Configurable Postproductions, Optional WAV Recordings, and More Reliable VoIP

Hey Friends,

I've got a few updates and bug fixes for you this week.

Configurable Postproductions

I've added the ability to configure the enhancements that are applied to your postproductions.  When you create a postproduction you will now see an 'Advanced Options' button below the tracks.  The default settings are generally pretty good so you don't need to worry about changing these unless you know what you are doing.

  • Loudness Target - This is the target volume for the tracks.
  • Leveler - Adjusts the volume of the tracks so they are all the same.  Also normalizes the volume within the tracks so you don't have quiet and loud segments.
  • Noise Gate - This will remove background noise when the speaker on the track is silent
  • Cross Gate - When it detects a speaker on one track, it will duck the volume of the others.

Optional WAV Recordings

Many of you requested to make the WAV recordings optional since they take a fair amount of time to upload after the recording is finished.  Simple enough to do.  I have now added a setting on the dashboard that lets you opt in/out of wav recordings.  The default is off so make sure you turn this feature on if you do want to record in WAV.  You will find the setting just below the cloud drive information.

More Reliable VoIP

Without getting too technical, the built-in VoIP was unable to operate if you or your guests were in large, complex networks that are common at office spaces and universities.  A few of you ran into issues with this.  I have now set up another server that will help Zencastr's VoIP connect even in these circumstances. If you have contacted me about this in the past, please let me know if this has resolved the problem or if there is some more work that needs to be done here.

Thank You

Thanks for all the feedback, well-wishes, and support you guys give me.  It is great to see so many people finding value in the project and invested in it's success.  I hope to add a lot of great features in the future.  Please keep the feedback coming in.

Until next time.

Posted on January 25, 2016 .

Record Now in Lossless 16-bit 44.1 kHz WAV

Hey Guys,

You've been asking for it since day one and it's finally ready.  In addition to the regular MP3 recordings, you will now have a lossless WAV file for each participant.  Yay!

How it Works

Your audio will now be recorded to MP3 and WAV simultaneously.   During the recording, the MP3 audio will be uploaded in chunks to your cloud drive as a backup.  This ensures that you always have a backup of the audio incase of a computer crash or power outage.  At the end of the recording, the WAV audio will then be uploaded in full to your cloud drive.

When the recording is over you will see your MP3's finish uploading and then the WAV uploads will begin like this:

Postproductions With WAV

Naturally, you will want to be able to use your WAV files as the input tracks for your postproductions.  When you initiate an Automatic Postproduction you will now be able to select what tracks to use.

NOTE:  You only want to select one track per guest.

This will be particularly helpful for podcast producers who monitor the recording but may want to exclude their own track from the postproduction.

Upcoming

In the near future you will also be able to configure the settings for the postproduction enhancements.  These settings will include noise suppression, loudness target, cross gating, and more.  I'm also working on making it so that the host will be able to easily see what microphone each guest has selected.

Countdown to End of BETA

Support for WAV is one if the final features that will drop before Zencastr moves out of Beta ( for real this time ) and into a paid plan model.  I'm still working out the details but in general, there will be two tiers.  $10/mo for the Basic plan and $20/mo for the Pro plan.  There will be no limit on the number of recordings or guests in either plan.  The differentiator between the Basic and Pro plan will be the number of Postproduction hours allotted per month and the access to lossless WAV recording.

Thank You For Your Continued Support!

Thank you for your support in testing and providing feedback so far.  Zencastr couldn't have made it this far without you.  As a lot of you know, Zencastr has been a side project for me along side my day job.  I'm hoping to make this my full-time gig and really take Zencastr to the next level.  Your continued support as a paid member would be very much appreciated and enable me to focus all my time on the project.

What Should I Build Next?

Have any features you're dying for?  Let me know in the comments.

Posted on January 17, 2016 .

Big Update - Built-in VOIP, Chat, Muting and More

Hey Podcasters,  I've got a big update for Zencastr to share with you.  I'm really excited to see how you like it and how you use the new features.  Let's just dive right in and start with the most exciting first.

