It Goes Both Ways

goes_both_ways

When you speak to someone in the same room, you are both free to interject a new thought at any time, without waiting until the other person has finished. Sometimes this may be considered to be rude, but it’s part of the normal flow… words overlap naturally. And that’s the way telephone calls have worked for over 100 years.

But now, with more technologies that allow “hands-free” interaction with a phone or computer, the natural “flow” is interrupted. In order to be “hands-free”, the caller’s voice is amplified and played through a speaker loud enough that you can hear them comfortably from a few feet away. To prevent feedback, the microphone is muted while the speaker is on. The conversation has now become a game of “wait until I’m finished, then you can speak”.

In broadcasting, we frequently will have a panel discussion with several people involved. If any participant is connected by phone or Skype, they should be encouraged to not use “hands-free” mode, or their voice may be cut off while others speak.

earbudsIdeally, we would like to see the caller use a professional mic and headphone. But we understand that’s not always practical. Even simple earbuds with a mic embedded in the cable will help the situation. Because you have plugged into the headphone jack, the phone doesn’t need to switch the mic on and off… the conversation is simultaneous 2-way, as it should be.

The other bonus is that, even though the embedded mic is not the greatest, at least it’s only a few inches from the person’s mouth. (In “hands-free” mode, you are using the mic that’s inside the phone, several feet away. That only makes the sound even worse.)

So, just by using a headset, you will improve the flow of conversation in your programs that include remote callers.

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More Than Ever

For several decades, three dynamic microphones have dominated the radio studio…
3micsElectrovoice RE20, Shure SM7B, and Sennheiser MD421:

These mics deliver consistently high-quality sound, whether they are used with male or female voices, young or old, professional or beginner.

Dynamic mics are preferred in most radio studios because of their relative immunity to room noises, and their durability.

Some stations would like to have a slightly “brighter” sound, a bit more detail at the higher frequencies… more like a condenser mic would offer. But they stay with the dynamics for their other characteristics.

Now there are several “bright” dynamic studio mics to choose from. The use of neodymium magnets in the mics listed below give them a slightly higher output (typically about 4dB more than an average dynamic), and a significantly brighter, extended top end.

Here is a rundown of the most popular “hot, bright” studio dynamics:

Electrovoice RE27ND and RE320

re27 smre320 sm

These share the same “variable D” technology with the RE20, which minimizes proximity effect when the mic is worked very close. The RE27ND has more switches to help shape the sound.


AudioTechnica BP40 

bp40 sm

Full, rich bottom end, with a smooth, bright top.

Proximity effect doesn’t get out of hand when worked close.


Telefunken M82

m82 sm

High frequencies can be boosted or flat.

Massive bass boost when worked close… best left to experienced users.


Heil PR40

pr40 sm

A rise in the upper speech range makes the announcer’s voice more prominent. Exceptional side and rear rejection.


MXL BCD1

bcd1 sm

Well-behaved mic with a wide “sweet spot”.


Each one has its own personality, and will appeal to different circumstances.

A new, “brighter” sound from your on-air voices might be just what your station needs to set it apart from the competition.

“WWHHHH… WWHHHH… Is this thing on?”

It’s Not Quite That Simple

play buttonAs you consider building your new LPFM or internet station, take some time to think about the people that will be operating it every day.

A radio station has a lot of things going on…

– You may have a live guest and a telephone caller as part of your program.

– You may have a co-host at a remote location, connected over the internet.

– You need to record an interview for later use, at the same time the computer is playing pre-recorded files on the air.

– You may have a producer on a telephone line that you need to hear in your ear, but his voice should not go out over the air.

The station outlined here will have multiple microphones and headphones, a telephone interface, an internet codec, an automation computer, and a mixer to manage them all.

The person operating the mixer needs to understand how to get each piece of audio sent to the right destination. A mixing board that’s “purpose-built” for radio broadcasting will be able to do all of these functions with a few simple button clicks.

Some folks try to economize by using a “general-purpose” mixer (like Mackie, Yamaha, etc) because they cost a bit less than a radio board.

xb14A general-purpose mixer may have a hundred (or more) controls and buttons, and all the cables are right on top. If any of those controls or cables is disturbed, or put in a wrong position, your program will suffer. And the person that’s running the show may not have any idea how to get it back to the original configuration.

General-purpose mixers are missing many of the functions that we need in broadcasting, like microphone on/off control, muting of the room speakers when a mic is active, remote starting of playback machines, etc. (Some of these functions can be added with external equipment, but that adds to the number of controls and cables.)

arc10Broadcast mixing boards have all the wiring hidden from view, and have only enough controls to get the job done. Most of the “configuration” is baked in to the board, where it can’t be accidentally disabled by an unskilled user.

In addition, broadcast mixers are built to operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They are rugged, quiet, reliable, and easy for even the least technically-minded user to understand.

Do it right. Use a broadcast mixer. We have several models made especially for LPFM and internet use.  Have a look at the Audioarts AIR1 and AIR4, and the Arrakis ARC-8, ARC10, and ARC-15. We have more, but these will get you started in the right direction.

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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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