Whether you’re a professional podcaster or first-time producer, the right software workflow can make a huge difference in your final mix. Cast is a robust total-package approach to podcasting that takes you through the entire recording, mixing, hosting, and publishing process. Cast wraps all of this functionality into a neat package of intuitive modules that anyone can pick up and master. In testing, however, Cast faltered a bit; final mixes had a noticeable background hum. Even so, Cast earns an Editors’ Choice for its comprehensive and easy-to-master approach to podcasting.
Pricing and Plans
Unlike Anchor and Zencastr, Cast does not offer a permanent free tier of service. Cast’s cheapest subscription option, Hobby, costs $10 per month. With this plan, you get 10 hours of recording time per month, unlimited editing, mixing, and podcast hosting, as well as one RSS Feed (I’ll explain this later). New users can try out Cast by signing up for a 30-day trial of the Hobby plan.
Cast’s top tier of service, Pro, costs $30 per month and increases your recording limit to 100 hours per month. This plan maintains the same unlimited editing, mixing, and podcast hosting as the Hobby plan, but adds unlimited RSS Feeds to the mix.
By comparison, Anchor is completely free and imposes no limits on the number of hours you can record. Anchor includes recording, mixing, hosting, and publishing features. Zencastr also has a permanently free account tier, called Hobbyist. With Zencastr’s Hobbyist Plan, subscribers can record up to eight hours of audio per month and host up to two guests, but post-production is on a pay-per-use basis. Also note that Zencastr does not include any hosting or publishing features; once Zencastr generates your file, you need to go elsewhere for those options. Zencastr’s Professional plan costs $20 per month (or the equivalent of $18 per month, if paid annually) and opens up unlimited guests, unlimited recordings, Zencastr’s live editing soundboard, 16-bit 44.1k WAV recordings, and 10 hours’ worth of postproduction work.
Get Familiar With Cast
Before you sign up for any podcasting service, you should settle on a topic and structure for your podcast; no one wants to listen to your aimless ramblings. So, make sure to write down your ideas, create an outline, organize your guest list (if you have one), and accept the fact that you will likely need to do multiple takes for each episode. The easiest part is signing up for Cast; just enter a username, email, and password.
The process of creating a podcast breaks down into five main steps: planning (discussed above), recording, mixing, hosting, and publishing. For recording your audio (and the tracks of any other participants) you can use audio editing software like Audacity or Adobe Audition. Cast and other options offer Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions for recording via the browser. The advantage of using online software is that it’s much easier to just share a collaboration link than coordinate separate recordings (especially if some participants are in remote locations). Cast creates separate audio tracks for each speaker and keeps everything in sync, which can be useful, in cases when a participant joins the podcast late, for example.
Mixing is the process of combining all of the individual tracks into one channel, while post-processing entails quality-control tasks such as normalizing the volume levels across each track. Cast does both.
Before you can publish your work to the world, you need to find a host for your files; hosting a podcast is similar to hosting a website. Cast includes hosting in its subscription price. To submit your podcast to any of the podcast stores or apps, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Castbox, you need to generate an RSS feed. Essentially, your podcast’s RSS feeds supplies those services and apps with the information they need to add your podcast to their library. Cast goes one step above simple RSS feed creation with the ability to create a Castette, a responsive website for your podcast channel, which I discuss at the end of the review.
The Cast website is simple to use, but it only works in Chrome on macOS, Windows, and Linux desktops. Up top, Cast organizes all of its podcasting tools: Studio, Editor, and Publisher. On the far right side of the screen, you can access the help forums, as well as your profile page, from which you can upgrade your account and view all your Sessions (sortable by date and title), Cast’s way of organizing your recordings. The profile page also displays the show notes, individual audio tracks (128kbps), and the final mix for each Session. Cast recently introduced a new feature called Dropbox Sync (in beta). After you link your Dropbox account, Cast will automatically save a copy of each of your recording sessions to a dedicated folder.
To record an episode, head over to the Studio tab. This section’s clean, intuitive design makes it easy to understand. The Mic Check dialogue window greets you each time you open the Studio, which lets you choose your input and output sources. Make sure to select any external mics or speakers you want to use. If the options in the dropdown list don’t make sense to you, stick with the defaults.