 

Built-in VOIP

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 7.51.36 PM.png

You no longer have to rely on using a third-party VOIP service like Skype or Hangouts.  Now, Zencastr can connect you with your guests directly through your browser.  You can turn the VOIP button ON to choose to use Zencastr's built-in VOIP or OFF to use your preferred VOIP provider instead.

This will simplify the process of recording and clear up a lot of confusion as to how Zencastr works.  Previously there was a lot of confusion around which microphone Skype and Zencastr were accessing and how muting Skype affected the recording.  Now it is all built in and super simple to use.  This leads us to the next big and most highly requested feature.

 

Audio Meters

Up until now, the host could only see a monitor of their own microphone.  Now, when using the built-in VOIP feature, you can get a monitor for yourself and each of your guests.  The blue meter at the bottom of the user card will show you live information on the amplitude of the microphone input.  This will help to give confidence that their microphone is configured properly and recording during your call.

 

Muting

Finally!  You can now mute yourself or your guests during the recording.  Your guests also have the option to mute themselves.  Simply click on the mic icon on the user card.  I know there are a lot of you out there who were anxiously awaiting this feature.  The wait is over!   Thank you for you patience.  

 

Chat

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 8.07.20 PM.png

There is a new text chat area in the project page.  This is helpful for sharing links, non-verbal cues, or just trash talking your co-host during the recording.

 

Hand Raising

In addition to the chat, there is an even simpler way for your guests to let you know they have something to say.  They can simply click a button to 'raise their hand'.  A notification will show up on their user card that lets you know they have a comment on the current topic.  You can then click the raised hand to put it back down.  This should help to reduce the occurrences of talking over each other and result in a better experience and recording.

 

All Available Now

You don't have to wait to try these new features out.  They are now live on the site.  Ready and waiting for you.  In case you forgot your way, head over to https://zencastr.com ;)

 

What Would You Like to See Next?

Are there any features you were hoping for that didn't get announced?  There are dozens of more features in the pipeline.   Please let me know if you have an idea for how to make Zencastr better.  I base all of the new features on user feedback so don't be shy!  You can drop suggestions in the comments below or shoot me an email: josh@zencastr.com.

 

Moving Out of Beta  

This will likely be the last major release before Zencastr moves out of beta and into full production.  Zencastr is just getting started.  Thank you so much for your support so far.  I'll be sure and have a special deal for all you podcasters that helped test the beta version and put up with all my mistakes ;).

 

Posted on January 2, 2016 .

New Features and a Facelift!

Starting today Zencastr will have several new features available and a new look to go with them.  I've tried to focus on the feedback I have received from all of you and add some highly requested features as well as polish up any confusing areas in the interface.

Here is a breakdown of some of the new features.

Streamlined and More Polished Design

The overall look and feel of the project pages should be simpler, cleaner, and easier on the eyes.  I've tried to make heavy use of icons to make the page easier to scan and comprehend as well as focusing on the spacing and placement of the elements.  Also there is a new color palette I have chosen moving forward.  Of course, a lot of these things are subjective.  I hope you like but let me know what you think!

I didn't want to make you guys wait any longer that necessary to try out the new features so I have launched the new project pages before I have had time to go through the entire site and update everything else.  The design might feel a bit disjointed between the project page and the rest of the site.  I'll be going through and doing a full redesign of the dashboard and homepage in the coming weeks.  I appreciate your patience with this.

 

Timeline Footnotes

One of the most requested features was a way to create footnotes/annotations during a recording that were timestamped at a certain point in the timeline.  This could be useful if you want to mark something you would like to add to the show notes or if there is some thing you would like to edit out later like a cough or swear word.  You can just click the Footnote button or press the hotkey F to add one to the timeline.  You can optionally type a quick note to attach to the timestamp, or simply leave it blank.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 4.54.04 AM.png

Microphone Management

A big pain point for a lot of you in using Zencastr was getting your microphone input selected properly.  I've focussed especially on making this easier and more transparent for you and your guests.

