Capturing the voice of one person is pretty easy. Inexpensive even. The digital voice recorders or even your smart phone does a pretty good job. High enough quality to use for a podcast. In general, small devices record at 44.1kHz, 16-bit and 320k samples per second (sampling rate) and that’s more than enough for spoken audio. For a final MP3, you’ll sample it down to 64K or 96k samples per second to make the final file as small as possible.
Now, throw in a few more people in the mix and it just takes a bit more gear. Microphones for each person. Headphones (although not required) for each person, a way to mix it all together and record and you can capture a podcast of many people talking about a topic or topics to produce a podcast. If you are lucky enough to be able to dedicate your day to podcasting, you may even have a studio and multiple podcasts to record and the set up and crew to achieve a professional quality show. That also means everyone being in the same location to record.
But what about taking advantage of the party chat feature on a game console. Everyone that has a game console and plays multiplayer games will have experienced the relatively good quality sound of your pal’s voice while playing a game. Streaming that to Twitch and creating “Let’s Play” style game videos couldn’t be easier with the latest versions of the top gaming consoles.
Many “Let’s Play” game video creatives focus on a specific video game and while playing the game, talk about the game and the amazing fun they are having while playing the game, review the game and also demo a way to get through a tough spot in the game, all while playing. But video casting is not what I wanted to highlight in this article. I wanted a way to record my friends and me as if we were in the same room.
We run into a hurdle, if you think like I did, that you’d like to capture just the audio and not create content that would need video accompanying the audio. The hurdle is two-fold. First is, in order to stream the audio to Twitch, you need to be in a game. Games have audio (music, sounds and dialog) and there isn’t a way to turn that off in your Twitch broadcast. Plus, most games will exit if no actual game play is occurring (just sitting at the main menu, for example). So hurdle one, not have to launch a video game to stream audio to Twitch. The second hurdle is recording from the party channel. You can re-route people talking in a party to an output that will allow you to record it, but there’s no way to include the audio from the host game console with this method. So I record my friends, but my voice is not recorded. Bummer, we want everyone recorded. We need a solution to deal with both hurdles.
In this article, I’ll demonstrate using a Sony Playstation 4. Party channels on the PS4 can accept and process 8 connections. You as the host and 7 friends. No problem so far except it’s a lot of people potentially talking at the same time. Then, try to record that party by re-routing the audio to the TV/AV Amplifier setting on the PS4 and you get everyone’s voice in the recording… except yours. Already established, this is a bummer.
So, I looked at my existing gaming headset that I use for party chat and thought through a way to capture all voices, including mine. I use a Turtle Beach PX22 headset that is a stereo headset (both left and right, so both ears are covered) and a good quality chat mic. The PX22 has an inline amplifier that has several volume controls to customize what audio comes through the headset.
Audio of the chat party comes through as well as the audio from the game. You can mix the audio between these to get a balance that you personally like. The other volume control is your own voice monitoring. We’ve all heard people trying to talk to us when they are listening to music on a set of earbuds, for example, right? What typically happens is they naturally raise their voice to near yelling at us levels because our instinct is to talk loud enough to hear ourselves. Well, mic monitoring on this gaming headset helps with this by giving you the ability to bring your own voice into the mix as well. You hear your voice, you don’t yell.
Why I tell you all that is because I realized that is all three audio chains (console, other party voice and my own voice) are not only controlled at the PX22 amplifier, but it also means I could capture all of the audio from the output of the PX22 amplifier.
Techno-nerd alert here… without getting too deep into the technical side of the TRRS (Tip/Ring/Ring/Sleeve) and TRS (Tip/Ring/Sleeve) connectors, I do need to explain the difference just a little so that the wiring connections in the following illustration make sense.
A TRS connector (typical for headphones that don’t have a built-in mic) is the connector that has two black bands. This is a stereo connector to provide a separate left and right channel and a ground connection. A TRRS connector (typical for mobile phones with audio and a mic) is a connector with 3 black bands so there’s also a connection for the mic. So the left and right channel and the ground connection (like the TRS connector) and also a mic connection (which TRS connector do not have).
