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paulo

Low cost Interface/MIc advice

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I'm trying to set a friend up with a basic rig to practice vocals on a win 10 laptop. I Installed Cakewalk and made her an easy project template that just requires dragging whatever backing track she wants to work on into the project and she's off..................Only when I went to plug a mic into the laptop did I realise that it doesn't have a mic input, just the built in thing which is obviously no good. So we need to come up with a low cost way to input the mic. All she needs is the ability to sing along to one track for practice purposes, so what is the best way to go - cheapo interface or usb mic ? I have no experience with either, so any advice from those who do would be most welcome.

 

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USB mics are painless, because you don't even have to set levels. Just be aware there are lousy USB mics designed for consumers, and good USB mics. The Audio-Technica AT-2005 USB costs under $100; I use the AT-2020 USB, which is excellent although I don't know if the $170 price qualifies as low cost. Also, although intended for podcasting, the Neat Microphones Bumblebee is a solid USB mic and also costs under $100. Both the Bumblebee and AT-2005 USB have headphone outputs with volume controls. The Neat has three different profiles for speech, music or neutral; the AT-2005 USB does XLR as well as USB.

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One important caveat to bear in mind with USB mics is that you cannot use them in ASIO mode so low latency input monitoring is generally not an option.

To use a USB mic  you must use WASAPI shared or wasapi exclusive mode. The latter will give you lower latency but it really depends on the audio interface since many pro audio interfaces have abysmal performance in wasapi mode. It's not a deficiency if wasapi but more that driver vendors don't bother properly optimizing for it.

In general USB mics are not a good pro audio solution for this reason.

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A small Interface like i.e. Focusrite scarlett solo is under 100 € (Europe) and has Mic in, Line/Git in,  Monitor output and Headphones. Easy to use, small, nothing wrong with one of that price range IMHO. 

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I recently picked up a Presonus AudioBox for under $100USD.

I don't record with it yet but I have used it to playback/export.

 

 

Edited by Bapu
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3 hours ago, Noel Borthwick said:

One important caveat to bear in mind with USB mics is that you cannot use them in ASIO mode so low latency input monitoring is generally not an option.

To use a USB mic  you must use WASAPI shared or wasapi exclusive mode. The latter will give you lower latency but it really depends on the audio interface since many pro audio interfaces have abysmal performance in wasapi mode. It's not a deficiency if wasapi but more that driver vendors don't bother properly optimizing for it.

In general USB mics are not a good pro audio solution for this reason.

But it doesn't sound like  the OP wants a pro audio solution - just something inexpensive so a non-technical vocalist can practice against a backing track. The headphone outs on USB mics give zero-latency monitoring, so ASIO/WASAPI isn't an issue. It's even acceptable with MME, so however the computer boots up will work for the singer.

Although there are plenty of interfaces for under $100, you still need to get the mic. And then you run into the interface-related issues about updating drivers, routing applets, etc.

I have a 24/96 kHz USB mic in my office and use it all the time for doing scratch vocals and songwriting. It's much easier than going up to the studio and lugging down an interface, mic, and mic cable,  setting gain, etc.

 

Edited by Craig Anderton

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Does she have a Mic? If she not only want to practice with her laptop but  will make music with a band  / friends too, I think  it's a good idea to invest in a better Mic. Kind of an instrument for an ambitious singer, isn't it?

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3 hours ago, Craig Anderton said:

But it doesn't sound like  the OP wants a pro audio solution - just something inexpensive so a non-technical vocalist can practice against a backing track. The headphone outs on USB mics give zero-latency monitoring, so ASIO/WASAPI isn't an issue. It's even acceptable with MME, so however the computer boots up will work for the singer.

Although there are plenty of interfaces for under $100, you still need to get the mic. And then you run into the interface-related issues about updating drivers, routing applets, etc.

I have a 24/96 kHz USB mic in my office and use it all the time for doing scratch vocals and songwriting. It's much easier than going up to the studio and lugging down an interface, mic, and mic cable,  setting gain, etc.

 

I still think USB mic's are limited because they are single endpoint devices. Yes you can use the headphone out to defeat low latency but at that point you are losing the one of the main advantages of using a DAW because you can't track while monitoring with effects.  They are a perfect solution for podcasters but not so great for musicians who want to use them to track in a DAW. 