Firstly, you no longer to go through the "Arm Microphones" step.  You and your guests will automatically be prompted to allow access to your microphones upon joining the project.  If your guest accidentally closes or denies access to their microphone, they will have a button in their screen that allows them to retry the microphone activation prompt.  This should eliminate some of the frustration around the mic arming process.

You will  now also be able to select between your available microphones from within the Zencastr application.  Yay!  One catch is that Firefox doesn't support this feature yet so it only works in Google Chrome.  I suggest that you use Chrome until Firefox catches up on some of these features.

Cloud Drive Stats

You will now be able to see your cloud drive disk space stats from your dashboard and will also get a warning if you try to create a project with less than 200MB available.  This addresses a problem some of you had with maxing our your cloud drive and not getting useful notifications from Zencastr.  You can still use Zencastr if you run out of space on your cloud drive but it will be your responsibility to collect the recordings from your guests as the cloud sync will not work.

Recording Management

When you make more than one recording in a project you will now have a sidebar revealed that will allow you to navigate back through each recording.  You will be able to see what tracks were created per recording as well as any postproductions.  There is no current limit to how many recording you can make per project but I suggest you don't cram too many recordings into a given project as it could get a bit unruly.  

 

Error Recovery

You will also be able to see if any of the tracks had a problems completing their upload to your cloud drive.  This can happen sometimes if the connection to your cloud drive was unavailable at the time you completed your recording.  This will also allow you to recover from computer crashes, power outages, etc.  The audio that had been uploaded to your cloud drive will be safe and recoverable.  If there were any errors you will be able to finalize the tracks yourself by simply clicking to initiate the finalization.  The track should appear in your cloud drive shortly.

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.11.06 AM.png

This just a overview of the most important changes in this update.  There are lots of little changes a nuances that you will notice as you use the service.  Please try it out and let me know how you like it.  Also if you run into any issues or have any suggestions, I'm always happy to chat via email (josh@zencastr.com), skype (username: somethingcoded), or in the feedback forum (http://reddit.com/r/zencastr)

Thanks to all the beta testers and those who give feedback.  It helps a TON!  Keep the ideas coming and I'll do my best to incorporate them into the next version.

 

Posted on September 21, 2015 .

Tips for Avoiding Crosstalk When Recording Your Podcast

Photo by arinahabich/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by arinahabich/iStock / Getty Images

For the best results when recording your podcast, you want to have a clean and distinct audio recording of each participant.  This allows for the most flexibility during postproduction and ultimately a great sounding podcast.

What is Crosstalk?

A common problem when recording remote guests is crosstalk (aka audio leakage or bleed).   This is when one of the voices from the podcast leaks onto one or more of the other recordings where it doesn't belong.  Essentially, the same voice gets recorded on multiple tracks with a slight delay.  When the separate tracks are combined, this results in an unsettling echo effect.

Here is an example:

I'm sure many of you have dealt with this issue in the past, It can mean hours of time editing each track manually in postproduction.  The best option is to completely avoid it in the first place.

What Causes Crosstalk?

The most likely cause of crosstalk is when one or more of the participants in a show don't wear headphones.  What happens is that the voices of the other participants plays out of their speakers and immediately gets fed back into their microphone.  This contaminates the audio track with the voices of all the other guests.

Crosstalk can also happen when wearing headphones under certain circumstances.  Some earbud/mic combination microphones like the ubiquitous Apple headphones can leak quite badly if the volume is too high.  Any headphones where the earphones are ported can have this issue.

How to Prevent Crosstalk

Headphones - Having every participant in your show wear headphones will solve this issue most of the time.

Lower Volume - If you are all wearing headphones and still encountering a crosstalk issue, have everyone lower the output volume of their headphones as low as they comfortably can.  This will help prevent the other voices in the headphone output from reaching the microphone.

Avoid Mic/Headphone Combos - Headphone/Mic combination earbuds or headsets can leak badly even with the volume turned down.  The Apple earbuds are notorious for this.  Try using a microphone that is completely separate from your headphones.

