USB microphones for recording?

April 28, 2015 at 07:57 PM · Good afternoon,

I've been a long time reader of this website and finally decided to make my first post.

I'm looking to buy a USB mic to record myself practicing. Does anyone have any good suggestions. I know nothing about mic lingo or audio tech. I've done some research on the net but most reviews are for mics used for vocal recording/podcasting.

Thanks in advance!

Replies (37)

April 29, 2015 at 07:52 PM · Well, I don't know either.

Mics for speech may not be flattering for the violin, since they may accentuatea the nasal and sibilant frequencies for clarity.

On the other hand, a solo violin doesn't produce bass notes.

April 29, 2015 at 08:04 PM · The Yeti Pro is pretty good. There is a Yeti that is not Pro. Not as good.

April 29, 2015 at 10:09 PM · I've gotten good results recording recitals for violin/piano and string quartets using the Blue Microphones Snowball (~$50) and later the Blue Microphones Yeti (~$100). It's really wonderful what high quality recording equipment is available on the consumer market these days, and they are really easy to use. If you're bringing your laptop along, download a copy of Audacity (from SourceForge.net) and you are all set to go! I highly recommend both mics from Blue...

The Yeti Pro (~$200) has lots of excellent features, but for many of us, a lot of those features will go unused. I previously used a $1000+ setup using ProTools, an MBox, and two nice mics, stands, long cables, etc. It was great, but took some setup time, and was probably overkill for my needs. In most cases, I just wanted to archive concerts and maybe generate some mp3's to distribute online.

April 29, 2015 at 11:25 PM · I use a Zoom H2 recorder to record my practice when I need to. The Zoom has excellent stereo mics and saves the recording into its memory (expandable to 32GB) in a variety of formats up to and including very hi-end WAV and MP3. Audio signals can also be piped through the Zoom into another recording device such as a laptop.

I once used it out of interest to investigate an ultrasonic rodent scarer which emits a signal in the region of 45KHz, way beyond the hearing of humans. I used a frequency divider in software on my computer to drop the Zoom recording of the signal down to the human audible range and it sounded not unlike a police siren. Within a couple of hours of the device being installed the resident mice had packed their bags and quit.

April 29, 2015 at 11:38 PM · You can use a Zoom portable audio recorder as a USB microphone connected to your computer/laptop.

Link -> Some Zoom as a USB Microphone YouTube HowTos etc.

In the google search links above there is a discussion in the Audacity forum about recording violin - the Zoom H2 gets a mention.

April 30, 2015 at 12:56 AM · If you are going to go Zoom, get the newer H5.

April 30, 2015 at 08:12 AM · On the cheaper side of things for an all-in-one unit (versus a straight USB microphone), I have a Zoom H1 at school that has served very well for classroom use, practice feedback, and chamber music concerts on campus. It's only $99!

One of my string quartet members uses a Zoom H4N to record concerts, mounting it on a microphone stand. It works well.

Also, if you hate the audio of quality of standard camcorders, there is also the Zoom Q lineup...not the best video but the audio quality is better.

April 30, 2015 at 10:03 AM ·

April 30, 2015 at 02:01 PM · I have a tascam digital recorder that I like a lot. But it doesn't have a great microphone. When you buy something like a Yeti mic, do you get software with it for sound manipulation? Do you need any kind of special "sound card"? (sorry if the use of the phrase "sound card" dates me)

April 30, 2015 at 03:31 PM · The Snowball and the Yeti just connect to any open USB port. The circuitry necessary to operate them is built in so there is not a separate sound card.

In most modern operating systems they do not require any special software to operate, except for the actual recording software. In that case, I highly recommend the free software Audacity which comes in multiple versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

For those looking for an economical yet powerful Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) check out Reaper. There is a discounted license that costs only $60 for individual/education use, and $225 for a full commercial license.

You don't need the latest and greatest hardware to use all of this. I record concerts and edit multitrack audio using a five year old Mac laptop with Audacity and Reaper.

April 30, 2015 at 05:41 PM · GarageBand on Mac is already quite capable if one doesn't do too much fancy editing. Audacity can fill in the gap here.

But I wouldn't use a Yeti Pro even though I mentioned it. If you are going to use external mics, get a proper matched pair of condensors. They can be used for recording many different things. E.g. AT4041, or even better, Shure KSM137 if you have the bucks. And if you really have the bucks, get a pair of Schoeps.

