USB Audio Options for Background Music

19 May 2006

Note from 2022: my understanding of the use of compression in audio production has come a long way since I wrote this in 2006 and in more recent podcasts I use a pair of Heil PR-40 broadcast microphone going into an SSL SiX analog mixer, with channel compression engaged. The live voices go through the mixer’s bus compressor, then into a pair of inputs on my Sound Devices MixPre 6 audio recorder. Live digital audio in the form of music clips and remote guests also goes through the mixer, but doesn’t go through channel compressors or the bus compressor, and into additional channels on the recorder. I then put the resulting files into a Logic Pro project, where they go through some further compression using iZotope’s Ozone plug-in.

These devices are not cheap, but I’ve learned the lesson many times that seeking out the cheapest gear generally results in a lot of wasted time and frustration; it’s better to save up for a few good-sounding pieces than go through a series of cheap devices. Of course, that’s easy to say sixteen years later with more disposable income.

I’m pretty happy with my current setup since it gives fairly consistent results and I don’t have to tweak the settings too much each time, but I’m always seeking better audio, so I have no doubt I’ll change things up in the future.

So, if the USB ports on my laptop still work, which I will test out this weekend, I will contemplate one or more of the following options:

The conventional mics would require some form of mic preamp. The Snowball generated such a low audio signal that I never contemplated the need for a compressor, and in fact had to apply a lot of gain to the digital signal, but the headset mics or the Shure have a strong proximity effect (lots of low frequencies) and will probably need compression to avoid spiking whatever A/D converters I use. This implies at least some kind of compressor or limiter.

But, these pieces are both Made in China. Sigh. Is all the ART gear made in China?

Does there actually exist a USB interface, FireWire interface, USB or FireWire enabled mixer, or channel strip that is made in the U.S.? I would pay more, maybe even 100% more, for the same device… but that doesn’t mean I could swing, say, a Summit Audio 2BA-221 at $630, or a Summit Audio TD100 DI for $400+, when I’d still need a FireWire or USB interface…

Lowest cost option: get the Plantronics headset ($119), hoping that it doesn’t sound too much like ass; do everything with my existing laptop; get another external hard drive for backup, such as a LaCie triple interface 250g for around $220. Everything backed up, I can record in the living room, total cost around $350. Maybe someone would like a lightly used Snowball.

If the USB inputs are shot, it would probably be cheaper to get a new laptop than to try to build up the setup with all-new FireWire gear, although the Edirol FA-66 (also made in China, sigh) might do a reasonable job with both conventional microphone in and my casette deck line in.

Anyway, moving on for now. I found a source for background music for The Night Land. There’s a record label out of Minnesota called Dark Winter (online here that features a lot of dark ambient stuff, and best of all they make it available under a Creative Commons Attribution/Noncommercial/Sharealike license (by-nc-sa), which is the same license I am using for the Hodgson recordings! From what I’ve heard so far, it is ideal for background music for this project, so I’ll see what I can do (the ideas are there; the free time is limited).

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