Welcome to the final installment of our Home Recording Series from Shure UK, in this post, we will cover the basics of recording devices and software to help you make an informed decision.
Various recording devices are available for home recording or podcasting, but the most common and flexible solution in the modern home studio is to use an audio interface with computer recording software. All in one portable studio options, with a built-in hard disc recorder are a suitable alternative for the less computer savvy, but when it comes to getting professional results at home - there is no substitution for DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations). After all, it’s what modern professional recording studios are using.
Below is an overview to get you started.
DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)
A DAW is recording software or a digital system designed primarily for recording, editing and playing back digital audio. A DAW allows the recording of multiple audio tracks to your computer – both simultaneously or individually for overdubbing. Some common recording packages on the market include Logic on a Mac or Cubase for the PC. If your budget will stretch to a Mac, there is an intuitive programme included with most new systems called Garage Band, which is now part of the Apple Logic family and provides a great foundation for more professional level software. Read more…
Following on from our home recording issue on microphones, we will now be exploring the basics of microphone placement. Both the microphone you select and where it is place have an impact on the overall tone and quality of your recording. The following article is intended to help a beginner achieve good results quickly. This being said, microphone placement is extremely subjective and depends greatly on the end result you are looking for. However, the better or more appropriate your microphone placement, the easier it will be to mix.
The most logical way to begin considering your microphone placement is to look at the source you’re recording. Here are some common examples to get you started:
Vocal Microphone Technique
Condenser microphones are the most common choice for studio vocals. There wide frequency response, smooth sound, and natural tone allow the subtle nuances of the human voice to be captured. To avoid unwanted mouth and breath noises, place the microphone 20 – 30cm from the vocalist. The distance will also help avoid overloading the capsule, which causes distortion and reduced clarity.
If you’re finding the sibilance on your recordings too harsh (that’s the “S” sounds), you might consider positioning your microphone slightly above the singers mouth. By not singing directly in-front of the capsule, the high frequencies will gently roll off, and hopefully reduce harsh sibilant “S” sounds.
Pop filters – P, T, D, and B sounds produce a gust of air and can distort the capsule. Consider using a pop filter to reduce these sounds. They also help vocalists keep their distance from a microphone more consistent.
Acoustic Guitar Microphone Technique
For an instrument with lots of high frequency detail, such as the acoustic guitar, a condenser microphone is usually the best choice. Typically, a small diaphragm condenser works well due to it’s natural sound, however good results can also be achieved with a large diaphragm condenser. Placing the microphone directly infront of the sound hole will create a bass heavy boomy sound, and will often pickup unwanted hand movements. A better, more balanced result can be achieved using a single microphone positioned somewhere between the soundhole and the neck. You should also leave an adequate distance to avoid accentuating unwanted fret noise and hand movement – somewhere between 1 and 2 feet should do it.
A single microphone works well when placing acoustic guitars in a busy mix of instruments. However, in sparse acoustic compositions, you can achieve more interesting results with a stereo pair of small diaphragm condenser microphones. One aimed at the body and the other at the neck (12th fret), will produce a well balanced and open sound. For more low end, you might also consider a large diaphragm condenser at the body paired with a small diaphragm condenser on the neck. Read more…
Welcome to part 3 of our Shure home recording series. This week, you will learn the basics of microphones to help you make an informed choice on your next recording. Your microphone is the first point in your signal chain, and so it’s essential you make the right choice for each application – a process that requires some foundation knowledge.
A microphone transducer converts sound waves into an electrical signal. The two most common transducer types are Dynamic and Condenser:
Dynamic microphones consist of a diaphragm, voice coil, and a magnet. The magnetic field surrounds the voice coil, which is attached to the rear of the diaphragm. The motion of the voice coil in this magnetic field generates the electrical signal corresponding to the picked up sound. Due to their simple construction, dynamic microphones are economical and rugged. They can handle extremely high sound pressure levels and are tolerant of extreme temperatures or humidity. For these reasons, dynamic mic’s are often favoured as live performance microphones, however, there are regularly used in the studio to record loud sound sources, such as guitar cabs or close mic’d drums.
Condenser microphones are based on an electrically-charged diaphragm and backplate assembly as a sound sensitive capacitor. When the diaphragm is set in motion through sound, the space between the diaphragm and the backplate is changed – this variation in spacing produces the electrical signal. All condenser microphones need to be powered, and this is usually provided by phantom power from your pre-amp.
Condensers have a higher output, wider frequency response and are generally regarded as studio recording microphones, however, for some live applications such as choir or drum overheads – condenser microphones provide the sensitivity and clarity required . As a general rule, for detailed, complex sounds such as vocals and acoustic instruments, a studio engineer will often prefer a condenser microphone for a more detailed and natural sound.
There are two main types of condenser microphones:
Recording Professionally onto your Computers Hard Drive
Before you can record onto a computer hard disk, the analogue signal needs to be converted into a digital signal. This is achieved professionally with a sound card and in general most laptops and computers are equipped with one, however, most consumer level sound cards are not shielded sufficiently from internal electrical noise, which means noise and hum can be introduced into the audio signal. Also, they do not provide professional microphone connectors or phantom power, and do not provide enough pre-amp gain for professional recording. The other issue with basic internal sound cards is latency. Latency is a delay in the signal path caused by the time required to process signals. A latency of 4 milliseconds is normal and uncritical, however if the latency is too high – the timings of musicians can suffer. Standard internal sound cards can often have latency of 200 ms or more, and while this is not critical for podcasting and voice over, it is unacceptable for musicians playing over a band mix. Therefore, it is recommended to use higher quality sound cards with pro audio features, such as: balanced XLR inputs, adequate microphone pre-amps, and a latency of 4 ms and less.
