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The cameras built into many laptops are often pretty basic, and this has led to booming sales of webcams in recent months as millions of remote-working business users have upgraded to a higher-quality equipment for video calls and presentations. But video quality is only one half of the equation, and many users also need to improve the audio side of their presentations, vlogs and podcasts.
AKG's aptly named Podcaster Essentials is a comprehensive and affordable option for high-quality audio work that bundles together the company's professional-level audio equipment with additional audio editing software. Priced at $249, or £259 (inc. VAT) in the UK, the Podcaster Essentials kit includes the AKG Lyra microphone, AKG K371 headphones and Ableton Live 10 Lite recording software.
The kit is sold direct from AKG's website in the US, while UK sales are via the specialist Sound Technology.
Design & features
The Lyra USB microphone is the centrepiece of this all-in-one recording studio. Its retro design looks quaintly old-fashioned, but it houses a variety of modern audio features, including plug-and-play USB-Audio input for Macs and PCs (with cable included). It can also be used with Android and iOS mobile devices with a suitable adapter (not included).
The Lyra is actually more than a single microphone, as it includes four separate microphone 'capsules' -- left and right, front and back – that allow it to record high-resolution stereo audio up to 24-bit/192KHz (compared to 16-bit/44.1KHz for standard CD-quality audio), with four separate recording modes. The 'front' recording mode focuses on a single speaker sitting directly in front of the microphone, while 'front-and-back' can cover two people sitting opposite each other. For two speakers sitting side-by-side there's a 'tight stereo' mode, while 'wide stereo' extends the sound stage for larger groups, or for people who may need to move around during a performance or presentation.
Along with the Lyra microphone, the Podcaster Essentials kit also includes AKG's popular K371 headphones. Designed for professional audio recording, the K371 eschews the compromises of Bluetooth streaming, and opts for a traditional wired audio connection, along with large, padded earpieces that provide good sound isolation to help you focus on your audio recordings. I've used the K371 in the past, and its high-resolution sound is really impressive, thanks to a frequency response of 5Hz - 40KHz that captures more detail at both the higher and lower ends of the audio spectrum than conventional consumer-oriented headphones.
To bring audio input and output together, the Podcaster Essentials kit also includes a copy of Ableton Live 10 Lite, a 'streamlined' version of the popular Ableton Live 10 audio software. As well as multi-track editing tools, Ableton also includes a variety of built-in sound effects and sampled loops that can be used to generate background music. And, for newcomers to audio recording work, the kit also includes a free four-part training course provided by Berklee Online.
The Podcaster Essentials kit might be overkill for simple video calls with colleagues, but it will be a useful upgrade if you need to record and edit online presentations and marketing materials, or create podcasts and vlogs.