Panorama

panpotsIf you use a general-purpose audio mixer, you’ve seen those knobs labelled “PAN”. What are they for? Where should they be set?

PAN is short for PANORAMA, which loosely means “the entire space from left to right”. Mixers work in stereo (2 separate channels) that correspond to our 2 separate ears. The PAN control lets you position the sound of each mic at a specific place between left and right.

When mixing a live band, you might want one instrument’s sound to be a little left of center, and another one to be all the way to the right.

In broadcasting, we generally want the microphones to be centered (equal in both channels), so the PAN controls seldom get moved from that position.

The one major exception to that is when recording a telephone interview for use in a later broadcast.  By panning your mic all the way to the left, and panning the caller all the way to the right, your 2-channel recording will have each voice isolated on its own track. This makes it very easy to edit the sound file, especially those times when both of you were speaking at the same time.

So, pan hard left and hard right when recording an interview. But for all other purposes, set the pan controls to the center.

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Breath Control

silouette with puff

Before you speak, you inhale a fresh load of air. That air is used to make the sound of your voice. Most of the time, the air trickles out gently, but a few sounds (like “P” or “B” or “T“) cause large puffs of air to go forth all at once.

When these puffs reach a nearby microphone, the excess air creates a “POP” sound as the sensitive mic element gets overloaded.

To combat this, a foam windscreen or a mesh pop filter can be used. The foam windscreen is especially effective for handheld mics used outdoors. It’s always in position, and it will reduce noise from any breeze that may come by.

Foam windscreens are also popular in the studio, but they tend to slightly reduce the highest frequencies. So, a mesh pop filter is preferred.

popfilterPop filters are available for side-address or end-address mics. The side-address filters usually have their own gooseneck that mounts separately to the mic stand. The filter is then positioned in front of the mic. If the mic is moved, the filter has to be re-positioned.

Pop filters for end-address mics, like the popular RE20, often mount directly to the mic or shock mount. When the mic is moved, the filter travels with it and remains in position.

Foam windscreens and nylon pop filters should be cleaned or replaced periodically, especially around flu season. You never know what the user before you may have left behind.

bsw_repop smallA metal screen pop filter is easy to clean with a disinfectant cloth wipe, so it doesn’t need to be replaced. Our favorite metal screen pop filter is the REPOP family (available in colors to match the RE20, RE27ND, and RE320 mics, as well as PR40 and PROCASTER). REPOP is our favorite because it’s our own design. We like it a lot.

Peter Piper prefers peanut butter…”

No more pops. Nice…

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What Do I Need To Make This Happen?

squarepeg roundholeSometimes, you have a situation that you just don’t know how to solve.

If that problem involves radio broadcasting, podcasting, live sound, recording, or most anything else related to pro audio, BSW has probably seen it before.

Our salespeople have been in the trenches for decades, as engineers, musicians, on-air talent, sound mixers… If it involves audio, we’ve “been there, done that”.

The pro audio landscape is constantly changing. New technologies come in, as older ones fade away. We stay on top of the current trends and the products that make them go.

Whatever you need to do… someone else has probably had to do the same thing, and made a device to get it done better. BSW carries products from over 300 manufacturers, so the chances are good that we know about it, and likely even have it in stock, ready to ship.

So, when you get stuck (how do I get this audio delivered all the way over there?), give us a call. We probably have just the thing to solve the problem.

Call us at 800-426-8434. Or email us at sales@bswusa.com. We’ll help you figure it out.

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Watch Where You Point That Thing

crossedmicsPortable digital recorders are essential for recording interviews away from the studio. They give excellent recording quality, and they store the audio on SD or CF flash memory cards for easy expansion. The files can usually be transferred to a PC over a USB connection for editing. There’s a lot to like.

Most of these recorders are made with the intention of recording a live music group in stereo. To accomplish that, many models have crossed microphones mounted to the top of the unit. This works great to gather a field of sounds that is widely spread out in front of the recorder.

The crossed mics are not pointed straight ahead… they are directed 45 degrees or more away from center. So, if the body of the machine is pointed in the direction of your interview subject, neither mic is aimed at them. The interview you record will contain about 70% ambient sound (trees, birds, traffic) and only about 30% of the person you went there to interview.

That’s not what broadcasters usually want. We are interested in hearing mostly the person being interviewed, along with only a little bit of the surroundings.

To achieve this, we typically connect an external handheld microphone on a short cable to the portable recorder. We will start the recorder, then toss it in our pocket with the cable leading out to the mic in our hand. The reporter then has complete control of where the mic is pointed, and what it hears.

For this reason, broadcasters tend to prefer recorders that don’t have mics that protrude from the case (the internal mics are still available if needed, and they don’t take up the same amount of space as crossed mics). Some examples of recorders with flush-mounted internal mics are Marantz PMD620 and PMD661,  and Sony PCMM10.

xyanglemicIf you find yourself in a situation where you must use the recorder’s crossed mics, hold the recorder so one of the mics is actually directed toward your subject (this means that the other mic will be pointed in a completely useless direction). When you edit the recording, use the audio from the selected mic, and discard the audio from the other mic.

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The Voice Inside Your Head

voice in headWhen you get a new microphone, you may be tempted to reach for the equalizer controls on your mixer, so you can dial in the sound until your voice sounds “just right” in your headphones.

Don’t fall into this trap!

Remember the first time you heard a recording of your voice? You probably said “that doesn’t sound like me!” Well, of course it sounded like you… you were finally hearing your voice the same way that everyone has been hearing you. Why did it sound so different?

