Whether you want to record a podcast, stream or music at home, you will eventually get to the point where you want to look into XLR microphones. Why? Because there is an abundance of XLR microphones on the market compared to a more limited amount of USB microphones. Other reasons might be that it is easier to record multiple audio sources (vocals, or instruments) at a time compared to using several USB microphones. Also, the sky is the limit when it comes to any upgrades such as better cables, mixers, or a higher quality microphone.
The XLR microphone requires two things when you record at home:
- A mixer with USB output or USB audio interface
- Audio recording software
If you’re recording one audio source we always recommend using an interface over a mixer. They are incredibly easy to use, have a simple design and high-quality interfaces really do allow you to get the most out of your microphone at home. However, if you want to record multiple inputs at one time, you’re going to have to look at mixers. An audio interface is a high-quality analogue to digital (AD) converter, these can usually provide phantom power (+48v) to power most condenser microphones you would use for home recording. The built-in AD converter transforms your analogue sound signal recorded by your microphone into a digital one and outputs it to your computer. These devices are often fairly simple featuring a gain knob or fader to control the volume at which your audio is being recorded. Interfaces usually have inputs for XLR and TRS inputs as well as an output for your speaker and headphone monitoring needs. To monitor means to listen to the audio before and after the software has recorded it.
Mixers are the more complex and versatile option when it comes to analogue to digital conversion. You can get very affordable smaller mixers allowing you to record and mix, usually two or more channels at the same time or you can go all out and go with a massive board of knobs and faders like the ones in professional recording studios.
Most mixers will let you control the gain, as well as the eq of your highs, mids and lows and some, have the ability to apply effects to your inputs. The faders allow you to set record levels to your software. Many mixers include mute buttons for each channel, as well as outputs with separate volume control to monitor your main mix as well as your main output mix (in this case, the USB output).
The main reason for switching to a mixer should be if you plan on recording multiple sound sources at the same time. This comes in handy when you have a podcast with guests or a stream where you record vocals and instruments at the same time. All of your analogue signals will then be transformed into digital ones and sent to your computer, which is where you can record them using your audio software.
Whether you use an interface or a mixer, the sound ends up being recorded by an audio software on your computer. There are many popular free and paid options out there, so it is definitely worth doing some research before choosing one.
When setting up, make sure that the software is set to the right USB input source. You might also have to adjust the gain in the software on top of the gain adjustments on your interface or mixer. This is why it is incredibly important to play around with your setup and see what gain, highs, mids, lows and other settings will give you the best sound.
After you’ve finished recording, you can use your software to edit the audio. You can either cut certain parts out or fix minor issues with the sound. Many of us do not record in a treated room or studio, which means the microphone will pick up some unwanted background noise. Many programs offer solutions to reduce ambient noise to a certain degree. Depending on your software, you will have access to an array of effects to make your audio sound better or add a comedic element to it.
If you would like to know more about the ins and outs of streaming and podcasting, check out our PAX Online 2020 panel where Matt, Gary and Brendan give an in-depth talk about all the important aspects of recording at home.