Saturday, September 11, 2010

Technology Issues

Well, I was just getting into bed and decided to check my email…So I woke up the desktop from sleep mode and got the blue screen of death.

When I tried to reset it, I got the 'Non system disc or disc error message'…my BIOS chip had glitched again and it wasn't recognizing any of my drives. After a few tense moments swapping jumpers, I got the damn thing to boot.

Losing the desktop wouldn't be as big a problem as it would have been last year, as Sunny has her laptop and I have my netbook…but this computer is seriously on its last legs, and I figured now I've got it to boot again, this would be an excellent time to run another backup.

So while my iTunes library and other essentials copy over to my external drive (I've christened it 'The Lifeboat'), I thought I'd take the time to write a blog post seeing as I'm going to have to supervise it anyway.

Well, anyway… Today, Sunny and I recorded our first podcast episode using the new kit.

It had a few…issues.

This isn't a retraction of my previous glowing review of the Behringer Podcastudio USB (and the Xenyx 502 mixer it comes bundled with)… the problems come down to my own inexperience with audio hardware. The Xenyx 502 is an awesome piece of kit, and the problem came from me trying to get it to do something it's not really supposed to do.

The problem is that the Podcastudio is really a single mic setup. The mixer only has one dedicated XLR mic input, and knowing next to nothing about audio hardware, I didn't think this was a problem because there are four other ¼" inputs on the mixer, so along with the kit, I ordered a second mic and a cable that was the regular XLR connector on one end with a 1/4 " jack on the other. I figured I wouldn't have the same EQ control over the second mic, but that's something I can easily live without.

What I didn't realize is that the mic input on the mixer has a built in pre-amp that boosts the signal and supplies power to the mic. The other inputs don't because you'd usually use those to connect something like an electric guitar or keyboard that, obviously, have their own power and amplification.

In other words, the first mic works great, but without any phantom power or amplification from the mixer, the second mic is seriously underpowered. It works, but it's really, really quiet compared to the first microphone. That's why I'm not blaming the mixer…The problem is coming from my workaround where I'm essentially using an input designed to simply carry a signal as an amplifier, which it's not designed to do.

So, my workaround is to simply turn the volume on the first mic way down, and crank the volume on the second mic as high as it will go so they are around the same volume level (read: very quiet), and then crank up the volume on the main mix to compensate.

It works, but not very well. Even though the signal from the second mic is really weak, that doesn't change the fact that the volume's as high as it will go, that coupled with the main mix being really high means I'm getting a lot of hiss.

Think of it this way. If you tune to an empty channel on your TV and crank the volume as high as it will go, you'll hear a lot of hiss even though there's no actual sound coming from the TV. That's what's happening with the mixer.

Of course, being a gigantic geek-nerd, I managed a second workaround that sort of works…which was to turn down the mics and main mix down even more to get rid of most of the hiss, and then use the amplify function in my audio editor to get the audio loud enough in post-production. I say it only sort of works because there's no way to get all the hiss out of the second mic and have any sort of usable volume, and the amplify effect in Audacity still produces distortion.

It's a real pain in the ass because I thought this mixer would fix the problems we've been having with our one-mic setup, but all I've really done is swap one set of problems for another.

Now, the upside is the Xenyx 502's slightly bigger brother (The Xenyx 802) has two dedicated mic inputs, would solve every problem I'm having… and is relatively cheap at $60.

Of course, the downside is…well…have you ever tried to convince your wife you need $60 for a new mixer when you got one yesterday? I can't even send this back and exchange it, because while the mixer itself doesn't fulfill my needs, the kit came with all the other stuff I do need. If I send this back and order the 802, I'd have a mixer that works, but then I'd have to also buy another mic, the USB interface, another set of headphones, cables, connectors…basically it would work out more costly than keeping this kit and just ordering the second mixer.

So, right now I need one of two things. I either need to find $60 lying in the street, or someone needs to invent a 'Convince the Wife' ray I can use on Sunny.

Either that or find one of our podcast fans (who are thin on the ground) who's willing to donate $60 to the Watermelon Helmet cause (and that sort of person isn't so much 'thin on the ground' as 'nonexistent')

Hell, I've had a 'donate' button on this blog for nearly four years and I've made a grand total of a buck fifty in all that time.

Well, on the bright side, at that rate I'll have enough to buy the new mixer in 160 years.

See you in 2170, bizatches!


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