Find Sounds Easily Web 2.0 Style

Soundsnap LogoWith my involvement with The Global Geek Podcast, I am always on the look out for great resources. I find that one of the most enjoyable parts of production is in mixing in all the sounds and effects to give the piece a unique feel and personality. I derive a great deal of satisfaction getting the right sound and timing perfect. One of the most frustrating things about production is just that though, getting the right sound for what you can hear in your head. Soundsnap is a sound effects repository with a Web 2.0 slant, it is brilliant and just made the task of finding that perfect sound a breeze.

The front page presents all the categories of sounds that are available to browse. Clicking on any of these categories opens up a view that presents these sounds as pages. Here you can sample any sound with a simple flash player and get other information on each sound such as length and a wave form. Although I am not sure of the purpose of the waveform as it is too small to be useful. Clicking on it however gives you the sounds technical info. Sort by popularity or other criteria. See comments made on sounds, who uploaded it and click to see their profile and what else they have uploaded. You can expect the usual set of ranking and sorting features that are ever present in Web 2.0 style sites.

One feature that I really like is the ability to drill down the data within each category without searching. Under each category you can click on sub categories to refine your manual search. Makes it easier to find a specific type of sound. This is also a nice way to search for a specific sound as you might find something better than what you were thinking of.

Once you have found a sound that you want they are free to download and use. Sounds are available in .wav, .mp3 and .aiff. You don’t have to have an account to download files. Great to have the access without another login to worry about. The quality varies slightly but on the whole they are very good.

The presentation of the site is excellent. It looks slick and well done. There is plenty of Ajax goodness and the navigation is easy and intuitive. Full credit to the developers on this front. There are a number of sound repositories out there but there are none that are this well done. For a new (to me at any rate) site there are many, many FX to download and even some obscure ones that are hard to find. I noticed that the is a bucket load of loops available for music buffs; around 3,700 and this will only grow as time goes on. Hopefully one day it will make those very expensive sound effects disks that are available commercially obsolete. As a podcaster this is a fantastic resource and I would encourage those that are actively involved in the community to keep producing sounds and samples that will save our bacon.

Soundsnap Screenshot

 

Thanks etc.

Recording Skype :: MX Skype Recorder

We went to record The Global Geek Podcast last week and something came up and Knightwise was unable to attend the recording. Knightwise usually records the show on his Mac using Call Recorder. So as you might appreciate, him not able to be there and nobody else with a spare Mac at hand we were stuck. We needed to find a method to record the show and fast!

We went through a few dirty hacks. The worst of which is to change your audio source to Stereo Mix. This mixes everything that you hear back through the sound card. This means that you can hit record on any recording software and record Skype. While this works and flawlessly it has one major and limiting side effect. The other person gets their voice feed back to them with a slight delay. For some psychological reason it makes it nearly impossible to talk properly.

We also considered doing a double ended recording. That is I record my end locally and Tim his. This gives great quality and awesome control over levels. But the drawback here is that you have 2 huge files and one of those files has to get to me to edit it. Because there are 2 files it also means that I have to splice the two together flawlessly to sync the audio. Easier said than done. Extra post production editing is never a good thing.

We checked out a few options that I have checked out before. None are stunning or perfect and most are well below par in every respect. Tim though found a gem that I had not unearthed. MX Skype Recorder. Not a plugin but a separate program that enables you to record Skype with the great quality that we demand and expect for the show. It also has some features that make it ideal.

MX Skype Recorder Interface

Once you have downloaded MX Recorder you need to run the application then run Skype or make the call. You can not start recording mid call. It is as simple as hitting the record button to record a call once you have done this. By default it records an .mp3 with average quality settings. Fine to just capture the call but no good for podcasting. Enter the options.

In the options you can record a call in either a .mp3 (lame) or a PCM wav. The latter is what you want for recording a podcast. As I have said before you should not edit a .mp3 due to it’s lossy format. So I set to it to record a .wav. Now there are two options record as a “mixed” input and output or as a “dual channel”. Dual channel gives you one channel for input and one channel for output. So you have left with one person and right with the other. This is great because with any good audio editor you can get the levels right for each one. Once you are happy with the levels mix the audio into a mono mix then if you usually produce your show as stereo split it into a stereo mix. It might require some amplification after this process, just be careful you don’t clip the audio. I would suggest using a compressor to do this as it is a more balanced method of getting the volume right. Then just edit the show as you normally would.

MX Skype Recorder Options

There are many settings for outputting to a .mp3. Including changing the kHz and sample rate. Use this if you are into doing a raw unedited podcast. Your output is your show. Add ID3 tags and change the file name and you are done. Nice seamless experience.

One tip that I would pass on. Initially the levels were off, by a long way. I was very soft the incoming track was fine. But to try and fix this was a bit of a nightmare as I had already performed the above mixing procedure and edited the show. Now what we found out was that MX Recorder uses the levels that are set in Skype for the outputs. Do a few test recordings and get them right before you record. We also found this went part way to making it perfect. I needed to increase my output locally. We got a magic recording by taking the time to tweak these settings. Use the inbuilt level indicators, get your audio equal. Doesn’t matter it it is too soft you can adjust this in post production. But make sure you are not clipping, you can’t fix that!

