Saturday, August 25, 2018

Recording Interfaces


In the last post we downloaded BandLab.com’s Cakewalk and loaded a demo.  There’s a ton of options and controls to go over, but the next thing you probably want to do is get something of your own recorded!

Whether you want to record voice or an instrument, you’ll need an interface to get the audio into the computer.  Let’s go over the basics of a few options.

The Soundcard You Already Have

You might already have an input interface built in to your computer- the “mic in” on your soundcard.  Not all soundcards have a “mic in” anymore, but if it does, you might be in luck.  Using your standard soundcard may not result in the highest quality recording, but it at least gives you something to try. 


Vocals

For vocals, you could use the mic on a headset, mic on phone earbuds, mic on your webcam or a professional dynamic microphone with an XLR to1/4” cable and ¼” to 3/5mm adapter. 


Guitar

To input a guitar or bass, you could connect the ¼” instrument cable to a ¼”/3.5mm adapter and plug it into “mic in” on your soundcard.  Be sure your instrument is turned all the way up. 
You might notice the recorded audio is very quiet.  For now you can boost the level (along with noise) in Cakewalk after you record.  In more advanced interfaces, you’ll use an amplifier, or put a mic on the instrument which will then be amplified through a preamp.

Before you buy any of the options above, be sure to check out the more advanced options below, which might offer better results.
Basic soundcard connections
(click to enlarge)

USB Microphones

Maybe you only want to record voice for podcasts, voice-overs, or music?  Want a quick, simple setup and high quality results?  You might be looking for a USB microphone.  Most have a convenient low-latency (low delay) headphone jack that you can use to monitor how you sound.  Some will come bundled with recording software.  Any of them will work with Cakewalk, though, so I'd recommend using whichever is easiest to learn.

If you plan on recording instruments or multiple microphones at once, however, I'd check out the multiple input audio devices below along with a solid condenser microphone (more on that in a later post).  Otherwise, plug one in and get started on your voicework!  Here's a few USB Microphones to consider:

USB microphone setup
(click to enlarge)

The Blue Yeti

Truth be told, I haven't actually used this one before, but it's held in high regard within the podcasting community.  Also, it can be had for just over a hundred bucks which is very reasonable when it comes to microphones.



Rode USB Microphones

Rode has been making high-quality microphones for years.  The Rode NT-USB is a condenser microphone that's meant to be used for broadcast or music, while the Rode Podcaster is geared solely toward broadcasting, but can be connecteed to an iPad for use in Garageband or other apps.



Audio-Technica ATR 2100-USB

Want a mic with a more reasonable price, but don't want to sacrifice sound quality?  Try out this Audio-Technica mic.
There are quite a few other quality USB microphones out there, but these three are a good place to start your search.  Also, like with any audio equipment, be sure to purchase from an authorized seller to guarantee the manufacturer warranty.  On Amazon, which I've linked to, be sure the seller is Amazon.com or a legitimate electronics retailer.



USB/ Thunderbolt Audio Interfaces

Need more versatility?  Maybe you want to record vocals and electric guitar at the same time on different tracks, or maybe you and the rest of your band want to record at the same time?  You'll need a full multiple-input USB Interface.

One of the most significant features will be the count of inputs and outputs on the device.  Be sure that it has enough to fit your needs.  Most have instrument direct inputs for recording guitars and XLR inputs for any type of microphone.  Although most include it, be sure that it has phantom power in case you want to purchase a condenser microphone at some point.

Considering outputs, you might want to connect to a mixing board, speaker/monitors, headphones, etc.  You can also actually chain some usb interfaces together for recording sessions with many inputs.  Most geared towards home use have a dedicated 1/4" headphone output with a dedicated headphone volume control too.  This will eliminate the need for purchasing a separate headphone amplifier.

Presonus and Focusrite make quality units that are pretty popular, but there's also other quality brands that have been out there for decades like Tascam, Behringer and Apogee.
A few common connections
(click to enlarge)
Decide how many mics you'll be using (XLR inputs), how many instruments/devices you'll be connecting directly (1/4" inputs) and how many headphones/speakers you'll be using.  You might directly connect a bass, and just run some EQ in Cakewalk.  Or, you might have a DI Box, Line 6 device, Effects processor, etc to use the 1/4" line in.

Of course you can purchase a headphone amp to split the signal further, or connect another mic preamp unit to a line-in, but to save space it would be ideal to get as much as possible in the original unit.  Take a look at the images in the Amazon links, check out some of the reviews and remember you can't go wrong with the quality of any of these units.


Singer Songwriter

These units will give you enough flexibility to sing and record at the same time.


Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

  • 192kHz max sample rate. (CDs are 44.1kHz.  DAT is 48kHz, so this is usually way more than enough.)
  • Two XLR inputs with preamp or two 1/4" instrument inputs
  • 48V Phantom power for condenser mics
  • Software Bundle (will still work with Cakewalk, though)
  • Dedicated headphone output and two balanced 1/4" outputs for studio monitors


Focusrite Clarett 2Pre

     Same as the Scarlett 2i2, except:
  • The mic preamps are slightly better sounding with "Air" technology, 
  • There's two more 1/4" outputs for monitors or mixers.
  • The chassis has a brushed aluminum face
  • It uses USB-C instead of the more common, older USB-B. So, be sure you have a USB-C port on your computer.
  • It has MIDI in/out.  This comes in handy if you have MIDI instruments.  I'll go into more depth on MIDI in future posts


Presonus AudioBox USB 96 2x2

  • 96kHz max sample rate; again, more than enough
  • Two XLR inputs with preamp or two 1/4" instrument inputs
  • 48V Phantom power for condenser mics
  • Software Bundle (will still work with Cakewalk, though)
  • Dedicated headphone output and two balanced 1/4" outputs for studio monitors
  • MIDI in/out


Presonus AudioBox iOne


  • 96kHz max sample rate
  • 1 XLR input and one 1/4" instrument input
  • Phantom Power
  • Software Bundle.  Also integrates with an iPad App using an MFi connection.
  • Dedicated headphone 1/4" output and a set of 1/4" outputs for monitors



Record the whole group at once!


Focusrite Scarlett 18i8

This is the interface I currently use.  I'd definitely recommend it.  Maybe in a later post I'll do a more in-depth review.
  • 192kHz max sample rate.
  • 4x XLR or 1/4" instrument inputs and 4x 1/4" line inputs, along with 1x ADAT optical input.  Using the optical input, you can chain two units together to get the 18 inputs from the name.
  • Two dedicated headphone outs
  • 48V Phantom Power
  • MIDI I/O
  • Software Bundle.  
  • Two dedicated headphone 1/4" outputs and a 4x 1/4" outputs for two sets of monitors


Focusrite Clarett 4Pre

     A newer version of the Scarlett 18i8 with a few improvements:
  • The mic preamps are slightly better sounding with "Air" technology, 
  • The chassis has a brushed aluminum face
  • Also integrates with an iPad App using an MFi connection.
  • It uses USB-C instead of the more common, older USB-B. So, be sure you have a USB-C port on your computer.

 


Presonus Studio 1810

  • 192kHz max sample rate; more than enough
  • 2x XLR or 1/4" combo inputs, 2x XLR mic/line/Hi-Z inputs and 4x 1/4" line inputs
  • S/PDIF or ADAT/Toslink optical input and a S/PDIF output.
  • 48V Phantom power for condenser mics
  • Software Bundle (will still work with Cakewalk, though)
  • 2x dedicated headphone outputs,6x balanced 1/4" outputs for studio monitors or other devices.
  • MIDI in/out




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