Tag Archives: audio

Say Boo!

If microblogging wasn’t crazy enough… you can now audioboo!

AudioBoo is a free iPhone application linked to a website of the same name. It lets you record short messages and upload them to the site, where people can then comment if they so desire.

I heard about it a few weeks ago, and installed it on my phone, but never actually launched it. It wasn’t until yesterday that my interest was really piqued, when the boys on the Dan Logan Show talked about it (I dropped them an email to tie it in with my RSS chat, since AudioBoo quite naturally provides RSS feeds). I’ve noticed folks like Phil Campbell using it quite a lot too, so while I was waiting for some software to install today I thought I’d actually try it out.

Sign-up was a breeze… I was delighted to find that it autodetected my Gravatar so I didn’t have to upload a profile image to yet another service, and it used the new Twitter OAuth support to link to my Twitter account without needing me to hand over my password. Even better – the audio quality is brilliant, as it records locally on the phone and then gets transferred, rather than being recorded on the server side with all the crackly quality of a phone line. The iPhone app works beautifully, too, as you’d expect. Oh, and you can subscribe to AudioBoo feeds in iTunes, which is pretty neat.

At the moment I can’t see how much I’d use this, but it’s fun. I see via the AudioBoo blog that the Guardian used it to cover the G20 protests in London. Cool idea.

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Useful tools for homebrew media – my OS X workflow

As I’m sure regular readers are aware, I’m producing a wider range of media than ever before, now that I’m a regular podcaster and creating a range of video content as well. I thought it would be useful to talk a little about the range of tools that I’m using – far from professional level Final Cut or anything!

Hardware

The hardware is pretty varied. The core of the whole “system” is the MacBook Pro, which I use for pretty much all of my editing. That also has the iSight camera, which is adequate for videos which need to include my face, although I’d like something higher quality (any recommendations?). I’ve mentioned iGlasses before, which is useful for adjusting the iSight input. From an audio perspective I use a USB headset and also a Blue Snowflake USB microphone, which is absolutely great – compact, convenient, and it captures excellent quality sound.

If I need to capture video away from the computer, my current camcorder of choice is the Kodak Zi6 which can take HD 720p footage, albeit at a quality limited by the rest of the hardware (lens, sensor etc). I’ve yet to do a proper review of this, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a step up from either the Flip Mino or the older disgo Video Plus which I’d tried. I also sometimes grab snippets of video on my compact Canon camera.

Screencasting

For screencasts I use ScreenFlow. This is just a wonderful piece of software which is capable of recording both the screen, and from the iSight simultaneously. This allows the video to be overlaid into the screencast if required, so you can personally narrate what is going on. Even better than that, ScreenFlow lets you zoom in on windows and desktop features, and is really a general purpose compositing application… if you look at this video I made when I talked to a friend recently, you’ll see there are no desktop elements at all, just the video stream from the camera, a picture of him, and the audio, with some nice image tilt and reflection effects applied. ScreenFlow has also recently added text annotation features, which are really useful.

I’ve yet to use it for any practical purpose, but I also just downloaded OmniDazzle, which is now free. OmniDazzle lets you highlight areas of the screen with visual effects using a single keystroke – I can see this being useful in combination with ScreenFlow in the future.

Video editing

A few weeks ago I blogged about iMovie 09. I know a lot of people really dislike both iMovie 08 and 09, but I’m totally comfortable with both versions now, and I have to say that 09 is just beautiful. I’ve had no issues with it – it’s great for rapidly mixing and editing video, still images and audio. Watch my introductory series on YouTube or the whole thing as one movie on Viddler. I wrote a bit more about my use of iMovie back in December, too.

Here’s a tip: have you ever wanted to create some animated titles of your own? I have one word for you – Keynote! When I created the Home Camp TV title sequence it was a simple matter of creating a slide with some animated elements in Keynote, and exporting it as a Quicktime movie (which I did without sound, allowing me to overlay a choice of audio on the title sequence in iMovie). It’s great for quickly creating JPEG stills with text for titles, too.

In terms of finding audio to accompany videos… I’ve used both the pre-canned loops that come with iMovie, and also used some audio from Podsafe Audio. I do find that site a bit cumbersome to search though, so I’d be interested to know of any other useful, royalty-free resources.

Audio editing

I’ve not done a great deal on the audio-only side of things, but my essential tools here are Audacity for editing and cleanup; and Levelator for post-processing. That’s a really important point, by the way: only levelate your audio once everything is mixed together, the whole point is that it’s going to analyze everything and modulate the volume equally… if you have a bunch of snippets of audio and levelate them separately, then edit them together, you may well still end up with volume variations.

Another quick tip at this stage: to avoid issues with VBR MP3s showing up as weird (and incorrect) lengths in some tools, I bring the audio file into iTunes and do the MP3 export in there.

Imaging

For “proper” RAW photo editing and management, regular readers will know that I’m a huge fan of Lightroom. I use Pixelmator for finer adjustments on exported images.

Beyond that, I find that iPhoto is useful for quickly grabbing snapshots from the digital compact camera for compositing into iMovie clips. Skitch and LittleSnapper are both very useful tools as well as they enable me to rapidly take, resize and annotate screenshots or clips of web pages. For diagrams and so forth, there’s nothing that can beat OmniGraffle.

Extras

Finally, a couple of other useful bits and pieces. Transcoding to different formats is through either VisualHub (now defunct) or ffmpegX. QuickTime Pro is an essential (and highly cost-effective) upgrade too, since it lets you make very quick edits to QuickTime movie files and control the output format more finely.