The end result was great MX Skype Recorder is a winner in my book. It has a very small footprint and is easy to use. It compresses the file fast and outputs where ever you want it to and stamps it with the date and time. This little app works with multiple callers as well. But remember you have one channel for all input. Everyone that is conferenced in will be on that one channel. Do a test recording and get participants to adjust their output as needed. The mess that would result otherwise does not want talking about.

This program performed well and is one of the best recorders for Skype that I have used, if not the best. One drawback might be that the software is not free. There is a free version that will only record for 5 minutes. But for $14.95 US for the Standard Version it is a small price to pay in my opinion. Nice work by these guys and until Skype get their act together and give us a record button it will do the trick nicely.

Here is the show that I recorded with MX Skype Recorder. I am sure the next effort will be better still as we had a few settings that we could have better tweaked.

As a side note MX Skype Recorder will also record other VoIP applications such as Google Talk and Yahoo! Messenger although I have not tested these applications.

MX Skype Recorder Homepage

Not a Good Week

Well I am back from the rebuild and you might be thinking, “damn that was a long time”. Well yes it was, if a re-install of Windows was all that I did. To cut a long story short; when I tried to reinstall XP the motherboard died. So that was a bit of an issue. What I have been doing is building my new PC from scratch, but I have a great new system and I love it. But that was not all that happened, here are the dramas that occurred this week in short:

  1. Motherboard died
  2. USB Hub died when I connected it to power
  3. Headphones disintegrated
  4. Microphone fell on the floor and died (had some help from one of the kids)

The motherboard dying was a no-brainer, new PC. Stupid trying to replace it as the technology has moved on and it was good to get current. The new PC is dual core Intel and is very zippy. Motherboard is a Gigabyte and has all the usual options. Although I lost the AGP slot, which means I had to give up my nVidia 256 graphics card. I am on internal graphics at the moment but I’ll get a card at some point. The RAM is 2 GB of DDR2 and is excellent. Everything loads fast and smooth. Standard DVD, CD drive and covers all the formats you would want. The hard drive is a 320 GB SATA Western Digital. The extra size is very handy and I don’t think that I’ll run out of room any time soon. Tack on an Audigy sound card and a Firewire card and that’s about it. No it is not a high end tricked out gaming machine, but that is not what I do. Plus I like my money in my pocket.

One thing that really ticked me off is the fact that the SATA drives do not come with a power cable. It seems that this issue falls into the same category as printers. They can’t decide which manufacturer’s responsibility it is to supply it; the motherboard company, the case company or the hard drive company. Me; I think that if you are forking out a couple of hundred bucks for a drive then they should be dishing out the gear you need to connect it.

The USB hub died for no apparent reason. After the build we were plugging in all the hardware and we could smell something electrical burning and pulled everything out. After some sniffing we found that it was the USB hub. Browned off because it was only about six months old! Can’t find the receipt… Got another one.

The headphones were on their way out anyway. Decided that since I was spending the college fund I would get a really decent set. I settled on a pair of Sennheiser HD 215’s. Absolutely love them! The sound is awesome and they are light. The cord is a spring type, but the kicker is that it is fully replaceable. I hate the spring type, it gets in the road all the time. Plus I like to be able to walk to the fridge. They cover the ear fully and block out about 80% of normal external sounds. The added comfort of the full ear type will be welcome for those long edits. The phones are not top of the line but I think they are a great middle of the road. Great quality but short of the high end $250+ variety.

The microphone thing… well. There was nothing wrong with my Shure PG48, until the youngest child decided to test the limits of the $200 dollar boom arm it is mounted on. He found the limit of the boom arm and the whole shebang went base over apex onto the floor. Don’t worry the fall of the boom was broken by the mic (the mic is actually the cheaper of the two items). The result was that the mic was buggered, it still “worked” but there were issues such as dead spots, muffling and a loss of dynamics. Que the purchase of one brand new mic to replace the one that was not quite 12 months old.

To top it all off the printer died tonight, the podcast was not fully uploaded to the FTP server and I am not sure what else can go wrong in actual fact. I know there are things much worse. I would rather not find out what they are.

Guts of the new PC

This is a photo of the internals of the new PC. We forgot to take progressive build shots. I spent ages on the cabling as the case has a perspex side and top. But I think the results are worth it.

The Problem with Transcontinental Podcasting

RSS HeadphonesI am not sure if anyone else has to manage audio files that have been .mp3 encoded prior to editing but for the podcast it has been causing some issues. This week however, I made a few changes to the encoding and it appears to have made a significant difference. Here is what I have done and if anyone has any further suggestions I would appreciate it.

The background of this whole saga is that I used to record the podcast using Hot Recorder. Since the release of Skype 3.0+ this has failed to record anything but silence. Although he website claims it does work with 3.0. So we had to look to an alternative. Knightwise has a Mac so that made it a lot easier for us to decide what to do but our decision then presented a few things we had to work around.

