Mic Setup


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Any general microphone setup requires an:

  • amp
  • mic
  • stand
  • pop filter

Optional:

  • shock mount
  • wind screen

Setup 1.0

Amp

Focusrite Scarlett Solo amp.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 1 amp.
Frequency response 20 Hz to 20 kHz ±0.3 dB
Gain range -4 dB to +46 dB
Thd -97 dB (max SPL)
Noise -125 dB
Dynamic range 106 dB (A-weighted)
Max input level +4 dBu
Amp specs.

One thing I’d note is that the 48V Phantom Power button turns bright red, when you turn it on—and that’s next to the bright green power indicator at the top right—so keep this in mind if a dark setup matters.

Mic

Behringer XM8500 microphone.</a>
Behringer XM8500 microphone.
Impedance 150 ohms
Sensitivity -70 dB
Bandwidth 50 Hz to 15 kHz
XM8500 mic specs.

Literally the cheapest XLR-based1 microphone I could find. Because it’s dynamic, it won’t catch a lot of ambient audio, which is great to cut down on noise, but requires microphone discipline and constant proximity during use.

Stand

Millenium MS-2006 stand.
Millenium (sic) MS-2006 stand.

Also literally the cheapest stand I could find with a decent reach and build. First shipment was wobbly and came with broken cable-holders, and the replacement had not wobble but the same flimsy cable-holders which broke.

No support for sideways mic orientation, so you’ll have to direct the boom directly at yourself.

Only a temporary solution.

Pop filter

Mudder pop filter.
Mudder pop filter.

Does the job, and nothing else. Can only be placed on the top of the stand, as it’s not rigid enough to counteract gravity when hanging down or on the side. When you use this in tandem with a boom stand, you can’t place it in front of you, because the pop filter obscures too much of your vision.

Since the mic is dynamic, you can’t just place it to the side of your face.

Setup 2.0

Pop filter “cage”

Mudder pop filter “cage”.
Mudder pop filter “cage”.

For desktop work with a keyboard, you rely on a non-stationary mic where a regular pop filter is too much of a pain to work with;

  1. You can’t get close to the microphone.
  2. It obscures your vision.
  3. You have to keep adjusting it.

With a “cage” pop filter, you don’t have deal with the hassle.

Update: I made two observations after applying this:

  1. The mic audio sounds like it has a metallic echo.
    • This was when listening in; maybe it sounds different to outsiders.
  2. It scratched my microphone, which now has some metallic discolouration.
    • This is not a big deal to people who aren’t perfectionists or who haven’t borrowed the microphone.

USB Pedal

A more unusuall addition to the setup is a USB pedal.

On one hand, this offers the convenience of a button you don’t have to assign to a mouse of keyboard, which can be complicated, if your hands are occupied.

On the other, it serves as a nice “panic button” that is easy to access, if you need to cut the mic or halt to whatever else you might be doing.

I ended up getting this pedal for £9 on eBay—since it’s not available on Amazon in Europe:

The photos fail to show that the device is about the size of a credit card; it’s tiny.

One thing that will also trip you up is that it ships with a CD with the requisite software to use the thing. Through some research, I found out that the device is actually named the PCsensor FS1_P: foot switch; 1 pedal; plastic build.

Scroll to the bottom of the page to the software page to download the FootSwitch software, current version 6.5.2.

The pedal basically works as a mouse or keyboard with one key; by default, the keymapping is set to b.

With this, you can assign a key, string or macro to pushing the button—but not to releasing it, which would have been great. One way to use it is as a “boss key”, which hides all open programs on Windows with Win + D. Pusing the pedal can be done with more calm and felicity than the usual panicked reflex to avert disaster.

It works pretty well, and I plan on using it for push-to-talk or as a “cough button” during recording.

Check out the Dan’s Data review of the switch for more info.

Future setup?

  • Arm stand: RØDE PSA-1
  • Condenser microphone: AT2020/35/50
  • Shock mount (comes with the AT mics)

Stand

RØDE PSA-1 arm stand.
RØDE PSA-1 arm stand.

Condenser microphone

The choice is between the AT2020, 2035, and 2050.

Spec 2020 2035 2050
Sensitivity (dB/mV) -37/14.1 -33/22.4 -42/7.9
Impedance (Ohm) 100 120 120
SPL (dB) 144 148/158 149/159
Noise (dB) 20 12 17
Dynamic Range (dB) 124 136 132
Signal/Noise (dB) 74 82 77
Case R7 R5 R5
Price (€) 115 169 279
Video Review Yes Yes -
Bass roll-off switch - Yes Yes
-10 dB pad switch - Yes Yes
Polar selection switch - - Yes

AT2050 also differs by having an externally polarized (DC bias) condenser element and omnidirectional and figure-of-eight patterns.

