4 headsets and a mixer

So I started doing some podcasting last year on my own with the mic on my web cam. For the rudimentary equipment, I thought it did alright. But now I want to take it to the next level. Instead of using a mic and headphones from now on, I prefer to just have headsets as I want to have a mobile operation, i.e. college football tailgates. Eventually if my operation takes off, I’ll then invest in a better “home studio” mic. Anyway I’ve been doing a lot of research but I can’t quite find the clearest of answers. Here’s what I think I need to make my operation possible, please correct me along the way where I might be wrong:

I want capability of recording up to 4 people. Likely it will always be me and a co-host, and a sporatic guest here or there. I’ve read somewhere you want 4 mics in case one input goes bad for whatever reason you can plug into the next slot. And from what I can tell there aren’t any 3 input mixers out there anyway.

So from what I can tell I need:

My computer of course
A USB controller as the in-between the mixer and computer
A mixer with at least 4 XLR inputs
3 headsets that have XLR connections only

Am I right about the only option for headsets is with XLR connections? 3.5mm* connectors won’t work?

* edit, I guess I meant 1/4" inputs as a possibly alternative to the XLR not 3.5mm. I got my sizes mixed up

Step through a show. Describe everything. Make it as uncontrolled as possible, say an interview outside the house somewhere. You’re describing several contradicting ideas. Did you ever do field operations for your earlier show? You were on a laptop, you could do that.

Doing a complex show outside the studio is not for the weak or infirm.


Most microphones that have 3.5mm “stereo” connectors will not work with a standard mixer. Not only do they have the wrong plug, but very often they require a 5 v supply voltage (which is usually available on computer microphone inputs, video camera mic inputs, and similar, but not available on mixers).

There’s quite a list of problems doing this. That’s why I want a description of the show. Ever notice that in TV news broadcasts, it’s almost always one person interviewing one person, two at most? then they throw it back to The Studio which has the large mixing board and multiple hosts and any number of guests. Even award-winning, carefully produced radio shows like This American Life, it’s always one to one.

I know a guaranteed way to scare off an interview. Tell them they have to wear headphones. The same headphones that homeless guy was wearing…


Ok, well I don’t necessarily get the context of your response, seems a little brash, not sure if you meant it that way, just hard to understand through words…

Anyway, that’s why I posted up my idea here. It’s because I’m having trouble finding answers without being a member on a forum like this one. Hence this was the sole reason I joined the sight, to get answers. I don’t understand where I posted up contradicting ideas. To over simplify my question in my original post, I simply asked do I have to have head sets with XLR in puts to record talking among 3 people, and a mixer with 4 XLR inputs? I was asking if I was right about that or if there are more options than that?

Here’s how I picture an “outside the home” show. A buddy of mine owns a bar, that I might record live from a time or two. I will set my desktop up as it is at home. Yea it’s a bit cumbersome, but my tower’s tiny, and hey I’m the one doing it so it won’t bug me as long as I allow enough time. It will be me and a friend with simple back and forth banter. Then occasionally we may want to bring on a 3rd person. I want a mixer I can plug 3 headsets into and record talking. That is all.

Of course this won’t be something I expect I can just jump in and do. I will likely mostly be doing home recordings with me and my buddy until I get a hang of what capabilities my mixer has.

As far as uncontrollably goes, obviously in a bar I’ll be against ambient noise which will take some experience in how to combat that. Also I might want to pump sound out as well over loud speakers so the crowd can hear as we record. Someone might not show up for an interview, so again it will go back to just two people talking. I’m sure some ebs and flows will be hard to get right, but I’ll hope to be able to edit out some things later after the recording’s done.

I think what Koz means is that within your (apparently simple) enquiry there are a host of possible complications.

Did my first reply answer that adequately?

Yes there are many other options, for two examples:

Record each part of the conversation separately and add the bar ambiance after (as an extra track). This method is very common in radio productions.
You could use a single “lip mic” and pass it from interviewer to interviewee.

You could use two hand held mics and a 2 channel USB microphone pre-amp. One mic recording to the left channel and one to the right of a stereo pair. Split the stereo pair to two mono channels to get the voices on independent tracks. Pass one of the mics if you nee to include a third person.