I'm surprised why no USB mic vendors implement a simple single stereo output in addition to the input. All that would be needed is for them to implement a cheap onboard chipset and provide an ASIO driver for it. This would be the perfect standalone solution for vocalists. You could plug in to your PC and route the output to the mic's onboard audio device which now allows you to do everything in the box. Hell even WASAPI would work fine with it as long as they provided sub 10 ms latency.

 

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5 hours ago, Noel Borthwick said:

I'm surprised why no USB mic vendors implement a simple single stereo output in addition to the input. All that would be needed is for them to implement a cheap onboard chipset and provide an ASIO driver for it.

Sounds like you have a new idea for Bandlab :)

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7 hours ago, JonD said:

For a cheap interface bundled with a mic, I'd look at starter bundles for podcasting.  Here's one for under $100 (USD):

 

https://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/PodcastStuUSB--behringer-podcastudio-bundle-usb-recording-bundle

I was looking at that little mixer last night and was going to post it here today to ask opinions as it seemed like a good option to me. I am in the UK and the bundle is "temporarily out of stock" on Amazon with only vague references to future availablilty, which in my limited experience with them that seems to mean never, but I found the mixer on it's own for £29, so it shouldn't be too difficult to put together a similar package buying seperately. I did find the bundle on ebay, but more than twice the price.

 

 

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6 hours ago, mkerl said:

Does she have a Mic? If she not only want to practice with her laptop but  will make music with a band  / friends too, I think  it's a good idea to invest in a better Mic. Kind of an instrument for an ambitious singer, isn't it?

I have an old one that we were going to try first, but yes I was already thinking that a better one would probably be the way to go. This is not a case of an ambitious singer, purely a hobby type thing and I am "the band" so really all we need to do is make her laptop into a Karoake machine for want of a better phrase to use for practice / confidence building. Cakewalk DAW is OTT for what she will be doing, but I went with that because I am familiar with it, so easier for me to set up for her and the price tag is of course very attractive, plus if she ever does get all creative on me  I can just bring the .cwp into my system and easily work on it.

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22 hours ago, paulo said:

All she needs is the ability to sing along to one track for practice purposes

Then you don't need much more than a USB mic. When stuck in hotel rooms because of a missed flight connection, I've even recorded rough drafts by singing into the mic on my laptop.

If she's going to go beyond the opening premise, then yes, spend the extra  $$ for a more pro setup. But it sounds like you already have a pro setup, and if the song got to that level, she'd be working with you.

You also mentioned that Cakewalk is OTT for what she will be doing. Don't forget you can use Lenses to make CbB less intimidating to people who would be overwhelmed by the plethora of functions.

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8 hours ago, Chuck E Baby said:

Sounds like you have a new idea for Bandlab :)

https://www.usb-audio.com/  They have the chip and the driver  :)  From the site: "Ploytec's    Windows USB Audio driver and   Mac OS X USB Audio HAL-plugin driver enable buffer sizes down to 32 samples (0.73 ms) and create an ultra highspeed USB audio connection, bypassing the operating system's audio, its mixing and samplerate conversion." Looks like all you need to do is wrap a mic around it.

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You can get a decent Behringer Audio Interface for ~$60 (UM22, I think?).  The interface with the MIDAS Preams (not the $40 UM2).  Driver = ASIO4ALL (many DAWs bundle this, so you may already have it i.e. "MAGIX Low Latency Audio").

Cheap Newer Mics actually work well for basics, and just starting out.  They cost almost nothing, and are better than USB Mics that cost 2-3x as much.  You can upgrade later to a "good" Mic. 

Then you just get a Desktop/Floor Stand and an XLR cable (it ships with the thing to sooth rattles).

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4 hours ago, Some Guy said:

You can get a decent Behringer Audio Interface for ~$60 (UM22, I think?).  The interface with the MIDAS Preams (not the $40 UM2).  Driver = ASIO4ALL (many DAWs bundle this, so you may already have it i.e. "MAGIX Low Latency Audio").

Cheap Newer Mics actually work well for basics, and just starting out.  They cost almost nothing, and are better than USB Mics that cost 2-3x as much.  You can upgrade later to a "good" Mic. 

Then you just get a Desktop/Floor Stand and an XLR cable (it ships with the thing to sooth rattles).

Yes, I've seen those. I'm leaning towards recommending some kind of Behringer based solution to her. There's no great rush so I'll leave this open to further suggestions for a while longer.

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