The Ideal "Road" Mic
a review by Glen Moyer
Host: Aero-News Briefings @ aero-news.net
As a journalist and hot air balloon pilot I travel the country a great deal in the peak flying season, May to November, going from one event or festival to another. It's not unusual for me to spend upwards of 60-80 days/nights a year in hotels. As the host of a 5-day a week podcast on www.aero-news.net that presents some unique challenges.
Like most podcasters I work from a home studio where I have the advantage of space and control of the acoustics. I can think of few places on earth less acoustically suitable for podcasting than a hotel room. My home studio includes a Behringer XENYX1002FX 4-channel mixer and a MXL V63M large diaphragm condenser microphone. My challenge though was to find a suitable microphone to maintain sound quality while working on the road. Said mic also needed to be compact - easy to pack into a weekend bag, and durable - being set up and torn down night after night in a new location. For my money, the Rode Podcaster has proven to be the ideal "road" mic.
First, it's a USB mic, it plugs directly into my laptop. This eliminates the need to carry either a mixer or my MAudio audio interface. It also features a built-in 3.5mm stereo headphone output with volume control so I can monitor exactly what's being recorded without going through my computer sound card or recording software.
Second, it's durable, heck even robust! Its body is cast metal, not plastic, so I don't have to treat it with kid gloves. It's single cable and a convenient mic stand mount all come in the one box - toss that in the suitcase (along with a small desktop mic stand) and you're ready to roll. A shock mount is available but I find it cumbersome on the road.
The audio quality of the Podcaster is surprisingly natural, warm and pleasant, but not "tinny". What an audio engineer friend of mine calls "presence." Still it has adequate bass response and with its proximity effect, moving a bit closer to the mic will increase bass response - a nice feature if, like me, you don't have the perfect announcer's voice. Careful though, it's easy to work too close to the mic and get distortion. It's a fine line. You also speak directly into the end of the Podcaster so finding it's "sweet spot" is simple enough. This feature is also helpful in diminishing ambient noise - like the cooling fans in your laptop or the TV in the room next door! (My XML picks up so much ambient noise that I find I have to use Noise Reduction as a step in my final mix down - I don't do that with the Podcaster)
Software issues - be forewarned about this. I work on a Mac platform so PC users will have to check this for yourself. The instructions with the Podcaster say set up is as easy as selecting it in your laptop's sound preferences. Indeed once connected my MacBook identified and accepted the Rode Podcaster immediately. BUT when I went to record in Audacity (my preferred podcasting software) it unknowingly defaulted to the Mac's onboard mic resulting in very hollow, "bottom of the rain barrel" sound. Not knowing what was happening I was more than disappointed and I was flummoxed - could not find a solution to the problem. I even experimented with Garage Band and had identical results.
I'll admit much of this was because of my ignorance of the specifics of the software. Besides setting the Podcaster up as your preferred audio source in the Mac's preferences, you also must do this within the software itself! Once I discovered this, problem solved!
Overall the RODE Podcaster scores very high with me. It has all the qualities I wanted in a 'road' mic - compact size, ease of operation, rugged construction and quality sound reproduction. Take one on your next road trip, you'll be pleasantly surprised!
Take a listen to the Aero-news podcast @ aero-news.net
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