27 Oct

MXL MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp for Condenser Microphone Review

MXL-MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp for Condenser Microphones

If you are looking for a small device that can replace your recording chain then you should definitely check the MXL MIC MATE XLR To USB Preamp, a cheap device that’s specially created for standard and condenser microphones, a device that’s definitely worth the money and your curiosity. The portable USB preamp was designed with care, and it delivers so much that it appears to. Don’t get fooled by the cheap package it comes with, the Mic Mate is actually better than other solutions twice its price (or more).

The body
This little gadget is no bigger than a magic marker, having only 10 x 2 x 6 inches and weighting only 4.8 ounces. You should know that Mic Mate does not with an USB cable, so you will have to buy that separately. Although the above image may be deceiving, the harsh truth is that this portable preamp is made of cast-aluminum. Even so, after reading some of the reviews written by other customers I understood that the internal components seem to be made of quality materials. A plastic case is not a big problem as long as you don’t drop it on the concrete.

MicMate-XLR-to-USB-condenser-microphone

The features
The Mic Mate has three settings: the low setting, the medium setting and the high setting. After testing all of them, I seem to love the high setting, since it gives me more power and my voice lays better in the mix. As I said in the beginning of this review, this XLR to USB preamp comes with Phantom Power, so you can use it with a condenser microphone. I’ve managed to test it with my AT2020 condenser mic and everything went smoothly. I can also give you a tip in this regard: if you remove the end-piece from the XLR connector, you will be able insert that connector directly into the mic, without having the XLR cable in the chain. This way, the quality of your recording gets even better, because most XLR cables add their own self-noise to the recording. Just see the image above to understand what I’m talking about. The manufacturer brags about the “studio-quality” of this microphone. Not sure about that, but the low noise analog front end does seem to be well balanced. If you decide to buy this mic you will also get the Free MXL USB Recorder Software which allows you to get a 2-Track recording out of it. After testing this great condenser mic for couple of days I’ve included it in my home studio setup, as a backup for my Audio Kontrol 1 interface.

The price
Most online shops are selling this small device for $40 – more or less. As usual, I advice you to get it from the most trusted seller of them all, Amazon.

Conclusion
For a device that costs only $41.99 you get a pretty decent quality. No, scrape that. The quality is better than decent, and most of the users on Amazon seem to agree with that conclusion. Having 4 out of 5 stars, you can expect for a device that will get the job done at an affordable price. This microphone is perfect for home recording studios created on tight budgets, but you can also use it in podcasts, various voice recording projects or even live music performance. I know that I’m definitively adding it to my portable home studio setup.

17 Oct

Røde NT-USB microphone review

Rode NT-USB condenser microphone 1

Let’s face it, these days everyone is mobile so it’s just natural to pick a USB condenser microphone that’s perfect for recording songs on the go. This way, your recording studio is made of your smartphone, tablet, laptop and your USB mic. Every week, I am asked to give advice on recording microphones that are of great quality, affordable and they are compatible mobile devices. My past USB mic reviews got some attention, so I decided to expand my reviews with another one. This time, I will review the new Røde NT-USB studio microphone and I truly hope that this article will help some of my readers in their endeavor to build a home recording studio.

Setting a ‘pickup and use’ mobile solution is really easy, all you have to do is use a microphone with a built in USB interface. In the Røde NT-USB’s package you will find a pop-filter, a sturdy stand mount that is compatible with industry standard 3/8” thread, and a fine small tripod stand that allows you to record podcasting while you place the NT-USB on your desktop and you sit comfortable in your chair. Talking about this USB mic, you should know that it is a heavy microphone, weighing around 500g. In the package you will also find a 6m USB cable that should be just enough for common needs and a carry case.

Rode NT-USB condenser microphone

Getting to the technical specifications, you should know that the microphone has a cardioid pattern capsule that will handle audio levels of 110db, a 96dB dynamic range and a fairly dynamic response that offers a presence peak at 5.5kHz. If you plan to monitor what you are recording you are lucky, since the 3.5 mm headphone jack that’s present on the microphone allows you to do just that. In order to use the NT-USB condenser mic with a PC or laptop you don’t have to perform any special preparations. The device is plug-n-play and it also works great with Apple devices. If you plan to use it with an iPhone or iPad you’ll have to get a Connection Kit. You should find one at a reasonable price on eBay. Once you will use the microphone for a while, you will notice that the headphone amp has just enough power to get you through the recording sessions. The controls and knobs are made of metal and they work very smooth and easy.

I’ve used this mic for a week and I can tell you that I will probably replace my old non-USB AT2020 with this one for my demo recording sessions. The mic worked perfect with my multi-track software, allowing me to record my vocals without any problems. Too bad I was not able to get my hands on a Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter in order to test it with an iPad.

