Over the past few years, the market has become flooded with USB microphones, but most have been condenser models, and only a couple have been dynamic. Those dynamic models have been USB-only. There has been a need for dynamic USB microphones that were also hybrid (XLR balanced analog + USB digital, together with onboard zero-latency monitoring), especially since the external converters are both costly and bulky, and USB-only microphones are -by nature- more limited in terms of applications. In this part 1, I’ll clarify when dynamic microphones are preferred over condenser models, where USB-connected microphones “fit”, cover Audio Technica’s first hybrid dynamic models, and offer three comparative recordings between our reference Heil PR–40, the legendary Shure SM58, and the new ATR2100-USB, which is one of two handheld hybrid dynamic models from Audio Technica.
When to use a USB-connected microphone
When I talk about a USB-connected microphone in this section, I’m talking about either a microphone that was born classified as a USB microphone, or one that is connected to one of the several tube-type converters that match XLR balanced microphones to USB, handling both the pre-amplification and A-to-D (analog-to-digital) conversion. (In this section, I am not talking about using an audio mixer with USB connection, or a USB audio device with more than one XLR microphone input, like several I reviewed in 2011 here in ProVideo Coalition magazine.) Assuming that the other characteristics of the microphone are appropriate for the application, a USB-connected microphone is helpful when recording directly to a computer, and/or when using it with a computer to use some type of Internet telephony application (i.e. Skype, Line2Pro, or GoogleVoice). Generally, USB-connected microphones work with both Mac and Windows computers. My personal experience using them has been primarily with Macs. Before Mac OS 10.6, it was possible to connect more than one USB microphone to a Mac simultaneously, even to access the individual audio streams independently in multitrack DAW programs. However, starting with 10.6, that became problematic, so the bottom line is that I only recommend a USB-connected microphone for a Mac when there is only going to be a single local USB audio source. When I say “local”, I mean not counting the remote microphone(s) used at the other end of an Internet Telephony connection.
The two new hybrid handheld dynamic microphones from Audio Technica are fortunately iPad-compliant via their USB connection. (Not all USB microphones are.)
When to use an analog, balanced XLR microphone
- Whenever you connect a wired handheld microphone to a professional video camera, professional video recorder, or professional audio recorder with a balanced XLR microphone input.
- In a studio (audio or video) where one or multiple wired microphones are connected to a mixer with analog XLR microphone inputs, either directly or via an audio snake.
Condenser versus dynamic microphones
Condenser (aka capacitor or electrostatic) microphones require power, either from an internal battery or via phantom power supplied by the audio mixer or from an in-line phantom power supply. Compared with dynamic microphones, condenser microphones are considered more sensitive, have a slightly higher output, yet are more fragile. With the exception of some specialized microphones (lavaliere microphones, shotgun microphones, some head-mounted microphones, and some boundary microphones), condenser microphones are more common in recording studios than in the field or even in a radio booth.
Dynamic microphones do not require power, and are considered to be more robust than equivalent condenser microphones. They are very common in radio booths and for hand-held interview situations both for radio and TV. Some dynamic microphones have built-in shock absorbers.
Many professional voice over talent and audio podcasters who record from home and do not have a soundproof booth have discovered that condenser microphones are way too sensitive to be used, since they tend to pick up way too much background noise (i.e. air conditioners, refrigerators, lawn mowers, dogs barking, and cars going by). That’s why many have chosen to use dynamic microphones for their home studios, and specifically cardioid (heart-shaped directional) models, and use them very close up to increase S/N (signal-to-noise) even further.
Other dynamic USB microphones on the market
Below you’ll find the only dynamic USB microphones (i.e. classified as USB microphones at birth, without having to add any external device) that to my knowledge have existed prior two these two new hybrid models from Audio Technica.
The Rode Podcaster (shown above, US$229 at publication time) is a studio dynamic USB microphone, whose only connection to a computer is USB. (Like many USB microphones, it also has an onboard headphone output for zero-latency monitoring. See the sidebar: What is zero-latency monitoring, ahead in this article) The Rode Podcaster is sometimes confused with its sibling, the Rode Procaster (shown below, US$229 at publication time), which has a similar front-end, but its output is XLR-only (no USB and no headphone output) and it is black in color.
The Samsung Q1U (shown below, US$49 at publication time) is a handheld dynamic USB microphone whose only recording output is USB (no XLR). To my knowledge, the Q1U does not have a headphone output onboard.
