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Need opinions/input on possibly upgrading mic/audio interface for home studio..

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Maverick87, Dec 19, 2011.

  1. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    Hey all. Im pretty new to the forum, but am amazed at everyones knowledge and am learning a lot in short time. My question is about a mic and audio interface. Tax time is coming around and I'm just not sure that what I use to record is up to par, or if it will be worth it to buy new gear.

    I record only vocals, no instruments. Rap/Hip Hop(I know, i know, good equipment is good equipment regardless of genre, no such thing as rap mic.. etc. haha :D)

    Heres the equipment I use..

    Computer:
    eMacines W2686
    80GB Harddrive
    512 MB DDR(????)
    1.60 GHz, 992 MB RAM
    Windows XP
    AMD Athalon XP Processor

    Microphone:
    Sterling Audio ST-51 Condensor Mic

    DAW:
    Magix Music Studio 12 Deluxe

    Audio Interface:
    M-Audio Mobile Pre USB

    Acoustics:
    I don't know the exact dimensions of the room, but i have chunks of the room soundproofed with the black foamy stuff, and also have two soundproof blankets. Not ideal i know, but its better than just no soundproof and sound bouncing off of the walls i assume. There is noise outside the door of where we record so I know that comes into play when picking a mic. Just giving u guys all the specifics that i can.

    What I'm concerned about is I'm not sure if the sterling audio st-51 condensor and M-Audio Mobile Pre USB are gonna cut it. I'm not completely disgusted with the sound I get, but I know i can make it better with better gear. All I can afford to upgrade is the mic n audio interface for now. I'm working with a budget in the $500 dollar range, can go higher but not by much.

    I understand that the acoustics of the room affects the sound and its not just in these two things. I also understand that you get what you pay for. I've been doing a lot of research and have seen you guys talk about a few mics n interfaces that are pretty cheap and sound good, and I've narrowed it down to a few options that I'm hoping you can help me with picking them out. Maybe more importantly, if these choices are even worth spending the money, if it will make that dramatic of a difference from what im using. Here are my options that I'm looking to get:

    Mics:
    Shure SM58 ($100)
    Sennheiser MD421 ($250)
    Rode NT1-A ($230)
    Audio Technica AT4040 ($300)
    EV RE20 ($430)
    Blue bluebird ($300)

    I was also thinking about the Shure SM7 but I've read a lot of people say it has a low output and had trouble boosting the volume with the interface without distorting the sound. If im mistaken please let me know. Also if you have any more suggestions feel free to let me know.

    I'm very thrown off by the appearance of the SM58 because it's the only mic of the group that looks like the type of mic you hold in your hand rather than the enclosed style of the rest. However I have yet to hear anything bad about it and have heard nearly everyone highly recommend it. Again let me know if im mistaken.

    Also i described the acoustics of the room above, so given that situation, should i look to the a mic like the SM58 or another dynamic mic? Or some of the condensors above. Keep in mind i use a condensor now and dont have any problems with background noise at all.

    Interfaces:
    Lexicon Lamba ($120)
    FocusRite Saffire 6 USB ($200)
    Mackie Onyx Blackjack ($150)

    The computer does NOT have firewire so thats not an option. Looking for a good sounding USB interface that will go well with the mics above. If you have any other suggestions let me know please. I've read a lot of good reviews about the saffire 6 and onyx blackjacks preamps so which do you guys think is better?

    I was thinking i wanted to go with the shure sm-58 because of the obviously cheap price and amazing reviews, but I'd like to hear what you all have to say about that choice, or if some of my other options would be a better pick for what i do.

    If i did go with the sm-58 or similar mics to the ones above, which interface in your opinions go best with it?

    Sorry for the long read but i had to be specific if i expect solid and helpful answers. Please let me know what you guys think. Thanks.
     
  2. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    I also have a friend that uses an AKG perception 420 condensor mic and his music sounds good. Where does the akg stand with the other mics above and is it a good Mic?
     
  3. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Hi there Maverick 87.

    First things first. Your microphone is a decent entry-level condenser. You're talking about noise in the room but not suffering from any noise. Condenser microphones typically pick up much more noise than their dynamic counterparts. I'm one of those people who always recommends the SM58/Beta 58's. I specialize in live recording. In live recording for radio, albums, TV what you see most of the time is what you get, SM58. Even the good handheld condenser microphones, you don't see that often. There is something about universal acceptability along with incredible reliability that can be a definitive deciding factor.

