Staples Connect iHeartRadio Podcasting Studios
As Podcasts and online audio continue to grow in listenership, rather than simply sell equipment for this burgeoning media format, Massachusetts-based Staples retail superstore in partnership with iHeartRadio, teamed up with Malekpour Design Partners to build fully-equipped, sound-isolated Podcasting studios in seven store locations.
Among several hurdles to overcome was to have a professional-quality podcasting studio with consistent performance across all locations. Repeatability was also a key factor. Other issues to be dealt with included isolation in a busy retail store; the ability to accommodate four people in an acoustically treated 10′ x 12′ room; wear and tear from the constant customer turnover; placing cables so they’re not in the way; and all under the constraints of a tight budget.
Starting with the issue of reliability, the Podcast studio wiring had to be implemented so that it couldn’t be undone by customer traffic. Making the studio user-proof required some creative solutions, such as mic stands with internal cable harnesses and using table legs to mount hardware. Even the size and shape of the table was calculated to provide enough room for participants to roll their chair back without consequence.
As a Podcast/recording room, the acoustics had to be well-balanced for vocal clarity. Polyester felt board, an acoustic treatment that’s easy to install was used. Satisfying the requirements of budget, reliability, and repeatability from location to location, it’s affordable, easy to maintain, and above all, provides consistent results. For isolation, the studio features double-wall construction and double-glazed laminate windows. To test the efficacy of the acoustics, musicians were brought in to record, who subsequently gave the room a thumbs-up.
The nerve center of each Podcast studio is the Røde RødeCaster Pro, a four-channel interface with high-quality mic inputs, each with a fader for level control, plus a master fader. To enable broadcast-quality sound, the RødeCaster Pro features built-in audio processors, including the Aphex Aural Exciter (a secret weapon for hit-record vocals for decades) and the Aphex Big Bottom, to give Podcasters that coveted “voice of God” proximity effect.
It also has level faders for IRRS and USB connectors for remote interviews via iPhone or Bluetooth, plus a fader for sound effects, headers, and tails that can be triggered by eight pads, all of which can be recorded into a micro SD card or computer DAW via USB.
Each of the rooms features a pair of Genelec 4010A monitors for playback on either side of a video display. Shure SRH440 professional studio headphones are also available at each seat
Of special note is microphone selection, which became a balance point between isolation, sound quality, and budget.
In the ’90s, Røde became internationally recognized for its low-cost, high-quality microphones that could sonically compete with the far more expensive German studio microphones. It came as no surprise that after a shootout conducted by iHeartRadio’s team between with Røde PodMic and one costing four times as much, the PodMic won for its combination of sound quality, price-point, and excellent side and rear rejection, which, by compensating for any shortfall in isolation, which enabled Malekpour Design Partners to engineer a budget-friendly structure.
According to Dave Malekpour, “The seven studios were built by Staples’ construction division. If the test marketing pans out and the company, which is in nearly 1,100 locations nationwide, opens Staples Connect stores in other markets, the design will likely be re-engineered to allow for prefabrication and easier on-site assembly.”