This is kind of a follow-up/conclusion to the thread budget (usb) mic for classical guitar recording needed which I started a couple of months ago and has become one of the longest threads in this forum…
By then, as a complete noob, I was trying to make my mind on which usb mic under 100 euros I should get to record my classical guitar playing.
Well… jumping to the end… I ended up with one XLR mic and two XLR-USB interfaces and almost 300 euros shorter in my bank account. What went wrong? Actually nothing… Just the fact that it’s hard to make a pizza with no cheese…
So after a lot of discussion and some decisions here are my most relevant findings and conclusions (by topics):
USB vs. XLR
I wanted to go for a usb mic because I wanted something simple, portable and not soundcard dependable… but then I ended up with an XLR mic… why?
1) you have a lot more xlr mics available than you have usb mics, so there was a wider range of mic models to choose from.
2) connecting one usb mic to one computer should be pretty much straightforward and problem-free, but connecting two or more usb mics to a computer can get you into trouble! (according to the opinions and experiences of others who commented on the other thread) I only want 1 mic for now, but I’d like to keep the option open for connecting 2 mics for stereo recording sometime later.
3) you currently have a lot of usb mic preamps available, some of them usb powered, small, simple and portable, so my reasons for getting an usb mic were not jeopardized by getting an xlr mic plus a usb mic preamp.
Which mic then?
After searching and reading a lot of comments, personal experiences, reviews, etc… a name kept poping up when it came to price/quality ratio: T.Bone. This is Thomann’s (one of the most popular online music stores in europe) own brand for mics. So I decided to go for it, but then there were all this models to choose from… to narrow down my selection I decided to get a mic which would have the option for pattern switching (for the guitar I was probably going to use the cardioid pattern only, but because I’d like to make some other recording experiences it could be handy to have other options available). All rounded up I ended up with two models in my list: SC600 and SC1100. The first within my initial 100 euros budget, the latter a bit over it… I couldn’t find any review on the SC600, but I found some good reviews on the SC1100. It wasn’t that much over the budget and it appeared to be a great deal for the price so I went for the SC1100 and I didn’t regret… This is a very fine mic, although I don’t have any experience with other mic brands to compare it too…
Ok now I had a fine mic but no way to connect it to my computer… It had this interesting connector called XLR and it required external power (phantom power), so I needed some sort of interface that would solve these two problems… There were a lot of these usb mic preamps out there for all kind of tastes (and wallets). Since I was ordering the mic from Thomann the most logical thing was to search their range of mic preamps and it happened that they had this T.Bone USB Micplug for only 29 euros. I couldn’t find any reviews for it except one in german (which I don’t speak and the google translator didn’t help that much either). Nonetheless my budget was already over the limit and this was by far the cheapest solution so… why not?
T.Bone USB Micplug
This is a very small, simple, lightweight and cheap mic preamp. It’s USB powered and can provide 48V phantom power to one XLR mic. It works out of the box in MacOS-X and Linux, no drivers needed. It also has headphones output but I haven’t tested it properly yet. It has one button for the preamp gain, two buttons for the headphone volume and one for turning the phantom power on/off. As for its performance… well I guess it does a good job for the price, but there’s a bit of noise (and some DC offset too) coming from it. You can clean it up a bit using noise removal software but of course at a cost… Here is a sample (no post-processing) recorded with the SC1100 mic connected to the T.Bone Micplug.
ART USB Dual Pre
Because I wasn’t very happy with the noise on the T.Bone USB micplug, after doing some recordings with the SC1100 on the higher-end preamp of a friend I decided to completely blow away my initial budget and get a better preamp. After another googling round and reading some reviews and comparisons my choice went for the ART USB Dual Pre at the price tag of near 100 euros. This is a very fine preamp. It has two jack/XLR mic inputs, gain control, line output, phantom power, headphones output and USB. It also works out of the box in Linux (no drivers needed, it shows up as USB audio similar to the T.Bone micplug). I haven’t tested the headphones and line outputs yet, but on the USB connection it rocks! What a difference… It can be powered from the USB, from a 9V battery (haven’t tried yet either) and/or external power supply (which is included in the package). Here is a sample (no post-processing) recorded with the SC1100 mic connected to the ART USB Dual Pre using the USB connection.
Bottom line (for those like me who like to skip to the end and read the shorter version of an already short version)
Eventhough I don’t have any experience with other mics, the T.Bone SC1100 seems to be a very nice and versatile mic which I recommend.
The T.Bone USB micplug is a good value for the money and will probably do fine in many situations but will let you wishing for more if you want a better noise-free recording. You can’t beat it on size, weight and portability though.
The ART USB Dual Pre is a great preamp, quite noise free and allows you to connect two mics for stereo recording. It’s not as small and light as the T.Bone micplug but it’s still a very small and portable package for what it has to offer.
There is no perfect solution for everyone. We all have our different requirements, tastes and budgets and you can read all the reviews in the world but nothing will ever be as enlightening as personal experience… Nonetheless I hope my findings will help others making their choices for their starting equipment. If you’re in the mood for reading and willing to go through a very long thread, then read the thread I refer to in the beginning of this post and see how all this two months process went by…
Last but not least, I’d like to give a special thank to Koz and Steve (and everyone else who posted on the other thread) for their help and insightful comments. Thank you!