Laptop recording: external mic-in vs. USB



Moved from a different thread:
RemyRAD said:
The only thing that goes into microphone inputs on a computer is computer microphones. Not studio microphones. Not phonograph cartridges. Just $3.98 multimedia microphones. That's all that should be plugged into those anything else is WRONG WRONG WRONG.

Hi RemyRAD,
Very interesting! I've been testing out a mini-laptop for recording live recording - main goal is for quick off-the-floor practice recordings.
It's the Asus ePC (the little $400 laptop that's been flying off the shelves since late last year). There is no line-in; only a mic port and 3 USB ports.

As the built in mic is horrible, I tried plugging a Shure SM57 into it with a 1/4" to 1/8'minijack extension cable. The sound quality is like night and day - clean and clear. But now you've got me thinkin'.. what are the CONs to recording this way? Can it damage the machine? One thing I've noticed so far is the signal is very quiet - but it stills sounds fine when I boost it in Audacity.

Now here's my limited knowledge on these ports.. from what I understand the line-in is an analog signal in and supports stereo recording (with the A/D conversion done on board).

The mic ports are low voltage mono and probably need a pre-amp if using a dynamic mic like the sm57 to boost the signal. What is it about the cheap 'multimedia' mics that make them the only thing to use?

Not familiar with USB mics; do they have built-in A/D converters?
I'm not sure if I want to run out and buy one of these if I can get my SM57 to work (my next step is to try plugging the SM57 into my small mixer which has a mic pre built in)

Thanks for the tips!


Well-Known Member
Jun 22, 2004
Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
Rimshot; this all depends on what you are looking to do. If it's high-end audio, with professional results, the best way is to look into dedicated preamps (or mixers with preamps) that have USB or Firewire interfaces. When the signal leaves these devices, it's already in the digital domain and ready to be imported into you audio workstation. Nice & clean, no muss, no fuss.

Using the onboard stuff of any laptop soundcard is really just for sh*ts & giggles, or phone chats, etc. The mic inputs on these things are junky at best. Avoid them for any serious work. Ditto for the line inputs; use them only in a pinch. The noise from the CPU and other components will make any "quality" issues moot. You'll live to regret it, trust me.

If you're looking for a quick and easy, cheapo alternative for VOs and such, Yes, you should consider those USB mic interfaces. MXL (and others) makes a USB microphone that's essentially the analog mic with a digital interace right in the device, with a USB port coming out of it.

Another great alternative is a stand-alone XLR (mic input) to USB preamp.

I got one of those from MXL at the AES show in NYC, and it's fantastic; true plug & play (no extra drivers needed with XP and up, ditto for MACs). You simply plug the mic into the device directly (or use a mic cable for more length) then plug the other end into a USB cable & your computer's USB port, and VOILA; instant mic pre for a lot of various semi-pro uses.

I use mine all the time for quick & dirty, run & gun backstage artist interviews, etc. It works wayyyyyy better than I though it possibly could, and sounds great.


Cool - the "Marshall MXL USB Mic Mate XLR to USB Preamp Converter" makes a lot of sense to me.

I'm definitely not after hi-end quality with the laptop; but something that's quick and easy; something at least better than a boom-box! It's so I can record band practices and easily transfer on to computer - to edit and listen to them on computer/CD/mp3 player/post them on our website for bandmates etc.

Currently there's no noise or hum recording with the external mic as there are no moving parts in the laptop - its all flash drive. Its like the iPod of laptops, it can almost fit in your pocket (if you have 8" pockets!)
Thanks for the info!