Not just noise, but very difficult acoustics. Headsets or other “close” mics will help to some degree, but you are still up against it for getting good recording quality.

Which could open up another can of worms. You will need to avoid picking up the “broadcast” sound otherwise you will get terrible echoes in the recording, or howling feedback.

You can’t “filter out” background sound or echoes from a recording. Once they are in the recording they are permanent. This is the main reason that most “on location” recordings are “faked” (recorded in an acoustically controlled environment and ambient sounds added later).

Most mixers have only XLR for microphone inputs. If they also have 1/4" jack, those are usually for instrument inputs that have a much higher signal level.

Steve, your answers sure did help. And the fuzziness is starting to clear up a little.

So it really sounds like I’m better off with two pairs of headphones, and mics instead of headsets, am I right?

I can see the scenario of passing the mic to the “third” man as a viable option. Likely it will be a host + co-host operation where one person will primarily be asking the questions of the guest, while the co-host does behind the scenes work to get going on the next segment. He/she might have a question he/she wants to ask the guest, but I’d completely be fine with passing the mic to my co-host in that scenario so the guest doesn’t have to necessarily share equipment to hopefully make it more comfortable for them. But can I have a mixer then that allows for 3 headphones and 2 mics. That way the co-host can always be listening to what’s going on while he’s on the computer or whatever gathering info, and then can motion to me if he wants to say something?

I was certain the operation wasn’t as simple as I initially thought, hence another reason to join and jump on here.

I was thinking the headset would have been more ideal in order that the proximity to the microphone wouldn’t change throughout the interview and could have a constant proximity to the vocal source in areas of poor conditions. I obviously have a lot more to think through. I mean this is meant to be an amateur set up, but I also want to try to buy appropriate equipment to do what I want to do somewhat successfully. I want to be able to grow the operation if the feedback/demand is there so I want to make solid purchases.

A buddy of mine owns a bar, that I might record live from a time or two. I will set my desktop up as it is at home. Yea it’s a bit cumbersome, but my tower’s tiny, and hey I’m the one doing it so it won’t bug me as long as I allow enough time. It will be me and a friend with simple back and forth banter. Then occasionally we may want to bring on a 3rd person. I want a mixer I can plug 3 headsets into and record talking. That is all.

That’s exactly what I was after.

You’re doing this with your desktop machine? The reason that’s important is not that it wouldn’t work, but you’re immediately tied down to one location and that location needs to be next to wall power.

Unless you’re on a stage or other performance area, putting your voice in the ceiling speakers doesn’t work. That’s a nightmare of bell sounding words and hooting feedback. That’s the day I call in sick.

Headsets are hard. There was a poster a while back that wanted multiple headsets in a performance. I think he eventually got it all to work. He designed and built the equipment – without soldering as I recall. The problem is that computer headsets as described above have to get their power from somewhere. If this happens to you enough, you break down and build the adapter. It’s a very simple circuit, but if you’ve never built anything, it’s rocket science – and you need as many as you have headsets.

I’m going to see if I can find that posting.


Unexpected success. This is the battery adapter box you need to plug a “computer” headset into your mixer.


I don’t know of anybody that makes one, so you have to do it.

This is the thread from someone who wanted to do something very similar to what you’re doing. It’s a very serious thread.


The headphone system can be simply an octopus headphone adapter.


Four people is harder. Do you have a mixer picked out yet? I recommend the Peavey PV6 only because they’ve worked well for us and they’re not a million dollars.

You need to know that they’re not battery powered and you’ll need that later for actual tail-gaters.

Many people who do this use portable recorders, not put-together systems. Zoom, Marantz, etc.


I’m aware of the constraints a desktop presents. A laptop too would in theory have to be near wall power as back up if a battery wasn’t fully charged. My partner in this operation perhaps has a laptop, but for now I’m trying to design it around my own resources. I already did a google search to see if there’s Audacity for Android, as I thought about using my tablet which I bought for the specific reason that it has USB outs on it. So that takes me back to the desktop.

