Selecting a microphone for UTAU recording

The thing you yell into to make your computer sing

  1. na4a4a
    Note: this resource is a draft but has been posted regardless as there is still some information that may be useful. Watch out for updates when the mic selection section is added!
    EDIT: This post is being overhauled. There have been several changes to the budget mic market and I need to update much of this. While most of the microphone recommendations have been updated there may be some inconsistent snippets of text floating around in regards to price.

    Hello, This is a resource created to show UTAU users their microphone options and what is best for them. There is a lot out there and it can be a lot to take in, so this should make it easier on you.
    All prices in this resource are USD, so be prepared to convert if needed.

    Disclaimer: This resource is intended for those intending to purchase a microphone for recording an utau voicebank and want to look at all of the possible options.

    In this resource I will go through a wide price range from peanuts to a few hundred. Information will be provided for each microphone and what types of voices it works best with.

    What you want from a microphone.
    Here is a short section on what to look for in a microphone, specifically one designed for recording the voice.

    For UTAU recording, you generally want what is called a "Cardioid Large Diaphragm Condenser" micrphone.
    Now I'll break that down.

    Cardioid is the pickup pattern, there are several pickup patterns and they are all suitable for different situations.
    Here is a short summery of what are 3 of the most common pickup patterns.

    [​IMG] Cardioid/Unidirectional - is perhaps the most seen pickup patterns in any microphone. Cardioid mics have a "heart" shaped pattern in which the signals are picked up the strongest from the front rejected more and more as you go off to the sides and back.
    Cardioid is suseptible to what is called "proximity effect". Proximity Effect is the bossing of lower-mid frequencies as you get closer to the mic, making the voice sound bigger and boomier. This can be used to your advantage, and is also avoided by backing of the mic a little.
    Some mics are more sensitive to proximity effect than others.

    Hyper-Cardioid - is technically the same as regular cardioid except is even more focused to the front and rejects more signal from the sides BUT may record some signal from the back.

    [​IMG] Omnidirectional - is when a microphone records evenly from all directions on the microphone, whether it be from the front, back, side, it don't matter. These microphone are not susceptible to proximity effect (with exceptions) and are sometimes preferred for this reason. However, due to being omnidirectional these microphones will also record a fair bit more room noise. For this reason you would only want to record in omnidirectional if the room your were recording it was free of reverb, echo, noise, etc.

    [​IMG] Figure 8 - is when the microphone records from the front and back evenly. Imagine this as a two sided cardioid micrphone. These are most commonly used as room mics (mics that record a room's sound for mixing) or recording two people at the same time.
    All pickup pattern images are sourced from RODE.com
    [hr]
    Next I'll discuss what "Large Diaphragm Condenser" means.
    Microphones have to hear you somehow! The part of a mic that does this is called a "transducer", they basically convert energy from one type to another (in this case sound waves in the air into electricity).
    For all intents and purposes there are 3 types of microphone diaphragms.

    [​IMG]
    Condenser Mics (also called capacitor mics) are the most used mics for voice recordings, they are also the most sensitive/loud. Basically they have a diaphragm that's sputtered in a conductive material (usually gold). They also have little to no distortion.

    [​IMG]
    Dynamic Mics more common for broadcasting and live stage performance. These mics use a moving coil and are generally less sensitive. Cheaper ones will have a much less even frequency response. I wouldn't recommend a dynamic mic for UTAU recording unless you had a very specific reason to get one (which you probably don't) and you were to get a really good one.
    That being said, there ARE high-end studio dynamics and if you are willing to get a few things together you can actually get great recordings with them and due to their design you will also get less echo and noise in your recordings.

    todo: ribbon

    and I lied! There is more like 4, the 4th being Electret.
    [​IMG]
    Historically these mics were bad, but not so much with modern designs.
    These will generally sound similar to that of Condenser mics except Electrets decay/lose their sensitivity over time...
    Of course they sound "different", but this is subjective.
    Mic images sourced from Recording Hacks.


    USB Microphones
    USB microphones are generally the common "Plug and play" style microphones. They include all of their own electronics and do not rely on the audio components built into your PC.
    As such you are paying for the microphone components and the audio conversion components in one package, so to keep prices down manufacturers often make sacrifices in quality in either the microphone components, electronics or aesthetics.
    So I suggest having more than say $100 if you want a decent base for looking at mics.
    Even if you fall below that budget range, cheaper options are still available that do a very good job.
    That being said USB is the first place people go for microphone for ease of use and has a lot of selection so let's get to it.


    BELOW $40
    At below $40 you are basically asking for a miracle, your only real options here would involve headsets. And while headsets are good as early practice mics you'll be quick to regret it as the quality often isn't there.
    That being said, the Logitech H330 was a headset I've personally used in the past and can be had for under $30.
    I won't discuss any more options than this, if not that headset then just go to a local store and buy any cheap USB heaset...


    You now got options! In fact one of the best are in the cheapest category now!

    CAD GXL2400USB - $30 Available for $30 almost everywhere
    A very clear and decent mic for the money. Due to this mic I actually NO LONGER recommend any mics in the $80 and under range.

