USB Mics and Adapters: Cool Concepts, But Beware The Glitch Factors
This time of year I’d ordinarily be telling you about my tech-related adventures at the latest iteration of the annual High Sierra Music Festival. This year, however, I decided to sell my festival and RV passes (acquired last December, at early-purchase low rates) on Ebay. I’ve got multiple ‘kids’ at home, with no fenced outdoor area for my canine ’son’ at my new abode, and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of incurring cat-sitting charges (or alternatively, burning costly and environmentally degrading gas on daily four-hour roundtrips) and dog-kenneling expenses. Plus, the festival lineup wasn’t as strong as in year’s past, at least as it aligned with my personal tastes.
In a sense it’s too bad I didn’t go, though, because I was hoping to use the festival as a test-bed for two cool (at least in concept…stay tuned for implementation feedback) widgets that CEntrance sent me for review. In years past, I’ve told you about various USB-, IEEE-1394- (aka ‘FireWire’-) and PCMCIA-based adapters that I’ve used to amplify and digitize the outputs of my Oktava MC012 microphones, to phantom-power the mics, and to get the digitally-transformed data into my laptop computer for recording and editing purposes.
CEntrance takes the adapter concept to extremes of both quality and compactness; the company’s MicPort Pro bundles 24 bit/96 kHz A/D (with adjustable gain) and D/A, USB transceiver, headphone amplifier and 48V mic phantom power capabilities into a device only 4.5" long and 2" in diameter. Podcasting and other mono recording applications require only one MicPort Pro; for dual-channel music recordings like those I do at festivals, you’d need two units.
Speaking of podcasting, and indicative of the increasing prevalence of computers as the editing and capture nexus of the digital studio (versus analog and digital tape recorders of times past), this year’s NAB Show was chock-full of vendors exhibits showcasing microphones with built-in USB interfaces. Blue’s Snowball (of which I own two, complete with Ringer shockmounts) was a pioneer in this particular market segment, which plenty of competitors have now also entered. Samson, for example, was showing off its diverse line of USB-based microphones, and even longtime mic stalwart Audio-Technica now has a USB variant of its classic AT2020.
If you’ve already got a mic with a conventional (i.e. non-XLR) output plug, you don’t need to ditch it in order to catch the USB wave. Griffin’s iMic (which I wrote up over two years ago…how time flies…) is one of several available adapter options. Regardless of your chosen approach to USB-based audio capture, keep in mind that USB’s non-isochronous tendencies don’t necessarily render it an ideal digital external system interface, as my three-years-back experience exemplifies.
Keep an eye open for a MicPort Pro review to come, since after all, the 2008 festival season’s got plenty of life left in it. Hmmm…maybe I’ll make it to Strawberry this year…or Outside Lands…or Bumbershoot…or the Northwest String Summit…