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Podcasting? Yeah, Staples’ Got That

While some big-box retailers might jump on the podcasting boom by selling gear, Staples has a far bigger plan—it’s opened podcast studios in six test stores, with technical designs and acoustics created by Professional Audio Design’s president Dave Malekpour and his team.

Each Staples Connect iHeartRadio Podcasting Studio features a Røde RødeCaster Pro recording interface and Røde PodMics, as well as Genelec 4010A speakers and Shure SRH440 studio headphones.
Each Staples Connect iHeartRadio Podcasting Studio features a Røde RødeCaster Pro recording interface and Røde PodMics, as well as Genelec 4010A speakers and Shure SRH440 studio headphones.

Hanover, MA (March 24, 2020)—Massachusetts-based retailer Staples has teamed up with iHeartRadio and Professional Audio Design (PAD) to build podcasting studios at seven of its stores in the greater Boston area. The studio facilities are a key part of a community-focused reimagining of some of the company’s stores, rebranded Staples Connect, which also offer co-working and event spaces.

“The mission was to have a professional-quality podcasting studio, consistent from location to location, that could be set up in a repeatable way,” says Dave Malekpour, PAD’s president. His company, based in Hanover, MA, was called in by iHeartRadio’s Boston engineering team to develop the technical design and acoustics of the new podcasting studios, which are prominently positioned in the new Staples Connect outlets.

Staples Connect has also partnered with audio technology company Voxnest, whose Spreaker platform offers podcast hosting and distribution. The retailer additionally offers its customers discounts on partner We Edit Podcasts’ post-production services.

Staples US Retail and iHeartRadio were looking for a solution as close to broadcast quality as possible, but within a budget, says Malekpour. PAD’s team, including system engineer John Songdahl and technical director Eric Anderson, developed a value-engineered design that can accommodate up to four participants in a 10-ft. by 12-ft. acoustically treated and soundproofed studio.

Central to the technical design of each Staples Connect iHeartRadio Podcasting Studio is the Røde RødeCaster Pro recording interface. The RødeCaster Pro not only has a compact form factor but is also easy to use, says Malekpour.

Dave Malekpour, president of Professional Audio Design, and his team developed the technical design and acoustics of podcasting studios in Staples Connect stores.
Dave Malekpour, president of Professional Audio Design, and his team developed the technical design and acoustics of podcasting studios in Staples Connect stores.

“It’s an interface, but it also records to SD card—you can get individual tracks or a stereo mix. You can Bluetooth-in your phone as a source or if you want to Skype an outsider caller in. There are eight sample pads that you can load with tails and heads, or music and effects, and fire them off at the right moment in the show. Four microphones are a manageable number for a podcast. And it’s got built-in effects that help with vocal clarity and creating a broadcast-sounding vocal.”

Each of the rooms features a pair of Genelec 4010A speakers for playback, either side of a video display. Shure SRH440 professional studio headphones are also available at each seat.

PAD recommended several different microphones and Staples had iHeartRadio’s team evaluate them for broadcast quality, Malekpour reports. In a shoot-out between a $100 mic and another costing four times that, he says, “We found that because of the way the RødeCaster is designed, the results were really close, so they didn’t need to spend the extra money.”

The selected Røde PodMic microphone offers good rejection, he says, “so even if you’re in a noisy environment, you’re going to find that you just hear the vocal, with no interference.” That performance also enabled PAD’s team to value-engineer a structure that, while offering a little less isolation, provides a high level of quality while being more affordable to create, he says.

“It has double-wall construction and double-glazed laminate windows, things that we helped spec out. They used an acoustics product that is easy to install consistently and looks nice, a polyester felt board. It’s affordable, consistent and maintainable,” says Malekpour.

“The acoustics in the room are really well-balanced for vocal clarity. They’ve even had musicians come in and record; they’re not opposed to anything.”

Beyond specifying suitable audio gear, PAD had to consider numerous issues of ergonomics as well as wear and tear from the constant customer turnover. “How big does the studio need to be to be effective? How do we lay it out? Where do the cables go so that they’re not in the way?” he enumerates.

“We had to think of it from a reliability standpoint, trying to make it so that a user coming in couldn’t necessarily undo the installation. We used mic stands with internal cable harnesses. We had to figure out cool ways to do stuff, such as using the table leg to mount hardware into. We even picked the size and shape of the table, so that there’s enough room to roll your chair back in a 10-by-12 room.”

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, says Malekpour.

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“We also built them a setup at their headquarters, for testing and training. They want to become experts at podcasting as a company, so they can learn to use that voice.”

While the Staples Connect podcasting studios, which are available for $60 an hour, can be self-operated, there is also an expert on hand to assist. “Staples has gone to various music programs around here, like Berklee, to get graduates that are competent in the recording field,” he says.

Staples is apparently also hoping to entice some customers to purchase their own podcasting setups once they’ve learned the essentials at the in-store facilities. “There’s an endcap facing the studios that has a set of podcasting equipment that they’ve packaged to sell to customers,” he reports.

When you look at the amount of content being created by companies such as iHeart, Apple and Spotify, says Malekpour, and the similarly huge consumer demand, “There’s still room for a mass of exponential growth in that market. It’s a way that people can communicate their message and receive information.”

Indeed, Malekpour has even started thinking about launching his own podcast—a PADcast, if you will. “There’s space in the market for us to tell our story and talk about facility design, so we’re looking at it as a place where we could launch our own podcast. Even though we have the technology, obviously, it would be cool to use our client’s facilities,” he says.

“And I love the fact that their podcast studios tie into the event spaces and the other services that they offer. It makes for a really cool business condition, building community around their stores—which is lost in today’s point-and-click world.”

Professional Audio Design •

iHeartRadio •