The voice that everyone else hears is comprised of several elements, the sound coming from your mouth, mixed with sounds coming from your nose, as well as vibrations from your face and chest. But you are also hearing the sounds from the inside. The chest and nasal resonance are louder in proportion to the actual voice, and they are directly vibrating your eardrums. Then the outside sound hits your ears, and it all gets mixed together. You are hearing a very different “mix” of all the components than what is being sent to the “outside world.”

If you adjust your mic’s sound to suit your own ears, your decisions will be affected by your own internal sound mix. The better way to approach the situation is to record yourself talking, then make adjustments while listening to playback of that recording. Adjust only one element at a time. Say something like “I am speaking to my new microphone with the equalization set to flat… now I am speaking with an adjustment of 5dB boost at 200 Hz… now I am speaking with an adjustment of 10 dB boost at 200 Hz.”

You will easily determine which setting works for that particular adjustment. Write it down, and move on to the next part that you want to tweak.

This method takes a bit longer, but the result is that you will accurately know how your voice will sound to the rest of the world when they hear your work.

Continue to listen to yourself in headphones as you work. It’s the most effective way to hear if you have drifted off-mic, or if something has gone wrong with the recording. Just don’t use the “live” monitoring to judge critical adjustments to the character of the sound.

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Interviewing The Expert

radio interview picWhen a guest comes to your studio to be interviewed, you have full control of the sound quality: He will be in your acoustically-treated room, speaking into a microphone of comparable quality as your host. He will be listening through headphones fed from your mixing console. Only the callers on the telephone are of lower sound quality.

The show will sound great.

But for those times when the guest can’t come to you, his sound may be compromised. You don’t want to do a whole program with your important guest limited to telephone quality sound (or even worse… hands-free speakerphone). Here are some ideas to keep the guest sounding as good as his information (we hope his information is good… well, we’ll make him sound great anyway).

Many “experts” that have special knowledge in a particular field, may also produce a podcast of their own. If so, ask him to connect to your studio through his podcasting equipment. Depending on the gear he has available, the sound improvement can be modest or dramatic. At the least, you should notice a reduction of the ambient sound of his room, and a consistent sound level with no peaks or drop-outs.

If you can both connect through a high-quality IP codec, or a VOIP service (like Skype), you will also have near-studio-quality sound.

Even if your guest doesn’t have a podcast setup of his own, he can still connect via Skype over most smartphones, tablets or laptops. However, it is important that the guest uses a wired headset/ microphone. This one step will greatly improve the sound quality of your connection. A gamer’s headset with USB or dual audio cables will give pretty good results (but may lack some fullness in the lower registers of the voice).

If the guest has no gear, but you plan to use him frequently, you might want to supply him with a USB microphone. (I’m particularly impressed with the Blue YETI-PRO.) When he connects to your studio over Skype, the improvement in quality will be striking.

’Even a simple set of smartphone earbuds with a built-in mic will help. Just be sure the plug has 4 metal parts as shown here. This ensures that the voice will be picked up by the earbuds’ microphone, instead of the computer’s mic. The mic on the earbud cable is much closer to the sound, and will stay at a consistent distance.

Any of these techniques will be a great improvement over a standard telephone-quality call. Do what you can to deliver the best possible quality to your listeners. They will notice the difference.

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Crank It Up

LED vu meterMost every audio mixer has at least one set of level meters, similar to the one shown at the left. It shows the level of the audio leaving the mixer (going to a recorder or PA system). Many will also have “clip” or “overload” or “peak” lights at key inputs (shown on the right).cliplit

These meters aren’t just an entertaining display to look at. They are a very important part of your mixer’s operation and setup. Going through the steps is not difficult. But if you don’t set up the mixer correctly, you may have noisy audio, and other problems.

Let me explain…

The “clip” indicators are usually seen on MIC inputs. The typical setup procedure is to adjust the input gain trim control (near the mic connector) while speaking into the mic. When the “clip” indicator lights, reduce the gain setting just a bit, until the “clip” no longer lights. (A dynamic mic may not clip even with the gain at maximum. This is not unusual… dynamic mics need a lot of gain.) Now the gain on that channel is properly set for that mic. Repeat for all mics. Once set, the gain trimmer control will not need to be re-adjusted while the same mic is connected.

The input level must be correct for each mixer channel. The MIC channels have individual gain controls. The LINE LEVEL channels may have a switch to select between high and low levels. But most depend on the source device — CD player, etc — to have its own output level control.
UNITYHave another look at the LEVEL controls at the bottom of the mixer. Each one has a “default” position (or UNITY GAIN), usually marked with a line or some graphic to indicate the favored position. Depending on the manufacturer, the unity gain position may be 1/2 to 3/4 of the travel of the control.

When all of the input levels have been properly set, mixing becomes much simpler.

Try it… set all the LEVEL controls at their unity gain spot. (Do the same for the mixer’s MAIN OUT level control.) Then speak into the mics one at a time, and play audio from the other devices. The mixer’s main output meters should show activity lighting up all of the green, and bouncing up into the yellow. (This is the time to make adjustments to the output controls of the LINE LEVEL devices.) Now, simply starting with the level controls at their UNITY setting will give a reasonable mix. Only minor adjustments may be needed depending on the audio sources. (You may need to adjust the MAIN OUT level up or down a bit to get the ideal meter activity. That’s OK… you’ll only do it once.)

What is shown on the meter is what is being sent to your recording device, through the USB connection (if available), and to remote callers that may be connected via hybrid or codec.

A quick glance at the meters every now and then will let you know that everything is running along smoothly.

Many users will turn the knobs just enough to hear something in their headphones, and call it “good enough”. But that level is usually too low to even show up on the meters. Noisy recordings and poor interaction with 2-way conversations (phone or codec) will result.

Light those lights! (except the red ones) Crank it up!

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