Where either of these connectors are plugged into, there are contacts that will touch each of the bands (the black bands separate that actual bands that electrical current flows through, so this means the metal bands). Plug in the TRS connector end into your MP3 player and the appropriate audio for the left and right channels comes through the correct corresponding speaker in your headset. As you can also see, the ground connection is also required as well (the ground connection is common (shared) for both the left and right channels). Plug in the TRRS connector end into your game console (or controller) and the left and right audio channel (and ground) work exactly the same way as TRS, but there’s a 4th band (typical the sleeve) for the mic. (Note: If your headset is just a mono speaker that just covers one ear, the left and right channel are summed into a mono channel, so this information doesn’t necessarily completely apply to that type of headset.)
Referring back to the first diagram, I have suggested adding a TRRS splitter (with an adapter because the connector on the splitter that I purchased will not fit into the PX22 amplifier) so that one TRRS connection will have two connections instead of one. The headset connects to one of the connections on the splitter cable and creates a pass-through (this just means that the left, right, ground and mic connections are the same as it is without this splitter in the chain. So no change should happen to the way the headset works.) Then, another adapter/cable splitter is plugged into the other TRRS connection to split off the audio channels and the mic into separate outputs. Then a TRS cable is plugged into the that splitter’s audio/headphone connection (the mic connection is not used since we just need the audio output). Finally, the other end of that TRS cable is plugged into the input of your recorder (in my case, I am using a Tascam DR-1 digital recorder — but you could record onto a computer using an open source software like Audacity).
But wait, you might be asking, what about the voice capturing of the microphone on this headset in this configuration? We not only need the audio of the party to be captured, but also the audio from the headset in this crazy configuration so that all the voices are recorded, right?
That’s the beauty of the PX22 amplifier because it feeds that audio back to the headset speakers so you can hear your own voice. That final TRS connection will not only be the party audio, but also the monitoring audio from the microphone. With the PX22, it’s important to mix the level so that your voice isn’t either lower or higher then those in the party. Trial and error and test recordings will help you find that sweet spot for both of those levels.
There’s also a volume control for the PS4 console. Any of the menu blips and bleeps that may be relayed back from the console can be eliminated by just turning that volume control all the way down to avoid having those come through into your recording.
If you have, for example, an audio file you’d like to play during your podcast, you could put that audio on a USB drive. Plug that into your PS4, navigate to the media player, turn that volume control up, play the audio file and then just be sure to turn it down again when you’re done. Keep in mind though, people in the party won’t hear that audio. So, a better choice may be adding that audio in post-production… but we here at The Loot Box Podcast really prefer to do as little post-production as possible.
Now getting up to 8 people online and chatting with each other about topics they like and interest them, saving out an audio file and producing a podcast through the PS4 is slick and easy.
Here’s links to the Turtle Beach PX22 gaming headet, the TRRS splitter cable, the TRRS headphone mic splitter, the TRRS adaptor and a comparable Tascam recorder (the DR-1 is an older recorder and there are newer versions). There are other headsets and recorders that will also do the trick. I have found that the stereo (over both ears) gaming headsets will typically have the controls similar to the PX22 to mix the audio as I have described in this article.
Just a quick note about what you might decide to record to. I use a small digital recorder for the sake of saving space. Digital recorders typically record to a SD memory card and transferring the recorded file to your computer for post-production is fairly easy. Every part and component I describe is what I chose to use and, in general, you can use the idea as a basis to build what you think would be best for you.
- Turtle Beach – Ear Force PX22
- CablesOnline 3.5mm TRRS Male to Dual TRRS Female Splitter
- 3.5mm 4-Pin to 2x 3-Pin 3.5mm Headset Splitter
- Vastar® 3.5mm Headset Audio Jack Extender
- AmazonBasics 3.5mm Male to Male Stereo Audio Cable
- TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder
Have fun, thanks for reading and please comment if you have either tried this or would like to share other ideas and ways to set this up.