April 30, 2015 at 05:56 PM · Is there a reason it needs to be USB? I would expect a normal audio jack to be more universal.

April 30, 2015 at 06:03 PM · The basic specs you are looking for are:

1. Large diaphragm condenser,

2. Cardioid pickup pattern,

3. PC/MAC USB port compatible with no software drivers needed.

An example of a popular mic like this would be the Samson Meteor Mic.

Expect to pay about $70US.

The trickiest part about using these mics is figuring out how to set the internal gain. You will need to do some internet searching depending on the audio capture software you use.

For a PC program, like Audacity, there is a "slider" in the program that lets Audacity control the internal gain of the mic through the software.

April 30, 2015 at 06:06 PM ·

April 30, 2015 at 06:20 PM · As was implied a few posts above, most computers also have a 1/8" audio jack. With the audio jack you need something on your computer to digitize and store that input, whereas with a USB mic, presumably this is being done on the mic itself? Not sure if USB will pass through an analog signal.

April 30, 2015 at 06:45 PM · Most tablets and phones that I've seen don't have a usb port, whereas they do have a 3.5mm jack, as do virtually all laptop and desktop computers.

Anything with a microphone jack is also going to be able to convert the analog signal to a digital one, and storage would be the same.

Although these days, the headphone/microphone port is typically combined, so you would need something like this to split them: http://tinyurl.com/kl8le2g

April 30, 2015 at 09:32 PM · Large diaphragm mics are usually not neutral. Pencil condensers have better transient response. AT4050 is one of the few decent large diaphragms that doesn't have a noticeable high end hype.

With a pair of SDCs, one can record in stereo. Having a proper stereo image is very useful in evaluating one's own playing.

April 30, 2015 at 10:42 PM · Here's another vote for the Zoom H4. I use mine to record our orchestra and various bluegrass jams. It works well with its internal mics, although if I get really serious I can always get some external mics and plug them in - it has 1/4-inch and XLR connectors, and can even provide phantom power. It's compact and attaches to standard camera tripods - and when I get it home I can plug its SD card into my computer, edit the WAV files it creates, and burn them to CD or convert them to MP3. It's an alternative worth considering.

May 1, 2015 at 01:11 AM · Kevin,

What's the benefit of proper stereoimaging? It seems counter-intuitive for it to matter for a single sound sourced fixed at a specific location.

May 1, 2015 at 01:53 AM · USB mics have an analog pickup but internal electronics that converts it into a stream of digital data.

Since it is digital data that is sent over the microphone cable to the computer, the signal is immune to the most annoying problems with analog cable signals: hum and noise pickup, and signal loss for long cables.

A mic with an analog jack would typically be plugged into the computer's sound card, most of which have a microphone input.

But there is no universally accepted standard for voltage levels and impedance for these inputs and one has to deal with looking up the specs for the sound card and then finding a microphone that will "play nice" with it.

For the recording of practice sessions, a USB mic that conforms to the plug-and-play standards (just about everything USB does that now-a-days) will eliminate many setup and performance issues.

May 1, 2015 at 06:03 AM · Not exactly what you're looking for, but maybe more versatile..... My son has a bottom-of-the-range Zoom portable microphone/recorder for film making which he says has excellent sound, and is battery operated. It records onto a micro-SD card (similar to the ones which are used in digital cameras). Provided your computer has a socket for an SD or micro SD card you can then copy the files onto the computer a a later time. It has the advantage that the computer doesn't need to be present for the recording. It can also be used as a USB microphone, although he has not tried this.

May 1, 2015 at 12:01 PM · Totally agree with Kevin's suggestion! Go buy the ZOOM H5. I have it for a month now, and the recordings are so high quality, you get the feeling, someone is in your room and playing!

May 1, 2015 at 12:09 PM · The sound radiation pattern of the violin is three dimensional. That makes close miking a violin never quite sound like it is in person. So you want to be able to capture the room. And mono doesn't quite cut it unless you are layering on a violin track for pop/rock/jazz. But for practice, you want a close approximation to what the audience hears and stereo is a big plus for this purpose.

The Zoom H5 should be sufficient for recording rehearsals. And it can accept external mics which means when you want better quality (trust me, you will), you can shell out a few thousand dollars for a pair of Schoeps or Sennheisers that the pro recordists use.

May 1, 2015 at 01:10 PM · A big advantage of a self-contained modular recorder like the Zoom H5 is ease of use: turn it on and start playing.

