Podcast Transcript: Mosen at large episode 189, giving public evidence on school for the blind abuse, more on ableist language, and a comprehensive demonstration of the Vocaster Two audio interface fromFocusrite

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Jonathan Mosen: I’m Jonathan Mosen. This is Mosen At Large, the show that’s got the blind community talking. This week, more on New Zealand’s Royal Commission into Abuse in Care. Should we give up on the word “blind”, and just use another word? A comprehensive review and demonstration of the Vocaster Two audio interface from Focusrite.

Singers: Mosen At Large Podcast.


Jonathan: It’s good to be back with you once again, I hope you’ve had a good week. The weather’s been a bit extreme all over the place. All the best to everybody in the northern hemisphere, some of whom are coping with some extreme heat. In the UK, when it gets hot, what I found when I visited the UK in the summer, is that they don’t do heat very well. Not in many places. I have been in hotels in the UK during a temporary bout of heat where I have never been so uncomfortable in my life because they didn’t have any air conditioning and it was just horrible.

I suspect, sadly, that with global warming really making its presence felt, that is going to have to change, and air conditioning in some of these places is going to be a lot more common. Here’s hoping it gets a bit cooler by the time we head over there in September, which is getting ever closer. Meanwhile, over here, it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining for goodness knows how long. It’s been so blustery in Wellington, which has a reputation for being New Zealand’s windy city. Somebody was tweeting the other day that they were walking down Featherston Street here in Wellington, and the wind literally blew the mask off their face.

Another person said that they were literally blown into the street by the wind. It’s been pretty ferocious here, extreme weather all over the place right now. It’s been a memorable week for me. I wanted to share a little bit about this because it may help somebody, I’d like to hope so. If you were listening to episode 146 of the podcast, you’ll recall that I spoke with Commissioner Paul Gibson. He’s the lead commissioner of the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care here in New Zealand. I had a chat to Paul because I was not aware until just a little ahead of that interview that Homai College, the school for the blind in New Zealand, was under the jurisdiction of the Royal Commission.

I really wanted to let the blind community in New Zealand know that, but also, it is not a uniquely New Zealand problem. I’ve read all sorts of articles in all sorts of places about abuse at schools for the blind. Children are vulnerable, but disabled children are especially vulnerable. As I’ve gone through this process myself, I’ve thought a lot about why is this? Why is it that around the world in these institutions, they seem to attract sadistic people? There is such systemic breakdown that this abuse is not called out, it’s not stopped. People haven’t been heard and there hasn’t been justice.

When I was a child, I was subjected to physical abuse by a teacher at the school for the blind, and that turned into the most extraordinary psychological abuse, deeply painful psychological abuse. I guess it’s just been something that happened to me. It happened, it didn’t define me. I like to feel like I got on with my life. I’ve done okay. Largely, I think because of the lottery of family. I had an incredibly supportive family. My parents bought a house very close to the school for the blind so that I could be a day student and not board at the school for the blind.

Given the fact that there was a cover-up about my abuse, and that the school for the blind denied it had happened, they accused me of making up stories. They sent me off to a child psychologist in fact, to try and find out why I was making up these horrible stories about a good teacher. If my parents hadn’t unwaveringly believed in me, I think the whole trajectory of my life would have changed. I have so much to thank them for. Not all children were that lucky. Not all children have that support.

If I had to go back to the hostels, because I was a boarder at Homai, and those people at the hostels were part of the system, it’s a real possibility that nobody would have taken me that seriously there either. God, I just don’t know where I would be right now. I really don’t. I got on with life. I lived with it. I have an enormous sense of guilt that when I became chairman of the board of the Blind Foundation, I sought to have the board come to terms with the past. A lot of people have a different view about this. A lot of people say, “It’s not the current people in charge who did these horrible things. They can’t be held responsible.”

I think that’s too simplistic. When you become a leader in an organization, you inherit its legacy; the good, as well as the bad. You’re also making a legacy. Every decision that you take as a leader determines the future of the organization. When you’re in that position of responsibility, if you’re aware that there are serious things that you need to own up to, that you need to apologize for, then as the temporary custodian of that legacy, you’ve got to do it. That was the argument that I made, and I could not get traction on that argument. It has haunted me. It really has haunted me ever since.

I was able to talk about a lot of these things when I testified in public, at the Royal Commission on Abuse in Care. I gave private testimony in November of last year. That was quite a difficult process, it brought up a lot for me that I hadn’t thought about for years. In a way, it put some things into place why I find certain things so difficult. I still find being bullied, unjustifiably, very difficult. In an age of social media, that’s a little bit tough, because if you have a profile, people will just tend to say anything about you to get attention.

Who cares about the truth of the matter if you can just get a bit of clickbait come your way, then great, you know. Never mind about the effect that it’s having on an individual. I have found that tough. I’ve realized that one of the reasons why I find it particularly tough is because of the psychological abuse after the physical abuse that I was subjected to as a child. It’s good to understand myself a bit better. I was dreading last Monday. It had really been on my mind.

It’s something I felt like I had to do. I knew that there would be many people who just could not cope with getting in the witness box and testifying in public, when it was going to be live streamed, there was going to be media there. I knew that it was within me to do it. I felt like I had a responsibility to do it not just for me, but particularly on behalf of those who just could not do that. I am one of these really odd people who loves to do public speaking. I enjoy it. I look forward to getting in front of a crowd. The larger the crowd, the better. I do enjoy that, but for the first time in my life, I was really fearful.

I shared a bit of this on LinkedIn and Facebook. Some of the comments that I got back were just– All of them actually, without fail all of them were very supportive ahead of my evidence. I truly appreciate that. It really felt like I had a team of people behind me who perhaps understood just what I was going through and what a difficult process this was. I gave my testimony. Something has happened that I didn’t anticipate at all. I feel so much lighter. People sometimes use that expression about a weight being lifted off you. For the first time in my life, I can really feel that. I wondered if it was temporary.

I woke up on Tuesday morning, and I just felt different. I felt better. Now here we are into the following weekend and I still feel that way. Do you know what it’s like when you have, say, a noise that’s on in the background all the time, like a lawn mower going on outside your window, or a vacuum cleaner, one of those kinds of machinery-type sounds that you almost stopped noticing it because it’s in the background, or a very loud, noisy AC that might be on? Then suddenly it switches off and you think, “That was making a lot of noise, wasn’t it?” It’s like that for me.

I still will be very interested to see what the report of the Royal Commission says, what its recommendations are. Then, of course, the key thing is, how seriously will the government of the day take the recommendations that the Royal Commission is going to make? I think there will be enormous pressure because people have spilled their guts, have talked about deeply personal things. Many of us have tried to bury those things for a long time, just so that we can get on with our lives. We’ve been vulnerable. We’ve been out there, we’ve talked about these things.

The government will have to deliver on these recommendations that the Royal Commission makes. New Zealanders are going to have to make absolutely sure that that is what happens. Some of the things that have been reported in the hearing on disabled people, deaf people, just broke my heart. You can read the articles in various New Zealand publications about some of the evidence that was given. The report will be anticipated, and the government’s response to that report is going to be anticipated even more.

One thing I do want to say to those listening in New Zealand is it is still not too late. You can come forward to the Royal commission. I’d encourage you to listen to the interview with Paul Gibson, if you haven’t done so already. You can also go to abuseincare.org.nz. That is all one word, abuseincare.org.nz. You can find out all the information that you could possibly want about how to confidentially give your testimony. I do want to emphasize that I know of several blind people who have come forward. Not everybody, hardly anybody in fact is expected or asked to go through that public process.

I’m glad that I did it for me and for others, but most people don’t have to do it. No one’s ever pressured to do it either. That part of the process for disabled people is now over anyway. Your evidence is taken in complete confidence. One thing that has struck me about this commission is just how very compassionate and careful of the survivors they are. That’s another thing by the way, I was called a survivor as part of this process for the first time. To have been recognized as such, a survivor of that abuse, has in itself just been validating and incredibly liberating. It’s a good process. It’s a fair process.

I realize that it’s also a painful process for people. Counseling is available. They take great care of those people who are coming forward to tell their truth. If you are in New Zealand and you have something that you want to tell the commission, I encourage you to give consideration to coming forward. Only you can decide whether it’s right for you, but check out the website at abuseincare.org.nz. I understand that my evidence as well as others at that hearing will be available on demand, if it’s not already, at some point soon. I wouldn’t want to go back and watch that again myself, but some people who missed it may want to check that out at some point in the future.

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Jonathan: We’re saying hello to Anne Gunther who’s writing in. She says, “Hi, greetings from the middle of the middle of Europe to the World Blind Union podcast listening chapter.” [chuckles] “Argentina, Botswana, Bulgaria, how cool is that?” She says.

Screenreader: It’s cool, baby.

Jonathan: She says, “I just stumbled over your podcast, which I find very interesting and helpful. I started last week, and am now working my way backwards, or should I say [unintelligible 00:13:06] through the episodes? I decided I’ll keep going until I encounter tech information that’s outdated by now. Official announcements about new product, et cetera, don’t count. I’ll let you know how far back I got. I have a short comment about reading Braille with formatting information like bold or italic text in NVDA. While you can’t switch that on in NVDA’s options directly, there is a pretty great add-on called BrailleExtender.

Among other things you can get this information on your Braille display with it. I would also like to talk a little about my thoughts about ableist language, because I think there are actually two sides to that problem. On the one hand, people using the German language have gotten into the unfortunate habit of calling situations or circumstances that are not ideal, behindert, which means “disabled” in English. If that happens when I’m around, I always ask them if they really mean it. It usually takes them a second or two to get what I’m talking about, always followed by some kind of embarrassed apology.

Actually the term replaced [German language], which means gay. This at one point was mostly used in these kinds of situations, but with gay rights and gay people being somewhat more present in media in recent years, people seem to realize that that wasn’t an acceptable term to use to express frustration. We’ll see what and how long it takes to replace behindert, and what it will be replaced with. I’m afraid, but pretty sure it’ll be another fringe group. Obviously, that kind of language is not OK, and I’ll comment on it whenever I’m around when someone uses that saying.

That’s one side. On the other hand, a washing machine disconnected from its water pipe is disabled, and cars need mirrors because otherwise there would be a blind spot. That’s just organically grown linguistic history without any malicious intent. In fact, without having tested it, I dare say, if you were to Google “blind”, the majority would be about the metaphorical use of the word. I’m not sure how much sense it makes, or if we even have the right to demand that people stop using words that are obviously a part of daily language.

What I’d like to do is propose instead, the creating and strong promotion of a term that refers to us as blind folks, something like non-sighted or sightless. There’s probably better alternatives. I know that something like that can actually work because for German, someone at some point created the term, gehörlos, to refer to people without hearing. The literal translation would be hearing less. Today, it’s considered impolite to refer to these people as deaf, and the term isn’t used in the media or in public speeches and other similar situations anymore, with younger generations also using gehörlos when talking about people without hearing in everyday conversations.

While that may not be a perfect solution, I think it would be a step in the right direction, and in the long run, the smaller mountain to move.” Anne’s got a whole lot of tech questions and comments. Before I go onto that, I’ll deal with this one first. Anne, I respectfully disagree with this. If I may say, it seems to me that your arguments contradict each other. You’re expressing rightful concern at the use of a pejorative term to refer to disabled people. It sounds to me like the way I hear a lot of young people referring to something that they don’t like or that they don’t approve of as lame, I believe that’s the translation.

We have this in English too, where people think that an idea isn’t a good one, and they say, “What a lame idea that is,” or, “I didn’t like that movie. It was so lame,” and on and on it goes, I’ve also heard people using gay in the same way. You’re right, justifiably so, the gay community has clamped down on that very effectively. I think we have a lot of lessons as a disability community to learn from the gay community.

