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After 15 years in the pumping black heart of Silicon Valley, I finally moved this week. For my road trip, I took the first 24 episodes of Digital Media Insider, and had a great time rediscovering the early shows. Listening back made me remember quite a few audio examples I'd had to cut, so in honor of the 25th-show milestone, here's a "greatest hits" episode with some never-before-heard bonus material. (DMI 06-06-2008: 21 minutes 27 seconds)

Production Notes: Recording

I've produced all episodes except #6, "Desktop Music in Japan", in Ableton Live, and this one continued that happy theme. Ableton Live is the first program that's kept me up all night just playing, and so I try to use it as much as I can.

That said, for making precision edits, BIAS Peak 6 is much better, so I started by loading the old shows into Peak and slicing them up. I also like the simplicity of Apple QuickTime Pro for recording voiceovers (there's just one big Record button and a CPU hit so low it doesn't trigger my computer's fans), so I used that as well.

One thing that hasn't been consistent over the show's history is my voiceover setup. I've experimented with compression and EQ in Izotope Ozone, and with mic positioning. I've also tried four mics:

Recently, a reader on our audio forum asked if any 24-bit USB mics existed, and I discovered the nifty CEntrance MicPort Pro, a little metal tube with an XLR mic jack at one end and a mini-USB jack at the other. You simply insert the MicPort between any normal mic and your computer and get up to 24-bit, 96kHz recording. (See photo.)

MicPort Pro
Insert the CEntrance MicPort Pro between your mic and computer for instant 24-bit, 96kHz recording and monitoring. The computer end features a zero-latency headphone jack, so you can hear yourself without delay. I also like the way the mic jack lights up to confirm USB power. (Click to enlarge.)

Unlike a similar USB preamp from MXL (and most other USB mics), the MicPort Pro includes a zero-latency headphone jack. Without this feature, you have to wait for the signal to loop through the computer before you can hear it, which causes a distracting delay. I now wouldn't buy a USB mic without this type of jack.

The MicPort Pro also features 48v phantom power, activated by a tiny button on the bottom. That lets it work with condenser mics. Knobs on the sides control mic and headphone level. Because my other mics are still packed in moving boxes, I used the SE USB2200a mic (via its analog XLR output) with the MicPort Pro this time. I could have connected the SE directly to the computer via its own USB jack, of course, but I like to experiment.


Arrangement and Editing

As usual, I then used Peak to snip out P-pops, tongue clacks, and false starts in the voiceover. Next, I imported the voiceover, the audio examples, and the background music into Ableton Live. I slid the elements around on the timeline to get the best flow, enhanced the vocals with Izotope Ozone, adjusted levels with envelopes, and rendered the mix into a stereo AIFF file. Finally, I converted the mix to an MP3 in iTunes, where I added the cover art.

The Digital Media Insider theme music came together in Live as well. The opening sound effect is a compressed mouth noise spliced onto a tone cluster I generated in Native Instruments Reaktor. The main groove is from Steinberg Xphraze. (Jim Aikin turned me on to both virtual instruments in his article "My Five Favorite Soft Synths.") The piano is from the Garritan Personal Orchestra, which I discovered when we interviewed Gary Garritan.

The theme also features a few percussion samples dredged from my hard drive. Altogether, it took just six tracks. Effects processing was courtesy of Live's default plugins and Freeverb.

You can find all 25 episodes of Digital Media Insider on the show's home page, http://digitalmedia.oreilly.com/podcast-audio.

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