budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

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budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by bgravato » Wed Jan 13, 2010 11:13 pm

Greetings!

I'm new to this forum so I'm sorry if this is off-topic or have been discussed before (I searched but didn't find any relevant thread)

I play classical guitar and I'd like to record me playing. Both my laptop's built-in mic and my old cheap headset (jack plug) are fine for talking on skype, but quite crappy when it comes to recording the sound of the guitar.

I'm looking forward to buy a new mic for recording myself playing guitar, but after some time searching I still have many doubts. Where I live I can't find a local store with any decent mic I can try so I'll have to order online (within europe).

I'll be using audacity for recording and possibly also some other live streaming software. I'll be using it on both Linux (desktop pc) and MacOS-X (laptop macbook pro). Since I'm using it with the laptop it would be preferrable if it is a mic which doesn't need phantom power. Therefore, from what I've been reading, USB mics are probably the best choice.

My budget is 50-100 euros, but can go up to 150 euros if it's really worth it.

From all the reviews I've read I'm considering buying one of these:
- Blue Snowball
- Samson CO1U
- Samson CO3U
- Samson G Track USB
- MXL USB.006
- MXL USB.007
- T.Bone SC440 USB
- T.Bone SC450 USB

I'm having some trouble finding online shops in europe selling the MXL's and I haven't been able to find much info about the T.Bone's.

I'll be using it mostly for guitar recording, but I might also use it in some other situations in which the "omni" feature might be handy, so I'm including also mics such as the CO3U on my list. But my prority will be the guitar, so I only consider that option if it doesn't compromise the quality of the guitar recording, nor has a considerable increase in price.

Any insight or personal experience on these mics would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

Best regards,
Bruno Gravato

Update (2010/03/22): this has turned out to be a quite long thread, but I have made my decisions by now, which turned out to be a bit different from what I initially had in mind. So if you don't feel like going through 18 pages of comments you can skip to the shorter version here: http://forum.audacityteam.org/viewtopic.php?f=27&t=27862
Last edited by bgravato on Tue May 25, 2010 3:49 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Thu Jan 14, 2010 12:52 am

Samson 01/03. One of them doesn't support switching patterns. Switching can be handy.

I believe we have two Snowballs now and they seem to work very well. They have pattern switching and switchable, built-in attenuator for very loud passages.

If you have no microphone experience, you may find the major difference (above just sound quality) is omnidirectional versus directional or cardioid. If you have a dead quiet, echo-free room, then by far the best quality will be from an omni microphone. They color the sound least.

Most people are trying to record in a live, slappy, hard-walled room with air conditioning noises and MetroBus routes outside the window. There you have no choice but to use a cardioid or directional microphone to try and restrict the trash. Those patterns have to be hand tuned during the microphone design and they're never prefect. Directional mics also have proximity effect. The closer you get the more bass they pick up. That's the rock and roll club effect. The singer sounds great as long as their lips are touching the microphone.

The USB units tend to have low level because you can fix that easily in Audacity. High volume can cause overload and clipping which sounds awful and is immediately fatal to the show.

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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by steve » Fri Jan 15, 2010 12:26 pm

I'm a fan of the T-Bone mics. I have a couple of these and they're great value for money. They get better as the price goes up. The only T-Bone mic that I've been disappointed with was a T-Bone MB85 - it looks and sounds like a cheap mic, which is not really surprising because it is a really cheap microphone. On the other hand the T-Bone MB85 beta is still quite inexpensive (but not quite as cheap as the MB85) and is a really good stage microphone (I use them in preference to my Sure SM58s).
I have the non-USB version of the SC450 and while it is clearly not a Neumann, it beats the socks off recording with an average dynamic mic. It's primarily designed for vocals, but will also give good results with a classical guitar. You will want a really quiet room to record in so that you can have the microphone far enough away to pick up sound from the whole guitar (try around 50cm away in line with where the neck meets the body).

The Samson microphones are also very popular though I've not done a side-by-side comparison. I'd be a little bit wary of the Snowball microphones having read several poor reviews, not about the sound quality but about the USB connection causing problems. Of course that can happen with any USB microphone and is also dependent on your computers USB port, so it may be an unfair criticism. When buying a USB microphone I'd go for somewhere that has a helpful returns policy just in case.
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Fri Jan 15, 2010 11:27 pm

And just a note that changing a microphone volume slightly during a performance with a mixer and microphone is no problem at all, it's a Big Deal with a USB microphone. The first time you notice you have sound levels that could use work is the time you stop everything, adjust the levels and start the performance over again.