Next, you should add a descriptive name to your recording, since this will help you keep all your files organized. Directly underneath the title field, Cast supplies the sharing link for sending to any other participants. On the top right portion of the screen, Cast displays a runtime clock for the episode, as well as the Start Recording button, for beginning the audio capture. Don’t hit this button until everyone is set to begin. One useful feature is the Session scheduler feature. Simply name the session, select the number of guests, choose a time and date, and add your guests’ information. Guests don’t need a Cast account to join a Session.
In the middle of the Recording screen, Cast shows two separate modules: one for adding notes to the show and one for messaging the other participants. The Show Notes are private to the host, but everyone can see the messages. You can’t delete or edit either notes or messages, so type carefully. Also, oddly, show notes are stamped with the actual time you write them. I think it would make more sense if they corresponded to the podcast’s timer instead. Zencastr’s recording editor looks a bit cleaner and provides important details on the hardware checks it runs. With Zencastr, you can also run multiple recording sessions within a single episode, which helps keep things organized.
On the right, participants can see everyone else in the Session; Cast supports up to four people in the Studio at any one time. If your podcast involves more than four people, consider kicking people off after their segment to make room for new participants. My representative at Cast explained that this limit exists to preemptively avoid any potential network connectivity issues.
If you click on the speaker icon next to your profile, you can mute your audio, which is helpful for avoiding cross talk. Participants can also raise their hand to get everyone’s attention if they have something to contribute. All those features are good to have, but hosts should have more power. For example, hosts should be able to mute people who are being disruptive and even kick off contributors, too. That said, the host is the only person who can start and end the recording, which is something I appreciate. Zencastr allows hosts to mute or kick guests.
Once you finish recording your episode, it’s time to head over to Cast’s Editor. The Editor is where you mix the audio tracks and make any adjustments. For example, if you want to delete a section of the recording, you can do that here. Did one collaborator lean in a bit too close to his or her mic? Take that track’s volume down a notch.
Up at the top, Cast includes dedicated playback controls for making your way through files, complete with 15-second Rewind and Forward buttons. You can also make more direct changes to audio tracks from this interface. For example, if you click and drag in the area above a track, you can cut parts of the track from the final mix. If you accidentally delete a section, don’t worry; all your changes are reversible.
You aren’t limited to working with the recorded session audio either. Cast allows users to add what it calls layers and wedges at this stage. A layer is an audio file that sits on top of the existing audio. You could use a layer to add background music to a podcast, for example. A wedge, on the other hand, pauses the playback. Wedges are best for inserting ads or other audio tidbits, including any transitions you forgot to make during the original recording. You can insert a punch-in recording anywhere via the mic option located up by the other playback controls. In Cast, a punch-in is a type of wedge for recordings up to two minutes of audio directly from the Editor.
Make sure to save any changes, so you don’t lose your work. After you are happy with everything, hit the Mix button in the upper right corner. As I explained earlier, mixing is simply the process of combining all of the various audio tracks into one final file for publishing. Cast gives you two different options for mixing your tracks: Standard and Dynamic. Dynamic compression tries to normalize volume across speakers, in case, for example, a guest’s speaking volume wavers.
Of course, if you want to mix your tracks with audio editing software such as Logic Pro or Avis Pro Tools, Cast lets you download your audio tracks (each one in 128kbps) from your account page. Simply click the Audio Tracks button from any Session. Finally, to upload a file that you did not mix in Cast (or one that you remixed on your own), head to the same session and hit the Upload button. Any significant overages to the file length vs. the recorded session will be automatically deducted from your allotment of hours for the month (either 10 or 100, depending on your plan).
How Do Cast Podcasts Sound?
To test podcast software’s audio quality, I set up two scenarios. For the first, I record a short vocal segment using my Chromebook’s built-in microphone to all the services under test at same time to ensure identical conditions. I use the default post-processing tools for each service and download the final mix for listening. In this batch of tests, I had Cast, Zencastr, and Anchor (as well as the Anchor mobile app) all running simulataneously.
