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How we built our podcast studio near Leeds

Approaching the build of a podcast studio is a unique proposition. With podcasts being the current ‘big thing’ even though they have been around for almost 10 years. Most people are discovering how they can create their own content. In their own spaces at a fraction of the cost of what studios used to cost to build. Advances in modern recording equipment and manufacturers seeing a very lucrative market in home recording. Professional audio equipment has become affordable and more importantly far easier to use than ever before.

So I wanted to take you through the thought behind the podcast studio's we've just built near Leeds in Yorkshire. It's more in depth than your home studio. We wanted to create something really special

My name's Mark. I'm the Director of Technology for Yorkshire Podcast Studios (Yes, that's me in the photo) and my background is in audio. I was a professional radio producer for 25 years working across national and local stations around the UK. I’ve worked in all types of studios and on all types of equipment from very old analogue studios, to the latest digital Global Radio studios in Nottingham and Leicester Square.

The one thing we need to be clear on, a good studio doesn’t mean your content will be any good and a good mic doesn’t mean you’ll be a good presenter, these things come from practice and experience. We’ll touch on this in another podcast.

However we thought we would take your through the technology and methodology of our studios to show you what tech we’ve put in and the decisions behind our new podcast studio near Leeds.

Yorkshire podcast studios before we built them
Yorkshire podcast studio before we started building

To first understand a studio build you have to decide what sort of content do you want to produce? Is it audio alone or visuals as well? Podcasts started off as an audio-only medium. However in recent years the visual podcast has really taken on a life its own, and that relaxed studio type environment is becoming ever more popular in podcast production.

We decided it was important to deliver audio and visuals in each of our studios. So the first question we had to answer was how are we going to approach this build….. Analogue or digital?

First off what’s the difference? Here is a simple explainer.

‘Analog and digital signals are the types of signals carrying information. The major difference between both signals is that the analog signals have continuous electrical signals, while digital signals have non-continuous electrical signals.’

What does this mean? Good question. Most people don’t care, but when setting up a studio it’s important. But more importantly what does this look like in a studio environment? An analogue setup requires many cables, XLR’s Krone racks and analogue switch bays to route audio to the different places you may want it, then when you want to expand your setup, this takes adding more cables in multiple amounts to the studios you need the audio to be routed too. Sounds like a right pain, and it is, but analogue audio feels real and tangible. You can touch the cable your audio is going down, you can physically plug in an XLR and analogue desks are dream to listen to. Analogue though can soon become a monster! Having worked in studios when digital wasn’t a thing, I’ve seen hundreds of cables, badly labelled - filling voids in buildings, fault finding and audio routing can then become a nightmare.

Luckily we now work in a digital world and in recent years digital audio has come on in leaps and bounds. One of the front runners in digital is DANTE. A total revolution in how we record, route and playback audio. Rather than numerous cables taking audio from one location to another, which can be affected by magnetic signals dodgy soldered connections and many other variables. Dante converts audio into a digital signal then sends it down a standard ethernet cable. Meaning the hub of your audio setup is the humble ethernet switch. Controlled solely from a software interface you can route and source from any location to anywhere you can dream (As long as it’s on your network.) A side note here is Dante only works on wired connections and not on wireless.

This means adding an entire new studio can be as simple as 1 new ethernet cable.. A revolution in audio delivery and setup.

When we started with our 'podcast studio 1' build, we needed to build a radio studio with visual capabilities. First and foremost we wanted to use a Dante compatible desk which would be a pleasure to use, which also came in at a reasonable cost. The manufacturer we settled on was AEQ and their Capitol IP desk. A fully rounded broadcast desk with Dante built in. It delivers everything a professional radio desk should be capable of doing within a solid frame and most importantly to radio presenters, quality faders!!

For studio 1, once we had settled on this key piece of equipment, the rest of the studio was easy-ish to decide upon. Here is a full List.

Microphones - RODE Procaster mics. Great microphones which deliver a warm professional sound and built to withstand a Tsunami! Yeah, they’re solid.

Headphones - Big debate we had on this one, I'm a keen Beyerdynamic fan and have owned DT250's forever and I love them. However i was outvoted and we went for Shure headphones. Ok I still prefer Beyer. But the Shure's deliver top quality sound.

Lighting - Newer Lights. Simple, effective, full colour control and small enough to allow easy placement whilst giving off a stunning amount of light. these are built into our setup cabled into the walls and controlled by wall switches.

Mika Mic arm in the studio with AEQ Capital Mixing Desk
Mika Mic arm with an AEQ Capitol Desk

Mika Mic Arms - Ok. I can’t even tell you the length of discussion we had on the Mika mic arms. It was always in my head I wanted to use them, having used them in studios in the past. I’ll go into more detail in another blog. There are many mic arm solutions out there but none that match the sheer class of these arms.

Playout systems - We have used both Playout One and Myriad. Both systems are fantastic at what they do and it’s really only personal preference as to which one would be regarded as best, they have both recently launched cloud based systems, which means we no longer need the playout systems in the studio.

Everything is controlled from a central server and logged into. This is a game changer when it comes to redundancy in studios. If there is a technical issue in one studio we can log in, in another studio and be up and running in moments.

Being from a solely audio background when it came to deciding the visual setup for this podcast studio this was a much harder decision. Whilst I’ve been filming pre recorded content for years, live visual setups are a different beast.

There are systems out there can cost an arm and a leg yet don’t offer as much as the more budget friendly options. After weeks of research we settled on Vmix to be the cornerstone of our setup.

Vmix is an Australian company, not a large player like Tri Caster. But their software delivers an enormous hit of high end usability! Then there is the hardware visual setups. Like Blackmagic with their ATEM mixers. Great equipment, but for Studio 1 not quite right.

One of our prerequisites for this studio was it should be able to be run by a presenter alone. A hard task to be able to hit. Vmix allows us to do this easily using shortcuts and a Elgato Stream Deck interface.

We set about creating a top of the line PC to run Vmix on, and this PC is a Goliath. Like with the audio setup, we wanted to make sure the video setup was easy to expand and we wouldn’t be running endless cables as we extended our studio capacity.

With video this could have been numerous BNC cables or HDMI’s. Which we have these on our Vmix machine for flexibility of content delivery. We opted for the NDI (Network Device Interface) protocol. Digital video delivered again over ethernet directly into our Vmix and in fact anywhere in our building on any device that can view NDI. Even your laptop. The flexibility and expandability this gives us is exceptional.

Podcast Studio Leeds with video wall backdrop
Video wall backdrop in YPS' studio 1

Then there comes our pièces de résistance, our rear video wall. Built from 4 Screens on a mounting system which looks like it was designed by NASA! These are fed from a Birddog NDI player split over the 4 televisions which can be fed from any NDI source in the building, meaning we have dynamic displays in the rear of the studio shot fully controllable from any vMix in the building…. I love it. To me it’s the highlight of the studio and really shows what NDI can achieve when used in this way. Oh the rear screens can be controlled by the presenter and could be used for anything from graphics to remote calls into the studio.

That’s studio 1. I’ll continue this blog on studio 2 soon!


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