six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Six Colors Recommends: Build a podcast studio for under $100 around the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB microphone.

By Jason Snell

Podcasting from inside a browser with Cast

Recording a podcast with other people over the Internet can be complicated. Everyone needs microphones, sure, but they also need to connect to you so you can hear one another, and for the best audio quality, they need to record their end of the conversation and then send that file to you.

The new web service Cast makes the recording process easy by not requiring that panelists install any special software (beyond Google Chrome—it doesn’t work with Safari yet) or sign up for anything in order to be a part of the conversation. You just send them a link, they open it in Chrome, and they’re up and running. (The service also provides basic in-browser audio editing and podcast hosting, all in the aim of making it easier than ever to get your podcast heard.)

Cast’s recording interface.

I tried Cast a few times this summer as a part of the service’s beta test, and wasn’t thrilled with the results, but now that the service is officially ready for the world, I gave it a spin this week. Dan Moren and I recorded a short podcast available to Six Colors subscribers using Cast.

I was pretty happy with the sound quality of the conversation, both as we were talking and when we played it back. There weren’t any noticeable artifacts, and the final version on the server sounded good. Cast works by streaming live audio while simultaneously recording your microphone locally and uploading a higher-quality version in the background.

Cast is limited to three guests (plus the host), but large panels are unruly and difficult to edit (take it from me), so I’m not sure it’s a major limitation.

Cast’s recording interface also takes care to add some features that will be quite useful to hosts and panelists alike. A Show Notes button lets hosts write down information about the recording, including when there were issues that will require attention when it’s time to edit the podcast. And the Raise Your Hand button allows a panelist to indicate that they’ve got something to say, which can help smooth out the conversation—I know a lot of podcasters who type the word “hand” into their Skype windows to get the same effect.

Once the recording is done, you can jump into Cast’s editing interface, or—and I like this feature a lot—just walk away with everyone’s files, recorded locally and uploaded invisibly behind the scenes, and pop them into your audio editor of choice. Since the host controls the start and stop of the recording session, the files all start at the same point, which saves you from having to manually synchronize them. Files come down as 128kbps MP3s, which is absolutely acceptable quality for a spoken-audio podcast. (The first time I tried this with the files from my session with Dan, the download failed. I went back later and tried again, and there was no problem.) The show notes are also downloadable as a text file, tagged to the time code of your recording.

Cast’s editing interface.

Editing in Cast is pretty basic, as you might expect from a browser-based editor. You can edit out chunks of the entire recording, which is useful to make the beginning and end of the show line up perfectly, as well as remove any digressions or mistakes in the middle. You can also adjust the volumes of various tracks, so you can balance out the relative volumes of all your guests. Unfortunately, you can’t trim out noise from a single track, so if someone has a coughing fit while someone else is talking, Cast can’t help you.

You can add new audio layers to the Cast editor, letting you overlay audio (say, sound effects or music) on your session. There’s also a clever “Wedges” feature, which lets you insert audio that pauses your session, plays the audio file, and then continues your session—useful for introductions, ads, and that sort of thing.

Once you’re done, click Mix and Cast with collapse all your audio files into a single mixed-together file. You can choose Standard mix, which leaves your audio alone, or a dynamic-compression mix, which is supposed to smooth out your audio levels. Unfortunately, I found the dynamic-compression mix to be too aggressive—the whole thing sounded overmodulated.

Cast is $10/month (for up to 10 hours of recording time) or $30/month (for 100 hours of recording). I didn’t test Cast’s podcast-hosting feature, but offering unlimited hosting certainly sweetens the deal if you’re currently playing for hosting with a service like Libsyn or Podbean. I published an excerpt of my podcast with Dan to Cast if you’d like to give it a listen and, in the process, test out Cast’s hosting infrastructure.

If you’re a podcast host who has a lot of different guests, non-technical panelists, or panelists who don’t remember to press the recording button or send you their file in time, Cast offers an appealing and simple way to get good quality audio out of guests without asking them to install Skype. If you’re a podcaster or potential podcaster who is frustrated or confused by the Skype-and-local-recording rigamarole, Cast also seems like a service worth trying. And if you don’t want to do more than basic editing, Cast can potentially be a one-stop shop for all your recording, editing, and hosting, which is quite compelling.

Check Cast out for yourself at tryca.st.

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