When you look at how much change they have been able to achieve, not just legislative change, but most importantly, attitudinal change in such a short time, it goes to show that with consistent, appropriate staunch advocacy at all levels, you can achieve remarkable change in a short time. I reckon if you had polled most countries, say, 30 years ago on the question of whether gay marriage should be legal, you would’ve had an overwhelming majority of people come back and say, “What a weird idea.” It wasn’t something that many people considered back then.

Yet now, many Western countries have laws permitting gay couples to marry, and that’s as it should be. When we get onto the subject of ableist language, I find that some people do get confused about what constitutes ableist language. I fully agree with you that if you have a washing machine that’s disconnected from the water supply or the power supply, that washing machine is disabled. No question about that. I don’t have a particular issue with that whatsoever. Use of the word in that context is totally consistent with the social model of disability.

Just as a washing machine is disabled if it’s disconnected from the water supply, I am disabled if I’m disconnected from accommodations that allow me to function in society. I also agree with you that if you have a car mirror that’s missing or broken, then clearly there is a blind spot because in that sense it means that somebody can’t see what’s going on around them. It specifically refers to vision or sight. What people object to when it comes to ableist language is the hijacking of the word “blind” to mean stupid or ignorant.

It’s one thing to say, my mirror is broken, therefore I have a blind spot, which means I can’t see what’s going on, and another thing to say, “You are blind to the consequences of this. You are a blind fool,” because you’ve transcended then from talking about physically seeing something to understanding something. At that point, you have overstepped the line. You’ve gone over the boundary, and you’re acquainting blindness with stupidity and ignorance. That is the ableist language that so many of us are seeking to clamp down on.

The second thing I would say about your comment, Anne, is I don’t know why there’s inconsistency there. We both agree that it’s wrong to use the term “gay” as a pejorative to mean stupid or ridiculous, or whatever. We both agree also that it’s wrong to use the term “lame” as a pejorative meaning stupid or ridiculous. Why do you then think that it’s okay to use blind to mean ignorant and stupid, and inconsiderate? What is it about blindness that exempts it from the same consideration that you’ve given to other terms? If the difference simply boils down to longevity of use, I don’t think that’s particularly fair.

You see racial slurs that were used for centuries that are now not considered appropriate either. We know that no matter how long something has been used, it doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable in 2022. I’d also say we were here first. The only reason why pejorative uses of the term “blind” have crept into the language is because blind people were kept illiterate and unemployed for centuries, and so sighted people have had a free run to portray us that way. Now, like the gay community, like women, like many others who haven’t really had a say in their own destiny, we’re speaking up.

The answer isn’t to change the language, in my view, the answer is to claim the language back. When somebody says to me actually, “What’s it like being a sightless chief executive or whatever, or visually impaired?” I correct them. I say, “I’m blind and I’m damn proud of it.” I’m proud to be blind. We’ve talked about that on this podcast before. As you move your way back through the podcast, you may well get to my piece on blind pride. It’s time for us to take the word “blind” back, and to tell sighted people to stop hijacking it.

In fact, regarding your idea that there should be some sort of alternative word, it’s already happening. Not so much a word, but a phrase. We’re hearing this now pushed by sighted people at blindness agencies. RNIB, CNIB, to the best of my knowledge, you are both the worst offenders on this. That is that people talk about people with sight loss. Every time I see this on Twitter, on social media, I call it out because if they are talking about somebody with sight loss, that is not me. I’ve never had sight, so I’ve never lost sight.

Sure, if you’re talking about a person with sight loss as somebody who has gone blind later in life due to accident or some sort of deteriorating medical congenital condition, go for it. Knock yourself out. That’s a perfectly relevant use of the term “people with sight loss”. If you are calling me as someone who has been totally blind since birth, a person with sight loss, I am not. I’m blind. If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend whizzing back through the archives to episode 142 where I interviewed Leona Godin, who has written a tremendous history of blindness.

It was so inspiring. It’s called There Plant Eyes. Certainly, in English-speaking markets, it’s available on a lot of the accessible format repositories. It’s also available on Audible and Amazon, and Kindle, and all those places. Even if you don’t read the book, you might find the interview interesting. I also accept that there will be some cultural variations around the world. I’m speaking as somebody in New Zealand, in New Zealand conditions. The deaf example you gave is really interesting, because here in New Zealand, and I’m pretty sure this is the case in countries like the UK and Australia, and Canada, and the United States, deaf people are proud of their deafness.

They spell deaf with a capital D. There is a strong deaf culture. They would be very angry if anybody tries to give them another word to use. They’re deaf, it belongs to them. They’re proud of it. I really hope that the blind community continues to exhibit its emerging blind pride and its intolerance of people hijacking it to mean things other than the absence of sight.

I shall continue with Anne’s email because it’s nice and long. She says, “Now that I have told you some of my thoughts, I’d like some input from you and your listeners into two questions that I have. Firstly, I’m working as a speech-to-text interpreter. Since most people I encounter don’t know what that is, I’ll give a short explanation. It basically means that I transform spoken text into written text so people that are hard of hearing can read what is spoken. If people are interested, I can talk more about that at a later time. This message is long enough as it is. Anyway, to do my job, I have to use Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

Whenever that program is open and I press the Windows key, the Dragon bar, which is that program’s menu bar, will pop open. I can often stop that from happening when I press space directly after pressing the Windows key, but that doesn’t always work, and it’s also something annoying. My question is, is there a way to stop Dragon from hogging the Windows key? I know that you get into the options and define a keystroke that’ll open the Dragon bar, I did that and the keystroke works fine. I really hope someone has an idea, because otherwise, I’ll have to contact the Nuance Support and that’s as easy as getting an appointment with a specialist doctor.”

I used to have this problem too. I really liked Dragon and I used it for quite a while, but I found it incredibly buggy. Sometimes it would just completely destroy itself and I’d have to reinstall it again. I suddenly had this epiphany and I realized actually I was spending a lot more time tweaking Dragon and making it behave than it would have taken me to just write the damn things down in the first place, so I gave up on Dragon. I may well pick it up again and see how it is these days. I do remember exactly this problem. I don’t recall if I found a fix.

I used to rely quite heavily on Brian Hartgen. He has written two utilities for Dragon to work incredibly well with JAWS. One is called J-Say, and that is a full suite that for people who don’t have the ability to use a keyboard really can make the difference between having access to the computer and not, and the other one that I was using called J-Dictate, which is really for those of us who can use the computer but like to dictate text into it. When Dragon was set up and behaving well, the combination of JAWS and J-Dictate, and Dragon NaturallySpeaking, was really something to behold.

These days, I have to say for my basic dictation requirements, Microsoft Dictation continues to improve, and it’s okay. I find it does some really weird things sometimes as well, but it’s okay. Maybe Brian’s listening or someone’s listening who has seen this business of when you press the start menu, the Dragon bar pops up, and can tell us how do you beat that thing into submission because I do recall this being a problem. My second question,” says Anne, “is about JAWS. I parted ways with that screen reader in 2008 because it obviously didn’t like me.

At some point, I started to resent it as well. I used Linux for about two years but missed some easy ways to scan books. I got back to Windows and have used NVDA since. I’m willing to give JAWS another chance, probably not full-time, but as a tool in the arsenal because things like the text analyzer and the flexible web sound interesting. Now here’s my problem. I tried a recent JAWS version on my Windows 10 laptop in demo mode. and encountered a problem that’s serious enough to make JAWS fairly unusable for me. I hope my explanation makes sense.

In the standard QWERTY keyboard, you have two levels. The first one, where you only press one key at a time, and the second one, where you press shift and another key. I’m using a more ergonomic layout that’s definitely easier on the hands for this one has a third and even fourth level. For example, if you press caps lock with H, you’ll get the question mark. Definitely easier than having to stretch up to the number 0. Unfortunately, JAWS doesn’t speak these keystrokes correctly. On the Braille display, they’re shown correctly, but only the letter key gets spoken.

Since it has always worked fine with NVDA, it never occurred to me that it might not work correctly with JAWS. Since my programming knowledge is pretty limited, I don’t know what the code difference is while handling keystrokes. Is there a way for me, some setting or something, to make JAWS speak them correctly?” Anne, I don’t know the answer to your question for certain, maybe someone else does, but I wonder if it’s relating to the JAWS keyboard driver, which might be intercepting those keystrokes.

Given that you are getting a response on your Braille display, it doesn’t sound to me like it’s simply a case of changing the layout, because if that’s all it was, you wouldn’t be getting any response at all from the Braille display when you press those combinations. It sounds like you have kept the caps lock key free from JAWS, but it may be that its keyboard driver isn’t accepting the results. I don’t know if there’s a workaround for that. Maybe someone else does.

“Before I end my prattling,” says Anne, “I just wanted to wholeheartedly agree with something you said about four or five weeks ago about not doing scripted interviews. I was, and hopefully will be again, volunteering for a radio station myself. I didn’t sit in front of a microphone, but it was my job to make appointments with possible interview partners and prepare the interviews. Depending on the level of experience, the broadcast is stuck more or less to my prepared questions.

The more experience they had, the more they use them just as a foundation. Like I said, I wholeheartedly agree with you that you can’t get real answers if people can script them in their head before the interview. Plus, it just sounds pretty awful. I know that because one time we allowed someone to write their answers down beforehand, so she could read them because she was really nervous. When it was broadcast it sounded like a really bad-acted audio drama. Yes, interviews that aren’t real, so to speak, are just a bad idea.” Thank you, Anne, really appreciate your email.

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Jonathan: Welcome to my review of the Vocaster Two from a blindness perspective. My name’s Jonathan Mosen, I’m in New Zealand, and I’ve been podcasting since 2004. I’m totally blind and predominantly, I use Windows with JAWS for Windows as my screen reader. Here in my studio, I’m recording with Reaper and I’m talking into a Heil PR-40. The audio interface in the studio is a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6.

This presentation is long and detailed, and some of it may not be of interest to you. If that’s the case, you’ll be pleased to know that the podcast is segmented by chapter. That allows you, if you’re listening with a podcast app that supports the chapter feature, to skip between major sections of the presentation. It’s often said that there’s a book inside all of us to be written. I think in the case of the blind community especially, there’s probably a podcast inside many of us waiting to come out as well. Whether you’re blind or sighted though, getting what you can hear in your head recorded, edited, and published seems impossibly complicated to many.

There’s just so much jargon and intimidating equipment to learn about. What is an audio interface anyway, and which one is right for what I want to do? Do I need one of those portable recorders, or can I produce everything with my laptop or my iPhone, or my iPad, which I already own? What microphone is good enough? What’s the best digital audio workstation, and how do I get comfortable with editing? How do I set my levels, especially as a blind person who can’t see the meters? How do I include guests, either in person or remotely?

How do I get that punchy pro sound that I hear on so many other podcasts and it makes them sound so much better than what I’m recording? That’s why in recent times with the proliferation of podcasting, audio manufacturers are spending a lot of time developing devices geared at the podcasting market exclusively, designed to simplify things. For us as blind people, there’s a big “gotcha”. You add blindness into the mix and you have additional complexities. That great must-have tool that my sighted podcasting ninja friend swears by may be a non-starter for me because it’s dependent on a touchscreen I can’t use.

I might go and try another device but it has inaccessible software, and this device, that’s okay as long as I produce a cheat sheet telling me the order of the buttons and the sequence I should follow to get the job done. When one of the most respected audio manufacturers on the planet comes out with a product aimed squarely at the podcast market, promising accessible software, that’s always going to pique my interest.

That’s why I’m pleased to offer this comprehensive demonstration review and tutorial on the Focusrite Vocaster Two audio interface. I’d like to thank Focusrite for providing me with a review unit. Even though they’ve sent this to me to review, they haven’t sought to influence the presentation in any way. These are my opinions. While, as the name implies, the Vocaster range is aimed at the podcasting audience, Focusrite also believes it’ll meet the needs of video bloggers, audiobook producers, voiceover artists, and live streamers.