USB microphones assume you're always going to be able to do that. This is also the magic time when you find that the sound levels on your Nine Inch Nails album and the levels on your live performance are radically different with yours probably being a good deal lower in volume. NIN went through multiple thousand dollars of post production to sound like that and it's always a disappointment when you can't record like that right out of the microphone on the first take.

We can get you there eventually with the Audacity post production tools. Get a good strong cup of coffee.

Whole different world.

Koz
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by bgravato » Sat Jan 16, 2010 1:38 pm

Thanks for the replies!

Since I first saw the T.Bone's that I had this feeling it should have a good quality/price ratio. The bad thing is it doesn't have pattern switching. After reading your comments and thinking more about it I think I really should get a mic that allows switching patterns. Since it's my first "serious" mic it would be better to have more options available, so I can figure out what suits my taste better.

That narrows my options to either Samson CO3U or Snowball. I think CO3U has Figure-8 pattern option while Snowball doesn't. So that's one more point in favour of the Samson... Both seem to work on Linux, so that shouldn't be a problem either.

I'll have to search for best prices for each but, unless I find a very good deal for the Snowball, I'll probably go with the Samson CO3U.
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by steve » Sat Jan 16, 2010 3:40 pm

bgravato wrote:Since it's my first "serious" mic it would be better to have more options available,

A more versatile option would be to get a USB microphone pre-amp and a conventional (non-USB) microphone. Most USB pre-amps have 2 microphone inputs which can be very useful (for example, using a close up microphone and an "ambient" microphone further away, or one microphone to pick up body sound and one to pick up sound from the neck. Over time you can add additional microphones to your collection as needed. A separate mic/pre-amp will be a bit more money than a USB microphone, but is a lot more flexible. A USB pre-amp may also have a stereo line out, headphone socket, inputs switchable from mic to line, and the ability to record "Stereo Mix" (though this depends on both hardware and drivers). None of these other options are usually available on USB microphones, though they can be very useful. The ART pre-amps generally get good reviews.
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by kozikowski » Sat Jan 16, 2010 7:17 pm

I want to thank you for providing enough specific information to allow us to get right down to useful recommendations. We sometimes get postings from people who want to record "stuff" and with no more information than that and the type of computer, we get to choose from the millions of microphone types out there and try to be helpful.

USB microphones do have one other "problem" that conventional microphones don't. You can't ever get more than one USB away from the computer. The value of one USB is somewhere between 6' and 10'. This kills you if you need to put the noisy computer in the next room. Sorry. Can't do that. If you have a well-behaved conventional microphone and good quality cables, you can go hundreds of feet between the performer and the mixer.

The Figure Of Eight pattern isn't as useful as omnidirectional and cardioid. Both ribbon and most condenser microphones naturally settle into a figure of eight pattern if you don't do anything to them other than basic design and turn them on. If you then provide a design with baffles, breaks, electrical tricks, and tuned cavities, you can get the other patterns listed in the advertisements.

It can be argued the most overall useful is the cardioid or "kidney" pattern. One of the Samsons (01 or 03) only comes in that pattern. You aim the back of the microphone toward that buzzing refrigerator and the front toward the performer.

Figure of Eight is useful for Radio Drama and small instrument performances (three in front and three in back). Here's Fibber McGee and Molly making use of an RCA BK-44 Figure of Eight front and back pattern. The sensitive portions of the microphone are the flat silver-grill areas. He's in front, she's in back.

http://www.mousetracksonline.com/newsbl ... eMolly.jpg

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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by bgravato » Sat Jan 16, 2010 11:39 pm

Koz, no need to thank! I think I can say that I'm not the typical user... I often find myself in the position of having ppl asking me for advice and I know the the pain of giving advice to ppl who don't have a clue on what they want/need, therefore I try to be as specific as I can when I ask for advice ;)

My choice for USB was with the idea of keeping it as simple as possible and avoiding to worry about external power or whatever... Also when using it with the laptop, the less gear I have to carry around the better... Also I'm trying to keep the budget under 100 euros...

As for the Figure 8 pattern probably I won't give much use to it anyway, but I think the omnidirections pattern might be useful.

