More of the Microphone Story

by Daniel H. Steinberg

MacDevCenter editor Derrick Story has been doing a podcast on digital photography on his Digital Story site. I've learned a lot about photography, but you know that I'm always listening to the audio. In the last couple of episodes Derrick's voice has come through much more clearly and crisply. He'd had a muddy sound before and I asked him what the change was.

He explained that he'd tried to use a USB mic for a while but he had never gotten the sound he wanted. He'd heard the muddiness and had tried different mic placement etc. Recently he's been using an MBox and has found that whatever microphone he uses with it, he has better sound than he did before. As he writes:

"I tried and I tried to get the direct USB mics to work - both the Samson and others, and just couldn't get a good enough recording. As soon as I gave up on those and switched to an M-box that had an XLR connector, I could use any mic that I wanted. Both the box and the mic options improved the initial recordings tremendously. Bottom line, as tempting as the USB mics might be, they just didn't cut it for me."

I had fair results with the MBox. I had difficulties with the gain and lack of headroom. I would have to open the pot up almost all the way to get any reasonable levels and then didn't have much space to play before I was redlining. Also, the interface is a bit confusing. You seem to be able to switch between mic level and line level on the two inputs - but what really happens depends on whether you are using an XLR jack or a 1/4" jack.

Although the resulting quality was pretty good with the MBox and its form factor was good for portability, I also didn't use the software that came with it enough. I preferred to capture with Audio Hijack Pro or Soundtrack Pro. I would like a good portable solution and am still looking.

Despite all of this talk about equipment - a good podcast is not dependent on great equipment. Some of my favorites are done on entry level equipment. A great camera helps a good photographer but can't make someone with my lack of aesthetics into a visual artist. The same is true about audio equipment - start simply and build. A USB mic might be the right way for you to get into podcasting. As you get better, however, Derrick predicts that you are likely to outgrow it.

How do you get voice into your computer?