What Bit Rate for Podcasts?

I really, honestly do not know the answer to this question. What is the best bit rate to encode a podcast at? Also does that answer depend upon the fact that you are a listener or a podcaster or hosting service?

I do the post production work for the Global Geek Podcast. Before moving to TPN I always encoded the podcast at 44khz and 96kbps. That works out at about 35 – 40MB per show (depending on length between 40 minutes to an hour). We have what I think is great audio quality, but am I spoiling ourselves and our listeners and potentially excluding others?

We have never had a complaint about the file size of the show. No-one has ever said it was too big. People have commented on the quality and said it is great and we have worked hard to get it that way. But I now question if that is over kill. So I tried to figure out what bit rate is the most common. I did a very small survey of the podcasts I have on the computer. I only have nine on it at the moment – most of them are on the MP3 Player (where they should be).

Anyway I got the following breakdown:

Total of 9 Podcasts:

  • 2 encoded at 96kbps
  • 4 encoded at 64kbps
  • 3 encoded at 48kbps

A conclusive survey that does not make. But maybe I am aiming too high. What quality do listeners expect of a podcast? Do they want a small file and lower quality so that they get the content without the bandwidth. Or do they want great quality and a larger file size? With the size of MP3 players now the storage is not an issue I don’t think. But I know in Australia the cost of bandwidth might be. The cost of faster connections is expensive and so many users are on a maximum of 256/64 or 512/128. So does a larger file size deter them from listening to our show? Could we have a bigger audience if we made it smaller and if that is the case what size is acceptable?

With the uptake of broadband technology there is a step towards encoding at a larger bit rate but what should it be? Perhaps 64kbps is a good place. I listen to quite a few podcasts that are recorded at 64kbps and they sound good. A one hour podcast encoded at 64kbps is about 28MB (voice only). Is this a big difference to 96kbps? Well it is between 10 and 15 MB. Will that mean the difference between more listeners and a balance between keeping your existing ones because of what they expect? Will you loose listeners by lowering the bit rate dramatically and will it matter because of the number you pick up. To me it does anyway, I care that we keep the listeners we have.

The other big consideration here is the hosting cost. I know that I had to go to the plan one up from the basic plan in order to have the podcast encoded at such a high bit rate. So that privilege cost me $10US/month instead of $5US/month. That was a cost that I thought was worth it. Also what if your podcast is being hosted by a network, what file size is reasonable for them to host? Is it acceptable that you have a higher bit rate than the other shows that are hosted there and is it necessary? Personally, I would like to find a happy medium between file size, bit rate and quality. I want the best quality at a reasonable file size. I don’t want my hosting provider to get pissed off that the show is too large. In addition to that fact; the network wants as many people to listen to as many shows as possible. If it is possible that people are “turned off” by a large file size, then that is not for the benefit of the network and I would not do it. In that instance the file size should be smaller at the sacrifice of quality for the benefit of the network and I need to accept that.

As a listener I do not care what size a file is. I have a fast Internet connection and it really does not bother me. I like high quality podcasts but I listen to some that are not of a high quality as far as bit rate because the content is good. So is good quality a cover for shit content? If it is; it is not sustainable long term. So as a listener of podcasts I don’t search for podcasts based on audio quality or file size, and maybe I have just answered my question in part.

Having made these points I will say that some basic editing will improve quality out of sight. I have turned off podcasts because they have not bothered to do this basic editing. They were unlistenable and total shit and they should have thought the same! I wonder if some podcasters even listen to it after they have recorded it. So what do I mean by “basic editing?”

Basic editing in my opinion is:

  • Setting levels before you start, especially if you are recording Skype using a software application. This means setting your levels with enough “headroom” to get loud during a podcast so that you don’t “clip” the recording. And not so soft that you have to amplify it dramatically to get something to work with.
  • Don’t edit the podcast as an MP3, MP3 is a “lossy” format and gets worse and worse in quality every time you re-encode it or open it and save it.
  • Run a compressor on the audio to “smooth” the audio. That is take out the high’s and bring up the lows.
  • Run the compressor a few more times.
  • Normalise” the audio, basically set the zero level. Makes the podcast the same volume and means that the listener isn’t constantly turning their volume up and down.
  • You may need to “amplify” the whole audio after using the compressor and normalising the audio. You don’t want the listener running out of volume because it is too soft!
  • Any added or imported audio needs the above steps.

Believe it or not the above takes the least amount of time in my editing but makes the biggest difference. I do go a step further and edit the actual audio and take out the umms and errs and we always stuff things up and say well we will edit that out. The time is also in the transitions and the mixing of the imported audio, making it all work together (the best that I can). So maybe you can see why as a podcaster I want it to sound as good as I can, I put a lot of effort into both the pre and post production. But is that at the neglect of other issues? Is this basic and advanced editing enough to make it a “quality” podcast?

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think. Tell me if you are a listener or a podcaster. Podcasters, tell me what you encode your podcast at and why. Listeners please answer my questions for me. As I said at the start of this post I really do not know what the right answer is, that’s why I have posed lots of questions. It would be great to get some answers, although I am not sure there is one.