For some reason recording Skype on a Mac is relatively easy compared to a Windows based machine. Not sure why. It might be the way that Mac handles audio or that there has been more development on the Mac in this regard. So we decided to record the show on Knightwise’s Mac. He uses Call Recorder to record Skype, which by the way has excellent results. Far superior to what I was getting with Hot Recorder. But now we had a great recording of the show in .wav which is generally about 1GB in size… +2.4GB but it was on the other side of the world! We needed to get it to Oz in one piece and in good enough quality to work with.

A great supporter of the podcast donated a server which has excellent speed and storage in addition to as many FTP accounts as we needed. However sending a 1GB file across the world is out of the question, even zipped up it would be huge! The only answer that we could see was to encode the .wav as an .mp3 in as high a quality as possible. So Knightwise encodes the file raw as a 192 kbps, CD quality. The result is about 100MB, which is very manageable. He then sends the file to me via FTP.

I download the file and convert it to a .wav and edit the show as per usual. When finished the file would be encoded as an .mp3 at 64 kbps at 44100 khz. We dropped the bps a while back to give us a smaller file size, which we thought would be appreciated. However since we swapped to Knightwise recording the show the 64 bit quality has been giving us poor results. I have tried to optimize for quality in the encode but it has made no difference.

The problem is that .wav files loose certain frequencies when they are encoded to .mp3. You can’t get them back they are gone forever. Sure I do everything that I can to get the best results. But the 64 bit rate was stripping more of those frequencies out of the final file than I would like. This resulted in some rather strange sounding ambient sounds and hissing when there was talking in addition to making the music tracks terrible. There was only one thing for it.

This week I increased the bit rate. Although in the beginning the show was encoded at 96 kpbs; I thought I would take the intermediate step of 80 kpbs. The result was a file that was only about 4-5 MB larger but the pay off in quality I think was worth it.

The conclusion is that when we changed the way the show is recorded and then encoded before transfer, we should have decided to increase the bit rate. The 16 bit increase in quality has compensated for the lost frequencies the first time it was encoded as an .mp3 making the file resilient to being decoded to .wav and then back to a .mp3. A few further tweaks at the recording end will give us some further head room as far as quality.

I would remind all podcasters out there of one of the golden rules of editing, never edit a .mp3, always convert it to a .wav. I hope this hack helps anyone else faced with the same problem of transcontinental podcasting and file transfer. Check out this weeks show and compare the difference.

UPDATE: Hot Recorder has been updated to version 2.14, which I am told does work with Skype 3.0+. I am yet to test it but I will let you know the results. Thanks to mswiczar for the tip in the comments.

Want to Know How to Podcast?

GGP Album Art SmallThe latest Global Geek went up today. Knightwise and myself put a lot of hard work into this one. It is the first special edition for the show. We were asked to do a show about how we put the show together. So we did.

This episode is a real behind the scenes look at the podcast. We cover all the on-line and off line applications that we use. The technology behind podcasting. Audio editing and hardware also get a look in. For a budding podcaster it is a valuable insight into podcasting and what it takes. Although I will bracket that with the fact that our show has been going a while now and we have upgraded most software and hardware from the “basics” to more advanced and powerful. So this is not a basic show in terms of what would be the minimum requirements.

Technically the show is a valuable resource for anyone including us. But it was created for many other reasons. We want to connect with our listeners. We genuinely appreciate them and the effort they make to listen to the show. We love hearing from them. Hopefully they will connect with us and feel that they are as much a part of the show and the community as we are.

Added to the complexities of the podcast is the fact that my co-host is literally a world away in Belgium. So we cover just what we do and how to overcome difficulties that arise due to the distance. Not to mention the time space continuum. But as you will hear it feels like Knightwise is next door.

There are some great sound clips included in the podcast. There is a snippet from the very first Global Geek. Wow what a difference in sound quality! It felt great to know that the show had developed and matured as much as it has. You also get a ear in on our pre-production meeting for the show and our sound check. Plus we have pictures on Flickr that we are going to add to through the week and we also made available our unedited show notes for the episode.

One of the coolest things we did for the show was to include a special surprise for the end. I am not going to give it away, just to say that it is a real laugh. I did not even tell Knightwise the secret, he found out just like you can. He had this to say about the show:

“I have tears streaming down my  face as a drive to work!!!!!! Tears with laughter!
You F*%kwitt must have spent all day editing that last bit together!!! It is bloody brilliant!!!!
The rest of the show is awesome! Fantastic job Dave, I absolutely love this podcast!!!
I can see our listeners bubbling with laughter at the end!”

We are our harshest critics. Seriously.

Most of all I think that Knightwise and I have realized that through this journey of podcasting together that we are more friends than co-hosts. I value his friendship over the podcast. I am truly grateful of his friendship and that he joined the show.

Knightwise is a true friend, you don’t get many of them in life. Life is fickle, fleeting and crap at playing fair. Friends tip the balance.

So waste no time have a listen. Head over to the Global Geek Podcast Blog for the Show Notes and subscription details. The music that was used on the show is also available for free download from the Show Notes on the blog. DRM free and legal.

But you can also listen here, please vist the blog and be a part of the show with us!