My Studio and Gear – Summer 2017

 

Audio and Video Production Studio

I get emails occasionally from people interested in the tools I use to produce the podcast, make videos, etc.

Here’s the current setup (summer of 2017).

(FYI, many of the links below are to Amazon, and they’re “affiliate links”, meaning that if you were sent to Amazon via that link and proceeded to buy the item, I would get a small percentage of the purchase price (like, 6% — so I might get 6 dollars on a 100 dollar purchase. I’m not trying to get anyone to purchase these items, and you can always look them up on your own.)

This work area is set up in the back end of our basement.

The iMac is sitting on a homemade standing desk, that my wife and son put together for me for my birthday back in April. I like to stand when I’m recording audio or doing interviews or webinars.

The table on the right was a donation from my sister, who was struggling to find a place for it in their house (it’s pretty big). I work on the laptop here (when I’m not at a coffee shop writing). I have a second monitor on the table if I need it for some reason.

The white cube on the table is a lightbox that I made just recently, for the purpose of creating whiteboard-style videos. It’s made of white foam core board, a diffusion material (shower curtain from Walmart), and white duct tape. I followed the instructions in this YouTube video. I was inspired by Henry Reich’s wonderful MinutePhysics videos and his setup.

Inside is a document camera (Ipevo Ziggi-HD Plus High-Definition USB Document Camera) that points down, which captures video of whatever you’re writing or drawing below, and sends it to the laptop, where you can capture it using the software they give you, or a screen capture tool like Screenflow.

You need lots of light for this to look good, so when I’m recording I put light sources on top and all around it (cheap clamp lights). The shower curtain material diffuses the light, so the whole cube is lit up nice and even on the inside. I’m still playing around with this.

My audio setup includes a microphone, which is connected to a pre-amp processor, which is connected to an audio interface, that then plugs into the iMac via USB.

Audio Components

The pre-amp (DBX 286s Microphone Pre-amp Processor) is the long black rectangular thing on the bottom. The audio interface is the red and black box on top (Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 USB Audio Interface).

The pre-amp serves a number of functions. It can power a microphone that might need “phantom power”. It can boost the audio signal, reduce background noise, and add some compression, which makes your voice sound richer. Lots of people do this kind of processing using software like Adobe Audition. This setup eliminates the need for a lot of additional audio processing. I used this YouTube video to help understand and adjust the settings on the pre-amp.

I need the audio interface to connect the output of the pre-amp to the computer, since the pre-amp doesn’t have a USB output.

The microphone is a Shure SM58 dynamic XLR mic. This is commonly used as a stage mic for vocals, and less commonly used as a podcasting mic. In the past I’ve also used an Audio-Technica AT875R shotgun mic, and an Audio-Technica AT2020 USB mic. They’re all good mics at an affordable price, and they’ll give you good audio, but they are designed for different purposes, and you have to know how to use them.

You need good lighting to capture good video with a webcam or DSLR camera. The big softbox light on the left has diffusing material over the bulb, so it spreads the light out nicely (LimoStudio Photography Video Studio Continuous Softbox Lighting Light Kit with Photo CFL 105W Bulb).

I wear glasses with a high power prescription, and that can be a nightmare for catching glare from light sources. I put the big light up high and to the left. At this angle it doesn’t catch in my glasses. That’s the “key” light. The smaller light on the right I’m using as a “fill” light, to fill the shadows cast by the key light. I angle it away from my face and bounce it off the wall, which diffuses it. It makes a subtle but real difference.

I do almost all of my audio and video editing in Screenflow, and almost all of my graphics production in Apple Keynote. I own a lot of different graphics and drawing programs (you name it, I probably have it), so I might jump around a bit. But I produce all my presentations for talks in Keynote.

My webcam is a Logitech HD Pro C920, which is one of the most popular webcams for screencasting, video conferencing, vlogging, etc. You can’t control the settings on a Mac as well as you can on a PC, so I use an app from Apple’s App Store (Logitech Camera Settings) that gives you some additional controls.

I do almost all of my writing in Scrivener.

I have a Wacom tablet (Intuos Pro Medium) for digital drawing when I need that. I used to do a lot more drawing with the tablet when I was trying to develop a philosophy webcomic (many starts and stops!).

I think that’s about it!

This is very much a second-tier production setup. It’s a step up from what many people start with (a microphone, a laptop and a closet to record in). But it’s nowhere near what a high-end setup can look like.

If you really want to see what “studio porn” looks like to me, check out Joseph Michael’s setup.

Update: A friend of mine asked what books I have on the shelf, beside my Hulk piggy bank.

Here’s a picture:

books on shelf

This is about 50 books, and it’s just overflow from my library stacks, which are in a room just off to the right of the studio. There are maybe 600 books back there. Quite a few I’ve acquired over the past 10 years, but many are a legacy of teaching philosophy, philosophy of science and logic/critical thinking classes for 20 years.

(And when I quit my academic job and moved back to Canada two years ago, I gave away about 500 books, knowing that I couldn’t store them all. Sigh.)

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