I’ve been generally disappointed with the recording quality I’ve been able to get at gigs and jam sessions lately. I’m not a good enough musician to need pro gear but I was curious what I would need to get a decent sound without spending a fortune or building a sound studio. Another important consideration is the ability to back everything up into a bag or man-purse for quick relocation to kitchens or jam halls. The following is what I came up with. Luckily I had most of the stuff needed for this setup already lying around the house.
Step 1: The Microphone
I had to buy this one. The microphones I had been using were terrible. In contrast the AT2050 is kind of a dream. I got a massive discount on it (I’ll never tell how) but even at full price of about $230 it’s worth every penny. I’m really not an audiophile but even I can tell how good it is, especially with voice. Balancing multiple instruments around it is tricky but that’s nothing to do with the hardware. Bluegrass musicians have a lot of practice dancing around a single microphone to get a good sound. This is something I will have to learn.
What I like most about it is the versatility. It supports Cardioid, figure eight AND omni patterns (explanation) which means I can use it:
- With one instrument playing into it (Cardioid)
- With two instruments facing each other with the mic in the middle (figure eight)
- With a bunch of musicians in a circle and the mic in the centre (omni)
I’m not going to talk about specific response yet because I haven’t really spent enough time with it to know the ins and outs but suffice it to say that compared to my crappy iRig microphone (what was I thinking?!?) and the sound I get from my phone camera…. well you can guess.
Step 2: The pre-amp
I’m using my Headway EDB-1 fiddle preamp, mostly because I already had it and the mic needs phantom power which is a slight drawback for someone who doesn’t enjoy carrying a lot of stuff around. I thought about getting the USB version of the microphone but I want something I can plug into any system and the 2050 seemed like the most versatile.
The EDB-1 pre-amp is generally good although sometimes it seems to have a bit of noise. That may be a balancing thing though. There are lots of knobs and sometimes I get a bit lost in my options.
Step 3: The computer interface
I like to work as much as I can with tools I can easily carry. This means using my laptop or iPad as the source of the recording. After a little research I settled on the Apogee Jam. True to the reviews I notice a very clean signal when compared to an analog product like the iRig (overpriced. noisy, flimsy and way overrated IMHO).
The Apogee Jam has a really simple interface. A 1/4″ TRS goes in one end and the USB comes out the other. There’s a gain adjuster which you want as low as possible to avoid noise. Actually thanks to my pre-amp being so good I was able to set the jam’s gain very low. The Apogee Jam comes with two cords: a USB cable for your PC to feed it into Audacity or GarageBand or whatever you use and a second cable with a 30 pin iPad connector.
Step 4: Software
Audacity is a great free option. GarageBand is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of thing but much more intuitive and definitely better for beginners like myself. After a bit of finicking I decided to use Audacity for the actual recording capture because I don’t understand how GB sets its gain. There’s some dark magic going on there and until I know exactly how it works it frightens me a little.
Once I have the track in lossless WAV format I pop it into GB and mix away.
Put it all together and……
Overall I’m very pleased with this arrangement. There’s a lot of flexibility and it means I can rapidly prototype songs and get tracks recorded in minutes in almost any location. The laptop and the pre-amp both run on an internal battery so, while I could plug into the wall I don’t really need to for a few hours of recording at a time.
Next Time: the results…..