Friday, July 17, 2009

Microphone Review – Alesis USB Mic

Seeing as how I’m recording hypnosis .mp3 files, having a good microphone is important. The only issue is, I value my mobility, and my primary computer, like many Americans these days, is a laptop. In making the switch to a laptop, I gave up a lot of things, like the plethora of inputs and a good soundcard that having pci or pci-e slots can offer.

To top it all off, ever since I had my motherboard replaced last year (Hooray for extended warranties with in-home service) my sound jacks have both been very noisy.

Where does that leave someone looking to get good sound quality?

I was faced with two options. One is to buy either an external sound card or mixer that hooks into my laptop via USB. The other is to skip the middle man and buy a USB microphone.

Given that I don’t need the finest control or quality, and I’m buying from a value perspective, I went with a USB microphone. This allows me a much easier set up if I’m recording a session elsewhere, and at a price range of $50-$150 is much cheaper than buying a USB-XLR interface or some other mixer box.

If you’re wondering what kind of benefit you’ll see over using a cheap headset or desktop mic, you’ll probably be quite impressed after some fiddling with levels and microphone positioning. I bought an Alesis USB mic - a condenser microphone with a cardioid pickup pattern.

The condenser part means that it is essentially a big capacitor, and vibrations strike one of the capacitor’s plates, the change in distance changes the capacitance of the system, which is measured to create a signal. This is different from a dynamic microphone, which relies on a diaphragm moving within a magnetic field to create an electric current (The opposite of a speaker). Typically, a condenser microphone will give a better reproduction than a dynamic mic. Many of the small microphones in electronics are electret mics, a special kind of condenser, but on average their sound quality usually suffers (due to size and expense) in comparison to a larger mic.

The cardioid pattern means that it picks up sound best when it comes from in front of one side of the microphone. This allows some leeway in background noise.

If you need the best quality sound reproduction, there are much better options with correspondingly higher costs, but for quality that is just ‘okay’ I don’t think you’ll go wrong with the Alesis USB microphone. It retails in the US for $99.

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