Podcasters, Please! Put Down The Phone!!

Scott Harvey Old Vine Zinfandel (5)While it doesn’t often get mentioned here (more usually here) I’ve developed something of an interest in wine. This passion comes with a healthy learning curve. I’m still early in the process so trying to take onboard whatever information I can find.

For some time I’ve been listening to Randy Fuller’s excellent “Now and Zine Wine Report” podcast. At one minute, five times a week it’s an information-rich nugget of Johnny-Five style input. It’s especially notable because Randy Fuller is also a professional actor and voice talent. As you might well expect, his podcasts are usually a fine example of an audio professional at work.

Randy’s typical high standards make his recent series, taken from a conversation with winemaker Scott Harvey, all the more jarring and unexpected. Randy’s presence in the podcast is his usual, most-excellent self. It’s Scott’s presence that I find wanting.

According to Randy’s introduction, the series of three posts so far are, taken from a conversion that they had by telephone. It seems quite likely to me that Scott was on a mobile phone at the time. His audio quality is quite poor, but it’s really the contrast between the host’s voice and the guest that hits like a hammer to the skull.

This has me pondering the various alternative approaches that might be used in creating such a podcast. There are many possible ways to avoid leveraging a cell phone over the PSTN.

Most simplistically, you could arrange to have the guest take the call via a land-line. Yes, the Plain-Old-Telephone-Service (POTS) might be narrowband but it can sound decent. It avoids the variability of cellular phone reception, as well as the ungodly GSM-HR compression used on many North American cellular networks.

With smart phone penetration in the US running >70% there are pretty good odds that Scott carries some kind of smart phone. A quick search online reveals a Pintrest item inferring that Randy carries an iPhone. Perhaps Scott does also. That would allow them to use FaceTime, without or without video, to have their conversation.

A FaceTime call offers an audio channel that’s dramatically better than a traditional cellular call. Of course, recording that call would require connecting the Randy’s iDevice to his mixer. He’s an audio pro so that should be no particular problem.

If they were Android users they might leverage GTalk instead of FaceTime. Most recently GTalk has been deprecated in favor of Google Hangouts on Android devices. As we know for the past couple of years producing the VUC calls, Hangouts provide an audio path that supports good quality audio for podcasters.

Randy has something of a presence on Google+, which suggests that he can join a Hangout from a PC or Mac. That could be more convenient with respect to recording the call.

Of course, Skype is available on a variety of platforms. Skype calls are often better than cellular/PSTN quality. Skype may be less convenient if it requires that the guest load the app to their smart phone. Skype from a laptop might be easier, but that would suffer the use of the laptops built-in mic & speakers. That could be very good, or not-so-good.

iPod Touch Right FacingBeing a technophile I might have tried using a SIP soft phone on the guests smart phone, connected to a wideband conference service like ZipDX. That would provide both a good quality audio connection and a convenient means of recording the call. Such arrangements take some setup, which may be more than a non-technophile guest is willing to accept.

I wonder if, in this case, the audio quality presented by the guest reflects the fact that he was just not is a good cellular service area at the time? What’s cellular coverage like out in the Sierra foothills of Amador County? That’s where Scott sources some of the fruit for his excellent Zinfandel and Barbera wines.

If Scott were up in Amador County, and mobile data coverage were lacking in that location, then perhaps a cell phone call is that best that was possible at the time. Podcasters operate within a range of constraints. Not everything comes to pass in the convenience of one’s home studio where all factors are controlled.

In 2014 there are numerous ways that people can get connected. A traditional phone call is just the obvious approach. If you truly care about audio quality it’s worth thinking beyond the obvious in the quest to achieve better results.

I heartily recommend both Randy’s podcast and Scott Harvey wines. I’ve been a fan of both for quite some time.