Since I began podcasting in 2006, I've been using a variety of methods to record audio, both in the studio and remotely.
I use Macs exclusively and my experiments have included full simultaneous multi-track recording in Garageband using a Firewire mixer, to simply using a conference phone and a pocket recorder to capture phone interviews.
I finally settled upon Audio HiJack Pro for both local and remote recording as the software enables me to capture both sides of a Skype conversation in a single audio file.
This setup worked great for years with only minor hiccups. Finally, a few weeks ago, I had some weirdness occur in this setup and I lost an entire 90-minute episode.
For whatever reason, the Skype connection dropped. We immediately reconnected and everything sounded fine during recording. However, when I played the file back, the audio coming from the studio mics from that point forward was completely garbled. (My caller sounded fine, which was even more strange.)
Sure, we had a good conversation - in fact, it would have been a great episode - but I wasted everyone's time by not having a better solution for monitoring the audio.
To say that I have a few gadgets in my studio would be a gross understatement so I decided to take stock of my gear and pull together a simple, reliable method for capturing local and remote audio.
Here's the result.
- Alesis mixer for my studio mics (Any analog mixer will work in this setup. You could probably use a USB mixer, too.)
- iPad 2 running GarageBand
- iPad Camera Connection Kit (Specifically, you need the dongle with the USB port)
- Logitech USB Audio Capture dongle from a Logitech H555 USB headset
- A Behringer headphone mixer (You could use a couple of daisy-chained 3.5 mm cable splitters, instead)
- A couple of 3.5 mm cables (male connectors)
- A 3.5 mm cable splitter (one (1) 3.5 mm male to two (2) 3.5 mm female connectors)
- A 1/4" to 3.5 mm adapter
- My MacBook Air (I'm a Mac guy. Use what you like. ;) )
- A Plantronics USB Audio Capture dongle that I pulled from a USB headset
How It Works
Using the iPad Camera Connection Kit (USB connector) connect the Logitech USB Audio Capture dongle to the iPad. (It "just works.")
Connect the Main Out from the mixer (using the 1/4" mm to 2.5 mm adapter) to one of the female connectors on the splitter using a 2.5 mm male connector, then jack-it into the mic input on the Logitech dongle.
Next, connect the Plantronics USB Audio Capture Dongle to a USB port, connect one end of a 3.5 mm cable to the mic input and the other end of the cable to one of the female connectors on the headphone output.
Why not use the MacBook's built-in audio connector?
Two reasons. First, it requires a 4-pole connector cable which I don't have at the moment. More importantly, there's a lot of power-related line noise when connected through the built-in 3.5 mm jack. Using a USB capture card helps reduce noise to almost nothing.
Now the magic happens.
For remote calls, launch Skype on the Mac. The Skype audio is sent from the computer to the iPad through the Plantronics dongle where it's recorded using GarageBand. (Be sure to turn Monitoring On in Garageband otherwise, your caller will hear you but you won't hear her.)
Your caller hears what's happening in the studio using the audio that's fed back through the Plantronics dongle.
When I'm finished recording, I export the GarageBand file to my Mac. (I'd prefer to output the file as AIFF but GarageBand for iPad doesn't offer that option.) From there, I'll output to AIFF, run it through The Levelator, then bring it back into GarageBand on the Mac to add intro and outro music. (Crazy, I know.)
I could purchase some other DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software for the iPad that exports uncompressed audio files but I want to make sure this setup works before I purchase yet more software.
- This setup also works with a USB microphone connected to the iPad via the iPad Camera Connection Kit. (I use an awesome Samson Go Mic.) In this configuration, I monitor the audio using a regular pair of headphones through the iPad headphone jack. If you have a pair of headphones that includes a mic, you'll need to connect with a standard 3.5 mm extension otherwise the iPad will automatically default to the headset mic and bypass the USB mic.
- Using an adapter, you can do remote calling using your iPhone 3GS (not iPhone 4) - either using Skype or using your cellular service. (Skype has better audio quality.) Jeff Geerling has a great post that he continues to update about iPhone / iPad audio input and monitoring methods. Be sure to read it.
- On the iPad, you can skip the USB interface for the microphones altogether and use the built-in headphone/mic jack on the iPad. Using a connector similar to the iPhone, connect a microphone (or more using a splitter) to the Mic connector and headphones to the other.
With the right connectors, this setup is very versatile for both studio and luggable recording.
For field recording, I still use my iPhone 4 with the FiRe 2 app - it rocks. I wish it were a universal app so that it could take advantage of the iPad screen.