Recording equipment for voice

Headsets that plugs into the standard computer microphone/headphone sockets
These are really only designed for Skype and similar voice applications. The recording quality is generally very poor.

USB Headset
This is one of the cheapest practical options for voice recording. They are also convenient and if you get a reasonably good one the voice recording should be pretty clear but will lack the polish of a “studio” recording. The microphone capsule should normally be positioned close to the corner of the mouth so that it picks up the voice clearly but does not get blown on from either the wearers mouth or nose.

USB Microphone
The next cheapest option is a standalone USB microphone (such as the Behringer C-1 Studio Condenser Microphone )
You should generally use these quite close with a “pop shield” between the person speaking/singing and the microphone.
These can provide very good sound quality, though there may still be a noticeable amount of hiss if you are talking quietly.

Other disadvantages of USB microphones are:

  • You will need to be fairly close to the computer (and its fan noise) due to the length of the USB lead.
  • Unless you buy an expensive USB microphone it is unlikely to provide any means of direct monitoring which means that (on Windows) you will not be able to hear the sound from the microphone in your headphones.
  • You cannot expand the system to use more than one microphone. Audacity can only access one recording device at a time, so you cannot use 2 USB microphones at the same time.
  • Inexpensive USB microphones rarely have a gain control for the built-in pre-amp. If you are recording something that is quiet, it will record at a low level and you will need to amplify it in Audacity which will raise the background hiss. If you are recording something that is very loud there is a danger of overloading the microphone pre-amp and causing distortion.

Conventional microphone and USB pre-amp
This option is more expensive that the previous options as it involves buying the microphone and the USB pre-amp, but has a number of benefits:

  • The type of microphone can be selected to suit the purpose and may be changed or upgraded without needing to replace the pre-amp.
  • There is usually an input gain control that allows the microphone to be used with quiet sounds or loud sounds.
  • There is often a headphone socket included which allows direct monitoring
  • Some USB microphone pre-amps have two microphone sockets, allowing a second microphone to be used at the same time.
  • Many USB microphone pre-amps also have an analogue output which allows it to be used with other recording/playback gear.
  • The microphone can be used with a long cable if required.

If using this option I would recommend buying a pre-amp that has “phantom power” available as this is usually necessary if a condenser microphone is to be used.
With a suitable choice of microphone and pre-amp, this option is capable of very good recording quality.

Microphone + Pre-amp + High quality sound card
With the addition of a third piece of equipment, the price is likely to be higher, but this option may allow still greater flexibility

Microphone + Mixing Desk + Sound Card
Probably the most flexible of all set ups as as many microphones as there are microphone sockets may be added to create a stereo mix for recording.
Because the microphone pre-amps are built into the mixing desk, the signal into the sound card will be at a reasonably high level which is much easier (and cheaper) to convert to digital than low level microphone signals, so relatively cheap sound cards (such as the Behringer UCA 202) can achieve surprisingly good sound quality.
You should not plug a mixing desk directly into the microphone input of a laptop PC as it is likely to sound terrible and may even damage the laptop.

Portable recorders
There are now a number of portable recorders available that are capable of very good recording quality in a small self-contained unit (for example the Zoom H2 and H4).
These are generally more expensive that USB microphones, but have the advantage that they are truly portable. The available features, quality, ease of use and price varies widely depending on the make/model of the device.

These should not be confused with “dictation” devices. Although some dictation devices are capable of reasonably clear voice recording, they are often limited to recording in low to medium quality compressed audio formats that can be difficult to convert to standard audio files. Also, the frequency response of the microphone is likely to be shaped to provide clear words, but not necessarily high quality sound.

You can always use software playthrough in Audacity (or “listen to this device” in “Sound” in the Windows Vista or 7 Control Panel), but this will have delay so severely limits its value for overdub recordings.

It is theoretically possible to “aggregate” multiple devices into one device on Mac OS X, Linux and Windows, but the separate inputs may tend to drift apart over time unless they share a common “clock” signal to count the samples.

Another possible disadvantage of USB microphones is that they may have greater latency than a hard wired microphone. This can be corrected after an overdub recording by dragging back the second and subsequent tracks with Audacity’s Time Shift Tool, or using latency correction in Audacity Beta.



any usb microphone u recommend

What’s the show? What are you recording? What’s your budget? Operating system?

The sE Electronics USB2200A Large Condenser Studio USB Microphone is pretty good for vocals.
It also has zero latency monitoring, which is ideal for overdubs.

This track…

…was made with this combination…

That’s an analog “Labtec” headset. We bought them at work because they have a pretty good volume level and do moderate noise cancellation. The A to D is a Macbook Pro, but that mixer, Peavey PV6, comes in a USB version.

This track…

…was made with a dual-muff Logitech USB headset.

That appears to be a ClearChat Pro USB.


I have a cheapie Realistic four-input stereo mixing board (comes from the days when ceramic-or-magnetic cartridges were an actual choice), the onboard pre-amp is specifically phonograph-oriented, so to compensate I bought a tube-based performance pre-amp (TubeMP Studio V3). All of this is plugged into a Creative sound card on a desktop computer running Windows.

