Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast host Dallas Taylor teaches us why sound matters and shares what he packs to take his show on the road.
On a cloudy day in (pre-pandemic) March, Dallas Taylor points out across the New York City skyline from the Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. “Can you point to a single thing that wasn’t designed by humans?” he asks. Besides the grey sky and the East River, I can’t see a thing that isn’t.
“We have these four senses that humans have crafted so intensely as a species,” the sound designer and host of podcast Twenty Thousand Hertz explains, pointing out the ways in which we manipulate our environment accordingly. We design architecture kind to the eye, craft surfaces pleasing to the touch, refine recipes that taste delicious, and consider scents from food to floral perfumes a luxury. “But then we have sound.”
To Taylor, the world of sound is the final frontier. While many people pay little attention to the fifth sense beyond music (besides, perhaps, those living in New York City and other urban environments), he sees reexamining the way we experience the world through listening as another opportunity to improve our quality of life.
“The podcast is about moving culture in a more sound-positive direction,” Taylor says. “Everything about the mission of Twenty Thousand Hertz is to get normal people into their sense of hearing.”
The way we travel, too, has its own distinct soundtrack: the roar of airplanes and bustling train stations, the cumulative chatter of crowds, the symphony of traffic and restaurants and busy streets, the sonic profiles of every new city and town. Below, Taylor shares how he podcasts on the go—and how he maximizes his travels through sound.
Podcasts That Ease Travel Anxiety
“Radiotopia in general is a very personable network, and I like that mission—every person at Radiotopia has this genuine care for you as a listener, and I find that really comforting. [At Gimlet,] Reply All is something that feels like friends talking. 99% Invisible is like my warm blanket. 99% Invisible or Every Little Thing or Reply All—they are talking to you. And that is powerful.”
The Tools That Podcasters Use On the Go
“My key two pieces of gear if I’m out and about, capturing a moment for the podcast: A Sennheiser 416 microphone. I also have a Sound Devices Mix Pre-6 sound mixer, which I use for everything from recording my voice in the studio to going out on location to chat with people. If I’m not doing interviews, I’ll use a Zoom H-6 audio recorder. This captures stereo recording, so if I want to capture a squeaky door [or a very specific sound]. This is my key mic for my own narration—it’s a Shure SM7B.”
Happiest Most Sonically Pleasing Place On Earth
“Disneyland is amazing because they build entire stories. Visually it’s stunning, but they also do amazing sound design. Not only because they have some of the best sound designers on earth out there—but they’ll put a sound somewhere around an attraction because there’s an actuator (ride machinery) going off. They’re really trying to mask a sound that just has to be there, but they’ll make it a story element.”
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Sometimes, Silence Is Golden
“I always run white noise. White noise is key because all these little noises that you hear at night—especially in New York—are the worst. They’re picking up trash; they’re running backup trucks. You’re not getting really restful sleep.
One thing that I’ve learned a lot about in the podcast is how when you sleep in a new environment, your brain only kind of halfway shuts down because we have caveman brains—it’s searching for predators and stuff. And so a lot of times, when I come to New York City especially, there are so many things happening in the middle of the night, constantly waking me, even if I’m not consciously identifying it. Then I notice when I go on trips, I’m just really tired—and so [headphones and a white noise app] helps just mask the entire world. It’s pretty magical.”
Three Things Dallas Taylor Never Leaves Home Without
“Wearing earplugs when things are too loud immediately lowers my stress level. I use foam ones, but I also use silicone ones, too. If something’s too loud, I’ll just plug my ears, and a lot of times I just feel so much more free—like I’m in my body and can hear my own thoughts.
[I always travel with] my Nintendo Switch. When I was a kid, I played tons of games. Now that I have kids, the only time I can ever play games is on an airplane. The Switch is amazing for that. Throughout my entire life, Zelda games have been my most comforting games. To have a good set of headphones and a Switch with a couple of Zelda games on it—it’s so good.
And people are going to talk about the Oculus Quest like they talk about the Nintendo Entertainment System at some point. This thing is going to take us into a full-blown movie like Ready Player One. At first, I didn’t take it seriously—but it is revolutionary.”
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The Sounds Every Traveler Should Experience
“The top of a mountain, because you don’t even hear the noise of trees. The most profound listening experience I’ve ever had in nature was at the peak on the island of Kauai. Looking down was an amazing image, but I remember the entire sound was just so calm. I couldn’t hear anything, because I was so high up.
There’s nothing better than the sound after a fresh snow. Preferably an inch or two of snow, because you essentially have coated the entire world in audio absorptive material. Consider New York City and how busy it usually is—a coating of snow, and everything feels so visceral and calm. Snow falls, and your anxiety level [drops].”
Your Voice Travels With You Wherever You Go—Use It
“Everyone has a voice for [podcasting]—it just takes time to learn how to perfect that instrument. Both learning to perfect the instrument as far as your voice is concerned, but also just learning how to work a microphone. If you hear really early episodes [of Twenty Thousand Hertz], I was still struggling with finding that voice. And then I was also trying to sound like someone else. But one thing that I learned really early on is that the ideas that people have don’t need to be gatekept by the voice that they have. Everyone has something to say, and you should never let your voice hold you back from doing that.”
- 1Away x Master and Dynamic Everywhere Bag, $325
- 2Away x Master and Dynamic headphones, $499
- 3Away x Master and Dynamic Bigger Carry-On, Aluminum, $545
- 4Sennheiser 416 microphone, $999
- 5Sound Devices Mix Pre-6 sound mixer, $680
- 6Zoom H-6 audio recorder, $330
- 7Shure SM7B microphone, $400
- 8Oculus Quest, $400
- 9Nintendo Switch, $299
- 103M foam ear plugs, $11
- 11Mack’s soft silicone ear plugs, $4
- 12Ray Bans original Wayfarer sunglasses, $154