PC fans noise can be a problem indeed... and usb cable length is limited true, but I don't see myself putting the mic in a different room than the pc anyway... When using with the laptop, I shouldn't have problem, since it's very quiet.

As for using more than 1 mic, for stereo recording, well my budget now doesn't allow me to get more than 1 at the moment, but in the future I might regret that hehe. Nonetheless the problem with connecting 2 usb mics seems to be more likely a windows problem (and I don't use windows). I'm not sure about macos-x, but I've read some comments about ppl successfully using 2 usb mics on linux without any problem, and that will work for me :)

I'll definitely have to take a deeper thought at this and decide which way to go, but I'm not in a hurry, so I can take my time...
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by steve » Sun Jan 17, 2010 9:05 am

bgravato wrote:When using with the laptop, I shouldn't have problem, since it's very quiet.

It shouldn't be "too much" of a problem, but if I'm recording with my SC450 onto my laptop (in the same room) and the fan kicks in (not loud) I can hear it on the recording. It's not loud, but it is definitely there. That's the "problem" (read "benefit") of large diaphragm microphones, they pick up all the details.

bgravato wrote:As for the Figure 8 pattern probably I won't give much use to it anyway,

It's something that I very rarely use. It can be useful for Mid/Side stereo, or Blumlein Pair stereo recording, but I generally prefer X/Y pairs with cardioid microphones, or A-B with omni microphones (A-B is always described as using omni's but it also works with cardioid which is getting close to an ORTF configuration. I don't find that the practice is ever as clear cut as the theory and depending on the sound source, the microphones and the room, all sorts of "hybrid" configurations can be used.X-Y is nice because it will virtually always give good results with a minimum amount of set-up). The other use is as Koz described, when recording a pair of (vocal) performers but you can also use an omni or a pair of cardioids in this situation. I think I've used figure of 8 in this way about twice in my recording career (I'm sure there are some sound engineers that favour this technique and use it regularly, but for me it has been very rare).

bgravato wrote:my budget now doesn't allow me to get more than 1 at the moment, but in the future I might regret that

In the future, yes you might, and that's why I suggested it now before you invest. The really good thing about a USB microphone is that you can set up a laptop with just one other piece of kit (the microphone) in about a minute and start recording. I use a little mixing desk, a line-level USB interface and conventional (not USB) microphones and setting up takes 10 minutes, but my microphone collection has grown over the years and it's really advantageous to now be able to decide, "no, I think I'll try the small diaphragm mic for this" and if I change my mind I can just unplug the microphone and use a different one.

bgravato wrote:I've read some comments about ppl successfully using 2 usb mics on linux without any problem

I've heard that also (I use Linux), but it's not at all straightforward. (it can also be done on Macs by creating an "aggregate device"). Even if you can get it to work, typical problems include phase-shift issues, the microphones gradually drifting out of sync, and clicks/bursts of noise/freezes due to the USB loosing connection. Also you have no option for monitoring the sound in headphones at the same time as recording (not without substantial delay/latency), no "stereo mix" and no line level input option. Going for a USB pre-amp + microphone is more expense, but leaves room for future expansion.
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Re: budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed

Permanent link to this post Posted by bgravato » Sun Jan 17, 2010 10:51 pm

stevethefiddle wrote:Even if you can get it to work, typical problems include phase-shift issues, the microphones gradually drifting out of sync, and clicks/bursts of noise/freezes due to the USB loosing connection.


I guess usb related problems (such as loosing connection) will happen too when using usb preamp... Though when using 2 usb devices it should happen at least twice as often...

On the PC I have a fairly decent soundcard (Xonar Essence STX), I could use its mic/line in inputs for the mic, but then again, more gear would be required... (power supply for phantom power, xlr to jack adapter, etc...)

I've been searching thomann cyberstore, they have this ART preamp:
http://www.thomann.de/pt/art_usb_dual_pre.htm
I guess it was probably one of those you were referring to... It costs as much as the Samson CO3U mic. So, unless I buy just the preamp, and use a mic made of air, that will blow my 100 euros budget away hehe.

There's also this (much cheaper) t.bone micplug, but it only has 1 mic input:
http://www.thomann.de/pt/the_tbone_micplug_usb.htm

I guess I need to take some more time to think better where to draw the line between quality and price :)
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