A Podcasting Revolution: Cast, Ringr, and Zencastr

Just three months ago, I wrote my podcasting gear guide to let potential podcasters know about my setup and the equipment I recommend. That guide represents the gold standard in podcasting that existed when I was starting out in 2014.

To recap, I recommended using a digital audio recorder like the Zoom H4n or the TASCAM DR-40 to record yourself and your guest onto two separate tracks, with the guest connecting through Skype and being plugged into the second track via a 1/4″ to 1/8″ adapter cable.

Here are the things a podcaster must have in a recording setup:

  1. Reliability. Your recording should not sporadically stop working 40 minutes in to your interview with a Nobel laureate.
  2. Multi-track recording. Each speaker must be recorded onto his own separate track to make it possible to edit them each separately.
  3. Clear audio, free of unnecessary noise.

The setup I described in the gear guide did these things better than the other alternatives available until recently. The digital audio recorder provided greater reliability than the software solutions available at the time. Software crashes often, but a piece of hardware designed exclusively for recording audio rarely does.

The H4n and DR-40 offer multi-track recording via their dual XLR/TRS inputs.

However, this setup can only bring in remote guests in as high quality as Skype allows. So when both host and guest have high-bandwidth connections, it works great. But when one or both of them have connection issues, there’s no good solution. You just have to deal with bad audio.

I’ve had multiple issues with bad connections recently. Multiple times I’ve had to tell the guests to back up and re-state something they had already said in order to get a clear recording. I had to hang up and restart one conversation. One guest was sounded like he was talking at ten words a second because Skype had delayed his audio then played it all super fast to catch up. All of this reduces the quality of the audio, creates difficulties in post-production, or both.

New Services for Recording Double Enders

Since 2014, new developments have made software recording a better option for podcasters. There are now (at least) three separate services that offer the option to record all speakers’ audio locally and upload it to the cloud. They are Cast, Ringr, and Zencastr.

These allow podcasters to easily and reliably record double enders. A double ender is when both sides of a conversation are recorded locally and spliced together in editing. Most remote TV interviews are done this way.

A double ender fixes the connection issues I mentioned above. If your recording is happening locally, the VoIP connection only needs to be good enough for the host and guest to hear each other; connection issues will not affect the finished product because the final tracks are recorded locally.

These also make arranging things easy for hosts and guests. You just send your guest a link, they click it, and that’s all they have to do. You don’t have to instruct your guest on how to install some new piece of software.

Here are some of the pros and cons of Cast, Ringr, and Zencastr:

Cast

Pros:

  • Uploads audio to the Cast cloud in real time. If things crash, you will only lose the last few seconds of recording at most, since the rest of the recording will already be in the cloud.
  • Offers its own RSS feed. This allows Cast to be a one-stop shop for your podcast. At $10/month, it’s competitive with Libsyn.
  • Allows you to edit and publish your audio online (or not).
  • Allows up to 4 people in a recording.
  • Allows you to pre-schedule your recording sessions.
  • One month free trial.

Cons:

  • Not mobile compatible, though they are working on adding this.
  • Only works with Chrome.

Ringr

Pros:

  • Mobile compatible! (I am particularly excited about this because phones don’t make fan noises like PCs.)
  • Operates very smoothly.
  • One month free trial of the premium account.
  • Has an affiliate program that allows me to give you a discount on your premium membership:

RINGR
Cons:

  • Only allows 2-person recordings. (They are working on adding more.)
  • You need to buy the $18.99/month premium account in order to get your audio on separate tracks. This feature is an absolute necessity!
  • Uploads to the cloud after the call ends. Recordings are made locally and then uploaded. The Ringr support page has a whole section on recovering files if your upload is interrupted, which seems like a headache.

Zencastr

Pros:

  • Streams audio to your Dropbox account as it is recorded. (They are working on adding support for Google Drive.)
  • Keeps local backups of recordings in case you lose connection with Dropbox.
  • Free while in beta. (Will move to $10-$20 tiered monthly plans once it moves out of beta.) It’s out of beta! The free plan allows 8 hours of recording per month, which should be enough for any weekly podcaster.
  • Unlimited guests! (But please don’t try to do a podcast with six speakers at once. Nobody wants to listen to that.)

Cons:

  • Not mobile compatible. They are working on adding this!
  • I’ve had VoIP errors the last few times I tried recording with Zencastr. It’s still new, and the times it has worked it worked very smoothly, but I’d really rather not have to deal with errors.

Conclusion

All three of these services are promising and interesting.

Cast offers many features established podcasters won’t need, such as in-browser editing and RSS hosting, but for the new podcaster these could be very useful. If you get the $10/month account with Cast and let them host your media files and RSS, you’ll be getting the same services you could get from Libsyn or Blubrry with the added bonus of double ender recordings. The only limitation of the $10/month hobby account is that it only allows 10 hours of podcast recording per month. I can’t see any weekly podcast going over that limit.

Zencastr’s feature of streaming to Dropbox is nice. It doesn’t offer all the bonus features of Cast, but it’s still in beta so we’ll see where it goes. Plus, you can get it free for now, so you might as well try it out. The other two offer 1-month free trials, so you can try them all and see which you like best.

I love the mobile compatibility of Ringr, though it’s a little expensive at $18.99/month. The basic Ringr account doesn’t let you download your audio in separate tracks, which makes it useless in my opinion.

Ultimately, for my own purposes, I’ve opted to go with Ringr. The flexibility of allowing my guests to record through their phones is a must for me. I had one guest who had both a lousy connection and a loud computer fan that drowned out his audio when he tried to record through his PC. Ringr was the only viable option because it was the only way to record a double ender easily on mobile.

Whichever service you end up choosing, all of them will allow you to make high-quality recordings without the need for an expensive digital audio recorder. I look forward to a bright future of ultra-high-quality amateur podcasts recorded through double ender services like these!