In a blindness-specific use case, if you record screen reader demos on your computer, smartphone or tablet, it’ll definitely do that job nicely as well. Really, if you’re doing any spoken word recording or live streaming Focusrite’s hoping you’ll take an interest in the Vocaster range. Devices in the Vocaster family are audio interfaces. That means they’re designed to get professional quality audio into and out of your computer or iPad. That’s an iPad that has a USB-C port. Because this is just an audio interface, it does not offer built-in recording functionality. Any recording that you do has to be done on the computer or the iPad to which you’ve connected the Vocaster.

It’s a compact device coming in at 225.5 millimeters, that’s 8.84 inches wide. It’s 113 millimeters or 8.45 inches deep. It’s 50.5 millimeters or 1.99 inches high. It weighs just 420 grams, so a little less than half a kilogram, that is 0.93 pounds. You configure the Vocaster device using software called Vocaster Hub which is available for PC and Mac. I’m going to take you through the install process for a PC shortly, and you’ll hear just how elegant and easy and accessible it is to install.

At the time of recording, the Vocaster range consists of two devices, Vocaster One which I found on Amazon for $199 US, and Vocaster Two which I found on Amazon for $299 US. Vocaster One will be enough for you if you never intend to have a co-host or a guest in person with you. Vocaster Two gives you two microphone inputs and two headphone jacks along with the other common features I’ll be discussing throughout the demonstration.

I know money is tight for many in our community, but if you can manage it, I would try to get the Vocaster Two even if you don’t think you need it right now, because your requirements may grow. If you are the kind of person that finds this technology really daunting, the Vocaster One may be easier to operate because you don’t have to be concerned with which microphone the multifunction knob is controlling. I’m going to satisfy some of the audio geeks who might be listening to this. For those of you who want this device because you think it will help you get into podcasting, please bear with me for just a sec.

The microphone inputs except a range of microphone models including both dynamic and condensers. If you’re using a condenser microphone, the Vocaster family can provide the phantom power at 48 volts that it needs to operate. The preamps are getting very good reviews, boasting 70 dB of gain. Even if you have a notoriously quiet mic like the Shure SM7B, the Vocaster will drive it without breaking a sweat or requiring you to resort to a cloud lifter. It can record at a maximum of 48 kilohertz and 24 bits. It would be nice for those of us who have concerns about certain levels if it did 32-bit float, but there are other ways around that, and we’ll talk about those at length in a little bit.

The Vocaster Two sports two 6.35-millimeter headphone jacks so you and your guests can hear what you’re producing, and optionally any remote guests. You can also connect external speakers if you want. Speaking of remote guests, guests can be brought in in various ways easily. This is one of the real selling points of this product. First, there’s a TRRS jack on the device so you can run a cable between the Vocaster and your smartphone or tablet. The fact that it’s TRRS, tip ring ring sleeve, means that the Vocaster can get audio into and out of the phone.

You can hear your guests coming in on the phone, and your guests can hear everything from the Vocaster. If the cable is just too much hassle, and you’ve opted for the Vocaster Two, you can pair your phone or tablet using Bluetooth. The device supports Bluetooth 5. If you have the Vocaster Two, I want to emphasize that when it comes to the cable and the Bluetooth, this is not an either/or situation. You can cable up one device using your TRRS cable, and have another device connected via Bluetooth at the same time.

If you want to, you can use a computer to bring in your guest via any voiceover IP solution, whether that’d be a lower quality consumer-grade service like Zoom or Teams, or pro services like Cleanfeed, and you do this using the loopback features. Yes, I’m saying features, plural. All those features are great for recording top-quality screen reader demos as well. There are two separate stereo loopback functions.

The Vocaster range ships with a three-year warranty. If you don’t have a microphone or headphones yet, Focusrite also sells the Vocaster studio bundle which includes the Vocaster interface, Focusrite’s premium Vocaster DM14v dynamic mic and HP60v closed-back studio headphones. I don’t know much about the Vocaster DMV14v dynamic mic, but I’m told that it includes a built-in windshield and shock mount, so it’s good for professional results. If you’ve always wanted to get into podcasting but you have no gear at all, you are starting from scratch, Focusrite can sell you a complete solution.

Obviously, if you want to opt for the additional hardware, that’s going to cost you more. All the Vocasters come with a $600 software bundle for free. That includes Hindenburg and SquadCast as well as Acast. In theory, you have everything that you need to record and edit, and then publish your first podcast. I would caution blind users not to go too far down that rabbit warren of the included software though, because in every case there are more accessible choices. You can download Hindenburg LITE, and that’s yours to keep.

Also, you can upgrade it for a six-month trial to the full Hindenburg PRO. Hindenburg is a digital audio workstation packed with dream features for producers of spoken word content. It’s undoubtedly a sensible decision Focusrite to bundle it with this product. Hindenburg isn’t accessible, and the software developers know that it isn’t accessible. So far, I’ve seen no expressed intention to rectify that. Acast is a podcast publishing platform that offers a free tier. I haven’t explored this at length or set up an account, but I did go to their homepage, and it does appear to be accessible.

If you want to give Acast a try, then by virtue of being a Vocaster Two customer, you will get a six-month influencer plan for free. SquadCast is an excellent tool for working with remote guests, by recording the local audio and optionally video of each guest, and uploading it to a central point. You get the best possible quality. The SquadCast team are fantastic, but when I last looked at it, it was simply not as accessible as Cleanfeed, which has become the gold standard in the blind community and elsewhere for remote audio recording. Cleanfeed’s understanding of and commitment to accessibility and working directly with the blind community is second to none.

Nevertheless, if you want to give SquadCast a try, you may get on with it well enough. You do get a three-month pro plus video trial just for purchasing a Vocaster or a Vocaster Two. Finally, there is an app called Amplify Studio. This is available for PC and Mac. You get a six-month premium trial of that product. This is not something I have played with at all, but I understand that it allows you to construct loops and other elements, which may be good for sprucing up your podcast and having little sweeps and other things that you might want to put between items of your podcast. With that background, let’s unbox the Vocaster Two.


Jonathan: Our next step in the journey is to unbox the Vocaster Two. With me is the unboxing ninja, Heidi Taylor, who’s always welcome on these podcast. Welcome.

Heidi Taylor: Hello.

Jonathan: We’ve got the Vocaster Two out of the box that it came in, the shipping container, and now we have the actual box. What have we got there? Give us a visual description.

Heidi: It’s black. It says Vocaster Two. It has an image of one of its faces, which has three knobs on it and a bunch of symbols. On the back of the box, it’s telling me about how it has auto gain and enhance, and connect, and software, and mute, and Bluetooth. There’s a QR code to learn more. Then it’s got information in many different languages, which I assume is just the same as what’s written on the box as well.

Jonathan: It’s not shrink-wrapped, and sometimes that can be a bit of a hassle to get into. It’s just got a flip top, it looks like, in the cardboard box, but it’s secured by some tape.

Heidi: Yes.

Jonathan: All right. Shall we untape it?

Heidi: Okay, I’ll untape. Do you want me to?

Jonathan: You can untape it if you like.

Heidi: I’ll cut the tape.

Jonathan: You get all the good jobs.

Heidi: Oh, yes. Do you want to open it?

Jonathan: I get that good job. All right then.

Heidi: It’s your toy.

Jonathan: I now pronounce this Focusrite open at– It’s got some protective foam wrapper on the lid to keep everything safer. Then right at the top, you can smell, as well as grab the Focusrite Vocaster Two. It’s wrapped in plastic. Just hope together. Let me just take the plastic off the device. Before I talk about the device in here, we also have a bit of other stuff, including a lot of prints. What have we got in there? Heidi, I’ll hand it back to you.

Heidi: Thank you. We’ve got lots of booklets, important safety instructions. Then inside part of the cardboard housing, there’s symbols for USB cables. I assume they unfold and the cables will be in there.

Jonathan: Let’s do that then.

Heidi: It’s a bit tricky to get out though. If you lift the whole insert out of the outer box, the cable was tucked in the side. We’ve also got a USB-C to USB-A cable.

Jonathan: If you wanted to use USB-C to USB-C, you’d need to supply your own because increasingly a lot of laptops and desktop PCs just have USB-C.

Heidi: Yes.

Jonathan: Let’s take a look at the device now. If I were to describe this, it’s plastic, it’s quite light. It’s got nice rounded corners.

Heidi: It does, yes.

Jonathan: A bit of nice industrial design. Thanks to Stefan at Focusrite, I do already know how this thing is laid out because he sent me a very good blindness-specific description of the device. If we take the top row, you would have the device on a desk, it’s got little rubber feet that you can feel. You’d know which way is down. You also have a series of ports at the rear of the device and a couple of headphone jacks at the front of the device. You just have the two jacks at the front, all the busy stuff is at the rear. Then you know that you have this laying the right way. On the top row, you’ve got three status lights. I can’t feel those, Heidi, I don’t think. Are those lights just somewhere at the top?

Heidi: I assume they’re behind the symbols on the screen. They’re definitely not tactile.

Jonathan: You won’t feel those. Once we plug it in, I have no doubt you’ll see them. The three status lights, first you’ve got the 48-volt status light. That is going to be active when you have Phantom power-enabled and a condenser mic connected. You’d probably want to leave Phantom power off if you don’t have a condenser mic. What I would do if you don’t know whether your microphone is dynamic or condenser is plug it in. If you don’t get any sound, you can try enabling the 48-volt Phantom power, because on a very few number of occasions, you might break the microphone if you turn on Phantom power when it’s not needed.

The next status light is for Bluetooth. Then you have a computer/host connection status light. Then we have three knobs, and they’re different sizes actually. The middle knob, which is a key one, is quite large. It’s metallic, it’s really prominent. Then on either side, you have two smaller knobs. None of these have pointers. The middle knob, I’m just spinning it, it does not have a definite start and end point because it’s an electronic control. I’m just sitting here going, “Wee,” to my heart’s content, spinning the wheel. The other two, they do have a start and stop point, that analog controls.

The far left control is the volume pot for the host headphones. If you need to, you can control the speaker volume with this as well. That big middle dial will control the microphone that is selected. You have to press a button. I’ll explain this a bit later. Then you can turn the big dial, which never ends, to control the volume of the microphone you’ve just selected. Then the right control is the guest headphone pot. Then on the bottom row, you’ve actually got six controls. They are quite recessed. They’re close together, but they’re definitely textually discernible from one another.

You just have to count along, I think. They definitely have a click when you press them, so you will know when you have. First, you’ve got the host mute button. What this will do is if you find that you need to have a wee cough or tell off the dog or the cat, or the baby, or whatever, then you can press this button, it will mute the microphone, press it again and it will unmute the microphone. Next, you have the host-enhanced button. This is a very cool feature of this device which gives you all built into the hardware some functions that you might need to get either with separate hardware or software plugins. We’ll demonstrate this when we get to demonstrating the software.

Next, you have a feature that a lot of blind people will truly appreciate. This is the host auto gain feature. We’ll demonstrate this as well. In short, you press the button, you talk at your regular volume that you’re going to record with. It listens to you for a brief period and sets the level accordingly. Super cool. Next, you’ve got the guest auto gain, and then the guest enhance button, and then the guest mute button. The controls are the same left to right, and then right to left for host and guest respectively. Anything to add there, Heidi? Does that look like an accurate description?

Heidi: That’s an accurate description.

Jonathan: It was written by the man himself, Mr Focusrite, so one would–

Heidi: Just to note how the mute button is below the host dial. The guest mute is below the guest dial, so they line up nicely.

Jonathan: Super logical and also quite tactile, so you won’t have any problem with this once you get familiar with the layout. On the front of the unit, as I mentioned, you have two 6.35-millimeter headphone sockets. This is one for you, one for your guests. You can plug headphones in and listen to one another. Actually, Heidi, this is a much better solution than the headphone amp thing that we tend to use when you’re in the studio and we’re doing–

Heidi: It does seem much more straightforward than our current setup.

Jonathan: Oh, yes. It’s much more straightforward, all right. Maybe perhaps not as flexible, but who needs a studio like this one? Not many people. The studio is a bit intense.