OTOH, the price to get into the game can be a bit steep, like $300+ depending on accessories.

May 1, 2015 at 02:02 PM · $300 is like 3.5 packs of Evah Pirazzis. Just use Tonicas for a year and you'll have your Zoom H5. LOL.

May 1, 2015 at 06:16 PM · Thanks Carmen and Kevin, that makes sense.

On a side note, I typically use a 25' shielded cable for playing audio from my laptop to my amplifier without any hum/noise. I'm not sure what I'd be hearing with signal loss though?

Also, what would you hear with a voltage/impedance mismatch?

May 1, 2015 at 06:32 PM · I suppose that it also goes that if you wanted stereo recordings, a single microphone input wouldn't cut it.

May 1, 2015 at 06:57 PM · You need an interface for external mics if you record by computer. Roland Quad-Capture is quite good for not a lot of dough. RME Babyface is a notch better but you pay for what you get.

May 1, 2015 at 11:08 PM · Depending on how the mic and sound card are mismatched, you might get anything from horribly clipped signals due to input overloading, to amplification of unavoidable background noise because the main signal is weak.

There are ways to match mis-matched mics and amps, but that is a topic more suitable to an electronics forum.

Sometimes, a sound card manufacturer will publish a list of acceptable microphones, but they tend to be of low quality and geared more towards voice capture.

It all comes down to how much your time is worth. Do you want to spend the time and expense to become a recording engineer or do you want to just plug something in and record your violin practice sessions?

May 2, 2015 at 12:01 AM · I suppose that's what the preamp is for in the devices Kevin mentioned.

Personally, I would go with learning the new skill.

But yes, the benefit of the USB microphones is pretty clear now.

May 2, 2015 at 12:03 AM · The background noise you mentioned... is that coming from from radio frequency interference? As opposed to extraneous sound the microphone is picking up?

Or does the mismatch "flatten out" the signal from the microphone somehow?

May 2, 2015 at 07:21 PM · There is always a low level of unavoidable "background" noise due to a variety of things. Most notably are power supply ripples and thermal noise in the electronics. Professional engineers pay big bucks for gear that minimizes these noise sources.

If the mic is properly matched to the amplifier stage, the signal swing from the microphone, even during quiet passages greatly exceeds the level of this noise, even for inexpensive gear.

If the signal is weak due to mismatching, one turns up the gain to much higher levels than is normal to get a decent signal. But the background noise is also amplified to levels that become noticeable, especially during quieter passages.

If you are interested in capturing and mixing actual performances, you can start with a software based mixing board, like PreSonus Studio One. This will get you started with multi-channel capture, monitoring and mixing.

There are free online courses one can take to introduce you to the field of recording engineering. Once you get familiar with the terminology, you will be able to make informed decisions about assembling the components of your own recording studio.

I think you will be astonished at what can be accomplished with a decent USB mic and a freeware software music studio program.

May 2, 2015 at 11:07 PM · Is there a free software that will let me change the tempo of a recording without changing the pitch? Need that for my daughter's accompaniment cds.

May 3, 2015 at 04:51 AM · Yes, in Audacity (and nearly every waveform editor) you can change tempo without changing pitch.

Depending on the quality of the algorithm, going over say, 20% in either direction will create some interesting audio artifacts, but it should be adequate for practice purposes!

May 3, 2015 at 11:45 AM · I bought a Zoom H2 for specifically this purpose and since I got it I've been amazed at what it can do and we use the setup (since upgraded to H2N) to record our amateur orchestra. More than acceptable sound, we can produce good quality CDs of the concerts. Any criticisms? Possibly a bit "thin" - but add a bit of mid-range warming and it's a very good sound. Self-contained and very versatile.

May 3, 2015 at 01:42 PM · Gene, thanks, I will try it in Audacity or Reaper, I see now that both have this feature. I need to take the tempo down by almost half, but quality is not that important, it's just an accompaniment play-along for practice purposes.

Update: I had no problem making a CD of her accompaniment at five tempos from 90 to 152. You're right about the lowest tempos-- they sound weird (like a double hammer strike on the piano) but for this purpose it'll work great.

May 4, 2015 at 12:22 AM · WOW!

Firstly, thanks to everyone for responding! I had totally forgotten that I had posted this question here. My purpose for wanting a USB mic solution was because I wanted to connect it to my tablet and use the camera from the tablet with the usb mic. Lollypop now supports usb mics.

Thanks for all the input!

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