    In your musical genre, acoustics rarely come into play. I mean how many times have you seen rappers 2 feet off of the microphone? Never. Not only is it generally up close and personal, guys are always cupping the microphone with their hand. That's called crappy microphone technique. But you guys must think that's cool looking since everybody seems to do it? It also makes for lousy sound. And that's because the air holes in the back of those dynamic cardioid microphones should never be covered up. That's what makes them directional. When you cup your mic, like you see everybody doing, you turn the directional cardioid microphone into an Omni-directional with horrible, audible response aberrations. That's because, they're not supposed to be used that way! So understanding how to "work" the microphone properly is extremely important. This can have a big factor on which microphone you choose to use for recording purposes.

    SM58 is identical to the 56/57 and kissing cousin to SM 7. There is nothing wrong with the output level of a SM 7. It's the same as that of the 58. The biggest difference is that you can get your lips within 1/4 inch of the diaphragm of a 58. The SM 7 has a rather large foam pop filter almost as long as what is in your pants. And that capsule for the 7 is not at the front of that like the thing in your pants. Instead, it's about 1.5 inches further away from you than a 58 will allow. And so, it might be perceived as some have said to have lower output level. Well, DUH. That's the proper distance you're supposed to be from a microphone capsule. Just because everybody can eat the capsules of 57/58's doesn't necessarily mean that they sound their best that way. They don't. In fact, SHURE offers a secondary special foam pop filter for the 58. This helps to position people slightly further from the capsule than without it. I actually put even larger ones on mine when used for vocal recording purposes. And it helps to know that the SM 7 is just a slightly enhanced version of a 58. It has a couple of switches and you screw it directly to a stand so it can't fall off. Very popular for announcers since they can't get too close to the capsule. And you have a Low-frequency roll off switch along with a flat or presence peak switch. The 58 has no Low-frequency roll off switch. Nor does it have a switch to make its presence boost flat. And those couple of items along with the different body construction adds $200 to the price today, actually more than that. The newer SM 7 has the same kind of high energy magnet as the Beta 58 along with a slightly improved high-frequency response like the Beta 58. So it's great if you have money to burn and want to look more important in the studio. Other than those few items, the difference is negligible.

    One should also note that the Beta 58 now features a " super cardioid " pattern over the standard cardioid pattern of the SM58. This can have a better gain before feedback advantage when on stage monitors are utilized depending upon their positioning. The higher energy magnets also provide for slightly higher output levels. But when you're that close to a microphone, noise is not much of a concern be it low-end or high-quality microphone preamps it's connected to.

    The system you currently have may just benefit from a simple SM58 or its Beta cousin. Of course, nuance better quality can be had from other types of microphone preamps/interfaces. The USB interface should have a direct monitor pass-through feature eliminating problems of monitoring latency in your headphones. So if you already have that feature, you're golden. If not, you want that feature in your next interface. Determining which interface you want can only be determined by the sound you want to achieve. Most of the same price range are very similar to one another. You're not recording a symphony orchestra so you really aren't concerned with the articulation of the oboe solo are you? I didn't think so. Of course pretty newer equipment always makes one feel good inside. That's sometimes a good reason to get an additional device. We all love variety in our work. In many situations, there are those of us that love consistency in what we have achieved. Better doesn't necessarily mean better. Better merely means different. Some people can say it sounds better to them. To me, it just sounds different. You could even purchase a really lovely microphone preamp for around $600 and plug that into your current unit. You will hear a difference. A difference you might love. And you haven't even changed your USB interface. There is a reason why some of us have 32 $600 microphone preamps. And with each one of those a $600 equalizer. And none of that includes any kind of analog to digital converter or computer interface.

    So now that I've confused you, what have you derived from what I've said? What I've said is a $100 SM58 will sound like a $3000 microphone when plugged into a $600 preamp. Whereas a $300 condenser microphone plugged into a $50 preamp will sound like a $50 preamp, with a microphone plugged in. That's what you're currently using. But if you don't use the microphone preamp in your $150 USB audio interface, you are basically relying upon its line level input, into its analog to digital converter to USB. Most of these low-end converters are pretty much the same from most cheap units to multitrack FireWire units costing more than $500. They're 100% adequate for your application. Some newer analog to digital converters have slightly cleaner high-end response than units made just a couple of years ago. Big F***ING deal. Plenty of hits were cut for Michael Jackson in the early digital years of 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, $150,000, Sony reel to reel digital machines. Don't you think that's good enough? I do. I still use that stuff even though I never had a $150,000 Sony. And those converters were way older than what you currently have.