Heidi: Yes, it is.

Jonathan: Let’s take a look at the rear of the unit. What I’m going to do is describe it as if you’ve got the thing on your desk and you’re using it, and as a blind person, you’re just going to reach behind it, you’re not going to look at it. I think that’s the difference between the way a sighted person works and a blind person works. On the far right of the device, you have a power button. The really good thing about this power button is it is totally tactile. When you press the power button, it clicks in and you know that the power is on. When you press it again, it pops out again, and you know that the power is off.

On the top row, you’ve got a Kensington lock slot. Moving left, you’ve then got a Bluetooth button. You hold this button down and you put the device into Bluetooth pairing mode. We will cover that a little bit later. Next, you’ve got the phone connection, which we’ve already talked about in the preview of this device. It’s a TRRS connector 3.5-millimeter jack. If you want to use this, you will need to go somewhere where you can purchase a TRRS cable. It needs to be TRRS at both ends. If you don’t get the correct cable, you could get something that plugs in but doesn’t give you the full functionality of the device.

Next, you’ve got a 48-volt Phantom power micro switch. This is where you turn on where that Phantom power is being supplied to the microphone. I’m going to go to the bottom again and start at the right-hand side. We’ve got the USB-C port here. This is where you will connect the Vocaster Two to your computer. Next to that is something that we’re not going to spend too much time on, but it is a camera connection. It’s a 3.5-millimeter TRS Jack. Just TRS jack. If you do have a video camera, you can connect and sync your audio with your video.

Next to the 3.5-millimeter jack on the bottom is a 6.35-millimeter jack. That is the right audio output. This is where you can connect speakers to the device if you wish to. Right next to it is the left audio output 6.35-millimeter jack. Then you’ve got those very unique, textually distinctive XLR connectors. The first as you trace your way leftwards on the device is the guest socket. The one on the very left of the device with this rear panel facing away from you is the host microphone input.

XLR microphones are used in a more professional setting. You won’t be able to plug a USB microphone into this audio interface. This is for reasonably pro microphone gear. That said, you can get some really good quality dynamic microphones for a good price, something like the Samson Q2U or its successor, the Q9U, is available at a really good price. You’ll get an okay sound with that, particularly given that you have the dynamic audio compression options available on this device. Now, we’re going to do the install.


Jonathan: I am going to be a rebel. Look at me go, because I do have a USB-C to USB-A cable connected to my desktop computer. I use this just for random USB-C devices that need to be connected, so I’m going to try connecting this cable to the back of the Vocaster. I’ve done that now. Now I’m going to power the unit on by pressing the power button at the back. We heard the little sound from Windows, but I haven’t heard any notification that tells me that anything has happened. What I believe is going to happen is that the Vocaster Two will pop up as a drive and allow me to perform the install. I suppose what I will do– You don’t see anything on the screen, Heidi?

Heidi: No, there’s no pop-ups or anything.

Jonathan: Okay. What I’ll do is I’ll go into File Explorer-

Screenreader: Home items view multi-select list box.

Jonathan: -and we’ll go to the list of devices.

Screenreader: View modes. View mode items. View multi– Navigation pane, search edit– Navigation pane preview. One, this PC opened. Two, local disk C. Vocaster Two USB.

Jonathan: There it is. We’ll activate that.

Screenreader: Items view multi-select list box. Not selected dot volume icon dot icons dot 207, dot volume icon data or term.inf. Click here to get started. Read me for more info.HTML. Vocaster.ico. Click here to get started. 507.

Jonathan: There’s the thing that says, “Click here to get started.” I suspect that’s the reason why this didn’t happen automatically is simply because of my autoplay settings. I don’t like things happening automatically, but on your machine, it may well have just come up. It does have an autorun.inf file, and so it may have just executed. In this case, I’m going to choose the option that says click here to get started, and see what happens next.

Screenreader: Opening new window. Untitled Microsoft Edge page. Blank https/-

Jonathan: My browser’s [crosstalk]

Screenreader: -/customer.focus [unintelligible 00:56:07] group.com/en/get started/begin [unintelligible 00:56:10] v22. Welcome.

Jonathan: I’m taken to a page on the Focusrite site.

Screenreader: Welcome to your new Vocaster Two Customer Portal. Skip to main content. Focusrite logographic, main region Vocaster Two logographic. Welcome to your new Vocaster Two. Get started. Vocaster Two graphic. Main region end.

Jonathan: There’s just one link on this page-

Screenreader: Link get started.

Jonathan: -which is get started. Let’s activate that link.

Screenreader: Welcome to your new Vocaster Two Customer Portal. Link get started. Welcome to your new Vocaster Two Customer Portal. Link get started. Two regions, five headings and three links. Welcome to the Easy Start journey for your Vocaster average setup time. Five 30 minutes article. Create your account graphic. Create your account, we’ll show you how to register your Vocaster and get everything you need to record and publish your podcast.

Access your included podcast recording software Hindenburg and trials to podcast to publishing subscriptions. Essential software graphic. Essential software we’ll show you how to install and use the essential software. Vocaster Hub is your very own software control room to set up your podcast, included software graphic. Included podcast recording software, we’ll show you how to install Hindenburg, the software included with your Vocaster.

If you’re new to podcast recording, we’ll teach you the basics. Watch tutorials graphic. Watch tutorials. We will show you how to make your first podcast with Vocaster. Choose from tutorials for Hindenburg or you can pick from a range of optional tutorials or other popular podcast recording software. I want to register my Vocaster Two. Just give me my essential software. Article and main region–

Jonathan: I think at this stage I will just go for the essential software. I do have a Focusrite account already because I have a Scarlett 8i6 that I’m currently using to record this with, and so we will do the registration later.

Screenreader: Article end. Link just give me my essential software.

Jonathan: Just give me the stuff, dude. I’ll press Enter.

Screenreader: Welcome to the easy start journey for your Vocaster Customer Portal. Main region, article region. Just give me my essential software. Link. Welcome to the easy start journey for your Vocaster Customer Portal. Link just give me my essential software. Two regions InfoLinks. Customer Portal. Skip to main content, Focusrite logographic, main region article let’s install your essential software. Vocaster Hub is essential for the operation of your Vocaster and allows you to control your Vocaster hardware.

Step one, download Vocaster Hub, Vocaster Hub 1.0.0 Windows. Download. Wrong operating system. Step two, don’t run the installer double-click the Vocaster installer file and run the installer. Once installation has completed, restart your computer and run the Vocaster Hub application. Run the installer Windows graphic. Step three, open Vocaster Hub, open Vocaster Hub, and then click the continue journey button below to continue setting up your Vocaster. Vocaster Hub open application windows graphic. Article end. Continue.

Jonathan: It’s very clear, I’m going to download this Vocaster Hub software.

Screenreader: Download link.

Jonathan: You’ll notice that this has got good use of aria, so you can jump to specific regions. There’s a main region option there. I’ll press enter to download the Vocaster Hub software.

Screenreader: Downloading Vocaster Hub 1.0.0. X. 51.4 megabytes. Done.

Jonathan: There we go. It is done now. You will remember, if you listened to the Mosen At Large episode where I demonstrated the new JAWS notifications manager, that I abbreviated that very long string that Microsoft Edge gives you. Now, it just says done. I’ll go into File Explorer and go to my downloads folder.

Screenreader: Items. Vocaster Hub 1.0.0. X.

Jonathan: Let’s press enter and launch the install process.

Screenreader: Window dialog, C. User is J Mosen. Drop box down the next button. Cancel button. Next button. To continue, click Next. If you would like to select a different folder, click browse. Edit C program file. Select the components you want to install, clear the components you do not want to install. Click next when you are ready to continue. Combo box, full installation.

Jonathan: In reality, full installation is the only option in this combo box, so we will just choose that because it’s the only choice there is. You never know, they might be planning for the future.

Screenreader: Back button, next button.

Jonathan: Let’s just see what’s on the screen now.

Screenreader: Group ready to install. Setup is now ready to begin installing Vocaster Hub on your computer. Click install to continue with the installation or click back if you want to review or change any settings. Next button, install button pressed Alt + I 0%. Cancel button 100%.

Jonathan: The installation is now complete. I’m going to repeat this process on my ThinkPad because in my studio, I have my Focusrite 8i6 and 22-channel mixer. I do see a use case for me of having this device when I travel or when I’m out of the studio. I’ll repeat the install process and not put you through that on my ThinkPad and the rest of this presentation will be recorded on my ThinkPad using the Vocaster Two. Let’s switch to it now.


Jonathan: We’ve now changed recording sources in every possible respect. I’m recording on my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. We’re using the Vocaster Two as the audio interface and while I’m on a Heil PR-40 it’s the guest microphone in the studio because it’s easier for me to get the laptop and the Vocaster and things connected by the guest microphone. You may also notice that it sounds different. The reason for that is that there is no software compression in this part of the recording.

That’s because I want you to be able to hear and evaluate for yourself the hardware compression options that are available in the Vocaster Two. We’ll go through those extensively in a bit. Right now, I just like to turn compression on because I’m partial to a bit of compression and we’ll go with the radio compression. This is punchy and deep. Since I’m connected to the host microphone for this recording, all I have to do is press the second button from the left on the bottom row of buttons that I described earlier and that will enable whatever enhancement has been selected for that microphone in Vocaster Hub.

I’ll press it now and you will hear things sound quite a bit different. The radio preset has kicked in a definite change of sound there and we’ll explore much more about this a little bit later. First, I want to report that when I ran Vocaster Hub for the first time once I had installed it on my ThinkPad and connected the Vocaster Two to the ThinkPad, I got a message that the Vocaster Hub software needed to be updated. It was a seamless process to do that.

After that, I was told that there was a firmware update for the Vocaster itself, that also installed without a hitch, and I was up and running and able to explore the device. The first thing I’d like to do before we invoke the Vocaster Hub software for the first time is talk about the built-in support that you have in the Windows operating system. This will be of interest to you if you use an application like studio recorder. Sound Forge may well support ASIO by now.

I haven’t used it in a while but there are some applications out there that don’t support the ASIO standard. Instead, they use what’s available in the operating system. Another popular example of this would be the station playlist suite that is used for internet broadcasting. Also, it’s relevant when you’re looking at applications like Teams or Cleanfeed, or Zoom. Anything that you need to route to certain places.

Focusrite installs an application separate from Vocaster Hub and it’s actually generic to a lot of Focusrite devices. It’s identical, for example, to what I have for my Focusrite 8i6.

To get at this important application, you’ll need to go to the system tray and there may be another step required in Windows 11. That’s because Microsoft has chosen to hide some applications from the system tray and you may need to manually enable it. To do that you would go into task bar settings, arrow through until you find that list of applications in the system tray, and make sure that the Focusrite one is selected. I’ve done that and so I’m going to press the JAWS key with F 11 to get to the system tray.

Screenreader: Select a system tray icon dialog lists box notification [unintelligible 01:04:00], 1 of 17.

Jonathan: Now, I’m using the Vocaster exclusively to do all of this. This is another example of how loopback works and how you too could record a screen reader demo with this. We’ll go into a lot of detail about how a little bit later, but I’m going to press the letter F for Focusrite.

Screenreader: Focusrite Vocaster Two sample rate. 48000 buffer size, 256 clock, USB internal synced.

Jonathan: Let’s bring up the context menu by pressing Alt with R.

Screenreader: Context menu, Vocaster Two settings.

Jonathan: I’ll down arrow.

Screenreader: Mixing/routing, expose/hide window channels.

Jonathan: That is a key one that we need to look at right away because this determines what Windows will see. By default, not all of the inputs are available. Let’s take a look

Screenreader: Leaving menus. Okay button.

Jonathan: Then I’ll press tab.

Screenreader: Cancel button. Show mix checkbox checked.

