How did I podcast on the road?

September 5, 2009

Interviewing people and recording things on the road was a bit of a challenge. For those interested, here is what I used and what I thought of it.

I used an Asus 901 running Linux with a 20GB solid state disk. I installed Audacity per this guide, more or less. I did succeed in editing together one podcast, but decided not to use it because of poor sound quality at Whole Earth restaurant. (There is a snippet of Jack talking about food at the end of the Chinese food report.)

The inbuilt microphone was unsurprisingly bad. Using the 3.5mm plug on the ASUS meant I got a little hum from the electromagnetic noise in the machine. I would have liked to use a USB mic (they turn the sound into a digital signal away from the PC and avoid this), but getting the ASUS to recognise other USB microphones was problematic.

I bought an Audio-Technica ATR35s Lavalier microphone at the massive Sim Lin Square technology mall in Singapore, and did all my recording on that. A Lavalier microphone is small enough top clip onto a shirt, but not good enough to pick up any background noise.

Alas, it did not produce good enough audio to use when worn on the lapel. (This is why the podcasts include so little of my cooking lesson in Chiang Mai – only snatches were good enough to use.) The only good sound came from holding the mic in front of the speaker, which is how I recorded Izzy and Nicolas.

The laptop and mic weight too much (1160g / 2lb 8oz) for me to carry them around all the time. This meant I missed some interesting people and places which would have been nice to record.

My usual audio recorder, the Marantz PMD 660, would have given me professional recording quality for only slightly less weight (with one Sure SM58 mic and lead, 1070g / 2lb 6oz). But I would still have had to take my laptop if I wanted to use it for notes. Also, I would have risked being mistaken for a journalist and turned back by customs. (Not because the countries I visited take a dim view of journalists, but because I was travelling on tourist visas.) So it remained at home in London.

Since then, I have acquired an iPhone and an acceptable microphone which weigh very little (140g / 5oz) and would have been better for keeping with me all the time.

So if I attempted this again, I would take a smaller purpose-built recorder instead, perhaps keeping my iPhone with me to capture things on the spur of the moment. I would also choose a less gruelling schedule, so that I had time to edit.

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