***This post originally appeared on the D’Addario Orchestral Behind The Bridge blog where I am a guest contributor. ***
When I first started recording myself on cello, my only intention at the time was to use those recordings to book gigs and to find work. I honestly never had any pipe dreams about becoming a mainstream recording artist since I was pretty much using myself as my own musician guinea pig while I learned the basics of audio engineering.
Here is the list of equipment that I currently use in my semi-professional setup at home to record and edit my cello recordings. Each piece of hardware is numbered in the picture below:
- An iMac with the Logic Pro X DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software installed.
- A Behringer X1204USB audio interface with a preamp built into each of the 4 microphone input channels. (A preamp is simply an electronic amplifier that prepares the small input signal from a microphone for further amplification and processing. A preamp can also be a standalone unit separate from an audio interface.)Connection type: USB cable to the computer.
- A CAD C9 mini condenser microphone.Connection type: standard XLR 3-pin cable from the microphone to the audio interface.
- An Apogee USB MiC condenser microphone that has the preamp built into the body of the microphone.Connection type: USB cable directly into computer.
- 2 Yamaha HS8 studio monitors (speakers) which play back a flat audio signal so that I can hear exactly what my playing sounds like.Connection type: ¼” balanced speaker cable from speaker to the audio interface.
Below is a diagram of my audio interface with each of the attached cables labeled for reference:
- This is the microphone cable. The other end is connected to my C9 mini condenser mic.
- These are the balanced jack ends of the speaker cables. The other ends connect to the speakers.
- This is the USB cable that runs directly to my computer.
- This is the power supply cable for the interface.
I like using Logic Pro as my DAW even though Pro Tools is the industry standard for professional recording studios. Logic Pro is less expensive to own and already came bundled with sound samples and preset software instruments that I knew I was going to need down the road when I started composing my own music. I also like Logic’s instrument specific sound enhancements that are included with the software as presets in the instrument library (see pic). I can very quickly apply these pre-defined settings to my cello recordings as a starting point for my editing process.
I use my Behringer audio interface to connect most of the hardware to my computer via USB port so that these devices can all be seen by the Logic Pro DAW. The speaker cables connect the monitors to my interface, then a microphone cable connects my C9 mini condenser mic to the same interface. If I only want to record using my Apogee MiC, then I won’t need the audio interface until I’m ready to edit the audio file. The reason for this is that the Apogee MiC connects directly to the computer through a USB port, and even has a built in pre-amp by way of the ‘Gain’ dial located on the body of the microphone. This ‘Gain’ functionality replaces that important job of traditional preamp hardware.
Things become a little more complex when I use both the C9 mic and Apogee MiC at the same time since Logic Pro is incapable of recognizing 2 different microphone types (USB & interface) in a single recording session. (Why would I need 2 mics at once? We’ll discuss optimal microphone selection and placement next time.) I had to create an ‘Aggregate Device’ in my computer’s system settings that combined both the C9 and MiC microphones into one input device. Logic Pro was then able to recognize and accept the configuration.
What makes my recording setup less than professional is the interface that I’m currently using. Eventually, I will need to upgrade this audio interface if I want to be taken seriously in the music world. I have considered just buying a better microphone while keeping my mid-grade Behringer, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t matter how expensive a microphone you buy. You will not be able to perfect the quality of recordings beyond the limitations of the preamp and audio interface that the microphone is connected to. Even though I can use sound enhancement plugins within Logic Pro that do magnificent wonders to an audio file, they can’t compensate for the added benefits of using a professional grade interface to make the raw recording in the first place.