The price

If you plan to buy this USB microphone you should head to Amazon.com in order to find additional details, the price ($169.00) and user reviews. At this time, 59 customers gave Rode NT-USB 5 out of 5 stars.

30 Dec

Akai Professional EIE USB Audio Recording Interface Review

AKAI EIE audio interface

If you’ll ask me to make a quick recommendation of a great audio interface, I will probably have to pick Focusrite or M-Audio products. Although there are many other audio interface manufacturers out there, I really trust the products created by these two. Few months ago I was scooping in a music shop and I saw this USB interface with unique design. I’m not sure if it was the reddish design or the brand, but I wanted to learn more about it. So, here is my quick review on Akai Professional EIE, an audio interface like no other, with great features and affordable price.

The Body
Compared with other similar devices, the Akai EIE has a strong body made from durable metal that will endure drop shocks or scratches. The build quality is fantastic and you will agree with me once you get the chance to hold it in your hands.

Front controls
If you take a quick look at this interface you will immediately notice a feature that’s not encountered in similar products in this class: the inputs. Akai EIE has 4 front-facing XLR + 1/4-inch combination audio inputs along with mic/line switch and gain for each channel. Also, there is a 48+ Phantom Power switch for 1/2 inputs and 3/4 inputs. Instead of control LEDs, the manufacturer decided to implement to VU meters for input or output. Under the meters you will find the master volume, the mono/stereo switch, the headphones output and the headphones volume.

the back

The real panel
Here we’ll find the USB port, the MIDI In/Out, the DC controls, 4 audio inserts and 4 audio outputs. There is also a Power button that will switch off or on the interface. A cool feature of this interface is the three-port USB hub that allows you to connect various USB devices.

Features and functionality
Once you will see the features of this interface you will understand why it was priced so cheap. The maximum sample rates of 44.1kHz sampling rate @ 16-bit resolution are a bit outdated, since similar interfaces record at least at 96kHz and 24-bit resolution. The preamps are quite clean, even at maximum levels. The input/output meters are illuminated with white light that turns reddish once the signal clips, and this feature is really helpful when you record at high audio levels. The audio monitoring has zero latency thanks to a simple input/output balance control. The AD/DA convertors seem to work just fine considering the recording specs.

Price
As I said, the specs are a bit outdated, so the price was discounted from $300 to $150 on Amazon.com

Conclusion
Akai Professional EIE USB is an audio interface with a sturdy design and few pros and cons. I loved the 4 inputs, the metal case and the VU meters, but the audio recording sample rate is definitely a con. The overall quality of this product is not bad for its price, but if you don’t need to use 4 inputs at one time, you will find better products on the market. If you need to record at better audio quality, you should check the upgraded version of this interface, the Akai Professional EIE Pro 24-bit ($190 on Amazon)

11 Dec

Yamaha Audiogram 6 USB Audio Interface Review

Yamaha has been building audio products for some time, and their Yamaha Studio Monitors are actually praised by a lot of musicians. This audio interface powered by USB has been designed with care (at least according to the manufacturer) and it actually packs surprising features. It should make your job on building a home recording studio easier, since it’s easy to install and easy to use. Although it looks like a mixer, it has the same common functions of a normal external audio interface found at the same price. But we’ll get into that later. For now, let’s talk about …

The body
Most users love the fact that this audio interface looks like a mixer. I’m not necessarily a big fan of this design, but I will admit that the body is light weighted, sleek and solid. I got my hands on a white model, and as far as I know, this is the only available color.

audiogram 6 usb

The controls, inputs, outputs
Once you take a quick look at the control area, you will learn that the device has knobs that control the preamps, the compression and the input level. You will also find a DAW control know and a master level. Just like most audio interfaces today, this Yamaha device has 2 microphone / Hi-Z inputs and additional 2 more stereo line-in inputs. The control panel has 4 buttons: two for switching between a microphone and an instrument, a mono/stereo switch and a Phantom Power switch for condenser mics. Every input has a red peak LED that will notify you when the audio levels are getting too high. There is also a stereo output and a headphone output.