    Headsets - $30:
    They are almost all the same, walk into Walmart or Bestbuy abd buy whatever cheap usb thing they have on the shelf.

    Samson Go Mic - $40:
    No better than a headset (if not worse) and very noisy. You sohuld avoid this mic it will almost certainly give you bad results.

    Samson Meteorite -$40:
    A very small and cheaply made mic. This mic is very "telephonic" and will give results much the same as the Go Mic. You will get a cheap, noisy, tinny sound from this mic. It's not worth it's weight in sand.

    $40 and up
    For the $40+ range we have several mics to choose from. The CAD u37, Blue snowball, Samson c01u, Behringer C1u, and the Samson Meteor.

    Blue Snowball - $50:
    The Blue Snowball is a VERY popular option.
    While Blue does make high quality microphones the Snowball is far from that.

    The Blue Snowball comes with two capsules and for cardioid and omnidirectional recording.
    Now I simply cannot recommend the Snowball for various reasons.
    For starters, it's BIG, the size is ridiculous and takes up a large portion of desk space.
    The second is it's design as a whole. The snowball uses cheap, small , noisy capsules that are very bright and sibilant on their own. To combat this Blue actually had to pack the head of the mic full of foam to tame the high frequencies. While it did do what it as supposed to, as a side effect it also muffled the mic. You will get no detail from this mic and everything will sound blurry and dead.
    The only people who suggest this mic are people who haven't tried anything else.

    The "Ice" model isn't any better.

    Samson C01u - $70:
    This mic is basically a USB version fo the Samson C01. While it's "okay" for it's price the electronics built into it are actually quite noisy and the audio recorded from it will be muffled and lacking in body/fullness.
    I would suggest something else.

    Behringer C1u - $60 :
    Not to be confused for the Samson mic of similar model, this mic is totally different. The Behringer C1u does a very acceptable job at recording. It's electronics aren't too noisy and it's sound signature as a whole is pretty natural. For the price this mic doesn't lack in anything major and is one of the better options here.

    Samson Meteor - $70:
    The bigger brother to the Meteorite.
    Not a very god option, it has a very unnatural low mid boost and sounds very rough. It tried to "look cool" in a vintage throwback kind of way. It also attempts to give you that "announcer" tone but ultimately fails and sound very unnatural. You're more paying for the looks rather than the sound.

    CAD u37 - $42:
    My personal favorite in this price category.
    The CAD u37 isn't a very well know mic, probably because of how ugly it is. ;-) When I started recommending this mic people thought I was insane.
    CAD is a very popular brand for recording, their studio mics are absolutely solid. Utau users haven't heard of this brand mostly because they aren't as flashy as other brands.
    This mic doesn't try to give you fancy knobs or look cool, it's made to record and nothing more. Previous models of this mic used to have noise issues but recent circuit changes means that is no longer the case.
    It's natural and does a fairly suitable job at recording the full frequency range for the voice.

    I no longer recommend this mic, the CAD GXL2400usb is miles better!

    In this price range I give the Behringer C1u and the CAD u37 a thumbs up. I think the CAD u37 has a slight edge simply because of the better price, for the money you saved you could get a pop-filter.
    I no longer recommend this price range either! IF you can get the CAD GXL2400usb then that is your best bet. If you cannot buy that mic for any reason then the Behringer C1u is the next best option. You'll need to jump to the "$100 and up" section for an improvement!

    $80

    Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB - $70-$100:
    The ATR2500 is a popular choice in the Utau community. However regardless it is still not a good option. With a history of poor quality control and audio quality that just isn't an improvement over the lower priced options you're just better off either saving your money on a cheaper option or saving more to get something in a higher tier.

    There isn't any improvement in quality in this price range, nothing is really worth it.

    $100 and up

    Audio-Technica AT2020usb - $130:
    Also Popular, the AT2020 is a common choice. I cannot recommend this mic as it simply isn't optimal for vocal recording. The capsule inside the AT2020 is actually not a larg diaphragm and is in fact the same capsule tha can be found in the AT2021 small diaphragm instrument microphone but put in a larger body. With a smaller diaphragm and a more instrument-tuned frequency response the AT2020 will leave most vocals sounding dull.

    Blue Yeti - $110:
    - To be written, all I will put here for now is "don't buy this pls". -
    Tiny capsule and doesn't record a full frequency range, which makes mature voices thin and lifeless.

    MXL 008 - $115 - $150:
    MXL is also a very unknown brand to the Utau community. They are a popular brand for home studios thanks to their budget options (but they also make some higher end mics too).
    The MXL 008 is much cleaner than the mics in the $40 range. It is smoother and has a less "hissy" and cleaner high frequency. In comparison it edges out the AT2020usb and clobbers the Yeti in performance.

    Nady USB-1C - $100 On Amazon for $73
    Nady isn't what you would call a manufacturer...they more-so import mics under their name or have already existing components mixed together.
    For this reason they can actually get a lot of stuff made for a lot cheaper and are popular for some of their mics for home studio recording.
    The USB-1C is basically everything the MXL 008 is but for a lot cheaper and a lot uglier.

