Tech rundown

I’ve been asked about the technical setup I’ve just recently put together to be able to do remote sessions, podcasts, videocasts and similar. Now, this is kind of a dangerous thing to ask me about, as I’m VERY much a techno freak, so you asked, you shall receive. In excruciating detail…

This is a picture of my home office – the place where I spend way too much time when I’m not at my day office (which is a fairly rare thing these days).

It’s a standard sit/stand desk from IKEA (one of the perks of being a Swede!) that I almost always have in the standing position. A tip I learned the hard way is that standing and working is hard on the feet – put a rug or similar underneath your feet and enjoy a distinct lack of discomfort! The stuff in the picture is as follows:

Logitech Spotlight wireless presenter

This i’ve already described in fair detail here: Logitech Spotlight -initial thoughts but the software has come a long way since then. I’ll do a followup in the near future as I’ve done som tweaks to the setup that has gotten the thing to the point where I’m quite happy with it.

Asus MB16AC external USB monitor

This was one of the more novelty purchases I’ve done, but in retrospect it turned out absolutely brilliant. I use it as a secondary screen where I keep my presenter view during speaking. Depending on if it is a remote session, a video (yes, I’m working on those) or a regular session at a conference, the secondary screen serves different purposes. It’s fairly lightweight, has a good resolution and is very versatile, but security people at airports have been known to be a bit confused as to why the “computer” won’t turn on…

Rode Procaster microphone

This mic I’ve been eyeing since I first started thinking of doing a podcast, but I’ve stayed away from it for several reasons. First, it requires a proper USB/XLR interface is a dynamic microphone. The old Yeti microphone I used to use to record the podcast has been exchanged for the AKG boom mic in my podcasting setup, but I always wanted a dynamic mic for the (in my opinion) better, richer sound. Unfortunately, this mic quickly showed me two issues that I was not aware of that I had – the first was that the (nonexistent) sound treatment of my room meant that the acoustics were … very bad, and that the mic required an insane amount of gain to get a usable signal out of. Fortunately I have a colleague who is a soundnerd of epic proportions, and he gave me a lot of help with choosing the most suitable sound treatment materials for my room. There is only so much one CAN do to a room in a rental apartment, but doing it is absolutely vital. More about that below.
The other problem with low gain and the subsequent noisy signal was overcome with a Cloudlifter (https://www.cloudmicrophones.com/cloudlifter-cl-1). It is, quite simply, a pre-amp that uses phantom power to give the signal a clean boost up to +25dB – and boy, what a boost it is. It completely changed the signal into a crisp, clear and strong signal that is absolutely awesome for podcasting, voiceovers, delivering sessions or anything else I might want to do with it.

Logitech BRIO 4K webcam

I had not given webcams much thought when I decided to get one. Fortunately, my partner in crime Simon had, and he was adamant that we get the Logitech BRIO 4k webcam, despite it being much more expensive than the other webcams out there. After using it for a while I can say I think I know why it is that much more expensive, as I find the picture to be absolutely excellent. Simon and I are working on doing webinars in the not-too-distant future, and these cameras are key to produce good video. I do find the built-in capability of removing the background live during a conversation to be more of a novelty than actually useful, though.

Yamaha MG10XU USB mixer

When I was working with my Pluralsight course I got a crash course in audio. As in – my audio was crap, and I needed to fix it – stat. My previous USB audio interface was pretty cheap and worked OK – or so I thought. When using proper headphones it became painfully obvious that the signal was simply too poor to be used, despite running it repeatedly through noise filters. I started to do research and stumbled over the Yamaha MG10XU mixer – a 10-channel mixer with more features you could easily shake a stick at. It’s more than I need, but it comes very highly recommended and after running it for a while I can conclude that my previous issues of noisy signal are gone. As it is an analog mixer I can tweak the sound to my preference, and it even has a built-in compressor so I won’t need to add any compression to the signal during the post processing step! I can easily add any other sound source to the mixer, apply effects and shunt the result straight into Audacity (my weapon of choice for recording audio). The mixer accepts XLR, RCA, phono plugs and probably a few other connectors I don’t even know about.
With the Cloudlifter I don’t have to crank the gain very high at all, but still enjoy a crystal clear signal. My iPad with a sound pad app is connected to one of the line inputs and one of the most amazing things – I get to hear what the mixer hears as I get monitor functionality with the MG10XU.

Software

Not pictured is the software I use, and that depends on what I am producing. For sound recording I’ve been using Audacity with great success. However, Audacity is missing one thing that I desperately need – the ability match audio volume between clips. I might have to look at Adobe Audition for that.
For video I’ve been using Camtasia. One of the many perks of being an MCT is free access to Camtasia, and while I like the tool I find some aspects of it … unrefined. The lack of keyboard shortcuts drive me nuts sometimes, and some things take forever. I’m thinking of going to Adobe Premiere, but Adobe is … quite more expensive.

I’ve used Google Hangouts for presentations, and there is one quirk that is going to be an issue for me going forward – you can’t see both the presentation AND the video of the presenter. As I’ll be doing some professional development sessions this fall, I need to *both* show the slides and the video as I’ll be talking about body language. Not quite decided on how to do things – maybe pre-record video and put it into the session.

Acoustic treatment

The room is you garden-variety 14-15 m2 room with one window, some closets and a hardwood floor. If you clap your hands in there, the echo hits you like a bus. Not a good starting position for recording good audio, where the idea is to reduce the bounce and echo to a minimum. There are several ways to do it, and my way lands firmly in the “not the worst way of doing it”, but definitely not nowhere near the “best” way either. The theory is … deep, to put it simply, but it all comes down to controlling sound bounce/reflection and echo using a combination of absorbing or diffusing materials. Since I’m only concerned with my voice and not full-spectrum music, I don’t have to go all out with huge bass traps and such, thus I’ve decided on a “middle of the road” approach with only acoustic foam. As the apartment is a rental apartment I couldn’t glue the foam to the walls (as is otherwise the way to do it), so I went online and got a kind of long tacks. They work well enough I can remove the foam with little or no damage to the foam itself, and the wall only look like I’ve had a poster or two there. I tried the 3M command strips as well, but they took both pieces of the foam AND the wallpaper with them when I tried to remove them. The cats loved to chew on them, though…

I’ve put some foam in front of my microphone to catch the sound of my voice, and I’ve put foam squares in the sloping ceiling behind me. I’ve also put foam on the other walls in hope of as much of the echos as I reasonably can. The corners are an issue (ask any acoustic engineer what they feel about corners!) but so far I’ve chosen to ignore them. For best effect I should have rotated the squares 90 degrees against each other, but for some reason my brain decided to forget this when I put them up.
The CNC machine and the R2D2 has nothing to do with the rest of this blog post, though 😛
Not shown is my rug. It’s a garden variety rug (also from IKEA!) on the floor to take care of the hard surface. You’d be surprised how much reflections come off the floor, and while I technically should take care of the ceiling as well, that is (at the moment) beyond my ambition.

And there  you have it – my home office as it stands right now. I’m working on a post that details my mobile podcasting setup as well, look for that in the near future!

2 replies
  1. Brent Ozar says:

    Ah-ha, long tacks! That’s so much better than what I was doing – I was using 3M Command strips, but it tears up the foam when I try to remove them. Nice tip. Setup looks fantastic, and your audio does always sound great on the podcast.

    Reply

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