Resources for the Recording Musician
July 27, 2006

Audio Interface

Hi, I'm looking to start recording on a computer/laptop.  I already have a mic (sm57) and software (acid 5.0 and cool edit 2.0).  I am looking for the best rig to use on my computer to make quality recordings of acoustic instruments mainly.  I posted earlier and I think I've made some progress on the problem.  I've experimented with plugging the mic into a 4-track (boss br-532) and plugging that into my computer's line-in and mic-inputs, and even when tinkering with settings, sensitivity/volume controls, and have improved it, but still the sound I get is bad with too much hiss and a horrible feedback-like sound that persists when I play a little louder especially on bass notes.

I'm really concerned more with quality tone than features/conveniences.  I play mainly acoustic guitar and I want it to be nice and clean and to pick up intricate stuff -- I'd like to be able to hear my fingers essentially.  Do I need to get an audio interface or is there an alternative?  I'm trying not to spend too much (around $100 would be nice) but if its worth it, I'll consider more.  Thanks.

I don't really deal with lower end cheap gear and haven't been in the market for a new audio interface myself for a while, so I really can't tell you what is going to be best in that price range.  Do some shopping around and read some reviews or post questions on other, more popular, message boards.

I will tell you, though, that there really isn't any other solution.  You need another way of getting acceptable quality audio into your computer, and the existing built-in sound chip just isn't going to do it for you.

Also, not to spoil things too much for you, but the Shure SM57 isn't going to give you that high-end professional quality acoustic guitar recording you are after.  Yes, it will work, and with a new audio interface it will certainly sound better, but that's just not going to be the sound you are used to hearing on professional CDs.  For acoustic guitars, you really need a good quality condenser microphone (the SM57 is a dynamic microphone).  Most engineers use small diaphragm condenser microphones on acoustic guitars, such as the AKG 451, but even something cheaper like an Audio Technica AT-4041 will give pretty good results... certainly much better than an SM57.

If you do plan on buying a condenser microphone at any point in the future, then make sure when you get a new audio interface for your computer that you get one with a microphone input that can supply Phantom Power to the microphone.  Condenser microphones need 48 volt power to operate, which is supplied through the microphone cable by microphone pre-amps which have Phantom Power capabilities.  Dynamic microphones do NOT need phantom power.

Good luck!

Thanks a lot, I will look into a new audio interface.  A question about condenser mics.  I see they are significantly more expensive.  In what way specifically do they improve on the sm-57?

In general, condenser microphones are much more detailed and "open" sounding than dynamic microphones, such as the SM57.  They are also quite a bit more sensitive, and so will pick up more of the nuances (but also more room noises and such).  High frequencies in particular are usually captured much better and with much more detail and accuracy with condenser microphones.

Keep in mind, though, that not all condenser microphones are created equal.  Same with dynamics.  A really great dynamic microphone could possibly sound better than a really cheap and poorly made condenser microphone.  In general, you get what you pay for!

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