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Audion Labs, veterans in radio broadcasting technologies, have brought their live studio expertise to the world of podcasting with their latest product, Podcast Station. Version 2.1 lets you create episodes of your own radio show and publish them online.
Podcasting software combines the tools and features of audio editing programs with those of publishing programs. Podcast Station is an excellent example of the blending of the two, and its developers have taken it a step further, adding features that give your podcasts the studio feel of a radio broadcast.
Podcast Station targets the user who wants the simplicity of a program that requires no more than the soundcard that came with their PC and a microphone to create podcasts. Unsurprisingly, Podcast Station really shines in the live studio scenario. Podcast Station was built on VoxPro--a telephone audio editor for radio stations that was originally made for the Macintosh and later brought to the PC. Imagine being able to interview guests, record your show with live callers, add multiple sound clips that fade in and out, and queue music. Podcast Station expertly handles all of these tasks and makes it easy to get started.
Once you are comfortable with the workflow of loading clips and putting shows together, you can start to fine-tune your production with fading effects, quick editing (including the ability to rerecord over spots and punch in new parts), and automatic gain control (AGC).
AGC is a key feature because it balances the inputs from your mic and sound clips so they all broadcast at relatively the same volume. Volume control is a long-standing problem in broadcasting, and the AGC feature in Podcast Station provides a welcome solution.
[Automatic Gain Control.jpg]
The 2.1 release also brings Vista support, faster MP3 encoding, and Skype Answering Machine (SAM) support. The menu now has an "Import from SAM" option to bring in a Skype call.
One downside: I was never able to get all of the advanced effects to appear on the menu. For example, the product documentation advertises chorus and compression effects in the Advanced Effects, menu and I was hoping to use them. Out of the box I was missing these features. If hardware or driver limitations were keeping chorus and compression off the menu, it would have been nice to see them grayed out, or to provide another remedy. Chorus and compression are great ways to make a bad radio or singing voice sound a little bit better and I can use all the help I can get in that area.
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Price to ValueRating What's Hot:
You get a lot of bang for your 60 bucks in Podcast Station. And one big reason for its value is the VoxPro software that Podcast Station is based on--software that would normally cost you $1,000 alone. So you are essentially enjoying $1,000 software in a $60 package.
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Installation & SetupRating What's Hot:
When I first attempted to run the software I received an error message: "Podcast Station cannot find any compatible sound recording devices on this system. You must have a soundcard with WDM drivers installed." WDM, or Windows Driver Model, simply provides software with an easy way to access hardware; in this case the microphone.
I have a motherboard with a soundcard and a driver installed and I had a hunch I knew what was wrong. The motherboard sound chip has a feature called "jack sensing," which basically means it can tell what you have plugged into the inputs and outputs. I had not yet plugged in a microphone. Once I did, and restarted Podcast Station, I no longer received the error message.
Now that I had Podcast Station set up, I was ready to record. I expected to find at least a wizard to help me set up mic and output levels, but Podcast Station assumes you have those levels already tuned with Windows, and you can fine-tune them later with sliders.
It's also worth noting that Podcast Station had a point release to include Vista support, so I had no issues installing on Vista Ultimate.
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User InterfaceRating What's Hot:
The friendly user interface makes it easy to be a DJ from your keyboard. You can use your mouse or, thanks to a built-in map, spend a few minutes learning the keyboard shortcuts.
I was pleasantly surprised by the scalability of the main control screen. As you resize you get more carts, decks, and a wider waveform display. When I maximized the window on a 24-inch monitor, I had 90 carts to load sound clips and two CDs worth of decks to load music.
Podcast Station suffers from a bad case of 1990s battleship gray. As trendy and hip as podcasting has become, Podcast Station looks dated. A fresh user interface would not just be an aesthetic improvement but could help the user find buttons and clips quicker.
Missing tooltips for the AGC, PRO, and DYN buttons would be useful to have right on the main screen. AGC turns on the very useful automatic gain control system so your sounds are all relatively the same volume.
PRO turns on a slightly more advanced user interface so you can auto-crossfade and auto-segue between decks. I'm not convinced the difference between the PRO and non-PRO interface was so great that it warranted this feature, but maybe in future versions the interfaces will diverge more.
The DYN button is a fine tuner for fader dynamics, allowing adjustment if your fades between decks are not smooth because of a mismatch between your hardware and the clip quality.
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Product FeaturesRating What's Hot:
In keeping with its simplified user interface, Podcast Station has no Save button. Your sessions have unlimited undo and redo, however, and each action is automatically saved so you never have to worry about losing your work.
Once you have finished creating your show, the publishing features are rich and bulletproof.
For example, you can pick a format of MP3, WAV, or Windows Media, and specify a whole range of bitrates with the MP3s.
And because podcasts are subscribed to, Podcast Station helps you create the RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feed that helps you syndicate your podcast. Finally, you can enter FTP information and Podcast Station will upload your audio file and the corresponding RSS data.
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Help & SupportRating What's Hot:
The podcaststation.com website has an excellent video tour that walks you through all of the buttons on the screen and shows you how to create your first podcast. I can easily see directing many people to this video to get them started with podcasting.
The help consists of a handful of how-tos and an FAQ. They are well written and helped get me past some issues. When I ran into a problem that the online help could not address, however, I had no community to turn to. Audion Labs would do well to put a forum on its website, where users could support each other and Audion Labs could provide feedback and support.
There is an option for emailing your questions, but that simply will not scale. Creating a forum or at least an email list would bring a whole community of experts together and take care of many support issues.
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ASIO SupportRating What's Not:
ASIO (Audio Stream Input/Output) is a low-latency driver standard that bypasses much of the operating system in favor of quicker hardware access. With low latency, you can monitor with your PC's sound (for example, plug an electric guitar into your computer and use the speakers as an amp).
Podcast Station supports sound only via a WDM driver, so if you are using an outboard sound card attached to your PC with FireWire or USB that does not support WDM, you will need to find a way to emulate WDM or create intermediate recordings.
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Suggested FeaturesAs I mentioned earlier, a community forum for feedback and support would help podcasters get the most productive use from Podcast Station. An updated user interface with a quick way to search through a large number of carts would be nice as well.
On the publishing side, support for popular blog and podcasting sites would make publishing even easier.
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ConclusionIf you want to podcast without investing in additional audio hardware, Podcast Station will serve you well. The radio-station feel to the software makes it ideal for live shows, rather than highly produced and edited shows. I was able to build a podcast and publish it with relative ease. And as I better understand how to use all the features of the software, I expect my podcasts to improve in quality.