Jonathan: This is the first time that we’ve talked about the various inputs and outputs that are available in the device, so let’s discuss what they all mean. The first one is the show mix and this is a pretty simple one. It just sends everything that your Vocaster is hearing out to be recorded. Now, there is a potential downside of this and that is if you are recording a remote interview on a service that does not have good or any echo cancellation.

Cleanfeed comes to mind. Cleanfeed can enable echo cancellation, but it will degrade the quality of the audio. As its name implies, the objective with Cleanfeed is to give you clean audio and echo cancellation compromises that. If someone is being sent the show mix via Cleanfeed, they will hear themselves echoing back. If you’re on Zoom or Teams or something that has good echo cancellation, this may not be an issue, but it’s something that you will need to be aware of. The show mix is also what’s being sent out to external devices, such as your iPhone or other smartphone, when it is connected via Bluetooth, or the TRRS cable. I’ll press tab.

Screenreader: Input host mix plus guest mixed checkbox checked.

Jonathan: This mix gives you the host microphone on the left channel and the guest microphone on the right. It’s a pure stereo track. You wouldn’t want to publish your podcast this way, believe me. I like a little bit of panning to give a bit of stereo wits, but if you had pan like that, you’re going to make people very grumpy. If you use this to record make sure you record in mono, or that you have a means to pan the channels a little bit so you don’t get that extreme left, right panning.

Apart from anything else, it’s annoying to everybody but it’s also not particularly accessible for those who have a hearing impairment where they may not be able to hear well in one ear. It does mean that you can hear your screen reader in your headphones and it won’t get recorded. That’s an important advantage of this.

Screenreader: Input AUX L plus R checkbox checked.

Jonathan: That’s saying input aux L/R, aux is auxiliary, and this is the cable that runs from your smartphone to your Vocaster Two. If you want to record from your smartphone, you would choose this.

Screenreader: Input Bluetooth L plus R checkbox checked.

Jonathan: Similarly, if you’ve got your smartphone paired via Bluetooth, this is the option to select to record your smartphone.

Screenreader: Input loopback 1 L plus R checkbox checked.

Jonathan: Now, we’re on to the two loopback channels that are available in your device. The first loopback records from your default Focusrite sound source which is simply in Windows called speakers Vocaster Two. If you do nothing, then this is where all of your audio is going to go. There are some applications that don’t allow you to specify where audio goes. If you’re using one of those applications, then the audio will go to the output called speakers Vocaster Two. If you want to, you can change it to the second set of inputs and that’s when it will record from the second loopback channel which you can get to when I press tab.

Screenreader: Input loopback 2 L plus R checkbox checked.

Jonathan: That’s the end of the inputs. All of those are selectable in recording properties of your application. Now, let’s take a look at the outputs.

Screenreader: Outputs Vocaster Two L plus R checkbox checked.

Jonathan: Since Vocaster can’t disable the default output device, you have to have a default output device. You only have the option to enable or disable the second output device. I just like having all of these checked so I have as much flexibility as possible. When we go into recording properties in Windows, we may find some other things that we want to talk about but I’ll tap-

Screenreader: Okay button.

Jonathan: -and activate the okay button. We’ve now exposed all of the devices that are available in the Vocaster Two. If we go back to the system tray now.

Screenreader: Select a system tray icon dialog. Focusrite Vocaster Two sample rate 480-

Jonathan: Let’s bring up the context menu-

Screenreader: Context Menu, Vocaster Two settings.

Jonathan: -and see what’s in Vocaster Two settings.

Screenreader: Leaving menus, streaming setting sample rate combo box. 48000, 1 of 1.

Jonathan: This is a very accessible setup or you can change sampling rate, et cetera.

Screenreader: Streaming settings buffer size combo box, 256, 9 of 11.

Jonathan: This specifies your buffer size. The lower the buffer size, the more potential there is for clicks and pops and unusual things to happen but the better the latency will be. 256 may be on the conservative side. You may want to try pulling it back a fraction and see how you go.

Screenreader: Latency information, safe mode checkbox checked.

Jonathan: If I press the escape key, we will get out of this. There is no okay button in this screen. The other item of significant interest in that menu was the mixing/routing option and that will open the Vocaster Hub. We’ll spend a lot of time in Vocaster Hub in a little bit. What I’d like to do now though, is show you what’s available in the Windows operating system, now that we’ve checked what’s visible. The easiest way to get to the full Windows volume control is a little-known trick actually. We’ll go to the run menu with Windows plus R.

Screenreader: [unintelligible 01:09:53].cpl. Run dialog. Type the name of a program folder, document, or internet resource, and Windows will open it for you. Open edit combo, [unintelligible 01:10:01].cpl, 1 of 13.

Jonathan: It’s popped up as the first option in my run dialogue because I used this recently to have a bit of a play. What you do is you type mmsys.cpl into the run dialogue and press enter, and that bypasses all of the screens and the angst of getting to the full windows volume control. Just commit that to memory, you’ll be glad you did, mmsys.cpl or press enter.

Screenreader: Disc fold, fold of your view list view, not selected recycle bin, 1 of 33. Sound dialogue, playback page, select a playback device below to modify its settings. List view speakers, two Focusrite USB audio, default device, 1 of 5.

Jonathan: The first item is the speakers for the Focusrite. This is the default device and windows says that, “It’s speakers,” and then it says, “Two Focusrite audio device,” if I down arrow–

Screenreader: Focusrite two L plus R, two Focusrite USB audio ready.

Jonathan: That’s the second set of outputs, so we have two sets of virtual stereo outputs on this device. The one that’s called speakers is the default and that’s where everything will go. Unless you tell the application to send it to the other one which is–

Screenreader: Focusrite two L plus R.

Jonathan: Focusrite two L plus R, and those are the two devices that are available as outputs on the Focusrite, the other items I have here are not relating to this device. I’ll press shift with tab.

Screenreader: Playback tab.

Jonathan: Right arrow.

Screenreader: Recording tab.

Jonathan: Have a look at what’s here on the recording tab. I’ll press tab to get into the list.

Screenreader: Select a recording device below to modify its settings, list view aux L plus R, two Focusrite USB audio ready, 1 of 10.

Jonathan: The first item we see because it starts with A, I guess, is the auxiliary left and right, and we talked about what that is previously.

Screenreader: Bluetooth L plus R, two Focusrite.

Jonathan: Then we have the Bluetooth one.

Screenreader: Host mic plus guest mic.

Jonathan: Host mic plus guest mic.

Screenreader: Loopback 1 L plus R.

Jonathan: Loopback 1 left and right, and I want to emphasize that that will record whatever’s been sent to the default speaker source.

Screenreader: Loopback 2 L plus R.

Jonathan: That will record anything sent to the left and right of the optional second source.

Screenreader: Show mix L plus R.

Jonathan: We’ve got the show mix.

Screenreader: Video call out L plus R, two Focusrite USB audio ready.

Jonathan: This is an input that we didn’t see in the list of checkboxes that we saw before and it’s actually a really important thing to understand. If you select video call as your input source, in other words, where you are recording from in your windows application, you’ll record everything coming from the Focusrite except what’s being sent to the first set of loop-back channels, in other words, the default speakers.

The reason for this is it’s applying a software mix-minus, and this address is the Cleanfeed problem I was talking about with respect to the show mix. If you want, for example, to use the second loopback to play audio clips down your podcast and let people on Cleanfeed or Squadcast, or any of those services, hear those things, then you use this video call option, they will not hear themselves echoing back because it’s taken the loop 1 out of the mix for them.

There are so many blindness-specific use cases for the setup but one that immediately comes to mind is if you are doing a webinar where you want to record the whole thing but obviously, you don’t want people to hear themselves echoing back in something like Clubhouse, with Clubdeck, or wherever it may be, then you can use this video call option, make sure that the service that you’re streaming to is set to this default option so you really don’t need to change anything and this will happen. Then you’ll be able to send your screen reader to the mix and people can ask you questions without the fear of them echoing back. Why stop there? You could use your smartphone to go into Clubhouse and even a Bluetooth device to go into another service like Twitter Spaces.

Everything would be coexisting the correct mix-minus would be applied in each case, so it’s very powerful when it comes to spoken word and streaming and those sorts of applications. The video call mix is something you’re likely to play with a lot if you bring in remote guests and that is all that is here in terms of the available inputs to the windows operating system. I think it’s time we took a look at Vocaster Hub.


Jonathan: One of the attractive things about the Vocaster range is that there aren’t many buttons and dials to memorize. You do see similar products in the space that have a lot of buttons and dials, and you’ve got to commit all of those to memory as a blind person. The downside of that is that it means that a lot is being done potentially in software. In fact, some of the things that are done on hardware controls can also be done on software.

If a manufacturer is taking that approach, it’d better be accessible or it will lock blind people out. When I first ran the Vocaster Hub software, my heart sank because I had been promised accessibility and, to me, it didn’t seem very accessible. I’ve come to a different view though and I’ve realized that sometimes I need to challenge my own perception of what constitutes accessibility. What I was expecting was that when I opened the Vocaster Hub software, I would be able to tab around much like the experience that you get in the windows volume control or generally in well-behaved applications. When I ran the Vocaster Hub software, I wasn’t able to do that. I’ve been told that tabbing around in other screen readers in VDA, in Narrator works.

For me, though, it does not unless you enable the emulation of touchscreens or object navigation or whatever you might call that particular technology with the screen reader that you are using. I have a touchscreen on my ThinkPad X1 Carbon and I don’t use it very often but I have been using it in Vocaster Hub. I’m really enjoying the experience. If you don’t have a touchscreen, then all is not lost. You will need to use the touch cursor mode in JAWS and whatever the equivalent is in any other screen reader that you may be using.

What I have found in my experiments with this is that if I go into the settings which gives me information about the firm where I’m running, the sampling rate, and a few other things of that nature, narrator is speaking quite a bit more than JAWS is and I’m not sure why that is. It’s not a show stopper but it is something to note. Also, when I use the touch cursor in JAWS, it does speak a bit of verbiage that I would rather it didn’t speak and I’m not seeing that verbiage being spoken in narrator. It’s possible that this is something that Vispero can tidy up.

I have a feeling this device is going to gain some traction in our community so I am a little bit worried about this in the sense that not everybody uses or knows about the touch cursor in JAWS or whatever the equivalent is in other screen readers. I would far rather a lovely-looking standard dialogue that you can tab through, but, at the moment, that’s not what we have. It is, however, fully usable and configurable and I think most people can live with that. I certainly can.

Let’s take a look at the Vocaster Hub. I’ll go to the start menu and open it.

Screenreader: Search box edit.

Jonathan: I’ll type VOC.

Screenreader: Vocaster Hub App, press right to switch preview.

Jonathan: I’ll press enter.

Screenreader: Vocaster Hub, Vocaster Hub logo, Vocaster Hub logo graphic.

Jonathan: Just to illustrate the point, if I press the alt key, there is no menu bar, and if I press the tab key, I’m not getting any feedback but if I enable the touch cursor by pressing caps Lock and shift with semicolon because I have the laptop layout enabled,-

Screenreader: Touch.

Jonathan: -it comes to life and now I can write arrow, which is the equivalent of flicking right through the screen.

Screenreader: Speaker mute check box, not checked.

Jonathan: The first option we have is a speaker mute button that will mute the speakers that are connected to the rear jacks of the device. You want to do that if you’re using your microphones, otherwise, you’ll get terrible feedback. If you’re doing remote interviews, you may also get your microphones picking up your guests so you would want to mute the speakers most of the time I would suggest. I’ll right arrow.

Screenreader: Settings button.

Jonathan: Now, we’ve got a settings button, as I say, when we go in here. This will give us information about the sample rate that’s been set, the version of the firmware we have, and other relevant information.

Screenreader: Custom.

Jonathan: This is JAWS saying, “Custom,” I’m not sure why it’s saying that so we just have to move past it.

Screenreader: Host custom.

Jonathan: The first group of settings pertains to the host microphone, the host channel.