Tubes to convert balanced dynamic microphones into USB
There are several tubes on the market that convert balanced XLR microphones into USB. They incorporate both a preamp (preamplifier) and and A-to-D (analog-to-digital) converter. Many of them are designed to work ideally with condenser microphones. The only two models that I know work very well with dynamic microphones are the following:
The MXL MicMate DYNAMIC XLR To USB Preamp for dynamic microphones (shown above, US$67.29 at publication time) offers good quality with a dynamic microphone, but lacks any onboard headphone output for zero-latency monitoring.
The Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter (shown above, US$99 at publication time) offers good quality with a dynamic, or even condenser microphones, since it offers optional phantom power, together with a headphone output for zero-latency monitoring. This is the only tube-type converter I have ever seen that requires a driver to be installed for proper use on a Mac.
Thankfully, both the MXL-MICMATE DYNAMIC XLR To USB Preamp for Dynamic Mics and the Shure X2U XLR-to-USB Signal Adapter can be used to record at the two most desired sampling rates: either at 44.1 kHz (CD, radio, and audio podcasts) or at 48 kHz (audio-for-video).
What is zero-latency monitoring?
First, the problem to be solved: There is a natural delay in the analog audio being digitized and sent via USB. If you were to monitor directly from the computer (which in any case, would require you to override the default setting in most recording software which prevents live monitoring to avoid feedback), you'd here an echo in your headphones. Those USB audio devices and USB microphones with on an onboard monitoring output marketed as "zero-latency monitoring" will output the amplified analog signal before digitization so you can hear yourself in real time. In addition to that, many (but not necessarily all) such devices also act as an audio return from the computer's audio to your ears, so if you play back what you just recorded, you'll hear it directly in your headphones without having to unplug it and plug it into the computer. If so, than it can also be used to hear the other party if you converse via Internet Telephony (i.e. Skype, Line2Pro, or GoogleVoice) via your computer using this same setup.
New handheld dynamic microphones with hybrid XLR/USB/iPad connectivity from Audio Technica
Audio Technica has announced two new handheld dynamic models which are hybrid XLR/USB/iPad connectivity: the AT2005USB (black, US$78) and ATR2100-USB (silver, US$52.30 at publication time) models. (Audio Technica has also offered condenser USB microphones which are completely outside the scope of this article.) Among the two, the published specs are nearly identical. Both are described by the manufacturer as: “Smooth, extended frequency response ideally suited for podcasting, home studio recording, field recording, voiceover, and on-stage use”. Ahead in this article, you’ll be able to judge the comparative quality with your own ears. Both have the same published frequency response of 50–15,000 Hz. In digital mode using the USB output, both have a bit depth of 16-bit and a sampling rate of either 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz. I applaud Audio Technica for including the 48 kHz option, since 48 kHz is the standard for audio for video, and has unfortunately been forgotten by some manufacturers and software developers. (More details about using 44 or 48 kHz from the USB connection from these microphones in part 2 of this article.) The AT2005USB (black) weighs 266 g (9.4 oz), while the ATR2100-USB (silver) weighs 268 g (9.5 oz). As far as dimensions, the AT2005USB (black) measures 183.6 mm (7.23“) long, 51.0 mm (2.01”) maximum body diameter, while the ATR2100-USB (silver) measures 183 mm (7.20“) long, 51 mm (2.01”) maximum body diameter. Both have a 3.5 mm stereo headphone jack to monitor with zero-latency (usable only in USB-mode). Both the XLR output and USB are available simultaneously if desired.
My comparative (analog) recordings
Even though I use 44.1 kHz for my audio podcasts, the following recordings are all done at the video standard of 48 kHz, since this is for ProVideo Coalition magazine, and I find so many occasions where people mistakenly record audio-for-video at 44.1 kHz and then have to carry out an upsample to 48 kHz before continuing. All three microphones had their respective balanced XLR output connected to the Roland OCTA-CAPTURE which I reviewed in April 2011. All recordings are unedited and unprocessed, 48 kHz WAVE mono files. The compared microphones are the Heil PR–40 (US$317.51 at publication time, our reference microphone in the TecnoTur studio), the legendary Shure SM58 (US$99 at publication time) which has been on the market since the late 1960s, and the new hybrid ATR2100-USB (silver) from Audio Technica. All three are dynamic, and all have a cardioid pattern. (Thanks to Ríchard Izarra of PRODU.com for lending me his SM58 for this test.):
Following you will find downloadable raw 48 kHz WAV files to compare the audible quality of each. When I say ?raw?, I mean that no post-processing has happened on the original files. Depending upon your browser, you can right-click and Download linked file as… or Save link as…:
My initial observations
This are only my partial observations so far:
I am happily amazed at the sound quality of the ATR2100-USB via its native analog XLR output. The raw recording sounds much fuller than the SM58, and even sounds much closer to that of the sound of the PR–40, at a fraction of the price of the SM58, let alone the price of the PR–40. I am very thankful that Audio Technica has (to my knowledge) been the first-to-market with handheld hybrid dynamic microphones.