    One of the biggest factors and problems that you might be facing is that proper gain adjustments seem to elude a lot of people. You need headroom my friend, headroom, freedom from high-level audio distortion. That simply comes with trimming your gain down a bit. You make up for it in software along with proper equalization & compression/limiting of your dynamics. So while we have lots of sponsors here that would love to sell you some new stuff & plenty of other professional colleagues that will make intelligent recommendations for you, only you can decide what's best for you. I'm telling you what works well enough to record a hit. They'll tell you what specifications are better. Blast specifications! Just give me the sound I want. I couldn't take this attitude if I didn't understand the specifications or how each and every piece of equipment is conceived, designed & constructed. I don't care if I record with cheap equipment or the top shelf stuff I own. I know what the equipment is capable and not capable of delivering. Sure, the Mackie & SoundCraft & FocusRITE, along with all of the others will sound slightly different from one another. Another BIG deal. It ain't what you got but what you do with it that counts. That's what separates the men from the noise.

    It's also important to know that most dynamic microphones will not overload entry-level marginal preamps as badly as condenser microphones will with their higher output levels. When working condenser microphones really tight with vocals, drums, etc., the condenser microphone MUST HAVE a pad switch. This pad switch keeps from overloading the microphones own internal circuitry & prevents overload of the microphone preamp input. When utilizing a dynamic microphone, excessive output levels from the dynamic microphone can overload the microphone preamp input. So some microphone preamps have a pad switch which should not be confused with a condenser microphone pad switch. Other microphone preamps require no pad switch because of a difference in their internal design concept. Not knowing these things can make your purchase decisions much more confusing. So the design of the microphone preamp by the manufacturer sometimes has proof proof designing built in for entry-level engineers. That doesn't make them better it only makes them safer. If one wants a classic old-school design microphone preamp you will find a pad switch. Both types of preamps can sound nearly identical or vastly different from one another. It depends on how the manufacture concept was enacted upon. Everybody is trying to design products today to think for us. They're those of us that prefer to think for ourselves and so require a better knowledge when utilizing that incredible older school technology devices. So I'm 56 and I've been using this stuff for over 40 years. I didn't receive Grammy, Emmy & Soul Train music awards nominations for best engineered recordings by not knowing these things. Although there are others that have won awards without knowing these things. Sometimes it's just dumb luck. But even then, you have to have a talent for this stuff in order to be modestly successful. You're asking the right questions so you must be smart.

    Looking forward to see what everybody else recommends for you.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  4. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    Thanks for taking the time with your detailed response. I see what you mean about the acoustics not being a huge deal for what I'm doing.

    I definitely never touch the Mic when recording and NEVER cup over the top when performing. I try not to do anything that will negatively affect the quality of the sound when recording. I don't stand too close to the Mic when recording because we project our voices pretty loud and I feel like it distorts the sound if I'm too close. However I sometimes get paranoid about standing too far back.

    I'm glad the SM58 sounds like it's a good choice. Maybe I will buy the Mic and see if it does the trick without even having to change anything else up. By the time tax money comes in I'll know whether I want to try a new interface or not.

    Is there ANY difference between the SM58 and SM57? Earlier you said you recommend the 58 or beta 58. What's the difference between them? Since I want to use this series I just want to make sure I'm making the best choice.

    I never thought of the pre-amp idea. I thought the m-audio mobile pre and those types of interfaces have pre-amps in them? If I buy a pre-amp does it bypass what's in the mobile pre? If you don't take the preamp route, and were to pick an audio interface like the ones Im interested in, which would you pick? I don't really have the resources to try em all so I'm lookin for pros n cons of each if anyone is familiar with them.
     
  5. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    What do you think of the AKG perception 420 and the other condensor mics I was looking at? Does the SM58 sound better than them?

    I've read that the better dynamic mics are better than the lower condensor mics so I'm wondering if that's what Im looking at.

    We don't have any pro studios here and really no one to teach me so I'm trying to educate myself and take it in my own hands. So I apologize if I'm asking a lot of rookie questions.
     
  6. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    What are some of the audio interfaces/preamps you would personally recommend to accompany the shure sm-58 n other specs above?
     