Screenreader: 48v check box, not checked, off–

Jonathan: First, you can enable 48-volt power for your host microphone. I like the fact that you can separately choose whether to have 48 volts enabled for your host and your guest because it’s possible you’ve got a mix of mics. One person with a dynamic mic, another with a condenser.

Screenreader: Mic level, slider 48.

Jonathan: This is the microphone level so you can adjust the slider to turn the microphone up and down. You may never use this and I’ll explain why that is in just a moment.

Screenreader: Mute checkbox, not checked.

Jonathan: There’s a mute button so if I press the space bar.

Screenreader: Post mute check box checked on, not checked.

Jonathan: I just muted myself simple as that. There is, of course, also a mute button on the device itself at the very far left of that bottom row of buttons for the host and that’s even more convenient. They relate to one another so I’ll press this button.

Screenreader: Checked. Not checked.

Jonathan: I was actually pressing the button on the hardware device but because I had focused on the checkbox and the software, you heard that it also checked and unchecked, pretty slick.

Screenreader: Enhanced checkbox, checked, on.

Jonathan: Currently, we’ve got the enhanced feature on and that’s why you can hear all this punchy compression. Again, that pertains to the second button from the left when you’re dealing with the host options. If I press that button, it doesn’t say uncheck but it actually is.

Screenreader: Radio enhance, checkbox not checked, off.

Jonathan: It does when I arrow right and left again, and it confirms that the enhancement is off. You can just use your ears and hear that the enhancement is off. I just press the button and now if I–

Screenreader: Radio enhance checkbox, checked on.

Jonathan: There we go. The enhancement is back on so it’s cool the way there’s very tight integration between the hardware and the Vocaster Hub software. Now, I’ll right arrow.

Screenreader: Radio combo box, collapsed.

Jonathan: This is the combo box which determines which preset you are using and there is one of these combo boxes per microphone. Focusrite applies three effects and they do it in this order. First a high pass filter, second a dynamic audio compressor, and third a three-band graphical equalizer. There are two user guides for this product. One is for the full Vocaster hardware, the other is for the Vocaster Hub software. If you download the latter, both are PDF and both are accessible, you will find a table in the document for Vocaster Hub that details for the audio geeks among us the exact parameters of the effects that are being applied. Note, you can’t create and save your own. I’ll press enter.

Screenreader: Menu, radio, checked.

Jonathan: I’m in a menu of the presets. In order to navigate that menu, I’m going to turn off the touch cursor by double pressing the JAWS key with the semicolon in the laptop layout.

Screenreader: Type PC.

Jonathan: Now I can up and down arrow.

Screenreader: Clear, warm, bright radio, checked, theme.

Jonathan: I’ll press enter, I’ll turn the touch cursor back on.

Screenreader: Touch. Title bar custom Vocaster, speaker mute, setting custom post 48V, mic level mute, enhance theme, combo box collapsed.

Jonathan: Now, we have the clean preset set. You will notice that I’m sounding a bit different now and indeed I can hear that as I monitor myself. I’ve taken a pause, gone back into the menu, and now I’ll down arrow.

Screenreader: Warm combo box, warm.

Jonathan: Hello, I’m just going to talk a bit on all of these presets so you can hear the effect that they are having. Clearly different ratios in terms of compression and equalization and filtering. This is the warm one and now I’ll go back into the menu.

Screenreader: Bright checked, radio bright check.

Jonathan: Now, we are in the bright setting. Now the Heil PR 40 that I’m using is a bright microphone anyway, so I think that for my particular mic, this is just way too toppy. If you have a mic that is less bright, you might find that this just adds a little bit of sparkle to your audio. Right now, I think it’s way too sparkly.

Screenreader: Bright, check radio.

Jonathan: I’ll press enter on radio and we’re back on the radio preset which is actually the one that I prefer. I really enjoy working with this one. I’ll re-enable the touch cursor.

Screenreader: Touch.

Jonathan: Right arrow.

Screenreader: Title bar.

Jonathan: We’re back at the top so I’ll just quickly skim through.

Screenreader: [inaudible 01:22:51] cut 48V Mic new and record guest cast 48V [inaudible 01:22:57] get old radio enhance, radio combo box.

Jonathan: The final feature available to each microphone input is the auto gain feature. First of all, let me explain a bit more about the third button from the left for the host or the third button from the right for the guest. If you tap this button, you’ll then be able to adjust your microphone level manually using the larger dial on the device. You can also, having selected the channel that you’re working with, press the 48-volt power micro switch, and that will enable or disable phantom power for the microphone that you’ve selected.

If you hold down the third button from the left for the host or the third button from the right for the guests, they are actually next to each other, then you will begin the process of auto gain. This is highly desirable for a blind person and it’s a dream for somebody who works in this field who also has a hearing impairment as well as being blind because it takes care of setting levels for you. When you initiate this process, you’ll be expected to speak for about 10 seconds, just at your normal speaking level so that the Vocaster can make a determination about the right level to set.

It generally ends up at between about -12 and -18 dB. I’m going to press the button now and start talking. What will happen is that I will stop hearing myself in my headphones and you will mostly stop hearing me as well. I’ll press the button and hold it until my mic mutes and then I’ll just say a few things for about 10 seconds, then I’ll come back.

Screenreader: Leaving menus Vocaster Hub logo. Vocaster Hub logographic.

Jonathan: Well, I can hear actually that the JAWS speeches chatting away because I press the button while I had focus-

Screenreader: Host.

Jonathan: -control. You can hear that now we are back and the level has been adjusted accordingly. There, perhaps, is a minor adjustment, maybe a little bit quieter than what I had it set out but it’s a super feature, and it’s so easy to initiate.

Screenreader: Mic level slider 42.

Jonathan: I just went back to the microphone level and you may recall that it was at 48 before and now it’s down at 42. Indeed, it has gone down just a little bit. Now, I will write arrow.

Screenreader: Mute enhance, radio, combo box, auto gain button, guest custom.

Jonathan: Now, we are on the guest strip, and I won’t go through them in detail because they are identical to the host’s microphone. A set of identical controls that cover your guest microphone including auto gain, phantom power, volume, and the preset. Now, you may be asking why would I have a different preset for my guest mic from my host mic, wouldn’t that sound a bit weird? Well, maybe but it might depend also on the speaker and the microphone.

If you have two microphones that are not the same manufacturer, they may sound different, and also, compression and equalization is highly dependent on the speaker so it’s a pretty cool setup, very flexible.

Screenreader: Mute enhance, radio, auto mix, custom.

Jonathan: That controls the inputs in Vocaster two. We’re looking now at what gets sent to the show mix. We talked about the show mix earlier in this review. That’s essentially the sum total of all of the inputs.

Screenreader: Host channel strip custom. Custom, custom, host level slider zero.

Jonathan: Zero means maximum so if I up arrow.

Screenreader: Zero, zero.

Jonathan: It’s not going anywhere. If I down arrow, then I’m actually getting quieter in my headphones but you’re probably not hearing that because I’m recording directly from the host microphone in reaper. This only controls what you get in the show mix.

Screenreader: [inaudible 01:26:27] zero.

Jonathan: I’ll now right arrow.

Screenreader: Host mix mute, checkbox, not checked.

Jonathan: Like any mixer, you can mute each option if you want.

Screenreader: Guest channel strip, custom, host mix mute checkbox, not checked, off.

Jonathan: To give you an example of what I’m talking about. If I press the spacebar on this mute button,-

Screenreader: Host mix mute checkbox, checked on.

Jonathan: -it’s checked, and I can’t hear myself through my headphones anymore because the headphones give me the show mix. However, you can still hear me because I’m recording directly from the microphone and reaper. To emphasize, these controls are only controlling what gets sent to the show mix.

Screenreader: Not checked.

Jonathan: Yes, it’s pretty hard to talk when you can’t hear yourself coming back. I’ll right arrow.

Screenreader: Guest channel strip custom, custom.

Jonathan: Now, we have the equivalent controls for the guest channel strip.

Screenreader: Custom. Guest level, slider zero, guest mix mute, checkbox not checked, custom aux channel strip, custom.

Jonathan: Now, we are looking at how loud the auxiliary channel is in the show mix. If you want to adjust the level for recording in reaper or some sort of application that uses ASIO, then you would do that either by controlling the volume on the device itself or by adjusting the input in your digital audio workstation software. We’ll talk a bit more about reaper in a little bit.

Screenreader: Custom, custom, custom, aux level slider zero.

Jonathan: That, again, is set to the max.

Screenreader: AUX mute checkbox, not checked or custom. Bluetooth channel strip custom, custom, custom, custom. Bluetooth level, slider 13.

Jonathan: Now, the Bluetooth, I have set it quite quietly because I had the volume reasonably high up on my device when I was using Bluetooth.

Screenreader: Bluetooth mute, checkbox not checked, custom, custom loopback 1, channel strip custom.

Jonathan: This is for loopback and how loud you hear that in the show mix.

Screenreader: Custom, custom, custom, loopback one level, slider -10.

Jonathan: I found that it was a little loud to have it at zero so I’ve adjusted that down.

Screenreader: Loopback 1 mute, checkbox not checked. Loopback 2 channel strip, custom, custom, custom. Loopback 2 level slider, -15. Loopback 2 mute checkbox, not checked, off.

Jonathan: Now, we’ll right arrow.

Screenreader: Custom show mix channel strip, custom.

Jonathan: Here’s the master volume for the whole show mix. How loud is everything?

Screenreader: Custom, custom, custom, show mix level slider zero.

Jonathan: If I’m finding that it’s clipping when I record from the show mix, I could turn that down. That’s Vocaster Hub, easy to use, and intuitive as long as you know how to use the touch cursor, or as long as you think about switching on the touch cursor or whatever the equivalent is in your screen reader. Not everybody will know or think to do that. Focusrite have been receptive to this feedback and I’d like to hope that in a future version of Vocaster Hub, you will be able to press the tab key and shift the focus which is the key thing that is missing at this point.

The tab key is not doing anything in the application itself, however, where there’s a problem like this, there is an opportunity for JAWS Scripts and I’m pleased to say that yet again, Brian Hartgen of Hartgen Consultancy is coming to the rescue. I have at the time of this recording what is a very early beta of JAWS Scripts for Vocaster Hub. This does a couple of important things. First, if you have these scripts installed and you run Vocaster Hub, you will be able to tab through the window like you would expect to be able to do. Second, when you’re in a high pressure situation like a live stream where every second counts, you don’t want to be tabbing or flicking around the screen, looking for the fader to adjust. These JAWS Scripts assign hotkeys to every single slider and every single function in the Vocaster Hub. Now, I won’t go into a major demo of these scripts at the moment because the copy that Brian has kindly sent me to give you a proof of concept is very early, but Brian has told me that he will be making these Vocaster Hub scripts available free for two reasons.

First, he appreciates that there are some things that it is proving a bit difficult to script around because of the way that the application is designed. Second, Focusrite are engaging in a commendable way with the blind community regarding Vocaster and other products at the moment. We’d like to hope that some of this feedback will be taken on board and that a lot of the functionality of these JAWS Scripts will only be necessary temporarily, clearly, if Focusrite adds the ability to tab through this application and also potentially hotkeys through the application, then everybody, regardless of screen reader, will be able to do that. I have the JAWS Scripts installed now. Let’s take a look at the effect that they have.

I’ve just confirmed that I’m in the right window.

Screenreader: Vocaster Hub.

Jonathan: I am, indeed. The first thing you will notice is that you can use navigation quick keys in JAWS now to get to where you need to be. We’ve seen, for example, that the list of presets from which you can choose is a combo box. If I press the letter C–

Screenreader: Menu. Preset combo box.

Jonathan: I’m immediately in my list of presets. The first of which of courses for the host, I can also press X to go to the next check box.

Screenreader: 48V check box, not checked.

Jonathan: That happens to be the check box for 48-volt power. I’m right there by pressing the letter X to get to the checkbox. I can also press the letter F to navigate by form field.

Screenreader: Mic level, slider 41.