Most modern recording interfaces/sound cards are USB or Firewire based and usually have one or more XLR inputs for professional microphones. A quick and easy solution from Shure is the X2U XLR to USB adapter, which allows you to connect your microphone for recording and headphone monitoring.
Professional microphones feature an XLR-output with three pins that transfer a balanced signal. One pin is ground, and the other two carry the audio signal. Pin 2 is referred to as the hot signal and pin 3 the cold, which is phase inverted. As a result, and interference is then cancelled out when the audio signal is brought back into phase at the receiving end.
Entry level microphones often feature an an unbalanced 6.3 or 3.5mm connector. An unbalanced output carries the signal on a single conductor and is more susceptible to external noise. For this reason only balanced connections are used for professional microphone applications.
Professional level microphones are increasingly available as a USB version. USB microphones are essentially mics with a built in USB audio interface that converts the analogue signal into digital- thus removing the need for an external audio interface/soundcard. Shure’s PG27USB and the PG42USB with plug and play functionality are an easy way to start home recording and podcasting.
Join us for volume 3, where we talk through microphone basics – including transducer types and polar patterns. Subscribe to our RSS feed to be alerted. In the meantime, for more information on home recording products by Shure visit the home recording microphone page.
The popularity of home recording has greatly increased over recent years, and achieving professional sounding results has become a reality, with more sophisticated and affordable equipment. However, to get the most out of your home studio, it is well worth learning a few basic principles to avoid disappointment. The following series acts as a guide to the home recording enthusiast and will help you better understand the recording process for your next project.
Volume 1 – What is Digital Audio?
Analogue Signals: The majority of modern recordings are digital, and hard disc recording is now the industry standard for professional and home studios. However, in order to understand digital, you must first understand a little about analogue signals. For a recording to be made on any format, the audio signal must be converted from waves of air molecules into an electrical signal reflecting the sound wave we hear. Analog audio signals are a representation of these waves intensities in a different form, such as voltages on a wire or magnetized particles on a cassette tape.
Digital Signals: Digital recording is the process of converting electrical analogue signals into digital data. This is achieved by taking periodic measurements or “samples” of the analogue audio signal level and translating them into a series of o’s and 1′s – known as binary. How accurately this represents the original signal depends on the sample rate and bit depth used.
The sample rate describes how many times per second the analogue signal is measured, and the higher the sample rate – the higher the maximum frequency response. For example, a sample rate of 44.1khz (meaning the analogue signal is sampled 44,100 times per second) can capture audio frequencies as high as 22,050 hertz, and is the minimum requirement to capture the full range of human hearing – delivering “CD quality”. Higher sample rates are often used in professional recording studios, however, there is much debate about how audible to quality difference is. In conclusion – use a minimum of 44.1khz when recording at home.
The bit depth describes the number of digital bits used to store the measurement of an audio signal each time it’s sampled. Using higher bits allows for more accurate measurement and better audio quality by increasing dynamic range and reducing hiss. A 16-bit sample (CD quality) allows 65,536 discrete steps, and is enough to create a very accurate estimate of signal. Using a higher bit depth of 24-bit will increase accuracy, but requires greater processing power and memory. In conclusion, use a minimum of 16-bit when recording at home.
Join us for volume 2, where we talk through different connectors for microphones – including an explanation of balanced and unbalanced cables. Subscribe to our RSS feed to be alerted. In the meantime, for more information on home recording products by Shure visit the home recording microphone page.
Here are a few useful tips for those of you recording at home.
1) Understand Microphone Polar Patterns
A polar pattern describes the shape and direction of the microphone’s “sweet spot”. Some mics pick up from one direction, some from all around and all offer different degrees of bleed from the sound source. Most of the time, you’ll want to use a uni-directional mic that is most sensitive to sound arriving on-axis.
Dynamic and condenser mics have different frequency response characteristics. Dynamic mics (like the SM58®) tend to be “shaped” for vocal use. Condenser mics (often used in recording applications) can be “flatter” and usually have an extended high frequency response.
Detailed description on transducer types
A good pair of studio headphones won’t break the bank and will let you hear your mix with a great deal of clarity. Models with a swivel that allow you to use just one headphone at a time can be convenient for mixing applications.
The Shure X2U provides a portable and convenient way to connect a professional quality XLR microphone into your computer by converting the analog XLR signal into USB. It also acts as the computer’s de facto sound card and provides zero latency monitoring, and is the perfect solution for home recording and recording on the move.
There are plenty more educational documents, videos and downloads in the education section of our website for microphones, in-ear monitoring and home recording
So Christmas is getting closer, and your folks still don’t know what present to buy for you. Or perhaps, you’re a budding recording artists, but don’t want to spend the tonnes of money needed to set up your own Abbey Road studio? If any of these sound like you, then here’s something that you should DEFINITELY put on your Christmas list!
The Shure X2u XLR-USB adapter allows you to connect any microphone straight into your computer via USB. It needs no extra hardware, and being a plug and play device, needs no software either. A recording studio at your own desk – or wherever you like for that matter.
Unlike similar products available, the X2u boasts two key features – Zero Latency Monitoring and Monitor Mix Control.
The X2u has its own dedicated headphone output. By plugging your headphones straight into the X2u, you can hear the sound live, with Zero Latency.
Monitor Mix Control balances the live audio feed with the computer playback – much like a DJ’s cross fader – letting you choose exactly what comes through to your cans.
Watch the video below to see how easy the X2u is to use.