Higher Quality Gear - You don't need to break the bank, but spending a little extra money on a good quality microphone and headphones will go a long way.  I personally use the Audio Technica AT2020 for my microphone and the Sennheiser HD 518s for my headphones and love them.  You can get them both for around $100 each.  Obviously you can't always control what your guests use but it doesn't hurt to ask them ahead of time if they have something better then earbuds to have ready for the recording.

How Can I Tell if Crosstalk is Happening?

It is easy to spot crosstalk after the recording is finished, but it is much more helpful if you can know before you record an entire show and end up with useless audio.

Zencastr provides each participant with an audio monitor visualization to help out with this.  Here is a quick test can do before you start recording that can help you determine if there is a crosstalk problem.

1. After all guests have join the project and allowed access to their microphones, each participant will see a visual monitor of their own microphone's input before the recording starts.  It looks like this when they are talking into their microphone:

2. Take turns having each participant go silent while you, the host, speak loudly into your mic.  Have them silently watch their microphone monitor.  If it is jumping and responding to your voice, then there is a crosstalk problem that needs to be addressed.  If there is no crosstalk happening then their microphone monitor should look completely flat when you talk like this:

3. When in doubt you can always just do a quick thirty second test recording and listen to it before you jump into your full length show.  Zencastr has no limits on the amount of recordings you can do, small or large, so take advantage of that to ensure you are getting the best quality sound possible.

Automatic Postproduction

Zencastr's newest feature, Automatic Postproduction, works great when the tracks are free from crosstalk.  Now that you have ensured your recordings are clean, give it a try.  It automatically syncs your separate recordings into one final mix and runs a series of audio enhancements to get rid of noise, adjust your levels and more, to make your podcast sound like it was produced in a studio.

What are Your Tips for Preventing Crosstalk?

Do you have any tips that I haven't mentioned here?  Please leave them in the comments and I'll try and integrate them into the article so everyone can benefit.

Posted on August 5, 2015 .

You Don't Need to Be an Audio Engineer to Have a Studio Quality Podcast

Photo by Anthony Brown/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Anthony Brown/iStock / Getty Images

I'm happy to announce that we've got some new features available on Zencastr.com that will make your life easier and your audio sound better than ever.  Here's the rundown.

Final Mix Track

Once you are finished recording a show, you will see an option for Automatic Postproduction.  This generates a final mix track out of the separate audio files that were recorded and places it in your dropbox account next to your other project files.  But thats just the beginning.

Curated Audio Enhancements for Amazing Sound

In addition to mixing the tracks together, Zencastr will run a curated set of battle-tested audio enhancements over your audio to ensure that your final mix sounds great.  Here are some details.

High-pass Filter - Filters unnecessary and disturbing low frequencies depending on the context (speech, music, noise).

Adaptive Leveling - Corrects level differences between speakers, music and speech, etc. to achieve a balanced overall loudness.

Loudness Normalization - Adjusts the global, overall loudness so that all processed files have a similar average loudness.

Noise Reduction - Classifies regions with different background noises and automatically removes noise and hum.

Adaptive Noise Gate - If audio is recorded with multiple microphones and all signals are mixed, the noise of all tracks will add up as well. The Adaptive Noise Gate decreases the volume of segments where a speaker is inactive, but does not change segments where a speaker is active. This results in much less noise in the final mixdown.

Crossgate - If one records multiple people with multiple microphones in one room, the voice of speaker 1 will also be recorded in the microphone of speaker 2. This crosstalk (spill), a reverb or echo-like effect, can be removed by the Crossgate, because we know exactly when and in which track a speaker is active.

Now you don't need a degree in Audio Engineering to make your podcast sound professional.  Simply click Automatic Postproduction and let us do the heavy lifting for you.

Future

Currently these audio enhancements are only available on the final mix track and are not configurable, but that will change.  Depending on demand, these will be available for processing the individual audio tracks for those of you who still want to edit your final mix yourself.  Also we will soon be adding a configuration panel so you can customize the process.

