Recommend a good microphone for recording voice on a PC
July 11, 2006 11:16 PM   Subscribe

I need to record a significant amount of voice using my PC at home. I've picked up a couple of consumer-level, $20-$40 computer microphones (tried two different cheapie Logitech models) but haven't been overly impressed. Recommend something better? Assume I know virtually nothing about microphones or associated mic lingo, and that this mic would be used exclusively for single-person voice recording (no interview situations, and no musical instruments, etc.)

In addition to wanting good quality, one problem I'm having with these "desktop" microphones is the *p*opping sound on words that start with the letter "p". I imagine I need to use a mic with one of those filters to help *p*revent this *p*roblem.

I'm just recording in my living room, I don't have any sort of studio system, much less an ideal acoustical environment, other than shutting my window so you can't hear the traffic go by. I'll be recording directly into my Windows PC laptop, fan noise and all, via either Audacity or Sound Forge, so the mic would have to be plugged in via either the the laptop's mic-in, or USB. This is actually NOT for a podcast, but I imagine the recording circumstances and environment are somewhat similar to that group. Perhaps that mini-revolution has brought to market some appealing recording solutions that weren't previously around?

I'm somewhat open in terms of budget, but would rather not invest in equipment other than the microphone itself, unless the value, quality, and ease of use for a dedicated solution are astoundingly compelling versus a PC/mic combo. I will not use/need the recording system for much else after this project is done--another reason not to want to invest in a higher-end hardware solution. The project will take several weeks to accomplish, so renting better recording equipment is probably also not a practical approach.
posted by wubbie to Technology (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Decent quality microphones start at about $100 and get ridiculously expensive pretty quickly after that. Plus you'll be needing a mic pre-amp, and that assuming that your sound card is of a decent quality.

One thing you might try with the microphone you have is to position it, or your head, differently. Try pointing the mic slightly away from your mouth. This might get rid of some of the popping and ssssss-sibilance that's common with desktop mics.
posted by lekvar at 11:30 PM on July 11, 2006

*p*ops and hi*sss*ing are caused by air from your mouth being blown right onto the microphone as you speak. If you position the mike such that it's not in the way of your outgoing breath, you won't pop and hiss.
posted by flabdablet at 11:38 PM on July 11, 2006

The problem with popular headset type solutions is that they are designed generally for the requirements of VoIP and voice recognition systems. Typically, they emphasize 200 to 4,000 Hz frequency response, with a slight "presence" rise from 2,000 to 4,000 Hz, as this most closely replicates the bandpass characteristics of the common POTS telephone channel. But they are readily available in USB interfaces, usually have good physical or electrical "pop" and breath noise filters, and their sensitivity to background noise, such as your laptop fan is pretty low. They just don't sound "radio announcer" full and rich.

That's because "studio" mike setups have a far wider and flatter frequency response (typically 50 to 18,000 Hz, or better) and are mounted with a physical suspension that isolates them from conducted mechanical noise. They have highly directional pick up patterns to help isolate sounds they pick up from background noise. You need to pay attention to the mike's termination if you go this route, though, as most professional grade studio mikes are designed with connectors for mixers or other gear; you may need a cheap mixer to use some of these successfully with your laptop.

Generally, if you stick to popular brands like Shure, AKG or Neumann, you can readily re-sell a good quality condenser type mike for very nearly what you paid for it, making your cost of use pretty low, if you are willing to do a minimal amount of eBay to get rid of it when you are done using it.
posted by paulsc at 11:50 PM on July 11, 2006

You can create a pop-shield by using a wire coat hanger and a pair of tights and holding that in front of the mic as you speak. Best bet is to use that in combination with mic technique (ie turning your head slightly away for the B's and P's).

You should be able to get a cheap enough minidisc mic that will serve your purpose. If you can get a battery powered (for phantom power which is usually provided by a mixer in professional mics) condenser designed for minidisc that will probably be best budget solution for your purpose.
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:30 AM on July 12, 2006

Best answer: I have, and recommend, this setup: the classic Shure SM-57 with the M-audio fast track USB
posted by Pliskie at 3:34 AM on July 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Seconding Pliskie, it's what I use at work. Great setup, not too expensive. Follow his advice.
posted by fake at 3:53 AM on July 12, 2006

Third Pliskie. The SM-57 is more or less the gold standard for a budget-ish vocal mic, and the ADCs in a dedicated audio I/O box like the M-Audio box there will get you -far- higher quality than any soundcard.
posted by Alterscape at 6:44 AM on July 12, 2006

"Decent quality microphones start at about $100 and get ridiculously expensive pretty quickly after that."

I just saw a catalogue listing for two SM-57s for $60 (without cable). The catalogue's over at my dad's house, so I'll send him an email to post here.
posted by klangklangston at 7:20 AM on July 12, 2006

Wow, two SM57s for $60? They retail for about $100. I could use another one, anyone in the austin area want to go halves?
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:26 AM on July 12, 2006

I'd get the two - you can never have enough SM57's god bless 'em!
posted by TwoWordReview at 7:34 AM on July 12, 2006

If I got more than one more, I'd need more preamps. I think you can see where that's heading.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:36 AM on July 12, 2006

A friend swears by the Blue Snowball USB mic; I have one on order.
posted by enrevanche at 7:43 AM on July 12, 2006

Wouldn't a -58 be better than a -57 for this? I tend to think of the -57 as an instrument mic.

You might want to look at the Marshall MXL-990 condenser mic for this, too. It should work with the same interface, sound better, and be similar in price to the Shure. Do get a breath-screen with it though (it's not optional; breath moisture will screw the diaphragm otherwise), and keep it in its case when not in use.
posted by baylink at 8:16 AM on July 12, 2006

SM58's for live sound, SM57's for studio work. Both are optimized for vocals.
I can say that you can drop an SM58 from a catwalk and still have a perfectly functioning, if slightly dented, mic.
posted by klangklangston at 9:05 AM on July 12, 2006

So what *is* the diff, klang? 58's have better shock-mounted capsules, to avoid handling noise?
posted by baylink at 9:39 AM on July 12, 2006

Yeah, there's the pneumatic shocks, the spherical filter to cut dwn on pops, and the bass roll-off. If the OP wants a vocal mic, I'd say the SM58 has a few advantages over the SM57.
posted by lekvar at 11:32 AM on July 12, 2006

A friend of mine is emphatically recommending the AT2020, and he thinks the SM57 is out of its element for voice recording. I do respect his opinion, so take that for what it's worth.
posted by knave at 2:50 PM on July 13, 2006

Shure: SM57 vs. SM58.

Do get a pop filter (they're cheap), or make one yourself.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 10:28 AM on July 15, 2006

Good news for *me*, as well; thanks for the pointer.
posted by baylink at 2:21 PM on July 15, 2006

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