78 Replies
Ken Theriot

I just found this awesome site and joined immediately.  I record tutorials using Camtasia Studio - and guess what my courses teach?  Audio recording:)!  My advice on mics is that the oft-mentioned AT2020 is decent.  As USB mics go though, I think the Samson C01U is better.  But for better quality than both is to go to the standard large-diaphragm condenser mic (XLR connector vs USB) like the big brother of the AT2020, the AT2035, which has a larger capsule, more options for tone control, and not really too expensive at about $135.  Of course for XLR condensers you need an interface like the M-Audio Fast Track.  But the quality of the XLR/interface combo is head-and-shoulders above the USBs.

My two cents.  If anyone is interested, my site is called Home Brew Audio (currently split between a site migration from homebrewaudio.com and homebrewaudio.co, but they are both still up.

Anyway, I look forward to being a part of this site!

 Cheers,

Ken

Bruce Graham

Hi Ken,

For those of us (me) who have been pondering all things audio, what does this mean? 

"...Of course for XLR condensers you need an interface like the M-Audio Fast Track.  But the quality of the XLR/interface combo is head-and-shoulders above the USBs..."

 I used to use Samson C01U but upgraded to USB 30. I have often seen the words "pre-amp" used, and considered movig away from my USB-based solution, however, I have no idea what an XLR condenser is, and understanding might be quite useful!

Thanks

Bruce

Ken Theriot

Bruce Graham said:

Hi Ken,

For those of us (me) who have been pondering all things audio, what does this mean? 

"...Of course for XLR condensers you need an interface like the M-Audio Fast Track.  But the quality of the XLR/interface combo is head-and-shoulders above the USBs..."

 I used to use Samson C01U but upgraded to USB 30. I have often seen the words "pre-amp" used, and considered movig away from my USB-based solution, however, I have no idea what an XLR condenser is, and understanding might be quite useful!

Thanks

Bruce


Hi Bruce,

I wrote this article that I hope explains it (is it OK to put a link in here?  I don't want to join a new forum and start spamming with links to my site) here: www.homebrewaudio.com/how-to-build-a-home-recording-studio-part-1/ - it's what I call Home Studio "Configuration #2."  But to summarize, most microphones have a 3-pin connector on them.  That's called "XLR."  PA systems have 3-pin female inputs so you can plug these mics right in.  But computers don't have these XLR connections.  So you need a sort of adapter, an audio interface, to hook them up to your computer.  But a mic's signal output is very low, so it needs to be amplified.  These interfaces (usually boxes of some sort) amplify the mic signal via a "mic preamp." 

But still your computer can't "read" the signal until it's been converted into ones and zeros - digital format.  That's the other thing these interfaces do - analog-to-digital conversion.  USB mics have A-D converters built right into them, though the quality is usually not as good as what you'd find in, say, an M-Audio Fast Track audio interface box.  So that is how you'd use a standard (3-pin or "XLR") mic to work hook up to your computer.

BUT (this is the last "but"), the common mics you would use with a PA system for live amplification (called dynamic mics - usually shaped like an ice-cream cone) are not very good for recording voices.  Instead, the preferred recording mic is called a large-diaphragm condenser mic.  Condensers mics use an electric charge in the capsule and are very sensitive, also providing better quality audio.  That electric charge that condensers need is one other thing that audio interfaces provide, called "phantom power."

If you're still awake after all that - there is one last thing.  The best quality audio comes from a large diaphragm condenser mic plugged (via a 3-pin XLR cable) into an audio interface unit, which is plugged into a computer, mainly via USB these days.  That set-up is what I mean when I say "configuration #2." 

Did that answer your question?

Cheers!

Ken

Steven Johnston

Hi

This discussion could not have come at a better time. I am looking at buying a mic to use with articulate and as a novice I am really wanting something that will work out of the box. I have borrowed a Tascam Dr-40 from a friend and hate it. I use a home office to record and the sound just does not seem right. My fault completely as I am sure I have not set it up or edited it properly. 

What should I go for:

The Samson CO1U for £75 or the Snowball Omni/Cart for £65?? I'm keen to order right now. 

Thanks

Steven 

Eric Stephan

Hi folks.  You have all been discussing high quality microphones.  However, for my modules, I have very often been recording in offices where you almost always have strange aircon, background this or that, etc.  as a sloppy measure against that, I have stayed with USB headsets, since the microphones tend to just record the person and don't suck in a lot of background noise thus creating extra headaches with filtering out noise later, etc.  And jeez, to me the audio sounds not bad. Your chance to refute that is below --

Can you tell me, if one wanted to stick with a headset approach but wanted to do it the highest quality way possible... What might be a good purchase?

or does the very idea of using headsets make you want to cry? What are the two biggest quality issues with headsets, compared to the cool suspended mics you guys have been talking about?

Bruce Graham

Hi Eric,

I would say that the drawbacks are, (in my experience...):

  1. Differences in sound as the head moves around, even though the mic is meant to be in one "position".
  2. No Pop filter, so a lot of "plosives".
  3. Very "tinny" sound compared to non-head mics. USB's and Freestanding condensers just sound "richer". Even a cheaper-end free-standing USB mic IMHO sounds better.

I am sure there are exceptions, however that is my experience.

Once you have recorded a sample of the "background noise" you can easily get rid of sounds, in fact, there's no reason why you could not, in theory, do this with a head-mic. Just turn on your recording software, record "nothing" for a second or two, and use that as a filter.

Hope that helps.