    Nady USB-1CX - $120 On Amazon for $97
    Updated version of the USB-1C. The only notable changes is the aesthetics.
    Otherwise exactly the same mic.

    Out of this category I say get the XLR 008 or one of the Nady mics depending on what is cheapest.

    [hr]

    XLR Microphones

    XLR Microphones (also often mistakenly called "studio" microphones) are micorphones that do not include their own circuitry and instead rely on an external interface unit (or separate preamps and converters) to bring up the signal and digitize it for the computer. XLR mics are generally much higher quality as more money can go into each individual component and you don't have to cram it all into the small microphone housing/case. These mics also tend to be quite a bit more expensive to get into as well! While a mic might even be cheaper than it's usb cousin you will need to buy additional components before you can use it. The benifit of this is that when you want a new mic you don't have to get rid of anything else.
    However, just because it has an XLR connector doesn't mean it's high quality! You need to know what you're buying.

    An "XLR" connector (specifically XLR3) is a balanced three prong connector. Balanced means that it contains two of the same signal with the intention of cancelling out any noise or interference that may get into the recording.
    There is ground and two "signal" lines. The trick is that one of the two signal lines actually contains a inverted/flipped version of the signal. When the signal goes into the interface to be recorded the flipped signal is flipped the right way up and that causes the noise to be canceled out instead.
    [​IMG]
    Photo sourced from bhphotovideo
    Because of this you can have a much longer wire going between the microphones and your computer than with a USB wire and have no ill-effects.

    Microphones

    Below $50:

    BM-100/200/1000 cheap mics:
    DON'T buy these. They are some cheap generic design and are in fact not actually balanced XLR mics. They have an "XLR" connector but it's wired much the same as your standard 3.5mm headphone out.
    They cause a lot of self noise and the recordings will be muffled and lack detail. If you're going to go this cheap then you might as well just get a USB mic instead.

    50:

    MXL 990 - $60:
    garbage, small diaphragm, not flattering at all, okay on some instruments.


    80:
    100:
    200:
    500:
    I'm made of gold:

    Interfaces
    An "interface" is what takes input for the microphone, increases it's volume, and then converts it to digital for your computer. It is essentially a bundled preamp and converter all in one. These all vary in quality.
    Since there isn't too much worth looking at I'll list a few here and tell you about them.

    Focusrite Scarlett:
    Easy to distort mic inputs, the Scarlett series suffers from driver issues (the drivers never left beta) and the units suffer from a rather high noise level. Many users complain of driver issues from drop outs to the units just never working. The gain has been considered by many (including myself who has owned one of these) to be lacking.

    Focusrite Scarlett Generation 2:
    Literally exactly the same as the first generation above. The only thing they changed were the guitar inputs and updated the drivers (that's right, you have to buy a whole new interface to get new drivers). The other thing they changed what the material the knobs were made out of.... The mic inputs are the same and so is everything else...

    "XENYX" Mixers.
    You only need a mic input, not a mixer. The preamps on Xenyx mixers are very bad and just don't buy one.

    Behringer UM2
    Lowest end model of the "U-Phoria" series from Behringer. This model uses Xenyx preamps and should also be avoided.

    Behringer UMC22 (or basically any other model)
    These slightly higher end models use MIDAS preamps. These preamps are much better than the Xynyx ones and will give you modest recording quality for a lot cheaper than the Focusrite.
    The UMC22 can be had for $39.99

    Steinberg UR Series:
    By far my favorite interfaces. Many consider these to be rock solid and they use the same "D-PRE" preamps that can be found in their professional mix consoles. All the UR series will generally sound the same with minor differences between them.

    UR22: Their 2 input version, it's the only model that ever suffered from some noise issues but even then it's still better than the Focusrite. No driver issues to mention and in my personal experience have enough gain to even get a usable signal out of some dynamics.

    UR22 mkII: Updated version of the UR22, all the noise issues are completely gone and it's practically flawless.

    UR12: Single input model in the UR line. This is the best option for an Utau user in this series. It has never had issues with noise. Utau users will only need one input and having only one input will also cost less.

    For a technical stadpoint, if you can afford this over the Behringer UMC22, the UR12 is by far your best option without spending $400.

    I won't be discussing anything more costly in this section, if you have questions about "higher end" units then post them in the resource discussion.

    Cables
    XLR Cables


    USB Cables

    Active Mic Boosters
    Niche component, you will only need this if you're interested in a dynamic microphone.
    CL, Catherdral, FetHead, to be written.

    Powered Hubs (optional)
    Sometimes the USB port on your PC isn't able to supply enough power, while this is rarely the case it often happens on cheaper built PCs that don't meet power specifications. Laptops can stuggle with this.
    So what you can do it get a powered usb hub to power your interface!
    This is simple, I'll just list some stuff and you can pick what you can afford. Easy as pie.
    Mocha, Usagiine, trinkhk and 4 others like this.