Help with hip hop vocals?

So I’m brand new to recording and I don’t have Audacity (yet) or much recording stuff yet. Since I’m the kind of person who likes to know what they’re going to do in advance I’ve spent several hours today researching my options. That plus I’d like to make the switch to free software for reasons of price and ideology. And I’m getting a new (or used) computer with recording in mind.

My main problem is that I’m having a hard time figuring out in advance what will be compatible with what. The good (and bad news) for figuring this out is that I haven’t committed to any hardware yet.

So far what I’ve been able to glean from this and other recording related forums is that I should probably get a mic, a mixer/preamp, enclosed headphones and probably a USB interface of some kind. My budget, minus the computer, is about $300 - 350 US.

The name that I’ve noticed being suggested for a cheap but decent mixer is the Behringer UB808 because it has phantom power and built in mic preamps. For interfaces I’ve noticed people suggesting the griffin Imic and the Behringer UCA202. Opinions on mics seem to vary a lot more but I understand that it’s a matter of personal preference, budget and purpose. Based on what I’ve been reading though I’ve been leaning toward large diaphram condenser mics in the $200 or less price range. Since I want to record vocals and not just speech I’m thinking that I maybe want a little bit better mic than would be acceptable for podcasting. That and I keep reading that the mic and preamp are the most important pieces in the recording chain (for vocals.) On the other hand I’ve read that it’s pointless to get an really nice mic if other components in the recording chain won’t be able to keep up. So here are my questions thus far:

  1. Am I on the right track here? What’s your opinion of using the UB808 with the UCA202 and say a Behringer C1? If you think I might want a better mic are the other pieces of hardware acceptable? Should I use a tube preamp? Does the interface replace the internal soundcard of the computer? If I have a mic jack should I use it instead of the USB interface (directly from the mixer and/ or preamp)?

  2. Will whatever you recommend be compatible with some version of linux? If so do you recommend any version over the others for driver support and/or running audacity?

  3. What are some realistic specs for the computer (laptop) I’m going to buy? (RAM, processor, speed etc.) I’m planning on having only one input at a time.

  4. So I’m hoping to have the beats mixed with the vocals in my headphones while I record. So latency might be a problem. How big of a problem do you think it will be? Should I spend more for a firewire interface and a computer with a firewire jack? Since they’re rap vocals and I can’t sing anyway can I get away with not mixing the vocals in the headphones and just go by what I hear through my skull? What headphones should I get to ensure that the sound won’t leak out and be picked up by the mic?

Thanks so much for any help.

One reason nobody jumped right on this is that the answer is a college level course in computer recording, not something we can answer after the orange juice and before the toast pops. Yes, we do do that.

I think it’s beyond a simple, free audio program volunteer help forum to design a computer audio system up from a clean white rug in an empty room.

That and posting in Recording Equipment seemed a logical choice, but you might be better off in the forum for the computer platform you chose. If you have no computer platform yet, see: college level course.



The microphone inputs on Behringer desks are pretty good. To keep within budget I would stick with the desk rather than a separate pre-amp. Valves are becoming quite fashionable again, but when used within their normal signal range pre-amps should be as “transparent” as possible. High quality pre-amps should not noticeably colour the sound, whether they are valve or solid state. If they do, then you are probably over-driving them.

I use a UCA-202 and it is good, clean and cheap. The Edirol UA-1EX is also recommended - a little more money than the UCA-202 but higher specification (though I’ve not done a side by side comparison to comment on how the sound quality compare).


Unless it is a $300+ sound card, no.

The only concern here is the sound card. The UCA-202 is compatible with Linux. Other USB sound cards should be compatible with Linux expept perhaps for some old/obscure sound cards.

Some USB audio devices include additional software (for example guitar effects) which will probably not be compatible with Linux. Normal audio in/out should be fine.

Better than a Pentium III.
At present, 64bit processors seem to have more compatibility issues (hardware and software) than 32 bit machines, but this is improving.
Full spec. processors (rather than the cheaper processors with cut-down features) are usually more compatible and perform better. (example: “Core 2 Duo” much better than “Intel Celeron”, but more expensive).
The computer should be better than the minimum specification for the operating system.

Unlikely. Latency only really becomes an issue with real-time processing, which Audacity does not do. For example, when using VST instruments for real-time input, latency is a big issue, but with “normal” recording from “real” sound sources (from your mixing desk) it is not an issue.

For recording multiple sound sources simultaneously on individual tracks, then Firewire is the way to go (but requires more expensive multi-channel hardware). For recording one or more instruments, mixed on an external mixing desk and then recorded as a single mono or stereo track, USB is fine (even with multiple overdubs).

Unless you have the volume too loud, overspill from the headphones is unlikely to be a problem. If the microphone is picking up excessive overspill from the headphones, then you are probably making yourself deaf or you already have damaged hearing. Any “over the ear” headphones will do the job, so it is more a matter of comfort and well balanced sound quality (not too much bass, not too much treble - clear and detailed and as flat as possible).

For “close mic’ing” rap vocals (like on-stage rappers) you would be better with a good dynamic microphone rather than a condenser. Condenser microphones are better for recording detailed sounds at a greater distance (10cm or more) from the singer. The “Sure SM58 beta” is a nice dynamic vocal microphone, but will eat most of your budget.

Avoid white rugs - think of the tea/coffee/beer stains.

As Koz says, there are very many considerations in choosing the right gear. Expect to have to upgrade in the future, so buy something now that will get you started and save for upgrading when you can really squeeze no more out of what you already have.

Thanks stevethefiddle. Your advice is very thorough and makes sense to me.