It’s really nice this way. I have the synthesizer on one input, a couple of mikes on another, a jack for the keytar is on a third, and the fourth has the pre-amp plugged in, and I use that to record electric guitar and bass. There’s a lot of flexibility in this setup. If someone spends a few bucks these days they can get a lot better, with SPDIF connections and digital mike support and a nice warm performance-grade onboard pre-amp.

that sounds like a pretty sweet setup. i like the flexibility it provides. how much did it cost you to set it up?

The mixer was really cheap ($5 at a garage sale)because it was a very old used mixer that was small to begin with. It was originally sold at Radio Shack, in the Eighties I believe. The pre-amp I got at a local music store called “Starving Musicians” for $40, it’s a tube pre-amp designed to plug instruments like guitars into a mixer.

But nowadays you can go to Guitar Center and spend about $45 to buy a small 8-input mixer with two microphone inputs with built-in pre-amps and get very similar results. I might get a bit better sound from my pre-amp, but you could plug a tube pre-amp into one of the non-amplified inputs on a modern small mixer to get the exact same result. I’d recommend checking it out at your local Guitar Center, it’s in the “Live Sound” department behind the DJ equipment area and next to the keyboards area. They have some really huge fancy mixing boards, but if you look around you can find the little ones that are much less expensive.

so what is the best to use when you are aiming for best qualiyy audio?

I’m just after passable quality for singing when travelling with my notebook
(1.66 ghz, 2 mb ram)

What’s the consensus on headset usb mics? under £50 UK.

What are the ones you reviewed like for singing Koz. Nothing forceful I have a fairly mellow laid back voice.

What are the ones you reviewed like for singing Koz.

I only have one USB headset and I wouldn’t try to force music through it. Attached.

This is what I normally sound like.


My portable machines were chosen for reasonable built-in microphone performance. But if pressed, I’d probably go with a tiny USB adapter like this ICUSBAUDIO and instead of using this telephone microphone, plug in a Radio Shack 3013.

The microphone has its own little watch battery inside and so isn’t subject to some of the noise problems of other systems. I think I got enough stuff to do a mic check.

The whole thing would fit in your wallet.


That didn’t go as well as planned. Two attachments, one with a Radio Shack 3013 microphone into a C-Media ICUSBAUDIO, and the other an adapted 3013 plugged into a Shure X2U USB digitizer.

It seems the ICUSBAUDIO suffers from the mosquito whine that plagues USB microphone systems. (clip 1) Two different USB adapters do it.

The Shure isn’t fooling around. It’s a full-on, Phantom Power, microphone adapter with local monitoring. It’s one of the devices I used for the overdub testing. It doesn’t whine, but it’s much larger and heavier and unless you want to solder your own cables, only works with XLR microphones. So this is not going to fit in your wallet. (clip 2)

The up side is if you already have an XLR microphone you like, this is right down your alley. Certified for sound-on-sound overdubbing.


That Shure looks good but the Amazon uk price is virtually double the best dot com price $99 v the sterling equivalent of $204.

The USA price is approx £60 - the UK £125.

This is par for the course. Plus I don’t have an XLR mic

Thanks for your reviews Koz,

The ICUSBAUDIO isn’t necessarily bad, it’s unstable. I use them on another computer with no USB cable and it works every day with no noise. We used them at work with no apparent problems. We know from other posts that you can change the environment and get the whine to come and go. Many lower end USB microphones have this problem. A combination of ratty USB management in the computer and bad or no filtering and regulation in the microphone or adapter build on each other.

Line level adapters like the UCA202 tend to be immune to this. The combination of “USB” and “Microphone” in the same sentence that is the recipe.


My first post here was about transferring cassette to laptop via usb, I bought a uca202 on your recommendation. It worked well.

What affordable mic with headphone monitoring could I plug into it? Would I need anything else (bearing in mind it has to be portable)?

I was looking at a Zoom H1 portable recorder for vocals but UK price is £20
over my budget.

What affordable mic with headphone monitoring could I plug into it?

The UCA202 supports a headphone plugged into the side. It has no provision for a microphone.

You’re in the sweet spot where pro equipment is petering out and bargain-basement sound equipment isn’t good or stable enough. I’m testing USB Thumb Drive sized mini-recorders and while they’re OK for emergencies, they’re far too noisy for any kind of real recording. I’m looking for a replacement for my micro-cassette recorder. Still the champ.

Some cellphones will allow you to plug microphones in. My iPod has a personal recorder and it’s in the list of things for me to test for free-form audio recording. Gale found an audio adapter that lets me plug a third-party analog microphone in. No results yet. Ummmmmm. Here it is. Audio Cable MUYHSMFF. It breaks a headset connection out to separate microphone and headphone. The intent is to see if I can get it to work with a simple microphone like the Radio Shack 3013.

The H series of Zoom recorders is really very good. My impression is of an audio recorder that’s not trying to be anything else. I have an H4 which has some First Generation problems (like no time and date) but it records very well.

This is Josh Turner (the other one) performing on an older H2.