So you want to work with audio? Well, we’ve probably got what you need. This post contains a rundown of useful audio equipment you can borrow from the Vitale Digital Media Lab.
Also, here are a couple tips to keep in mind while you’re using the equipment:
1. Record the best sound you can. It’s a lot harder to fix sound after it’s already been recorded.
2. Familiarize yourself with the equipment and practice recording with it before using it on a critical project.
Add a microphone and a USB connection to headphones, and you’ve got a headset. These are great for Skype and FaceTime.
You can also connect one of these to your PS3 and talk to your team mates while you play Call of Duty. There’s a volume control on the USB cable itself, and you can mute the microphone by clicking the center button (if the blue or red light is blinking, you’re muted). You might need to change your system’s sound preferences to use the headset both for input (the microphone) and output (the earphones)
We lend a few different types of microphone:
This is a table-top USB microphone that plugs into your computer (or iPad, if you bought Apple’s USB camera connector kit!). It does not connect to our video cameras. The Snowball mics generally provide considerably better sound quality than the built-in mic on your laptop computer.
The Shure SM58 is probably the most popular vocal microphone on the planet. It’s a professional quality cardioid dynamic mic best used for vocals—both live performance and studio recording—but also perfectly suitable for micing musical instruments or drums. The SM58 has an XLR connector—not the 1/8”, 1/4”, or USB connections that you’re probably familiar with. If you need a microphone for a PA system on campus, it’s likely to require a mic with an XLR connection. We also have a microphone stand (with a boom) for the SM58 that we lend separately.
Shotgun microphones are good at picking up the sounds directly in front of them, while blocking out much of the sound to the sides and rear. The ideal situation is not to record in a noisy environment to begin with, but sometimes you don’t have a choice, and a shotgun mic is one of the things you can use to limit the noise on your recording. Also, sometimes you can’t get a microphone right in front of your sound source—for example you want to video tape someone but you don’t want them to hold a microphone. Currently we have Azden SGM-DSLR shotgun mic, and these are a good choice if you need an off-camera microphone from a relatively short distance (3-8 feet or so). These use LR-44 button batteries, so remember to turn them off when you’re not using them.
We have 2 omni-directional boundary mics, purchased at the suggestion of a lab user. Both have XLR connectors, but we’ve included a Blue Icicle in each kit so that you can also connect them to the USB port on your computer. Lindsey and I tested these when we got them, and although we preferred the sound quality of the Zoom audio recorders, these boundary mics do a better job than the built-in mic on your laptop. They’re a good choice if you looking for something to place in the middle of a table and record a meeting, for example. We have a Shure MX393 and an Audio-Technica U841a.
|Wireless Lavalier Mics
We get a lot of requests for these. It’s tough to find a reasonably priced wireless microphone system that uses standard 1/8” (3.5mm) plugs. This is a good consumer-grade product that does a great job in most situations, with a range of 200 feet under ideal circumstances (no walls, interference, etc.) It comes with a transmitter, which you attach to the microphone, and a receiver, which you connect to the microphone port of your videocamera/audio recorder/computer/etc. Both are powered by AA batteries, so remember to turn them off when not in use to conserve battery life. This kit comes with both a lavalier/lapel mic that you can clip to a speaker’s shirt and a handheld mic. You can use one or the other, but not both simultaneously.
Zoom Audio Recorders
I love these guys. I personally own 3 different models and use them all. The lab lends several models. All of them make excellent recordings. They’re all stand-alone recorders (meaning you don’t need a computer or other device to use them) but they can also act as external USB microphones. And all offer up to 24bit 96k audio recording in wav or mp3.
|The Zoom H1 is the simplest to use. It’s also light-weight and small enough to slip into your pocket. Push the button to start recording, and then push it again to stop. Most of the important settings are controlled by well-labelled switches on the device itself rather than bring located in a menu system the way they are in the H2 and H4. Get about 10 hours of battery life from a single AA battery.
|The Zoom H2 and H2n are my go-to all-purpose recorders. The only time they don’t deliver is when I need an XLR input. Two AA batteries. I’m not in love with the menu system in these or in the H4n, but you’ve got to put all those features somewhere. If you’re not sure which recorder to borrow, go with one of these. After you push the record button, make sure you seen the time counting up so that you know you’re really recording.
|The Zoom H4n has 2 phantom-powered XLR jacks (to use with microphones like the Shure SM-58 mentioned elsewhere in this post) and two 1/4” jacks which let you connect your electric guitar or bass directly to the recorder. You can also use the H4 as an audio interface between your sound source (microphone, instrument, etc.) and your Mac or PC. The H4n is overkill for most people’s recording needs. It also eats up batteries like crazy, so bring extra AA’s and/or plug it in while you’re using it.
Here are a few other audio related items you can borrow from the lab
The Blue icicle has a single purpose: to allow you to plug an XLR mic into a USB port. It includes a small volume control knob, and it provides phantom power to condenser microphones. No driver required.
The Oxygen8 is a great little keyboard. It has 25 velocity-sensitive keys. It requires only the included USB cable to power it but can also be powered by 6 AA batteries (not included). It has 2 MIDI out jacks to connect to MIDI devices from your computer or as a stand-alone controller. Please note that this is not a stand-alone keyboard. To generate music it needs to be attached to your computer or to a MIDI device.
You can get help and find more info about borrowing our equipment at http://wic.library.upenn.edu/wicfacilities/lending.html
All current Penn students, faculty, and staff are eligible to borrow from us.
We’re eager to hear your feedback, so please let us know if you have any suggestions on how we can improve the system further.
Also, I’m always interested in knowing if there are there other things you’d like to see us lend!