In 2004, I received an interesting phone call. �Would you help me record a podcast?�
A podcast is a downloadable audio file, a program on which hosts originate unique ideas. Apple invented the notion of the podcast with the intent of making a genre of spoken content (on nearly every subject matter) available to iTunes subscribers for download onto their iPods. Over time, the term has become a household name for an audio file that is downloadable from almost any source. If a podcaster has something to say, the chances that someone is ready to ingest that material are fairly high. In a society that gets its marching orders from social media, podcasting is a sizeable player.
Yamaha AG03 Back then, I wasn�t exactly sure what was needed to record a podcast. But as I worked for nearly five years with this client, I certainly learned some ins and outs. His podcast was a full-fledged radio-like production that garnished 20,000+ downloads a week. On one episode, we had guests on the show simultaneously from Baltimore, Dallas and Los Angeles. As far as podcasts go, it was a heavy production.
But what is the purpose of podcasting? Does every podcast need to be a major production? No.
The best podcasts available today are the ones that contain great content and compelling ideas. A podcast host need not invest in a big mixing console and studio time. A laptop and editing software in concert with a sensible audio interface is more than sufficient. With the spirit of this type of economy in mind, Yamaha has developed the AG03 mixing console. For a demanding podcaster, the AG03 is a great solution.
As more USB-driven computer peripherals populate desk space, a mixing board is the absolute last item a podcaster needs on his desk. The AG03 measures five inches wide, 8 inches deep and sits 2 1/2 inches tall. It is smaller than a tablet!
Additionally, by way of eliminating power cords, the AG03 is powered via a USB 2.0 terminal when connected to a PC or Mac. When used with the aforementioned tablet, a USB power adapter or mobile battery must be employed using the USB micro B plug to provide the necessary 5V (500 mA) supply power. The AG03 weighs less than two pounds and travels well in a laptop bag.
For the purpose of this review, only five cable connections are made to the AG03, and we�ll start with the microphone options. One fader facilitates level control for a dynamic or condenser mic plugged into an XLR jack or a 1/8-inch mini input. The XLR input has options for a 26 dB pad and 48V phantom power. I used a side-address condenser on the XLR input, and as is expected from Yamaha, the �D-PRE� preamp delivers a smooth and clean reproduction of any mic plugged into the XLR jack. The 1/8-inch mic input is located in the �headset� section in tandem with a 1/8-inch headphone jack for use with a headset.
The next cable is, of course, the USB 2.0 connection to the computer. This is where the AG03 gets power and 24-bit/192-kHz audio is transferred to and from the computer. The third and fourth cables are connected to the left and right 1/4-inch monitor jacks and are used to send audio to a set of powered speakers. RCA jacks are also available for connecting to unbalanced monitoring systems.
The final cable is for the headphones plugged into a 1/4-inch TRS jack. The speakers and headphones have individual level control knobs, a handy feature usually not found on small-format mixers. Another equally handy feature is the �monitor mute� button that mutes the speakers only. This prevents blown speakers and injured eardrums when the mic is turned up.
AG03 is perfect for small studio applications where desk real estate is limited.MORE STUFF
A 1/8-inch TRS mini jack is on-board for using a tablet, phone or any other audio device for auxiliary audio. This input does not have a level control, as most phones and tablets have their own volume controls.
Routing audio to the computer is handled in the �TO PC� section where three options are available: The first sends the microphone �pre-fader� directly to the computer. Option two sends the stereo mix of the AG03 and �loopback� sends the AG03 stereo mix and computer audio back to the computer. This is a great feature for live webcasting, but it can also create feedback if not used properly. The computer return has its own level adjustment knob.
Channels 2 and 3 on the AG03 each have three 1/4-inch jacks for a stereo line level source or a guitar. This section is available primarily for musicians, but it can be used by podcasters who wish to include line-level audio source gear during production. Channels 2 and 3 have dedicated level adjustment knobs as well.
MAKING IT SOUND RIGHT
The AG03 is designed for the novice; however, for more seasoned users, the AG03 has compression and EQ settings that are fine-tuned by the AG DSP Controller. Once installed (in addition to the computer drivers, also available on Yamaha�s website), the AG DSP Controller offers a surprisingly intuitive and powerful on-screen interface. Easy compression settings and a parametric EQ give the user plenty of options for creating up to ten definable user presets. Additionally, the acoustic effects and guitar amp simulator are an added touch for the music gurus.
GETTING IT ON TAPE
After the AG03 setup is complete and the content for the podcast is ready for the world to hear, the Cubase AI recording software that comes standard with the AG03 provides a simple way to record the show. The AG03 can certainly be used with other PC- or Mac-based recording platforms and DAWs as well.
Out of the box, the AG03 appears to be just another small-format mixer with the same familiar features. However, the utility packed into its diminutive design is surprisingly refreshing.
For a mixer with only one real microphone channel, I was delighted to see a real fader. The microphone preamp still sounds classy and the USB-only power is a great bonus. AG DSP Controller, while fairly basic, is intuitive and packs a punch.
For startup podcasters or even a voice-over talent who need a small, lightweight solution for USB audio recording, AG03 is a home run.
Wygal is the operations manager for The Journey Radio Network in Lynchburg, Va.