I also run a test with dedicated mics (the Razer Seiren and Turtle Beach Streaming Mic) alongside a colleague; we simulate a podcast episode by reading alternating paragraphs from a script. I can only run this test with Cast and Zencastr, since Anchor does not allow you to host multiple people on recordings from the desktop (our test mics connect via USB A). As with the first test, I record to Cast and Zencastr simultaneously.
Different people prefer different sound signatures, so it can be difficult to determine what sounds the best. From a technical standpoint, Cast’s final mixes are in 128kbps MP3 format, Zencastr produces 112kbps MP3 files, and Anchor recorded a 127kbps M4A File (69kbps M4A from the mobile app). All of these are fairly equivalent, except for Anchor’s mobile effort of course. Despite these similar specs, I noticed clear differences in the final mixes. To evaluate audio quality, I consider a couple of factors: clarity, consistent (and sufficiently loud) volume levels, the absence of background noise, and whether voices sound natural. I listen to the recordings using Sony MDR-7506 over-the-ear headphones, which are known for their neutral sound signature.
For the first test (with the built-in mic on my Chromebook), Cast didn’t fare as well as the others. I could hear a consistent background hum that was not present in Anchor or Zencastr’s recordings. The audio also sounded a bit muddy. Zencastr produced arguably the best-sounding result; my voice sounded clear and loud, though perhaps a bit robotic. Anchor’s desktop recording fell somewhere between the two, whereas the Anchor recording I got with my phone sounded worse than Cast’s. All the services produced mostly usable results, but this test underscores the importance of using high-quality recording equipment.
For the second test, with dedicated mics, Cast improved, but the final mix still did not sound as good as Zencastr’s. Voices were certainly more audible and clear, but the background hum was still present. I did not hear that hum in Zencastr’s final fix. A background hum can usually be eliminated with a bit of editing, but this is an extra step that could be avoided.
Publishing Your Podcast
After you mix your audio and get your final file, the next step is to publish your podcast to the world. Although there are a ton of different services and apps on which you would like your podcast to appear, Cast makes it easy to get started.
The most basic way to broadcast your podcast is simply to host it at a custom URL. On the top of the Cast’s Publisher page, simply select your mix, specify a URL, and hit the Publish button. You can share that link (which leads to a web player with the episode queued up) with friends and family. Below that section, you can view all your published podcast RSS feeds and mixes.
The next step is to create an RSS Feed for your podcast channel, which you will need to do if you plan to submit your episodes to services such as Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts. As I explained earlier, this RSS feed includes all the information these services need for publishing and indexing your work. Entry fields include title, description, contact information, artwork, categories, and whether your podcast contains explicit language. You can change all of these details later. Keep in mind that you need to manually submit your RSS Feed to Podcast apps services; Cast does not have the same one-click submission feature as Anchor.
Once you create the RSS Feed for your podcast channel, you can add any podcast episodes to that channel. Just hit the Publish a New Episode option under whichever channel’s RSS feed it belongs and select a Mix (the mix needs to be published before you can add it). Once added, you can copy the web player embed code, download the episode (128kbps), view download stats, or just delete it from the channel. More broadly, you can view stats across all feeds from the main Publisher page.
One of the coolest features of Cast is its ability to create a Castette, or responsive website for your podcast channel. To get started, click the Edit Feed button on the RSS Feed in question, and then the Edit Castette Settings option. Here, you can preview your Castette, publish it, or set a custom domain (ends in .cast.rocks). The Castette page itself shows your channel artwork, title, your name (or organization), as well as all your episodes. These pages look really clean and are a great way to build an online presence. Zencastr does not offer a comparable feature, but Anchor’s Podcast Profile page is similar. Cast’s Castettes are more elegant, however.
Cast gives you all the tools you need to go from idea to published podcast RSS feed. Cast’s Studio, Editor, and Publisher all look great and are highly intuitive. Cast also implements useful analytic tools and the excellent Castette features for establishing a presence online. Our biggest issue with Cast is that its recording quality fell short of Zencastr’s in our tests. That said, Cast is a better value than Zencastr, given Cast’s included editing, hosting, and publishing features, and the audio issues can be dealt with in the editing stage. Overall, Cast is an easy-to-use, soup-to-nuts podcasting service, and well deserving of an Editors’ Choice award.