I do some audio recording here and there. I particularly enjoy doing live recordings, and I have some special equipment that I use for that. I also record stuff directly into my computer, but I use different equipment for that.
From time to time people ask me about the gear I use with my computer, so I thought I’d post something about what I’m currently using.
I’ve got a couple of different microphones that I use. The main one I use is a headset mic from Audio-Technica called the 8HEx-Pro. This looks like it has earphones, but they’re just foam-covered panels that help secure the mic to your head. I’m told that this mic is particularly popular in a lot of radio stations.
What I like about this mic is that it’s a dynamic mic that has a very clear and transparent sound to it. There’s no built-in pre-amp, so there’s no “self-noise”. In other words, it’s QUIET! It also has what’s called a “cardiod” pick-up pattern, meaning it does a great job of picking up your voice while NOT picking up sounds around you or that are reflecting off the walls. (Got kids in the background? This is a GREAT mic for that!)
I use this for talking over Skype, or recording vocals into my computer. Sometimes I’ll record quite a bit of material, reading from a book or going through a slide presentation. This mic is perfect for that because it’s really hard to keep your head a fixed distance from a mic on a stand. We tend to move around as we talk and pause; that causes slight variations in sound levels on the recording that you have to fix later on.
By using a headset mic, you don’t have that problem as the mic always remains a fixed distance from your mouth. So you end up with very constant sound levels, as long as you can maintain fairly constant vocal levels.
This particular mic model has a standard 3-pin male XLR plug on the end, which is fine if you’ve got something like that to plug it into. Most computers, however, don’t. So you’d need an external mixer and/or A/D converter. I happen to have one I absolutely LOVE! I’ll get to it shortly.
The other microphones I have are a couple of Sennheiser 441‘s. These are odd-looking mics in that they’re square instead of round. I don’t know why they did that, but regardless, they sound terrific. They’re also dynamic mics. I use these to record myself when I’m playing my flutes.
USB AUDIO INTERFACE
Lots of folks like the idea of using one of the newfangled “USB Mics” that have a USB connector and an A/D converter built-in. I don’t like that, mainly because they give you no control over the signal. You usually need some kind of pre-amp stage, and I like to adjust it. The USB mics force you to use the settings in the computer, and if you’re using Windows, they can drive you absolutely berzerk. Macs are a little better, but nothing compares to having a box with knobs on it!
So I prefer to use an external USB Audio Interface of some kind. For a while I used a fancy device from Edirol called the M16-DX, which is more of a mixer. It was overkill for my needs, so I sold it and got an M10-MX, a smaller 10-channel mixer with digital output built-in. That worked great, but then I noticed that Tascam introduced a small device called the US-366 USB 2.0 Audio Interface. This device has all the inputs and outputs you’re ever likely to need if you’re working mainly with your computer. It also handles up to 24-bit 192 kHz A/D+D/A conversion, which is hard to find at this price level. It has two mic/line inputs with individual pre-amp gain controls, perfect for use with just about any mic around, including dynamic mics like the AT 8HEx-Pro headsets. You can plug a guitar into one of the line inputs if you’re a guitar player.
It also has a digital I/O in the form of both TOSLINK (RCA) and S/PDIF (optical) connections. I prefer S/PDIF for this sort of thing; this was one of the main reasons I bought this model rather than it’s smaller brother, the US-322. They have since introduced a slightly different model called the US-125M.
Another cool thing about this device is there’s a button on it (just to the right of the big volume control knob) that says “Mixer Panel”. When you press it, a virtual mixer panel shows up on the computer screen that has a display that looks every bit like a virtual mixer. It also has a bunch of Dynamics Effects on another tab, including: Compressor, Noise Suppressor, De-Esser, Exciter, EQ, and Reverb.
One curious thing about most of the USB interfaces I’ve seen that also have digital I/O in them is that you cannot get what’s called “full-duplex” over the USB interface. That is, you have to use it either for sending signals INTO the computer, or to dealing with signals coming FROM the computer. It won’t do both simultaneously.
So I use the USB for INPUT to the computer, and then connect an optical S/PDIF cable to my computer’s headphone jack and route it to the S/PDIF digital INPUT on the US-366. Then I plug my speakers into the US-366 instead of my computer. That lets me use the volume control (the big round knob) to adjust the speaker volume.