Bruce

Ken Theriot

Can you tell me, if one wanted to stick with a headset approach but wanted to do it the highest quality way possible... What might be a good purchase?

 or does the very idea of using headsets make you want to cry? What are the two biggest quality issues with headsets, compared to the cool suspended mics you guys have been talking about?


Eric,

I actually almost do want to cry.  Unless you are using a pretty high-end headset mic (like the kind the sports announcers wear) running around $200, like the Audio-Technica BPHS1, the combination of poor quality sound due to the tiny mic, and low-quality digital conversion (that "tinny" sound Bruce mentioned), along with the extra self-noise (electronic junk and hiss) you get with lower-quality mics, makes cheap headsets a bad idea if you want a professional result.  Bruce was also right about the p-pops.  Even with those little foam hats the headset mics sometimes have, your get lots of plosive p-pops with those headsets.

But all is not lost.  You don't need a really expensive mic and you don't have to have anything "suspended."  A large diaphragm condenser USB mic like the Samson C01U sounds great and costs only around $70 US.  And if you get a boom mic stand from your local music store for $20, along with a pop filter to attach to it, you're off to the races with excellent sound quality for just over $100.

And you'll find that if you keep your mouth close enough to the mic, you can edit out (with audio software) much of the background noise you're talking about if you must record in the noisy environment.  I suspect the reason you say that noise doesn't seem to be audible in your headset is that it's being masked by the noise already in the headset.

My 2 pence.

Hope that helps.

Ken

Eric Stephan

thanks much for the info, guys!

I will give the correctly set up, non-headset microphone a shot. 

If we assume that if the person doing the recording is a relative novice (which is often the case) ...  is there not a big risk of them being inconsistent about how far they place their heads from the mic while they talk?  The mic can deal with that?   (because in the thread above, you site the headset as susceptible to inconsistent positioning... but of course a mic on your desk is even easier to wander too far from.  Is that a risk I should guard against carefully?)

thanks! --eric

Bruce Graham

Eric Stephan said:

thanks much for the info, guys!

I will give the correctly set up, non-headset microphone a shot. 

If we assume that if the person doing the recording is a relative novice (which is often the case) ...  is there not a big risk of them being inconsistent about how far they place their heads from the mic while they talk?  The mic can deal with that?   (because in the thread above, you site the headset as susceptible to inconsistent positioning... but of course a mic on your desk is even easier to wander too far from.  Is that a risk I should guard against carefully?)

thanks! --eric


Hi Eric.

Assuming you work at the same desk, you can do what I do at my home office - have pieces of insulation tape stuck on the desk so that you always place the mic, and your elbows in the same place. It's essential to have a consistent sitting position, and elbow-markers is a good way to achieve this.

Also ensure that you record any other setting, (very often there are various buttons on the mic), are recorded in the "Notes" section of the first slide you record, so that you can set the same later, also, for example, the time you record, as in an office environment this can have an effect on what is going on.

Try and figure out a way to stop echo, such as an open file behind the microphone, and remember to record "silence" at the start of each session so that it can be used for Noise Reduction purposes.

Hope that helps.

Bruce

T. Travis

My "Expertise", if you will comes from several years as a Radio and TV broadcast engineer, then a production recording studio owner, then a video producer, and finally, as a voiceover talent.  Here's my take on microphones:

Microphones are very much like musical instruments.  Everybody has a diffferent preference, and a particular microphone which sounds great to one individual will sound awful to someone else.  Also, different microphones sound better on particular talent than others.  When I record in the "bigtime" studios in Hollywood, the engineer will often try different microphones to see which one works best, not only with my voice, but also for the "tone" of the particular project. 

It would also be good to consider the environment you'll be using the microphone in.  If you have a large studio with good acoustics (not too much noise and not a lot of acoustic reflections) you might want to use a large-diaphragm microphone.  If the acoustics are poor, consider a highly directional "shotgun" microphone.  Good headset microphones have their place, but remember, because the microphone is so close to the mouth, it doesn't pick up the nasal, chest, and other resonant areas, so everybody sounds like they have a bit of a cold.

One factor to consider when using USB mics is that the power from the USB plug is often "dirty" - The computer doesn't provide steady or quiet power for the microphone and A/D converter, resulting in all kinds of strange effects.

I was once asked by a client to check out their in-facility studio. -They were using their own staff to narrate their lower-budget productions.  "We just can't seem to match the type of sound that we get from the professional narrators" was the complaint.  After going through their entire system and finding nothing that should be a major problem with their setup. I read some copy into their microphone to see what might be the problem.  On playback, their director immediately said.... "Oh.... We thought it was our recording setup!" 

-Travis

Daniel Brigham

Hi, Brad: I'd suggest a condenser mic over a USB. But in the short term, the biggest factor will be your voiceover talent. I've an ID and have been doing VOs for most of my projects. The better I become as a voiceover artist, the better my equipment sounds.

A quote a musican friend of mine is fond of saying: "If you want your acoustic guitar recording to sound better, buy a better mic. If you want it to sound, 75% better, higher a better guitarist." I've gotta say, it's very true.

Hayley Merrett

What a great thread this is... I've learned so much already, so thanks everyone!

I have a question about lapel microphones.

I want to start doing some talking head videos (where I'm standing in front of the camera talking), however I'd prefer to use a discreet lapel mic rather than a headset. Can anyone offer a good recommendation for a high quality lapel mic that won't break the bank?

I've only just started looking so I'm not sure of the pros/cons of what I need to look for yet...

cheers & thanks again for a great thread....