Recording with external microphone onto a Mac

I am new to this. Please forgive the simplicity of my query.

I want to record spoken word via Audacity onto my MacBook Pro. I have succeeded using the inbuilt mic, but have had no success with an external mic.

My questions: Can I make a high quality voice recording simply by putting a microphone into the input jack? Or, do I need to pass it through a preamp? or even an amp? Do I need to use a mixer? Is there some place I can go that would cover this subject in detail? Can I pass a mic through the usb port? Ideally I’d like to keep the operation as simple as possible, using the minimum of equipment, but get high quality field recordings. Is this an impractical dream?

Under audacity preferences interface, under minimum dB mode display range, can I accomplish the same as a pre-amp? Can I use my computer as a preamp?

Ultimately I’d like to use my Mac as a recording studio to produce podcasts, and radio programs. It seems it should be possible, even easy. But so far nothing

The input on your Mac is “line level” and is not suitable for connecting a microphone. You need a microphone pre-amp. Your choices are analog out or USB out, and $50 and up, depending on quality and features. What external microphone have you tried?

The Audacity Wiki has extensive recording tips: Missing features - Audacity Support
There’s a “Your first recording” tutorial here:

under minimum dB mode display range, can I accomplish the same as a pre-amp?

That preference relates only to the range displayed on the VU meters, and has nothing to do with amplifying the sound.

Ultimately I’d like to use my Mac as a recording studio to produce podcasts, and radio programs. It seems it should be possible, even easy.

There’s a tutorial on mixing narration with background music here:
And a podcast tutorial here: Missing features - Audacity Support

– Bill

Bill, I appreciate your rapid response, and the links, which I’ve bookmarked and will study…(homework!).

I tried using several M-Audio microphones. First, I used the stereo mic provided with their Microtrack II recorder, and then a higher quality matched pair of studio mics from the same company. With the same result. But now I understand I need extra amplification in the system. Let me read the various links and see where that leads. I’ll be back in contact after that.


How to connect a mic to the macbookpro will depend a lot on what kind of mic… Do you already have one? Or planing on buying one?

Some computers have a shared mic/line input, but apparently on recent macs they only come with line-in. Therefore you’ll most likely need a preamp. Which one to get will depend on the mic you’re going to use with it (whether you need phantom power or not, etc…)

One of the cheapest I’ve seen is T-Bone’s micplug, which is an XLR to usb device, powered from the usb and provide phantom power. The quality of the miclug is not that good though.

ART preamps are usually well regarded here on the forums.

From what I can tell of the specs for the MicroTrak II, it should provide audio out from the RCA jacks while recording. The web site says: “monitoring via RCA line outputs or 1/8” stereo headphone output”. So as a quick and inexpensive experiment, get a “dual RCA to stereo mini” cable and connect the RCA outputs of the MicroTrak to the line input of your MacBook. If it works as claims, you should be able to put the MicroTrak into Record-Pause and it will act as a microphone pre-amplifier for you. As an added advantage you get the “analog input limiter” if you want/need it.

Which M-Audio microphones do you have?

– Bill

I’d like to use my Mac as a recording studio

I do that all the time. My chain is a MacBook Pro getting stereo analog signals from a Peavey PV6 mixing desk. That particular mixer will accept all types of analog microphones from the cheap Radio Shack ones to top Studio Microphones. It will supply phantom power for microphones that need it.

That’s a whole recording chain from Tim on the left to the Mac on the right. It will do that to four microphones if you have guests around the table for your podcast. You can incorporate sound effects, stingers, bumpers, and other music in post production in Audacity, or you can use a music player during the show. Probably not use the Mac. Getting a computer to record and play at the same time will put you in the home. So will trying to incorporate a Skype call into the show.
We don’t have a good set of instructions to record multiple tracks in Audacity. It’s rough to do and many computers don’t lend themselves to multi-track and they’re all different. I got the configuration pictured to do multi-track once and it was such a pain in the neck I never did it again.


I’m just now gettin’ into this. You could put your music effects on an iPod and patch it into the Peavey or other mixer as one of its high-level stereo inputs. At the right time, you press the play button “Well, that’s our show for this week, be sure to post to my FaceBook Page and we’ll see you next week.” Music up and out. Cut.

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