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Asking whether the microphone you have mentioned the Perception series sounds better than a 58. Sure, it sounds like another condenser microphone. But you have to ask yourself, is that the right sound for what you are trying to achieve? I've mentioned this before because I know that Michael Jackson's hit recordings were his vocals recorded on a SM 7 and/or SM 7B. They weren't recorded on any condenser microphone thingy. Neither is Bono of U2, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith who utilized SM58's. So better isn't better it's only different. You are obviously already utilizing excellent microphone technique. I'm proud to hear what you have described because you're smarter than the rest. But that 58 with a large extra foam pop filter I think will yield what you really want. And you can still mount it on the stand and utilize it just as you have described that way. You'll be amazed at what you'll get. No it doesn't sound like a condenser microphone, it's not supposed to. Condenser microphones are fine for certain people and in certain applications but they're not the universal be-all end-all of professional vocal recording. They frequently sound great on female vocalists were you want that S EXY, Breathy, I need to get slammed now sound. But I don't think that's you? Besides, think about it, if you become popular, what will you be performing live upon? I'll tell you, a 58. It's a worthy investment either way and quite affordable. At many times, I even recommend that one over their Beta 58. That unit has a more condenser like sound from a dynamic microphone but it's not always the sound that I want for a vocalist so I'll generally go with the 58 original version SM series.

    Yes, universally accepted dynamic microphones can and do sound better than inexpensive entry-level condenser microphones. You're not ready to spend more than $1000 for a decent condenser microphone because there isn't any reason to do that for you. And anything in a similar price range to what you currently have will just be a variation on that theme. So it's not a move up but just a lateral move like changing lanes in heavy traffic. You won't get there any faster that way, you'll just keep going from lane to lane back and forth.

    Don't forget your lane change indicators...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  8. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    Glad to hear it, i feel confident and eager/excited to try the SM58. I've only used condensor mics so far, so I'm not really familiar with the difference in the sound between a condensor and a dynamic mic, but I think the reputation is speaking for itself.

    Are you talking about a large foam pop filter that goes over the round peice on the actual mic? Or pop filter thats round and flat and in front of the mic on the bendy thing(sorry for lack of terminology LOL)?

    I didn't even think about the fact that i can use it in the studio, which is what i primarily need it for, AND also for live performances.

    You really got me thinking about spending the money for the $600 range preamp, but I cant figure out if you're referring to a preamp/audio interface like i have already or just a preamp? Ahd what would be some models to really consider?
     
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    With the 58 in your studio at home, you could actually utilize either the foam pop filter or those bendable lollipop pantyhose/metal mesh Pop filters, an inch or two in front of the 58. Just like a condenser microphone would have. That's because even with the additional foam inside the metal ball, they still have a tendency to pop. Just like double bagging your thingy to ensure no familial mistakes. Which would provide another element of safety. Thankfully with my methods, your pleasure will go up rather than down.

    A really nice microphone preamp will have yet another element of professionalism to its sonic signature. Even with inexpensive analog to digital converters that sonic signature will still come through. Because it's not just fidelity but the texture you are after. I have & personally prefer the stalwart standards of API & Neve. Though there are others out there that can be considered better, I don't necessarily care for that kind of better. It's just different. That's like trying to refer your sporty Toyota as being as good or better than a Porsche. It might be but it's not a Porsche. We're not entirely talking about eye appeal but curb appeal. So if you prefer that German engineering over Japanese engineering, you already know what car you want. Is it better or different? In a secondary instance, I had the opportunity to purchase a full 32 input Neve instead of my short loaded 24 microphone preamp/EQ loaded 36 input Neve. The engineering staff at NBC was confused by my choice of the older more worn out console. AH but I chose the older one because it was all discrete transistors. The newer one utilized compatible modules that were instead utilizing an IC chip input with transistor output. I didn't want that sonic signature as you cannot push the level through the IC chip like you can do with the discrete transistor units. I knew what those sounded like and I'm extremely happy about my choice. That's because I know I can do things with those transistors you can not accomplish with IC chips. And while there are better transistor preamps out there than mine, mine have a certain sonic signature that everyone wants and likes that are in the know. You can find what are known as Neve 1272 microphone preamps. Well the 1272 was never a microphone preamp. It was utilized for summing signals together & line level drive output. It was modified to be utilized as a microphone preamp. Those are class A, all the way. Very sweet sounding. Still has that Neve sound because of the Transformers that the Neve company utilized. Other microphone preamps such as the API's utilized Dean Jensen microphone input transformers (The earlier versions had their own microphone transformer built by API, which later, were not considered as good as the Dean Jensen units) and their own specialized output transformers. Their preamp module is also not Class A but A/B and that never kept it from making hits. I've heard many engineers argue that the API sounded more aggressive than the Neve. Whereas others have felt the total opposite. Having both myself, I can safely say they sound different to one another. They're both aggressive, they're both sweet and smooth. I have no need or desire for anything else. I've made recordings with " better " products and have enjoyed their sonic signature also. But it's not necessarily what I prefer. So this is all 100% subjective. The API 312 card is actually identical to the API 512. But the API 512 is a self-contained microphone preamp whereas the 312 card requires external gain adjustment, pads, phase inversion switches. You can find a 312 card for a lot less money and if you are good with some DIY and a soldering iron, you'll have an API microphone preamp for hundreds less than the 512 which is identical. Otherwise, you need a lunchbox and a couple of 512's. Companies like Brent Averill Industries a.k.a. BAI (Now owned by British Audio Industries) offer API preamps, utilizing 312 cards along with their own chassis so you can immediately get to work with them. In fact some of the older API stuff was better built than the newer API 2520 discrete transistor module. The older ones were labor-intensive and the newer ones utilize more modern construction technology. So there are even minor nuance differences there. Some folks swear by the older 2520 transistor module over the newer ones. I have both there also. Do I really care which one I'm using? Not really. Because it's still that API sound. In fact, half of my API units utilize an older microphone transformer made in Germany, not by API. Some folks say that transformer is crap compared to the newer one by Jean Jensen. Yup, it's true. But when I want that sound that more approaches the late 1960s instead of the later 1970s, I grab for the older ones & get what I want. And that's a different set of distortion components.