The back panel
There is no actual back panel for this audio interface. You will find there just the USB cable slot that connects the device to the computer.

yamaha audiogram 6

Features and functionality
This is probably one of the audio interfaces that I would recommend for entry-levels musicians and folks involved in audio podcasting. One of the features that got my attention was the hardware compression. The other audio interfaces in this price range lack this feature, and it is one of the reasons you could think of getting this interface. Even so, having a single knob for compression seems too simplistic to be real, since audio compression is more than switching something to on/off. The preamps are ok, but I didn’t notice something spectacular in that regard. I noticed some pops and clicks when recording the vocals on multiple channels and I guess that working with USB 1.1 technology (12 Mbit/s) is one of the reasons for this issue. Yamaha should upgrade this interface to USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/s) technology. But again, if you’re using it for simple projects or for podcasts, this interface is great! I was curios about its compatibility with electric guitars, synthesizers and drums, so I scouted for some user reviews. No complaints there, as long as the projects were not getting too complex. There is no MIDI I/O on board and the maximum sample rate is 48 kHz @ 16-bit.

The Price
The Yamaha Audiogram 6 can be found on most shopping websites at prices between $130 and $200. For instance, you should look for it on Amazon.com for $129.

Conclusion
This entry range audio interface is not for the audiophiles. It’s based on an obsolete technology (USB 1.1), it has a feature that seems to be there just for marketing purposes (the compression) and it lacks the MIDI I/O. The package also includes the Cubase AI recording software which is not enough for make me place this device in a positive light. At this price, you can consider a better interface, like Focusrite Safirre 2i2.

15 Nov

Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 Interface Review

If you’re looking for a great audio interface to use it as the core of your home studio then you are lucky because there are plenty of options to choose from. I still remember the first time I decided to go external with the soundcard: I got confused by all the options available, all the features, the prices and all the reviews. Finally, I decided to get the Audio Kontrol 1, the previous version of Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6. The two interfaces resembles a lot so you can say that I have some experience with both of them.

The body

Let me start with this: this audio interface does not feel cheap in anyway. Once you get to hold it in your hands you will immediately notice that it’s solid and weight balanced. It’s aluminum and black glass finish, it’s knobs and the main volume control looks great and professional. The device is not that big, it measures 11 x 4 x 7 inches and weights around 3 pounds.

Audio Kontrol 1 Audio Review

The front controls and inputs

If you’ve tested few soundcards and audio interfaces in my lifetime you know that you can tell a lot about the quality of the product if you test at the front controls, especially the knobs. For me, the knobs on Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 are perfectly balanced, absolutely no wiggle here. Maybe I’m subjective, but I really loved this feature on any audio interface. The front face features two XLR combos, gain knobs for the inputs, volume level and switch for the headphone level. Using the button under the headphone level, you are able to switch between audio source 1 or audio source 2. There is no control light on the front face. All lights and main audio level wheel are placed on top, as seen in the above image.

Back Panel

The back panel

On the back panel you will find the Phantom Power button, the MIDI In/Out, the SPDIF connects, the output for monitors and the secondary balanced line input. The audio interface is powered through a USB cable that’s connected to the computer.

Functionality

As inputs, you can use the XLR microphone cable or a 1/4″ instrument cable. If you do use a mic cable, it will automatically detect microphone level signal. The gain control is very smooth and the quality is above average. Compared to Audio Kontrol 1, this audio interface has no programmable buttons, and the upper face of the interface was replaced by a big volume and control lights. For me, it seems like a waste of space. On the good side, this audio interface has a lot of pros like direct monitoring for live and for latency-free recording, the high-quality preamps and the solid construction. Also, the interface is really easy to setup and to work with. There were few complaints from users regarding crashes. I’ve also experienced this in my old Audio Kontrol 1. From time to time, the Cubase refused to play any sound and I needed to disconnect and reconnect the audio interface in order to fix things. This process was not long since the interface starts almost instantly (if you’re using the same USB slot).

The Price

You will find the Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6 in most online stores at prices between $220 and $250.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for an audio interface with solid construction, with plenty of inputs/outputs and with great preamps then you should definitely take your time to test the Komplete Audio 6 interface. If the hardware features are not enough for you, maybe the software package will convince you: Cubase LE5 and few cool plugins. Everything you need is right there in the box.

Do you already own it? What’s your own review on Komplete Audio 6 Interface?

27 Oct

The best budget mics under $50

Ever since recording equipment got so affordable, a lot of people are spending large amounts of money on microphones, interfaces and audio devices. The microphone is one of the most important pieces of equipment in any recording setup and you need to establish few things before buying one from your local store or your favorite online shop. I always advice my friends to think at these three factors when they decide to get a budget mic: the purpose, the setup and the budget. You can buy a microphone for $10 or you can get one for $1,000. Why pay more when you need an entry-level mic for your project? These are the best budget mics under $50 that are suited for recording vocals.
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07 Oct

Steinberg UR22 vs Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. A short comparison.

A recent comment from DavidT inspired me to write an article about the similarities and differences between Steinberg UR22 vs Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interfaces. If you find yourself in the position of having to choose one of these two devices and you need the ultimate reason to choose one of them, then the following comparison might be of help. I will try to point the main differences between these two audio interfaces but in the end, you have to make your own decision according to your own needs.

