Basic USB Mic and Mixer Quesiton

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by Reg88, Apr 10, 2013.

  1. Reg88 macrumors regular

    Jun 8, 2010
    Hi All,
    I'm doing reading and research and it seems that for podcasting/screencasting one can go with either a USB mic, or a "standard" mic that plugs into a mixer.

    Do programs such as Garage Band, Logic and Audition replace the mixer?

    What would be the advantage (or disadvantage) of recording directly into one of these programs with a USB mic, vs doing the same thing with a standard mic, a mixer, and compressor/gate?

    Is a quality USB mic all one needs for podcasting and screencasting?

    Thank you !
  2. diazj3, Apr 10, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2013

    diazj3 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 19, 2008
    1. Not really. The mixer allows you to connect one or several XLR mics, power them with 48v that condenser mics need, monitor them, increase or decrease their in/out gain, manage multiple inputs and outputs, apply basic eq and effects, and if its USB or FW, turn sound into a signal that the computer can manage.

    Garageband helps you record those channels, edit the recording, apply various post production effects, insert other post tracks, mix them and export them.

    But if you are doing simple/amateur screencasts or podcasts, with 1-2 simultaneous live mics or tracks, and have time for post production, you dont need a full fledged mixer. A good USB mic* (see no. 3) (starter level) or better yet, a XLR mic and simple mixer or XLR to USB adapter or ADAC will be enough.

    2. Quality. It all depends on what sound you are aiming for. Generally speaking, for simple screencasts, after the compression your audio will be subjected to, high quality recordings will be lost. But the mic quality is crucial to get the best sound in, so the end result is best.

    USB mics are very practical for simple voice recordings, but lack quality, adjustability, and connectivity (amps, compressors, gates, and multiple mics). Also, they tend to be more expensive than their same quality XLR counterparts, and their integrated ADAC are not too good. You can get a better mic and a good XLR to USB adapter for roughly the same price and get better results.

    3. For a starters level, perhaps (*). Only consider USB mics that allow headphones be plugged into it to allow monitoring, so you can hear yourself and develop your mic technique. And depends on the mic - most USB mics are the low end of the manufacturers gamma, and are usually condenser mics, that tend to be more sensible to ambient noise. Some hate how USB mics sound. Some think they are good enough. Personally, I have a couple of USB mics to record very simple things or Skype, but never use them for anything else. It depends on your budget and taste, but personally, I wouldn't start with a USB mic. I'd invest on a better XLR mic, a simple USB mixer or ADAC, and go from there.
  3. Reg88 thread starter macrumors regular

    Jun 8, 2010
    Also, I read a review of the samson co1u and they said this:

    "Also, keep in mind that your monitoring setup -- which may be just your on-board headphone out -- may produce some amount of latency with these microphones."

    What is my monitoring setup? Is that where I'm listening while I'm recording? And is latency a big problem?

    Thank you!
  4. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    yes in must cases today a DAW like garage band replaces the mixer. The purpose of the mixer is to "mix" to different sounds together. Like say two mics or maybe music and voice or and guitar and the drums.

    I would only use a physical mixer box for live performance. If used for recording you need a REALLY GOOD one the cheep mixers all make to much self-noise. Just buy an audio interface with as many inputs as you need and mix in software.

    As for the signal chain you needs a microphone and a USB interface. All a USB Mic does is build both of those into the same physical unit. You loose a lot of flexibility but have less gear to haul around.

    For quality recording the #1 thing is the place you p=make the recording. Is it quiet and what do the reflections sound like? Next is the kind of mic and how you have placed it. Having a separate audio interface and mix allows you to swap the mic with a different kind or plug in two or four microphones... A good interface will have features missing from a USB mic, like monitor and headphone outputs and multiple input channels.


    Yes you are right. It is hard to speak with an echo of your voice in your ears. All the better audio interface boxes have what they call "zero latency" monitoring. That is where the sound lops back without first going through the computer.

    You care about this mostly for multi-tracking where you are trying to maybe play guitar over a bass and drum track you hear in the headphones. A lag makes this really hard.
  5. Hackensack macrumors newbie

    Feb 14, 2011

    I am looking at creating podcasts and was trying to figure out which mixer I should buy for use with my Mac. I then came across this posting and want to make this point out of confusion. I understand that a USB mic that doesn't require power and can be plugged into the Mac, then the sound can be slightly adjusted in post using Garage Band, eliminating a physical mixer. Or, an XLR mic can be used with a small "Interface" physical piece of equipment, followed by adjusting, "editing" again using Gargage Band Tools.

    However, many of the more seasoned Pod and Web Casters creating how to videos on Youtube, are using external mixers with USB connectors to mix and add compression outside of the computer.

    So, I ask you, which in your opinion is better? Thanks!
  6. diazj3, Jun 20, 2013
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2013

    diazj3 macrumors 6502a

    Jan 19, 2008
    Correct. But don't worry about the power - most USB mics are condenser microphones, which require power - supplied by the USB. The thing to consider about these mics is their sensitivity to noise and the user's mic technique (breathing, position, etc.)

    If you have enough time for post production, the basic functions of a mixer become a bit irrelevant, as you can do the mixing of different sources later.

    Correct: this simple setup is exactly the same as a USB ready mic. Something such as this with any XLR mic - no matter if its a condenser or dynamic.

    If you go this route, be sure you have the ability to monitor your recording - hear yourself as you speak into the mic without latency. However, today's most USB mics, USB mixers and adapters have it, except for a few die hard exceptions.

    Yes... but those are two different things: one has to do with the way they manage sound to and from their computers - it can also be firewire - and another has to do with different effects they want to ad to the sound on the fly. And again, if you have time for post production, and the sound you are looking for is simple (i.e. it's a youtube video cast or podcast dealing with spoken word, where the size of the file makes a bigger difference than the crispiness and high quality of the sound, where a high quality professional recording won't even get noticed)... then don't worry too much about it. Most seasoned professionals will tell you to do your recordings flat - no effects or compression - and then learn how to tweak them. Only when you have a good mic technique, a good understanding on how different tools work, and a stable workflow, is when on-board effects shine and justify an investment. The only thing to consider is noise: be sure to have a quiet, padded place to do your recordings so you don't have to work too much on your post, or require a physical gate.

    It all depends on your budget, and if you are doing this professionally (already getting paid).

    If you just want to do some podcasts, screencasts, or simple videos, at a beginners level, I'd go for either a good USB mic (see my previous post), or a good XLR mic and a simple USB mixer or adapter. And a good set of closed headphones for monitoring and mixing in post. Once you've developed your content (content is king), along with a good mic technique and a steady workflow, I'd invest on a better DAW and drop GarageBand (logic, pro tools, cubase, etc). And finally, once you get paid and have a relatively secure income from this, I'd invest in hardware: a second mid-high end microphone, a mixer with good preamps, signal processing hardware (compressors, gates, limiters, de-essers, etc), some good monitoring speakers... and home studio furnishing and noise treatment.

    There's a lot of fancy equipment out there, and you always get the impression that without it, your material will sound like crap. But always remember that good, interesting, well planned and executed content, with a good mic technique, recorded with a decent mic and sound is WAY better than crappy content recorded at a professional studio. So don't waste your money at this stage: just keep it simple, and devote more time to your content and technique, rather than adjusting knobs and levels. In the end, pristine pro-quality recordings aren't so noticeable in a screencast due to the sound compression.

    All of this, of course, IMO... ;)


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