    Those microphone preamps by the way, don't come with any analog or digital converters. So you must plug them into somebody's USB or FireWire input device. So start with your Mobile Pre and one of those preamps and see what you think. You could always step up to a better (different) USB interface from another manufacturer that has a different concept of design philosophy. And you'll still have that API and/or Neve sound with a slightly different sonic signature from your older USB interface. You may find both to be invaluable? And then if you can afford it, you could step up to a primo analog to digital converter for an even different sonic signature that still includes all the goodness, fatness, earful sound from the API and/or Neve. But that front end is critical. That's where the 58 can sound like a $3300 Neumann into the right preamp. And it won't cost you $3300 to find out.

    Santa is looking for you
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     
  10. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    I only wish I had enough money to try the Neve or Dean Jensen models but my budget falls way below that I'm afraid. I was hoping I could get a better audio interface/preamp similar to the mobile pre but the next step up so that I wasn't falling way under the capabilities of the SM58. If i ever want to upgrade to Pro Tools I dont know if it will be compatible with whatever interface I might end up getting.

    Maybe I'm being too harsh on the MobilePre?? Is it pretty much a garbage interface/preamp and bad for the sound? Or is it perfectly capable for a low end one?

    Is there another audio interface/preamp thats noticably better for around $500?? Or would that be pretty much a waste of money for little and unnoticable differences?

    Is the sound of the SM58 going to end up severely lacking because I can't afford the better preamps? Or is the SM58 still worth the buy and difference, even if I cant do a whole lot better than a low/medium level interface?
     
  11. Maverick87

    Maverick87 Active Member

    I want to get the saffire 6 usb interface, because I've read its a respectable starter interface and worthy, but is it noticably better than the MobilePre or a waste of money in this case?
     
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    That question is hard to quantify. It has a noticeably nicer features. It too comes with a reasonable historic console value. It's microphone preamp is likely better by a small margin. Not necessarily a waste of money since one can utilize more than one USB audio interface simultaneously. That allows you to record more simultaneous tracks, given the possibility of bringing in instrumentalists. Nothing like creating your own beats with a real drummer, bass guitarist, guitarist, etc.. Monitoring with headphones becomes tricky though with multiple USB units. But a simple little analog mixer can solve that dilemma also.

    Even when one does not have the opportunity to plug a 58 into a transformer coupled input/output preamplifier, I've already done shootout tests between API & Mackie's. The sound of the microphone imparts its own quality. There was a slightly sweeter nature to the sound of the API but not that much different from the Mackie under general usage purposes. Our tests were conducted with vocalists. And so, it still sounds like a 58 should. And since the API did not have a high pass filter switch to roll off the bass response of the 58, we did not engage the one on the Mackie either. Levels were closely matched and we all ended up laughing about how the Mackie could nearly compare with the API. But we also were not trying to push the API nor the Mackie. That would offer up a rather sizable difference in sound. But under normal operating parameters, most things come close to equal. This wasn't even one of the newer Mackie's but the original 1604. The newer ones have cleaner sounding microphone preamps than the older ones have. Perhaps now there would be a stark comparison with a newer Mackie in relationship to an API? That is to say, I just cleaned my pipe out. I was marveling at how much better I could draw through it. That is, until I realized, I forgot to put the screen back in... spit spit yuck gulp spit. And that's precisely the reason why one should include an additional pop filter on the SM58.

    Thankfully I don't smoke electronics
    Mx. Remy Ann David
     

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