Background
I had the pleasure of working with both devices for different periods of time. I’ve tested the Steinberg UR22 for few hours at a friend’s house and I worked on Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 for a longer period of time. While my overall opinion on these interfaces may be slightly biased, the comparison will be made on actual features and real user reviews.

A short comparison between these two interface.

A short comparison between these two interface.

Build quality
The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is packed in an aluminum case that seems solid and resistant to shocks. The UR22 has a similar metal body, making it heavy and durable. Both interfaces have sturdy and superior level buttons. We have a tie here.

Sample rate and audio resolution
There are some features on the UR22 that may surpass Scarlett 2i2, like the sample rate: 96kHz on Scarlet 2i2 vs 192kHz on Steinberg UR22. This is not necessarily a definitive difference between these two audio interfaces, since most users record at 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. For a home studio, recording at 96kHz is more than enough. The maximum resolution is the same on both interfaces: 24-bit. UR22 won this round.

Preamps
Included preamps are of great importance and they should weight a lot in your decision to buy an audio interface for your home studio. After testing both devices, I truly believe that Focusrite’s 2i2 is superior in terms of preamps, since it features the same D-Pre mic preamps found in their flagship device, the Liquid Saffire 56. While UR22′s preamps are pretty clean (I would say “common” is the right word to describe them), the preamps on Scarlett 2i2 are spectacular. As you may already know, Focusrite has an established 25 years history of manufacturing great audio devices with outstanding preamps. Focusrite Scarlett won this round.

MIDI in/out feature
This round is won hands down by the Steinberg UR22 interface, since there are no MIDI connectors on Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. UR22 won this round.

Software support
Again, I do believe that Steinberg UR22 is better in terms of software support and compatibility especially if you are working on Steinberg Cubase software. While I was using the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with Cubase 5 I noticed rare crashes and buffer problems when I was using too many effects. The UR22 worked flawlessly in Cubase. Both devices have recording software included in the box, the 2i2 has the Ableton Live Lite 8 while the UR22 has the Cubase 6 software. I think that Cubase 6 is better for a home studio project. UR22 won this round.

Users’s reviews and price
Steinberg UR22 costs $149.99 and Scarlett 2i2 costs $114. In terms of users’ rating, the UR22 has 4/5 stars while the 2i2 has 4.5/5 stars. As you can see, 2i2 is cheaper and is has better rating (according to Amazon).

Steinberg-UR22-vs-Focusrite-Scarlett-2i2 coremic

My conclusion
As you can see in the feature comparison above, Steinberg UR22 could be seen as a better choice if you need an audio interface for your home studio. Now, I will share my own conclusion.If you plan to record vocals and you have an aditional MIDI port on other device in your studio then Scarlett 2i2 is a wiser choice. Its outstanding preamps will definitely make the difference. Users on Amazon have given this interface a better rating. If you need quality, go with Scarlett 2i2.

If you already own a great preamp in your home studio, then you should go for Steinberg  UR22, since it has better features and software support. Also, it has a superior sample rate.

What’s your favorite audio interface? Read complete review on UR22 and on 2i2.

05 Oct

A complete portable studio setup: Rode NT1-A Cardioid Condenser Microphone Recording Package Review

If you need a portable studio setup or you plan to build your own recording studio on a tight budget of $500 while still keeping audio standards up, you should probably take Rode NT1-A Recording Package into consideration as one of your best options. This package features everything you need for making music independently: one of the best microphones for a home studio, the Rode NT1-A cardioid condenser microphone, the Presonus Audiobox USB, Sennheiser HD 202-II Studio Headphones and an adjustable mic stand.
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30 Sep

Blue Yeti USB Microphone Review and Price

If you read my previous article on how to choose the proper home studio equipment then you know that the microphone is the first piece in the recording chain and you should choose it carefully. If you decide to go with a USB microphone then you probably are on a tight budget or you need it for limited projects. Don’t get your hopes down yet, there are still few budget USB mics out there that are perfect for a small home studio, and Blue Yeti microphone is definitely in the top of the list.

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13 Sep

Top 10 music software for a home recording project

13 years ago, when I first got into music, the Internet was not packed with tutorials and advices on how to create your own home recording studio, how to make an instrumental, how to record music, how to mix and master a song. Living in a small city made it impossible for me to achieve the right quality for my music. The lack of information almost broke my wings and the first couple of years of me entering the music world represented the dark age of my small “carrier”. It took some time before I got my hands on a decent music software. Those where the days when I was using the N-Track Studio to record my vocals on an instrumental created on a common keyboard. As I said, totally unprofessional.

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