Podcasters differ a lot in how hands-on they want to be with their audio.  Would you use the Automatic Postproduction and Final Mix generation?  Are you more interested in simply having the option to run some enhancements on the individual tracks?  Let me know in the comments.

 

Posted on August 1, 2015 .

Comcastro wins the ticket to Podcast Movement!

A big thanks to everyone who shared their love for Zencastr on twitter this week.  The selected winner is Comcastro.  They have been helping beta test Zencastr and have been spreading the word like champs!  Maximus (@comcastrMax) from comcastro will be attending the conference as our guest.  If you are attending, be sure to give him a warm welcome.

Comcastro is very entertaining show that covers a wide range of topics surrounding geek culture. It is a relatively new podcast but it has already managed to bring in some top-tier guests.  Their recent interview with Neal Goldsmith is a must listen.  Also they just had a long-time hero of mine Stanton Friedman on the show.  I've got that one queued up for this afternoon.

If you didn't win this time, don't worry.  We'll be holding regular giveaways.  Stay tuned to the blog and sign up for the mailing list to get the heads up when the next one comes around.  

Happy Podcasting!

Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Join Zencastr at Podcast Movement for FREE!

I'm happy to announce that Zencastr will be attending Podcast Movement, the largest podcasting conference in the world.  Over 1000+ podcasters will be there and it has a great line up of speakers and presentations.  It will be an awesome time all around.  We'll have a booth in the lobby are looking forward to meeting everyone.  Come by and say Hi!

Be Our Guest

If you don't yet have a ticket and are interested in attending, We've got an extra ticket to give away.  All you need to do is tweet something nice about Zencastr.com.  Please include @zencastr or a link to zencastr.com and then tag it with #zencastrPM15.  You will need to be signed up for the Zencastr Beta as well.  Over the next few days we'll select a winner and you will be our guest at the conference.  The tickets to Podcast Movement cost $597 at the door so don't pass this opportunity up!

It is a bit of short notice so we will notify the winner by this Saturday so you will have time to book travel if necessary.

Posted on July 22, 2015 .

Zencastr - The Easiest Way To Record Your Podcast Guests In High Quality

Podcasting is Getting Crowded and You Need to Stand Out

Now that the podcasting space is heating up, there is a lot of opportunity for podcasters to be heard and make money.  There is also a LOT more competition.  In order to stand out, you don't only need great content, but a great sound.  

It is pretty basic to get a decent recording when you and your guest are in the same room.  But what about when you have guests over Skype or Hangouts?  Your audio sounds great, but they sound distant at best and can completely cut out at times.  This is the problem that Zencastr can help you solve.

Current VOIP Recording Solutions Don't Cut It

While there are many solutions out there to record your VIOP calls, all of them rely on recording your guest's audio at your end AFTER it has already been compressed.  VOIP programs like Skype optimize for real-time conversation, not for quality.  This means that if your internet connection slows down, Skype compresses the life out of your guests audio.  This can cause artifacts in the audio stream that are very noticeable to your listeners.  Many listeners stop listening to podcasts because of bad quality an never tell the host why.  All of your time and effort put into making great content and scheduling interesting guests can go down the drain over the recording quality

Enter Zencastr

I'm happy to announce Zencastr, the easiest way to record your Skype/Hangouts/VOIP guests in high quality.

Zencastr works in your browser.  This means that all you have to do is send a link to your guests and hit record.  Their audio will be recorded on their end before it gets compressed and garbled.  Then it is automatically streamed to your Dropbox account.  No more junk audio and no more trying to teach your guests how to export and send you audio.  Just crystal clear audio that sounds like you were sitting in the same room.

Try it Now Free

Zencastr is currently in beta and is free of charge to use.  Why not give it a shot?  You won't regret it and neither will your listeners.  Get started today at zencastr.com.

PS - If you have any suggestions for how Zencastr can be better please let me know at josh@zencastr.com

 

Posted on July 15, 2015 .