I plan on getting the 2035.

AT2020 mic.
AT2035 condenser mic.
Frequency response 20 Hz to 20 kHz
Low frequency rolloff 80 Hz, 12 dB/octave
Sensitivity -33 dB (22.4 mv)
Impedance 120 ohms
Max input level 148 db SPL and 158 with 10 dB pad
Noise 12 dB SPL
Dynamic range 136 dB
Signal noise ratio 82 dB
Phantom power req 11-52V DC, 3.8 mA typical
Swithes Flat, roll-off and 10 dB pad
Accessories AT8458 shock mount, protective pouch
AT2035 mic specs.

Shock mount

Will depend on the microphone; for instance, the AT2020 uses an R7 case, whereas the 2035 and 2050 use an R5.

2035 tends to ship with a shock mount.

Setup 3.0

Amp

Focusrite Scarlett Solo amp.
Focusrite Scarlett Solo Gen 1 amp.

I initially got the Scarlett Solo to boost my headphones. This is when I got curious and started looking into XLR microphones.

With my luck, a “Gen 2” version later came out four months after I bought mine.

Without going into the science, the gain on the Scarlett Solo needs to be turned all the way up to properly power a microphone, which is something that confused and confounded me for a while, especially because testing your microphone is a complicated task. For now, using Skype’s test calls that are played back to you seem like one of the best options out there. That and asking people on calls and in voice chats how clear you sound.

You might get the wrong impression that people can hear you with the gain down, but it’s usually the software overcompensating and making your voice sound like a $3 microphone.

The USB cable that comes with it is pretty damn short: around 1 meter. You might feel tempted to buy a longer one, but there’s a reason for it according to Focusrite’s knowledge base:

We would recommend that any replacement USB cable be under 2 meters. Any longer and this can have an adverse effect on audio quality and connectivity with your computer.

There’s little you can do about it, but keep this in mind as it may not comport with your ideal setup; in my case, the cable is too short to put my Scarlett between my two monitors. It should still be on the desk somewhere regardless, since I’ll need be able to turn on the microphone and adjust the gain.

Did Focusrite really have to use a grey cable, though?

Update: With stuff like this, you have to make really sure you put it in the right USB port. If you switch it by accident, consider your audio settings reset.

Another thing to pay attention to us that whenever you install or re-install your Scarlett Solo software, you need to unplug your device before booting your computer to install it. If you keep it connected during boot, something is going to mess up the configuration and not show you all your sample rate options that should include 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz at 24 bit.

Stand

RØDE PSA-1 arm stand.
RØDE PSA-1 arm stand.

Fantastic product. I still can’t figure out how to tighten it completely around one axis, though. The box it’s packaged in also feels like it might scratch some components, so make sure to check that’s not the case for yours.

One big problem is that the clamp always comes scratched for some rason. For a perfectionist like me, this is very annoying, and Amazon UK had to take the product page down while they investigated the issue. Will update once they address it.

Update: They refunded the order, and I never heard anything back. I received two scratched models from Amazon and one from my prior seller. Here is what the scratches looked like to give you an idea:

Scratches on the PSA-1.
One case of a scratched PSA-1 from Amazon UK.
Scratches on the PSA-1.
Another case of a scratched PSA-1 from Amazon UK.

Amazon said they’d take down the product for the purpose of investigating the issue, but I guess they didn’t care after all?

If this is the first you’ve heard about this systemic problems, it might have to do with the fact that Amazon don’t allow reviews that mention this:

A PSA-1 review rejection e-mail from Amazon UK.
Seems like a fair thing to bring up?

With no other option in sight, I contacted RØDE directly. They were quick to spot the problem and said they’d send me a replacement clamp guaranteed to be scratchless.

They directed me to both a British and Danish distributor who both seemed moderately confused by the request. Fast forward and I’m talking to the Danish distributor who go on to inspect their own inventory of six PSA-1s, and it turns out all of them have scratches. Which leaves me contacting RØDE again—after the Danish distributor themselves contacted them with some choice words.

RØDE later responded that the Danish supplier’s PSA-1s “were not transported safely and may have been damaged somewhere on the road”. I don’t really buy that, especially when this has now been shown to be the case across three suppliers:

  1. Thomann
  2. Amazon UK
  3. Danish supplier, SC SOUND

After RØDE first reached out to me with a promise of an unscratched clamp, I ordered another PSA-1 from Amazon UK. It, too, came with scratches, but my hope was that it didn’t matter because RØDE would send me a pristine clamp. This brings my personal count of scratched PSA-1s to:

  1. Thomann: 1
  2. Amazon UK: 3

Add to this the 6 from SC SOUND’s stock and something is clearly systematically broken.

