I bought a microphone, now how do I connect it to my computer?
Congrats! You’ve taken your first step toward high quality audio for your YouTube videos.
The next three tools you’ll need to learn about are: cables, audio interfaces, and digital audio workstations (DAWs).
Cables? I don’t want to get tangled up in cables…
If you’re envisioning a patch bay full of tangled cables then don’t worry – its not like that at all. There’s really only one cable you’ll need to worry about, which is the cable that connects your microphone to your audio interface (more on audio interfaces below).
The universal type of cable that all studio microphones use is called an XLR. This 3-pronged cable is so widely used because of its ability to transmit signal with very little added noise, regardless of how long the cable is.
As for which brand of XLR cable to buy, generally speaking, they’re more or less the same. The more expensive cables tend to last longer, but any affordably priced XLR cable should do just fine.
Great, I have the XLR cable – now where do I plug it into my computer?
If you were expecting to plug the XLR into your computer’s microphone input then you’ll be sorely disappointed to find that it doesn’t fit. Computer sound cards are designed to accommodate basic consumer electronics, not studio quality audio gear. This is where the audio interface comes into play.
An audio interface is the hub that connects your audio equipment to your computer. It has everything you need to transfer signal from your microphone to your computer, including: an analogue to digital converter, XLR inputs, ¼ inch cable inputs, 48V phantom power (which powers condenser microphones), preamps, speaker outputs, and more.
The three main factors to consider when choosing which audio interface to buy are the number of inputs, outputs, and which types they are. If you are only recording with one microphone, then a single channel audio interface is all you would need. If, however, you are recording a podcast with two or more microphones, you would need the appropriate number of inputs. The only outputs you’ll need are two ¼ inch outputs (left & right) for your speakers, and a headphone jack.
As for the types of inputs, the two types to be aware of are XLRs and ¼ inch instrument cables. XLRs are for microphones and ¼ inch cables are typically for guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, and other types of audio gear. Some audio interfaces like the Komplete Audio 6 (pictured above) have inputs that accommodate both.
Once you’ve connected your gear to your audio interface, you’ll need to connect your interface to your computer. This is done simply through a USB cable into any of your computer’s USB ports.
It is important to note that there are also USB microphones with built in preamps, which bypass the need for an audio interface. These are typically a more affordable, all-in-one option, but for the highest quality a studio microphone and an audio interface are recommended.
Huzzah! My microphone is plugged in, now how do I record with it?
The digital audio workstation (DAW) is the software you will be using to record, process, and save the audio you record to your computer. I recommend starting off with one of the free options before dropping the money for any of the industry standard options like Pro Tools, Ableton Live, Cubase, or Logic Pro.
The best free DAW I can recommend is Reaper, which works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Reaper may not be the most aesthetically pleasing DAW on the market but, it has all of the functionality you will need to produce high quality audio for your YouTube videos.
There are a plethora of other DAWs to choose from, but most have the same core functionality. Any DAW will allow you to record and process audio. The major differences come from the user interfaces and the workflow capabilities. For example, Ableton Live is geared toward live electronic music and Renoise features a unique interface for complex drum programming. In both cases, certain functions are made possible or more intutive because of the choice of DAW.
There is no way I could possibly cover each and every DAW, so I will direct you to a Reaper tutorial below and leave you to find similar tutorials for your DAW of choice.
This DAW looks like the cockpit of an airplane…I have no idea how to work this!
Believe me, I was there myself not too long ago, and I know how daunting this kind of software can be when you first open it up. The best advice I could give would be to watch tutorials, to look up any concept you don’t understand, and to just take it one step at a time.
Now that you’re all set up and ready to record, be sure to join me in my next blog post where I begin discussing how to process your audio for a clean and professional sound!
Image Citations (in the order they appear):
USB Audio Interface Mode [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from http://www.apogeedigital.com/knowledgebase/symphony-io/symphony-io-audio-interface-mode-aim/
Patchbay at Jackpot! Recording Studio (Portland, Oregon)!.jpg [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Patchbay_at_Jackpot!_Recording_Studio_(Portland,_Oregon)!.jpg
Rycote Mic Tail Short XLR Cable [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/706559-REG/Rycote_017018_Mic_Tail_Short_XLR.html
Komplete Audio 6 [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from https://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/audio-interfaces/komplete-audio-6/
[Reaper Logo]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from http://www.reaper.fm/
De Jong, Kley. [Kley De Jong]. (2012, Dec 4). Beginner’s Tutorial for Reaper. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdO2YvzKLm0
[Reaper Screenshot]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 9, 2016, from http://www.reaper.fm/v5img/ss.png