I am kind of surprised at the almost blister-packaging used (see photo above), as if it were intended to be an impulse purchase at the checkout counter at a supermarket.
I hope that Audio Technica will eventually offer a black-colored variation without any on-off switch, since in field production that switch only brings us trouble, especially when used with a mic flag, since the mic flag has a tendency to shut the microphone off. In the meantime, it’s necessary to wrap that portion of the mic with black electrical tape before sliding the mic flag into place. In fact, the microphone should be a bit longer to be held comfortably with a mic flag in place. A good length to use as a reference point is the RE–50B from ElectroVoice, which is 197 mm long, as opposed to 183 mm or 183.6 mm in the current hybrid handheld dynamic microphones from Audio Technica which I am covering in this article.
In part 2 of this article
- Recording via the USB (digital) output of the ATR2100-USB microphone, both on a Mac and on an iPad, to demonstrate the quality of the ATR2100-USB’s onboard pre-amp and A-to-D (analog-to-digital) converter, compared with the reference used in part 1 of the article, which was done via the Roland OCTA-CAPTURE.
- How to set 44.1 or 48 kHz with these microphones when connected via USB.
- Cable recommendations.
- My complete conclusions about this new category of microphone, these particular new models, and recommendations.
- Part 2: Hybrid XLR/USB/iPad mics that rival expensive studio mics
- Record audio at 48 kHz on an iPad from a digital source? Yes!
Related new ebook
I have just published a related ebook in two languages.
The format is Kindle, but even if you don’t have a Kindle device, you can read Kindle books on many other devices using a free Kindle app. That includes iPad, iPhone, Android phones, Android tablets, Mac computers, Windows computers, some Blackberry phones and Windows 7 phones.
In English, it is currently available in the following Amazon stores, depending upon your region:
- At Amazon.com (for the USA, Caribbean, and Latin America)
- Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)
- Amazon.de (Germany)
- Amazon.es (Spain, pero a lo mejor lo prefieres en castellano, a continuación)
- Amazon.fr (France)
- Amazon.it (Italy)
As I write this, the English version is only in these Amazon stores. If you are in another region, you may search for ASIN number B008BI1OIU in the Amazon that handles your area, or try via one of the other close regional stores listed.
En castellano, está disponible actualmente en las siguientes tiendas Amazon, según tu región:
- Amazon.com (Estados Unidos, el Caribe y Latinoam©rica)
- Amazon.co.uk (Reino Unido)
- Amazon.de (Alemania)
- Amazon.es (España)
- Amazon.fr (Francia)
- Amazon.it (Italia)
A la hora que redacto esto, está disponible en esas tiendas Amazon. Si estás en alguna otra región, puedes buscar el número ASIN B008ACUDJI en la tienda que atienda tu área para ver si ya está disponible. De lo contrario, puedes intentar comprar vía alguna otra cercana de las listadas.
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Allan T©pper's books, consulting, articles, seminars & audio programs
Contact Allan T©pper for consulting, or find a full listing of his books, articles and upcoming seminars and webinars at AllanTepper.com. Listen to his TecnoTur program, which is now available both in Castilian (aka "Spanish") and in English, free of charge. Search for TecnoTur in iTunes or visit TecnoTur.us for more information.
Disclosure, to comply with the FTC's rules
No manufacturer is specifically paying Allan T©pper or TecnoTur LLC to write this article. Some of the other manufacturers listed above have contracted T©pper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcriptions. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan T©pper review units. However, as of the publication time of this article, Allan T©pper has not yet received any review units from Audio Technica. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs.
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The articles contained in the TecnoTur channel in ProVideo Coalition magazine are copyright Allan T©pper/TecnoTur LLC, except where otherwise attributed. Unauthorized use is prohibited without prior approval, except for short quotes which link back to this page, which are encouraged!