Hopefully by now you have had chance to read my previous post in this series and are considering a condenser microphone type to produce quality recordings. With this in mind this article covers connectivity and the means of actually getting your microphone to work with various equipment.
The Audio Chain
It is important to understand the audio chain and how it may effect the quality of your recordings. For instance, purchasing a £1000 top of the range microphone and plugging it into your basic sound card in your office / home PC is not going to get you the best result. For this reason it is important to consider your recording needs and to think about the path your audio will take.
A Guided Tour
To help you consider your audio chain and decide on your equipment needs I will describe my kit and the thought process I went through before purchasing it. Please keep in mind this setup accommodates my needs as a professional sound engineer and may be more than the DIY podcaster actually needs or wishes to spend.
Microphones – as you know the best microphones for voice recording are condensers. (See previous article in this series ) For my recording needs I use a pair of AKG C1000S. I chose these as they are industry standard studio microphones that I had used previously so I knew they were good. Also, I wanted the ability to be able to use them independently of my podcasting kit. I have recorded bands with these in recording studios, they have been used in conjunction with other sound engineers to record live shows and I have used them for interviews on the move at exhibitions. I wanted a pair of microphones so that I could record in stereo, or record one or two podcasters without using additional equipment.
Soundcard – Being able to connect these microphones directly with my PC was not a concern and therefore my soundcard did not need any consideration. My intention from the outset was to record the source material on an external recorder before importing it to my PC for editing / production. If direct PC connectivity was a priority I would have needed to consider the best method of getting a professional microphone into my PC (More on this later)
Hardware Recorder – For my needs I decided that the Zoom H4 would be ideal for capturing my raw audio. I chose this as it records to SD Memory and has no moving parts, unlike hard disk recorders. It was also light and therefore portability would not be an issue for field recordings. Another big factor was that I could plug my 2 AKGC1000S microphones into it using standard XLR microphone cables and the unit also has built in 48v phantom power.
Finishing the kit… A pair of DT100 headphones provide monitoring and the whole kit cost in the region of £500GBP. It provides a flexible, yet professional solution for quality podcast recording on the move or at a fixed location.
Getting a professional microphone into your PC
This is where the process can get a little bit noisy if you are not careful. Every audio recording will have some element of noise. This can get into the audio chain at any point. The trick is to keep the noise to a minimum and providing it is not too audible it should not pose a problem.
Most office/home PC’s come fitted with very basic sound cards. Although these are fine for playing back music and audio they often suffer when it comes to audio inputs.
They tend to have poorer quality analogue to digital converters which means a certain level of unwanted noise will be recorded with the audio. The input connector usually require a 3.5mm mini jack.
Also, they have no power for a condenser microphone which means you are restricted to using a condenser microphone that will run from a battery, such as the AKG1000S.
Mixing Desk / Pre-amp
A small mixing desk with phantom power a line level output will greatly improve the result that you basic PC soundcard can achieve. There are many in expensive mixers on the market that will provide this.
An alternative to this is a pre-amp. This is similar to a mixing desk as it has a line level output and the ability to power a pro microphone. With either of these options you can use microphones without the need for a battery.
- Click here to listen to a test recording >
- An example of a small mixing desk –Yamaha MG 8-2 FX Mixing Desk
- An example low cost pre-amp – Art Tube Mp Original – Valve Mic Preamp With 48V Phantom Power
USB Audio Device
This device does not require a sound card. It simply converts your audio into digital code that is then input directly to your PC/Mac thorough a USB port.
- Click here to listen to a test recording >
- An example USB interface – Behringer UCA202 U-Control USB Audio Interface
P.S. The low level hum in mixing desk / pre-amp & USB device recording tests is vibration picked up by the microphone due to incorrect placement! A subject I will cover soon.
A Digital Microphone
Digital microphones are relatively new. They basically contain an the USB device within the microphone casing. This negates the need for any other equipment, just plug straight into your PC/Mac via a USB port.
- An example of a digital mic – Samson C-O1U USB Condenser Mic
Choosing the right setup is not always easy. It can require much thought and review reading to come up with your best solution. Consumer reviews are always a great starting point however, ultimately the decision is yours.
In general you get what you pay for, as you can see there a numerous options and not all of them are hugely expensive.
Once you have your recording kit it can last for many years and it is unlikely that microphone technology will change much. Many of the pro-mics have been around for decades and are still sold and used in pro recording studios. What I expect will change in coming years is the software we use, audio interfaces and the mics with digital outputs.
Which ever route you go for, try and think it though carefully, research it, and if at all possible try before you buy.