Jonathan: I’m currently on the mic level now, and now that I’m here, I can use up and down arrow-

Screenreader: 46, 51, 46, 41.

Jonathan: -to adjust the microphone level, so far easier to use now, thanks to these JAWS Scripts. If you like your hotkeys, and when you use an application frequently enough, you’ll like your hotkeys, then these scripts are a dream, and they’re very logically organized. When you have your hands physically on the Vocaster you’ll note that functions pertaining to the host are on the left and functions pertaining to the guest are on the right. The scripts emulate that. Functions beginning with the control key pertain to the host because control is on the left and functions pertaining to the guest are on the alt key because alt is on the right. If I press, for example, control with the number four host.

Screenreader: 48V checked.

Jonathan: I’m now on the checkbox to enable 48-volt power. I actually think it may have done that. I need to press that again.

Screenreader: Host, 48V, not checked.

Jonathan: It has unchecked that, luckily, the Heil doesn’t mind that. If I press alt with the number four.

Screenreader: Guest. 48V checked.

Jonathan: I’ll uncheck that.

Screenreader: Not checked.

Jonathan: We pressed control 4 for the 48-volt power for the host and alt 4 for the guest. This is a pattern that is followed right throughout the Vocaster scripts. I’m not going to go through every hotkey because I promise you, these scripts are full of them. They’re really useful, especially when you’re using this day in day out. For example, let’s say that I am talking to someone and I notice that they’re coming through my iPhone a little quiet, and I’ve got my iPhone connected to the auxiliary cable. All I have to do with Vocaster Hub and focus and these JAWS Scripts running is press alt windows a for auxiliary.

Screenreader: Auxiliary level, mix auxiliary channel strip, auxiliary level left, right slider, zero.

Jonathan: I’m placed right on the auxiliary volume and it’s ready to adjust. What if I’m talking with someone on Bluetooth, not with the auxiliary cable? While following the same pattern, we press alt and windows and B for Bluetooth.

Screenreader: Bluetooth level, Bluetooth channel strip, Bluetooth level left, right slider, 17.

Jonathan: We are placed straight on the Bluetooth function. As I say, you can find a hotkey for every function, as far as I can tell, in the Vocaster Hub. If you’d like to know more about these scriptures they develop and indeed, whether there may not be a need for them anymore in future, because perhaps, Focusrite will add these hotkeys and the ability to tab, you can go to Brian Hartgens website at hartgen.org. That’s hartgen.org.


Jonathan: Where the Vocaster really shines is when you use it with a digital audio workstation, such as Reaper or anything that is using ASIO, at least in Windows. What you’re looking for is a digital audio workstation that allows you to set any channel to any track so that you can have maximum flexibility when you record. I’ve been using this with Reaper, as I’ve got to know the Vocaster and at the risk of hyperbole, it is a phenomenal combination. Using Reaper as an example because it’s affordable and highly accessible and widely used in the blind community.

What you’d need to do after connecting the Vocaster or Vocaster Two to your computer is to go into preferences in Reaper, by pressing control P. You know, if you’re a Reaper user, there’s a pretty extensive tree view there. You want to choose device. If you tab around, you’ll find that you can choose the audio system that is to be in use. By default for maximum compatibility, Reaper uses the technology built into windows. It is mediocre compared to ASIO.

Whenever ASIO is available, you’ll get lower latency, you’ll get more flexibility. In this case, ASIO is available. Choose it. You then want to make sure that the check box to enable inputs is checked and that the first one is selected in the first combo box. The last one, believe it or not, it is number 14 in the list is selected in the second combo box for inputs and do a similar thing for outputs. Then you are good to go and you can follow along. I am recording this in Reaper. Let’s take a look at the options on offer. If I arrow down to a track.

Screenreader: Three armed 41 items.

Jonathan: I will now press the context menu key.

Screenreader: Context menu, monitor input.

Jonathan: I’ll press I for input.

Screenreader: Input, mono check sub-menu.

Jonathan: Right arrow.

Screenreader: Video call.

Jonathan: Here we have the left channel for video call. Of course, just one channel may be sufficient in most cases.

Screenreader: Video caller.

Jonathan: That’s the second channel. Onto channel three.

Screenreader: Show mix L, show mix R. Host microphone.

Jonathan: Next, we have the host microphone on the track that I’m actually recording into and that is armed right now for recording. I have the host microphone selected.

Screenreader: Guest microphone.

Jonathan: Another one for the guest microphone–

Screenreader: AUX L.

Jonathan: Here, we have the two auxiliary channels. That’s usually what you would have your smartphone connected to with the TRRS cable.

Screenreader: AUX R.

Jonathan: Now, remember you can assign these to different tracks. If you do your podcasts via Reaper, hopefully, your mouth is starting to water now when you see all these possibilities. You could, for example, have you in one track your iPhone and another track speech from your screen reader and another track speech from a guest in another track.

You can pan it all. You can mix it the way you want. You can do post-production and apply different compression and effect. It’s really cool.

Screenreader: Bluetooth L.

Jonathan: There’s the Bluetooth.

Screenreader: Bluetooth R. Loop back one L.

Jonathan: Here are the two loopback.

Screenreader: Loopback one R.

Jonathan: That’s the first loop back, left and right.

Screenreader: Loopback two L check.

Jonathan: The second one and that’s checked at the moment because that’s where I have JAWS set to. The track I happen to choose to arrow through the inputs is the one that is recording JAWS right now.

Screenreader: Loopback two R, video call L.

Jonathan: Now we are back. We’ve wrapped around. If you go into stereo, just to show you what we have there.

Screenreader: Input, input, stereo, sub-menu.

Jonathan: We’ve got this.

Screenreader: Video call L / video call R. Video call/show mix L. Show mix L / show mix R. Show mix R / host microphone, host microphone/guest microphone. Guest microphone / AUX L. AUX L / AUX R. AUX R / Bluetooth L. Bluetooth L / Bluetooth R. Bluetooth R / loopback one L. Loopback one / loop back one R. Loop back one R / loop back two L.

Jonathan: That’s actually quite an interesting combination there, but I’m not sure why you would do this when you could really just assign whatever you need to separate tracks which is far easier.

Screenreader: Loopback two L / loop back two R. Video call L / video call R.

Jonathan: Now, we are wrapped around again. 14 glorious channels of input to play with.


Jonathan: Let’s pair the Vocaster two with my iPhone via Bluetooth. Bluetooth is obviously available in both devices. The first thing I want to do is set up Reaper to record from that source. I’m going to press control T to create a new track.

Screenreader: Five zero items, track name Nathan on Vocaster.

Jonathan: I’m going to call it Bluetooth and press enter.

Screenreader: Tracklist five, Bluetooth zero.

Jonathan: This is track five in this little project, and it’s called Bluetooth. I need to set the input and the Bluetooth is stereo capable. I want to set the input to be a stereo one. I’ll invoke the context menu.

Screenreader: Context menu, monitor input.

Jonathan: Press I.

Screenreader: Input mono check sub-menu.

Jonathan: I’ll down arrow.

Screenreader: Input, stereo sub-menu.

Jonathan: Right arrow to expand this.

Screenreader: Video call L / video call R.

Jonathan: I’ll press the letter B.

Screenreader: Bluetooth L / Bluetooth R.

Jonathan: That’s what I want. I’ll press enter.

Screenreader: Leaving menus.

Jonathan: Now, I’ll arm this track.

Screenreader: Five Bluetooth, zero [unintelligible 01:39:38].

Jonathan: I will press F seven to arm it.

Screenreader: Armed.

Jonathan: Now, what I have to do is grab my handy dandy iPhone, and we’ll say to Siri, “Open Bluetooth settings.”

VoiceOver: Settings.

Jonathan: I’ve got the phone pretty close to the microphone right now. I’ll flick right.

VoiceOver: Bluetooth. Bluetooth on, now discoverable as a dozen apples.

Jonathan: A dozen apples. Now, the first thing I have to do, of course, is press the button to put the Vocaster Two in pairing mode. If you feel the rear of the unit, you will find two buttons at the top. The one that is just to the right of the TRRS slot is the Bluetooth pairing button. I’m going to press that now and that should have enabled the Bluetooth pairing and the device should now be discoverable. Let’s see if that’s the case. I’ll navigate by heading in the screen.

Screenreader: My device is pairing.

Jonathan: We’ll keep going.

Screenreader: Other device is pairing.

Jonathan: Flick right.

Screenreader: In-progress pairing. Vocaster BT button.

Jonathan: There it is. Vocaster BT button now double tap.

Screenreader: Vocaster BT connecting.

Speaker: Bluetooth on.

Jonathan: Look at that. We now have the speech from Alex from voice-over coming directly into the recording. I’ll invoke the home gesture now, flick up from the bottom of the screen. We’re at the home screen. If I flick right now.

Screenreader: Smart home. Sonos. Apps Store, Aira. [unintelligible 01:41:06] Ira.

Jonathan: It is a little bit sluggish and you will get that with Bluetooth, of course, there is a latency issue there, sometimes. That could also be reflected potentially in the recording because one of the primary use cases for this is that you might want to interview someone who doesn’t have online capability. They’re not comfortable even using Zoom or anything like that. The only way to get them on your show is with a phone call. I’m going to make some phone calls as part of this demonstration. I’m going to call my Spotty nephew so we can wake him up. Call Spotty mobile.

VoiceOver: Calling Anthony Horvath mobile.

Jonathan: [inaudible 01:41:47] button.

[phone ringing]

Jonathan: Anthony?

Anthony: Hey, how you doing, man?

Jonathan: Good afternoon.

Anthony: Welcome, hang on. I’m eating. I’m just answering on my watch.

Jonathan: Oh, you’re on your on your watch? Wow. We’re calling you live on the Vocaster demonstration and you’ve come up on your Apple Watch.

Anthony: I have.

Jonathan: Right. How does it sound to you?

Anthony: It sounds extremely– It’s very, very clear, very crystal clear. Nice base.

Jonathan: Because we’re actually using the Bluetooth at the moment. This isn’t even the cable at this point.

Anthony: Wow. Yes, I noticed. When we had a look at it beforehand that there was a little bit of a breakup with Bluetooth. I haven’t noticed that yet though.

Jonathan: Okay, and it may just be that when we were doing a little bit of playing before, I had the levels overly hot, and that’s something I haven’t mentioned is that you do get a clipping indicator that is accessible in the Vocaster Hub. It may have just been too much level coming into the Bluetooth.

Anthony: Yes, wow. I’m glad that clipping counts quite accessible now then.

Jonathan: What you’re hearing is me coming through the microphone, the Heil PR-40. You are getting the full mix. If I had somebody on Cleanfeed or that stuff, you would hear the whole thing. You’re hearing me coming out of my mic.

Anthony: [unintelligible 01:43:28].

Jonathan: Yes. That means, though, that if I do a window title–

Screenreader: Focusrite to Vocaster Two. To review and tutorial modified Reaper V.6.63. registered to Jonathan Mosen license for personal/small business use.

Jonathan: You presumably are hearing that?

Anthony: Hello, Daniel?

Jonathan: Yes, okay, [unintelligible 01:43:45]. Daniel.

Anthony: [unintelligible 01:43:45] Daniel.

Jonathan: The one thing that I would like to see with this is that there isn’t a way to subtract one particular channel from the mix that gets sent out to the phone. For a blind person who might want to hear their screen reader speech but not have that send out to a guest via Bluetooth or the TRRS cable, that’s a bit of a shame but that could be a software feature that might be added in the future.

Anthony: Now that would be nice if it was.

Jonathan: Yes. Well, thank you very much. I will probably call you back soon as we have a look at the other way to talk to a device on this thing.

Anthony: Okay. For the second call, I’ll make sure I have my phone beside my food.

Jonathan: Good idea. Never be without your phone. Don’t leave home without it. Goodbye.

Anthony: Okie dokie. Goodbye.