Odeo Respond, Download Link Returns!

As posted yesterday it appeared Odeo had decreased it's functionality of the "send me an Odeo message" by not allowing users to download the mp3 of the left message. Well there has been a great response from Odeo with emails and even a blog comment. All is restored in the Odeo universe.

Odeo Download LinkBiz Stone who works for Odeo left a comment on the Rail yesterday that indicated that the omission of the Download link on the web page was a bug and implied that they were unaware of the problem until I had blogged about it. So great I found a bug! The emails that were recieved were also prompt and promised a resolution. The action by Odeo to resolve the issue has been excellent. When I logged onto my inbox this afternoon, the download link is now present and accounted for. Everyone breath a sigh of relief. I am yet to see if the enclosure in the RSS feed from the "inbox" has been fixed as well but I am assuming that it has.

I commend Odeo staff on their excellent response time and the fact that they responded at all. They could have easily just resolved the problem and pretended that it did not happen. Great work Odeo, we still love you 😉 (In a nice blokey type of way…).

In fact I am not really sure how Biz found my humble blog, and if he is reading this then I wouldn't mind knowing. The other thing that I was curious about was if the staffers at Odeo patrol the BlogOsphere looking for tags and posts regarding Odeo, to see what people are saying and suggesting. I know that one suggestion that I made in the past was implemented, so that was cool.

Thanks Odeo keep up the good work.

FeedReader Now Supports Enclosures

FeedReader Logo_OldI was talking to my brother-in-law tonight and giving him a crash course in RSS feeds and podcasting and just how great the whole thing is. I think I left him sufficiently confused but excited about what it could do for him. That aside I was recommending a feed reader for him to try and I have always recommended FeedReader. I was very surprised to see that it now supports enclosures (and that includes podcasts!).

While I have not used this version which is FeedReader 3.02, I am sure that it is as easy to use as it was for me when I used it. I have used FeedDemon for some time now, one of the main reasons that I switched to FeedDemon was the fact that it is an all-in-one solution. It supports both feeds and lots of different types of enclosures including podcasts and I liked the idea of having it all in the one place. Essentially both these programs do the same thing; in that they now both support enclosures and read news and whatever other feed you wish to subscribe to. But now when I recommend a reader I won’t have to give an explanation as to why you can not get podcasts with it and why you need a program like Juice to do that. This makes FeedReader a very nice no cost alternative for anyone wanting to give RSS a go.

Juice is a very good Podcast aggregator. However I do think that it is not the easiest piece of software to use for a person that is new to RSS or podcasting. Now having the podcasting support in FeedReader means that a user only has to learn to use one program and not two. Both having very different interfaces. The other huge bonus for the end user is that FeedReader is still open source and still free! Which is great news all round in my book. The new version of FeedReader has some other great new and improved features so check it out!

So for my mates that I put onto FeedReader, go and update it to the latest version on the Download Page and shove your podcasts and feeds into it and let me know how easy/hard it is to use. I hope it makes it a lot easier for people to utilize RSS and enjoy podcasts.

What is RSS?

What is a podcast?

What is an aggregator?

Ok, so I have the software where can I go to find some great RSS feeds and podcasts?

That should be enough to get you going I am sure you will start to notice RSS links and feeds and podcasts everywhere now.

Don’t forget to add Rooster’s Rail to your subscriptions and Global Geek Podcast! Here are the RSS feeds for those. Right click and copy the link and paste it to your reader of choice when you have selected to make a new subscription:

Microsoft Internet Explorer Seems More Broken than Ever

IE LogoI know that I rant about the uselessness of Internet Explorer and the virtues of Firefox. That has not changed but it would seem that Internet Explorer is more broken now than it ever has been.

You might be wondering why I have said that. Since my discovery of Firefox I have not used Internet Explorer, for anything. I mean nothing, if a site does not let me view their content in Firefox; I don't bother. Or if I really have to I use the IETab extension for Firefox. So lately I have had cause to test a webpage using Internet Explorer and a few other things, much to my disgust. What I have noticed is that there are so many images, icons, logos, pictures and other elements that just will not load in Internet explorer, they display the box with the red X in the top. The big one being the cool new player we have on the podcast homepage fails to load! When the majority of people surfing the web are doing it in IE that's a big deal!

Is this because the Microsoft boys are concentrating on the up and coming release of Internet Explorer 7 and neglecting this version. Or perhaps it is the fact that the sites that I frequent are sites that "geeks" use and therefore the sites are optimised for Firefox. I just have no clue really. I will say that when I was writing the Global Geek Podcast Homepage, it was much easier to code it for Firefox than Internet Explorer, by a long shot. We are currently doing a rebuild of the site and that continues to be the case. Suffice to say that the site will be optimised for Firefox, yes you will be able to load it in IE but it will not be as pretty.
Having said all that the things that refuse to load in IE are not critical to the site but eh, it is a browser; it is supposed to do it! This is however what we have com to expect from this browser.

So to this just adds to reasons not to use IE, along with the fact that Firefox is a superior browser, both for functionality and form. In addition to the fact that it is highly customisable and is more secure.

Be smart, make the switch.

Firefox Bar