Friday, May 19, 2006

USB Audio Options, Background Music

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:

- Try and get by with the Snowball; get things as quiet as possible, and ignore the noise.

- Get a headset USB mic, like the Plantronix .Audio 550 DSP, and just go with that (at $119, it might be worth trying).

- Get a headset mic, like the AKG C420 or the Crown CM-311A. Both of these use XLR connectors and require phantom power.

- I could also try my old Shure BG mic and see if I can get a reasonably noise-free signal out of it. That's a little more awkward for reading, but I have a stand and could probably work something out.

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.

- There's a new ART Tube MP Project Series with USB, which is basically a standalone channel strip (without a compressor, but with a FET limiter) designed to work as a line in, mic pre, or DI in. It has variable impedance too, which you usually only see in quite pricey preamps and DIs, like the Summit Audio gear. If this thing actually sounds good it would be an amazing deal, and only costs $100. That could be my low-end preamp and A/D solution all in one. It seems to accept bus power, too!

- For the casette tape digitizing, which I was doing with the iMic, there is also an ART USB Phono Plus, which is basically a phono preamp with USB out. It does the RIAA EQ thing, but this can be turned off, which would supposedly let me run a casette deck into it. It's got to sound better than the iMic.

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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