Jonathan: Bye. That’s all there is to it, really. Pairing with Bluetooth was a snap. Now, people who call you can hear the whole mix. You can hear them. Just be mindful of the fact that at the moment, there’s no way to exclude a screen reader from the mix. Let’s take a listen to what high quality stereo music sounds like when it’s played via this Bluetooth method. I’ve got the Musicbed, the little royalty-free Musicbed from Sound Ideas that we’re using for this presentation. It’s on my phone and I’m going to double tap it, and we’ll just hear what that sounds like in stereo.


Jonathan: Coming from the Bluetooth now. I paused that. A good implementation of Bluetooth mindful of the latency that we see with a lot of these Bluetooth five devices, you should also be aware that if you want to record from your iPhone from the Vocaster Two, you are going to need the cable. This works fine for telephony type applications, it’s not going to work for audio recorders. With that in mind, we’ll move on to a cable solution but before we do that, to avoid any ambiguity, we’ll go into Bluetooth settings on the phone. Open Bluetooth settings. We’ll go through the device.

Screenreader: Settings button. Bluetooth now discover my device APH–

Jonathan: It is quite sluggish as we use voice-over with this.

Screenreader: Not connected. Info button. Focus 40– Info button. Jonathan’s Apple Watch. Connected. Info button. Kokoon night buds, not connected. Info button. Magic keyboard, not connect– Info. Roger on, not connected. Info. Vocaster BT. Info.

Jonathan: I’ll double tap info.

Screenreader: Info. Bluetooth, back button. Vocaster B– Name. Vocaster– Device type. Disconnect but forget this device button.

Jonathan: Double tap.

Screenreader: Alert. Forget device button.

Jonathan: Double tap again.

Screenreader: Jonathan’s Apple Watch. Settings.

Jonathan: Now.

Screenreader: Bluetooth.

Jonathan: Yes, we’re back on the speaker of the phone.

Screenreader: Settings button.

Jonathan: Which means we’re ready to introduce you to another way to get audio into the Vocaster.


Jonathan: For latency, for reliability, for general ease of use, you cannot beat working with a cable in a situation like this. I went to Amazon when I got my Zoom PodTrak P4 and I purchased a TRRS to TRRS cable, it was really cheap. They sent it to me and it’s proven to be very handy, we think, because Apple has seen fit in its infinite wisdom or not. Not to have a headphone jack directly in the iPhone, you will have to have a lightning to 3.5 millimeter adapter at one end of the TRRS cable so that it can plug into your iPhone. Before I plug anything in, I want to set up a track in Reaper to record from this input. To do that, I’ll press Ctrl T.

Screenreader: Six zero items. Track name [crosstalk].

Jonathan: I’m going to call this AUX and press enter.

Screenreader: Tracklist. Six zero items.

Jonathan: I’ll press the context menu.

Screenreader: Context menu, monitor input.

Jonathan: I for input.

Screenreader: Input, Mono checked submenu.

Jonathan: We’ll go down again.

Screenreader: Input stereo submenu.

Jonathan: Right arrow.

Screenreader: Video call L / video call R.

Jonathan: I’m going to press the letter A.

Screenreader: AUX L / AUX R

Jonathan: There we are, AUX L and R. I’ll press enter.

Screenreader: Leaving menus.

Jonathan: Now, I just need to make sure that track is armed.

Screenreader: Six [unintelligible 01:48:26] armed.

Jonathan: It’s armed. That means that I can grab the little cable that is dangling from the TRRS jack. This is the jack that is right by the Bluetooth pairing button on the top row. There are two 3.5 millimeter jacks. One is on the top row and that is for your TRRS cable, for the aux input. The other is on the bottom row and that is an output. It’s a 3.5 millimeter line out for cameras but I suppose it could be used for any line out situation, potentially. I’ve got the end of the cable in my hand, it’s got the lightning adapter on the end. I’ll grab my handy dandy iPhone again from the desk and plug this in. That’s all that’s necessary. You may have been able to hear a little click now when I flick right.

Screenreader: Bluetooth. Blue– [unintelligible 01:49:17] info. Bluetooth.

Jonathan: Super responsive because all we’ve got is a wire now, there’s no wireless protocol in place. I’ll go home. Now, we’re at the homescreen. Let’s repeat the same process that we did before, we’ll make a phone call to Anthony and I’ll just use a regular phone call again so that you can hear any difference. Call Spotty mobile.

VoiceOver: Calling Anthony Horvath mobile.

[phone ringing]

Anthony: Good afternoon.

Jonathan: Welcome to your second appearance on this Vocaster Two demo.

Anthony: Oh, my goodness. What will I do with all this fame and fortune?

Jonathan: Have no idea, but now have you on the cable, does it sound any better, or different?

Anthony: It does sound a little better, actually.

Jonathan: Yes.

Anthony: It really does sound just more punchy. It has been even more base than before.

Jonathan: I’m sure if we were using a higher quality connection like WhatsApp, or FaceTime, or one of those guys, it would be even more pronounced, actually.

Anthony: It would, but we’re just using the good old mobile data.

Jonathan: Yes. I think that most people who will use this, will want to do it this way for people who aren’t able to use WhatsApp, or Cleanfeed, or any of those options. This is a good way of getting anybody with a phone into the show.

Anthony: Completely agree. It does sound so good.

Jonathan: Excellent. Well, thank you for your help.

Anthony: You are very welcome. Now, I’m off to go buy mine.

Jonathan: Oh, are you going to buy one?

Anthony: I am. Yes.

Jonathan: Excellent. Have fun. We look forward to your podcast.

Anthony: [laughs] Yes. Well, if somebody can come up with a good idea, let me know.

Jonathan: Okay, then. Goodbye.

Anthony: Okay. Goodbye.

Jonathan: Wow. Anthony’s buying a Vocaster Two, so Spotty cast could be coming to a podcast app near you. What I wanted to do is something a bit different, something we couldn’t do with the Bluetooth option, and that is to go into my favorite recording app for iOS, which is Ferrite. Open Ferrite.

Screenreader: Sort by ellipsis modification, date button.

Jonathan: I’ll flick right.

Screenreader: Tools, button sort by Ellipsit search. Search ready to record mono.

Jonathan: It’s recording in mono

Screenreader: Record button, monitoring off, headset microphone, button adjustable.

Jonathan: That’s how it presents itself to iOS. It’s coming up as a headset mic, and you can hear that Ferrite’s accessible level monitoring is kicking in, and I’m clipping just a wee bit if I talk loud, so we’re about right, I think. If I flip left?

Screenreader: Record button.

Jonathan: I’ll double tap the record button and we will start making a recording.

Screenreader: Restart button.

Jonathan: Now, all being equal, we are now recording from the Heil PR40, thanks to the Vocaster Two. This gives you the show mix. It also means that if we down arrow here in [unintelligible 01:52:35]

Screenreader: Six [unintelligible 01:52:35] six items.

Jonathan: -it will be recording that. It would be great if you could have a show mix, minus one channel. If you could go in and configure exactly what gets sent out to the TRRS jack, that would be very handy for those of us who want to use a screen reader, perhaps, because we want to check how much time has elapsed, or something like that. One thing that you should note though, is that there is a mix minus on this TRRS input. If I flick left now?

Screenreader: Input recording duration, input on stop. I’m monitoring up–

Jonathan: I’m just looking around the screen. You won’t hear that on the recording that you have made because there’s mix-minus in play.

Screenreader: Input on stop, stop, button.

Jonathan: I’ll double tap.

Screenreader: Stop selected. New recording, two, one minute, six seconds. Today, 1:00 PM.

Jonathan: When you press stop in Ferrite, it immediately then puts focus on the new recording that you’ve made. I can just double tap it and we will hear the recording.

Screenreader: [unintelligible 01:53:40].

Jonathan: Now, all being equal, we are now recording from the Heil PR40, thanks to the Vocacter Two. That [crosstalk] you the show mix. It also means that if we down arrow here in Reaper.

Screenreader: Six, [unintelligible 01:53:53], six items.

Jonathan: I’ve just paused that now, but that’s a pretty good recording. It does mean that if you feel the need to make a backup recording, you can certainly do that this way. The other test that we did when we were working with Bluetooth was to play a bit of stereo music. Let’s do that down the cable now with that same music bed.


Jonathan: It is in all its cabled glory. There’s no doubt that Bluetooth is super convenient, but because of the latency, in other words, how long it takes from when you swipe around the screen with voiceover until you hear a response, I do prefer the cable option. On the Mosen At Large podcast, particularly, during the height of the pandemic, when a lot of people were locked down around the world, I got a lot of questions from people about how you can hear multiple devices from one source.

Actually, Vocaster Two is a way of doing that. You could have one device connected to it via Bluetooth, another connected via cable, and, of course, you can hear the computer that it’s all plugged into. Three separate devices and that could be a realistic prospect. In your workday, you could have one of these on your desk in your office, even if you are not a podcaster, and be able to hear all of these different devices. You control the volume using the Vocaster Hub. I found that once you get the volumes the way you like them, you seldom have to go in there to make any changes.


Jonathan: We’re almost at the end of our comprehensive look at Vocaster Two from a blindness perspective, but here are a few final thoughts and comments. I’ve not used Vocaster Hub on the Mac, but I’m told it is fully accessible with voiceover, the screen reader built into Mac iOS. I can certainly imagine that that’s the case because even on windows, the user paradigm is very Mac-like. Vocaster One and Vocaster Two work with an iPad with a USB-C port.

You can use a quality DAW like Ferrite on iPad iOS, or perhaps, live stream with Backpack studio, and get great results. I don’t know if it works with the camera adapter kit for iPhone. There’s no indication on the Focusrite website that it does. The Vocaster Two is such an easy device to configure and use that its power is almost understated. For podcasting or streaming requirements, this thing does an awful lot. I’m about to undertake some overseas travel, and I know that if I have one of these with me, I can do audio production from anywhere.

If you do a lot of recording in outside of studio environments, the Vocaster Two may not be for you. The pod track P4 from Zoom is usable by a blind person and can record four separate tracks of audio right onto an SD card. You can then take that back into Reaper, or whatever your digital audio workstation is, and do the mixing later. Having to carry an iPad or a laptop with you if you do this kind of recording once in a while may be all right, but if it’s most of what you do, it may be a bit unwieldy. You have to balance that out with the accessibility trade-offs. You can memorize it, but you have no actual access to the screen as you navigate the menu system on the P4.

There’s no accessible way with the P4 to verify that you really are recording like you think you are. I don’t want to overstate that. You can make a quick recording, and make sure everything’s working, but there are tasks on the device, infrequent though they may be required, where you either need a cheat sheet or a great muscle memory. The beauty of the Vocaster range is that every single function is fully accessible, plus the fact that you have 14 channels of audio to play with in an environment like Reaper, which is quite amazing.

If you’re a musician, or you have a hardware mixer in your studio, there is no line level, or instrument level input in this device, so it’s unlikely to meet your needs, but Focusrite has many other devices much better suited to those requirements. At the time of recording, the configuration software for many of those other devices is not accessible. Hopefully, what we are seeing with Vocaster Two is a trend that will emerge. I think most people record podcasts in one location regularly, either on their own or with a co-host, or by bringing in remote co-hosts or guests. For that use case, this is a breakthrough device for the blind community in my view because of how accessible it is.

Being able to get a good clip-free level for your mic at the press of a button is a huge deal when you can’t see the meters and you may find the software solutions daunting. This is only the first two of these devices and we’re working with early builds of the software. I hope Focusrite intends to take this range to even greater heights, perhaps with a new device that adds more microphone inputs and enhanced software for the whole range. If you want an all-in-one accessible package for your podcasting, streaming, and other voice-related needs, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with the Vocaster Two. Maybe, it’s the tool that you’ve been waiting for to create your first podcast.


Jonathan: I love to hear from you. If you have any comments you want to contribute to the show, drop me an email written down, or with an audio attachment to jonathan@mushroomfm.com. If you’d rather call in, use the listener line number in the United States, 864-606-6736.


[01:59:35] [END OF AUDIO]