Update: RØDE have assured me I will be sent a new clamp, which is great, but there’s now another bloody issue. Instead of describing it, I will quote what someone wrote in their Amazon review of the PSA-1:

★★☆☆☆ Two units had the same sawing/grinding noise problems. :(, March 10, 2017

Perhaps I am the victim of a bad batch, but Amazon was awesome enough (as usual) to send me two of these and both of them 1) make a sawing or grinding sound when moving in and out, 2) make a creaking sound sometimes when moving left and right, or when a lighter weight mic is “settling,” and 3) left what looked like tiny shavings or pieces of the white plastic (or whatever) material inside the middle joint on my desk. Just a few tiny pieces in the short amount of time I tested the arm, but it was enough to make me hesitant.

Some have suggested oiling or greasing the joints, and maybe that works for some folks, but at this price I didn’t want to have to do that. Perhaps the noises work themselves out over time, but if I have to keep redoing recordings until the mic finally quiets down, it’s going to be frustrating.

The part about a piece of white plastic holds true for mine as well, as you can see at the end of the video below.

The PSA-1 is nice when it works, but it looks like the manufacturer of one of the most popular microphone stands also has the worst quality control in the world.

It sounds like there’s a bigger chance of winning the lottery than getting a functional PSA-1, so I might as well just give up at this point and find an alternative. At least it’ll be a lot cheaper.

Oh yeah, I also forgot another of the four defective models that seemed to have a weird wobble by the foot; it seemed like the hole in the clamp was too big for the foot of the stand you insert into it. My seller, and later RØDE themselves via Twitter, assured me that it was as it’s supposed to be, but testing my current model, the annoying wobble isn’t there.

Update: I contacted RØDE about this April 1. They promised a replacement May 1. As of June 26, I have heard and received nothing from them.

But because I waited so long for RØDE’s reply, I can’t even return the PSA-1 I bought after their reassurances; that deadline apparently ran out June 3. You just can’t win with RØDE, they actively hate their customers.

How is this company so popular?

Mic

AT2020 mic.
AT2035 condenser mic.

Only thing I’ve noted so far is that the two switches (bass roll-off and dB padding) on the back are an absolute pain to both reach and switch. This isn’t something you do in a second, for what it’s worth. On the other hand, it’s impossible to flip one of the switches by accident.

Pop filter

Mudder pop filter “cage”.
Mudder pop filter “cage”.

Terrible fit for dynamic microphones, but pretty excellent for condenser microphones. It doesn’t touch the microphone at all, so the only thing that risks scratching it is the metal on the elastic bands, but those can be moved safely out of the way.

The AT2035 desperately needs a pop filter, as this video shows:

Setup 4.0

Stand

RØDE PSA-1 arm stand crossed out.
Anything but the PSA-1.

The PSA-1 is a mess as outlined in painstaking detail above so I need something to replace this POS with.

Pre-amp/powered mixer/mix-amp

The AT2035 works fine with a Scarlett Solo cranked almost all the way to the top, but if you want to use a microphone without too much attention to positioning and distance, you’ll want to boost, or amplify, the signal.

There are a couple of ways to approach this for mics in general:

  1. Add a pre-amp
  2. Add a mixer
  3. Replace the audio interface (amp) with a powered mixer AKA mix-amp

Many mixers have a built-in amplifier, so assuming the mixer has the juice, this takes our Scarlett Solo out of the equation in favour of something with more oompf. On top of adding a mixer to our setup.

Pre-amp
The SS-1 pre-amp.
Simply Sound Company’s SS-1.

Whenever I see people talk about pre-amps, they tend to bring up Cloudlifter, which is a series of pre-amps—or “mic activators” in their parlance.

They’re a bit on the expensive side, so you might want to turn your attention to the SS-1 by the Simply Sound Company. It currently retails at $74.99. Compare this with the Cloudlifter CL-1 at $149.99 or either of the Fetheads by Triton Audio around $149.99–174.99. The SS-1 also requires 48V Phantom Power, which you may not have for a dynamic mic.

I really like this simple review of the SS-1 that tells you everything you need to know, audio samples and all. Except the specifics of what kind of microphone it’ll work with.

Pre-amps don’t generally do too much for condenser mics, so do some research to see if a pre-amp will do anything for your condenser microphone before you hit “Buy”.

Further Reading

  1. XLR, which plugs into your amp, as opposed to USB, which plugs into your computer. ↩︎