There. Now, I imagine this may attract a range of “have you heard of…?” “why aren’t you using…?” and other responses, but that’s how I’ve currently settled things. Hopefully some of the tips and thoughts here will be useful to other amateur content creators, too! 🙂

Co-hosting Dogear Nation in 2009

In the past, I’ve posted a blog entry here whenever I’ve been a guest on the Dogear Nation podcast.

Well, not any more. That’s because this year, I’m one of the regular co-hosts of the podcast, and we’d only end up with a weekly entry over here as well as on the Dogear Nation blog and the show itself in iTunes.

Dogear Nation is a listener-driven podcast, so we’d love to have you on board with us. Throughout the week, listeners mark their latest discoveries and news stories on the web with the tag “dogear-nation” on social bookmarking sites like del.icio.us. We record the show each Friday, picking out your best news stories from around the web. The content is varied – we have a “technology and innovation” slant, but cover all kinds of topics. Our regular segments are “the obligatory 3D Internet section” and “Mac-a-rooni” but we also talk about coffee, gaming, the environment, social software, books, gadgets, iPhones and mobile devices, hardware hacking, and just whatever is hot in the week the show is recorded. Ultimately though, it’s about what our listeners tag for us to talk about, so the content changes dynamically from week to week. If you do tag something which we choose for the show, we’ll be sure to give you a shout-out.

Each episode is usually about 30-45 minutes (perfect for a commute!) and we have a lot of fun recording it 🙂 If you haven’t tried us before, it would be great if you dipped in to check it out, and let us know what you think.

iPhones, iPods, headphones

Although Steve Jobs described the iPhone as the “best iPod [Apple] ever made” back in January 2007, I have to say I’m not sure.

I previously owned a 2nd generation nano, and loved it. Light, easy to use… OK the screen was tiny and the capacity was limited, but it did the job.

The iPhone has that nice big screen with video playback going for it, and now it also has the new (and very, very cool) Genius playlist feature. Just a small number of issues, then…

  1. No search? the 2G nano had search! Am I missing something?
  2. No ability to read the notes for podcasts. On the nano I could press the button to cycle through time / cover art / lyrics or info display, and on the iPhone I get lyrics or the “back” of the album cover. Nothing useful for podcasts.
  3. The time slider is way too difficult to control with a finger. On a longer podcast, say over an hour, skipping over a minute or two of the duration is almost impossible. The click wheel definitely wins there.
  4. Finally, and most annoyingly: no external skip / pause control. I have to take the phone out of my pocket, potentially unlock the screen, and then skip to the next track. Really not the best idea when travelling on the London Underground (“that’s right folks, I have a 3G iPhone, please mug me at the next station”).
    OK – time for a confession here. I never unpacked the iPhone headphones until last week. I didn’t realise that they have a mic on the wire with a click switch which gives the forward/back/pause control. Why? Because I’m so used to the poor audio quality of the Apple earbuds that I switched to Shure ones several months ago and I’ve been using them since. So it seems to me that what is needed is some kind of cable which can fit in between third-party headphones and the iPhone’s headphone socket with an external switch on them.

I think the iPhone is an awesome device, but for me, it just isn’t the best iPod I’ve ever had.

Review: Shure SE210 earphones

Ever since reading Nik Fletcher’s review of the Shure E2C earphones last year I’ve had Shure kit on my mental “would really like some of those” wishlist. I now have a lovely set of Shure SE210 earphones.

SE210 what's in the boxI use my iPod nano a lot, but it is well-known that the Apple earbuds are not the best. I’ve previously thought about some good noise-cancelling headphones, but in most cases those aren’t especially portable as they cover the ears and require batteries to power the noise cancellation. When I read Nik’s review I thought the sound-isolation seemed like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t sure how well it would work

Well, I was able to try out a set of the Shure SE210s (the successors to the E2Cs) at MacLive Expo in London back in November, but I resisted getting them at the time. Now I’ve finally succumbed.

The sound-isolation is achieved by the earbuds having foam or rubber sleeves that act like earplugs and block out the external noise. By default the SE210s come fitted with foam sleeves (picture here), which should be rolled between the fingers before you put them into the ears, where they expand to a neat fit. If the foam ones don’t suit, the box contains four alternative sets of sleeves which may fit better, and a cleaning tool for hooking out any dirt from inside the canal of the earphone sleeve. It’s quite an odd experience at first, since it does feel like you are wearing earplugs and yet able to hear the music… but the sound-isolation is great – people working in the same room as me will attest that it is now harder to catch my attention aurally! Another side effect is that I’m actually using a much, much lower volume setting on my iPod than I used to… I barely have to have any volume at all. As I type this I’m listening to iTunes on the MacBook and the volume is on the lowest possible setting, but it’s entirely comfortable and I can’t hear the click of the keys as I type. The only downside is that it can be a bit fiddly to put them on, especially since Shure recommend having the earphones curled around the ear.

The quality of the audio from the earphones themselves is excellent. With the Apple iPod earbuds it was frequently a little tinny and lacking in depth. The SE210s deliver a lot richer sound with clear bass (although I tend to select the Bass Booster EQ setting on the iPod). Select a multi-layered track like Coldplay’s Speed of Sound – which I also note tends to be be loaded on the iPods in Apple stores, which usually have high-end Bose noise-cancelling headphones attached – and I can hear a lot of texture and detail, and pick out the individual tracks in the mix. As Nik says, there’s a danger of becoming an audio snob with these.

The SE210s also come with an extension cable (the earphones themselves are on a foot-long “stub” of a cable so it’s lucky that the extension cable is in the box), and a carry case. All in all, quite a nice package. Worth a look if you want to upgrade your sound but continue to have portable earphones. Oh, I’d avoid getting them from the Apple store, since they seem to only be available at list price… the price is more reasonable (although still expensive as in-ear headphones got, but these are good quality) elsewhere such as Amazon.