chris can work with it most anywhere.
The Lydon Studio has three major functions - Audio, Computer, and Telephone
Audio - portable field studio with microphones, mixing board, recorder, and two monitor headphones. We will use boom microphones integrated with headsets to stabilize the sound level from guests. Basic field studio supports Chris and one guest. We also now need a permanently wired studio with:
Telephone - interface to record high-quality telephone interviews. Can Mary receive a call while Chris is on another line? Just need two lines with rollover?
A key idea is to make simultaneous recordings on two media (for example MiniDisc and laptop hard drive). This will back us up in the event of a computer crash and will archive the originals.
Microphones Our first choice is a mic on a headset boom. These are widely available in "multimedia headsets" with price and quality ranging from under $10 to nearly $300. Most require "plug-in-power" provided by the microphone input jack on the computer and on a MiniDisc or DAT recorder. This means they will not work plugged directly into the mixing board without a 1.5V power supply (mixers have 48V phantom power for conventional condenser microphones). We have found some headsets with a conventional dynamic mic, and also located inline adapters (the APS-100) that provide the necessary 1.5V+ for the electret condenser mics in multimedia headsets.
Andrea APS-100 power supply for electret mics (2AA batteries) ($17)
Optional Lav mics - Sony electrets - from $30 to $250.
Optional Cardioid voice mics (need mic stands) - Shure SM-58 etc. < $100.
Nady SCM-950 studio condenser mics (need stands) - These will not be in the portable studio, but could be set up semi-permanently with mic stands for higher quality audio - for example if Chris interviews musicians who want to perform.
Mixers We are studying two mixers that can fit nicely in the studio case.
Recorders We have explored a number of portable recording options to different media - MiniDisc, Compact Flash, Multimedia Card, Hard drive. In each case, we need a production path to MP3 for web delivery. We found devices that record directly to MP3, others that record uncompressed digital, then export MP3.
Archos Ondio - records MP3 stereo to Multimedia Card media. USB upload. ($150)
Headphones Mostly we will use the headphones in the headsets with boom mics, but we might have one or two even higher quality headphones to monitor playback of the edited files in the studio. (Not in the portable studio bag)
Optional Sony Digital - ($200/$120)
We have an IBM Thinkpad 1151-370 running Windows 2000. We may rebuild it as Windows Me system so we can install Pro Tools Free. We want to record digital audio straight into the laptop.
Y-adapter two RCA phono males to 1/8"(3.5mm) stereo (mixer to recorder)
Adapters 1/4" phone to RCA phono female
Y-adapters for 1/8"(3.5mm) headphones (1 male to 2 or 3 females)
Adapters for 1/4" stereophone male to two 1/8"(3.5mm) female headphones jacks
1/8" mini-stereo male to male cable (recorder line/headphones out to iMic)
6" AC Extension cords (#61-2755)
Comprehensive (B&H Photo Video)
1/8" female to XLR male (microphone plugs to mixer inputs)
10' XLR female to XLR male (microphones to mixer inputs)
Telephony We need to record telephone interviews. We will investigate several devices to see if we can get a quality signal over the phone (with minimum hum, etc.) Professionals use ISDN lines to get good audio quality and raise the sound level of the remote party. Can we find a low-cost device with comparable capabilities? The best telephone interfaces use dual "hybrids" to separate the incoming and outgoing audio into two separate signals. And the best of the best use digital (not analog) hybrids (currently several hundred dollars).
Has cable with microphone and headphones plugs for PC. Mic requires plug-in power or APS-100 power. Works fine with MiniDisc recorders. Works with RJ-10 headset jack only (which is good for both digital and analog phones).
Allows Chris to work with both hands during phone interviews and ordinary phone calls.
Works with RJ-11 jack only. This and the $14.95 version that works with the RJ-10 headset jack are very prone to hum.
Requires separate line from phone (used to dial call).
Things we learned the hard way.
Problem: Multimedia headset microphones require plug-in power. Most sound cards provide it. MiniDisc recorders provide it. Mixers do not.
Solution: Andrea Technology APS-100 inline power supply (2 AA batteries).
Problem: Laptops have (monophonic) mic in only. We need stereo.
Solution: Griffin Technology iMic USB adapter provides line in and line out.
Problem: Tascam Pocketstudio 5 has one line-level and one mic-level input.
Solution: Always use a mixer and feed stereo line-level outputs to Tascam.
Problem: Mini 1/8" phone connectors are unreliable (noisy at times) for the microphones.
Solution: When we arrive at the final design, we should rewire them with XLR connectors.
Problem: Sound will not play through the laptop during recording. We want to monitor the sound post the last recording stage. Sound plays through while recording on the 2GHz desktop/tower (our PC audio/video editor).
Solution: The tower has an Osprey 200 sound card. We need a better USB audio interface, and ordered the Creative Blaster and M-Audio MobilePre units today (7/17).
Problem: Setting manual recording in MiniDisc is not easy. (Automatic gain turns up the background noise in periods of silence.)
Solution: Print out relevant steps from online Sony manuals. Add them to the case.
Stop the recorder.
Press Pause and hold while pushing Record for at least two seconds
ManualREC appears. You can now adjust gain manually with << and >> keys.
Adjust to mid-range. This setting good for only this recording.
Problem: Settings for Plantronics are hard, and different for skyBuilders Merlin phone and the Berkman phone?
Solution: Best setting for compatibility switch is 2 for Merlin. Press down left-hand switch to record (right-hand switch stays up).
Problem: No sound going into MiniDisc from Plantronics MX10, though we hear it clearly in the headphones.
Solution: The MinDIN cable connector on MX10 was a little loose. Pushed it in hard and sound was restored.