The particular bar has a stage for a DJ set-up in place. I was thinking if the speakers (akin to a wedding DJ) were placed out bored of the stage area directional away, the feedback wouldn’t be too ridiculous (but this is the novice speaking so I could be way off).

Again, back to my original post, I was asking if a head set like this one:

Was my only option. An xlr input.

I thought that was too easy.

4-pin female connector is compatible with Clear-Com and Telex bodypacks that have a 4-pin male connector

They’re designed to plug into a communications bodypack that has the batteries in it. It doesn’t plug directly into your 3-pin XLR mixer.


ahhhhhh. Ok, I was wondering, I thought I noticed the 3 vs 4 but I must have used my niavity to hope it would work out.

Thanks for the suggestion on the mixer though, I haven’t selected one yet. I’m trying to figure out what best fits my needs before I spend a dime. Looks like I will move towards the mic + headphones set-up.

Thanks for all the help along the way the both of you.

If you get closer, let us know and we’ll poke holes in it. If the holes don’t matter to you, then you’re good to go.

I think the mini-stage idea is terrific. Can you see where you’re magically oozing away from the idea of the free-form, shoot anywhere podcast?

Jury’s out on a battery powered mixer. Not that they don’t exist. They do. Mine were in the thousand$. Probably out of your price range.

I have a friend who conducted a successful voice capture on an open cockpit I.C.E. boat racing around Biscayne Bay. “How the frog did you do that,” I asked? “Easy, because I’m good,” he said modestly. And then he told me how he did it.

I do have one real-world problem with headphones. I wasn’t kidding about the interview before you had an ear infection or Leprosy. We had to scale back the use of “communal” headphones because of squeamishness. Stock up on alcohol wipes. Yes, we do. I’m not joking.


The other headphone problem is that most small mixers have only one headphone socket.
A simple “splitter cable” can be used to split the one headphone output between two pairs of headphones, but for more than two pairs you really need to looking at using a separate headphone amplifier. These need not be expensive - these are surprisingly good: http://www.thomann.de/gb/millenium_ha4.htm

Another question - is it really necessary for everyone involved to be able to “monitor” the conversation through headphones? In radio studio interviews (BBC) it is very common for only the interviewer to wear headphones. The interviewees will simply talk to the interviewer, hearing everything as in a normal conversation.

So if I went the route of a 2 channel USB mic pre-amp, I would still want to plug into headphones to be able to hear myself, how do I go about doing that, run a splitter off of my computer to two normal headphone jacks?

Can you explain to me what you meant by “close” mics? I’m guessing just situated “close” to your mouth is all you meant, but I wasn’t sure if a certain model is better suited for that type proximity or not.

how do I go about doing that, run a splitter off of my computer to two normal headphone jacks?

Live monitoring has to happen on the mixer, interface, or preamp and sometimes on the mic itself. Anywhere before the computer. The headphone connection on the computer can be made to produce the show sound as you’re recording it, but it’s always going to be one computer late. Sometimes significantly late. Most people can’t listen to that without going crazy.

We run into this with people who want to multitrack/overdub. Play all the instruments in their song themselves.


Can you explain to me what you meant by “close” mics?

This is the magic place where English is going to fall apart. I would be sending into a noisy environment to try to get a good, clean recording. There’s nothing like the surprises you get when you try to do that with your own fingers.

Unfortunately, you’re doing all this on your tower and it’s not easy to do do a quick, temporary shoot to get a feel for how it works.

This is the kind of thing we’re talking about. That’s not a headset. That’s just a microphone that mounts over your ear. She’s using a radio microphone, but that’s not important.

Ok that’s what I thought, but the pre-amp I googled I didn’t see a jack input (likely on the reverse face) so it got me wondering. I suppose a 2-channel pre-amp probably doesn’t allow me to simultaneously put sound out over speakers like I mentioned previously in the (possible) bar setting.

The house feed comes from the mixer. You can’t get it from the computer because of the delay problems.

We also use AKG C555L microphones. They work terrifically well. They do have a belt pack with the batteries in it, but they do plug right into an XLR mixer.