While Micah is orchestrating our web shenanigans, I am doing all of the audio work. If you’re a radio person, a podcaster, or a roving audio nerd, you might have gear questions–I always do–so here’s the technical rundown.
All of my field recordings have been done on a Sony PCM-D50 which is a very-close-to-perfect solid state field recorder. The onboard microphones sound phenomenal, the batteries can generally last you between one Mayan apocalypse and the next, and the machine is durable. Its Memorystick system is a classically Sony annoyance (any other card would be far cheaper), but the card issue is more forgivable than the D50’s lack of an XLR input. In lieu of XLR, the D50 has a stereo mini port so, for my long conversations, I am using a dual XLR-stereo mini cable and two cheap Digital Reference dynamic mics. For the price, I think the Digital Reference mics sound reasonably good and, given the varied situations I will be recording in, they’re really the least of my sound quality worries.
In terms of post-production, I’m working on an 11″ MacBook Air because I needed something that wouldn’t rattle to bits in the trunk of my motorcycle. Its connectivity sucks and the battery life is just okay–I regret not getting the 13″. For editing, I am using Hindenburg Journalist Pro. I have been working in Pro Tools for years and I’ve always had mixed feelings about the software. Yes, Pro Tools is Pro Tools and it does every weird, complicated thing an engineer could want, but it’s clunky and overbuilt for most radio work and it is especially bad at managing lots of subclips with verbose labels, which is what long-format radio is all about. It also exports audio in real time, which makes it more dated than the copy of Premiere I was editing video with in 1995. This doesn’t even get into the issues of costly upgrades or, until recently, obnoxious proprietary hardware. There are still projects I will need it for, but it would be a real burden to edit The Conversation in Pro Tools.
I learned about Hindenburg through friends in public radio and Jeff Towne’s review on Transom. It’s made for projects like The Conversation: it’s simple, fast, and robust. The media organization is more intuitive and less messy than PT, it will record Skype calls directly, it exports long files in moments, and it also embeds metadata and has integrated uploading for podcasts, FTP sites, SoundCloud, and PRX. Given that I’m spending most of my time wading through incredibly long interviews and editing on finite batteries while sitting in a tent, Hindenburg’s streamlined approach made a lot of sense. Also, the guys who created Hindenburg are very friendly to NGOs and small radio producers in developing countries, which I have a lot of respect for–I’d rather support a little software company with a social conscience and actual people on the other end of the line. If you’re curious to learn more, they have a 30 day trial and an explanation for why they chose to name their software company after a burning dirigible.
So, those are the grizzly technical details from the audio side. Now back to The Conversation.