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I would like to start recording myself singing on audacity and I know I need a better hardware setup to get reasonable quality recordings, how ever I have no idea where to begin to do this. I am humbly completely aware of my own lack of knowledge on this topic and I would like to get the most basic advice.

I have already tried recording myself singing and playing the guitar with audacity using my computer's (lenovo g500s) built in microphone and both sound really bad. The sound is very tinny, and lacking in body, this is not just down to my level of talent in singing, as I can compare how my guitar sounds to my ear to how it sounds on the recording and there is a world of difference there.

I'm sure that one of the things I need is an external microphone, but is that all that I need? Is there some other hardware interface that I need to connect my mic to audacity, or can I just plug a mic in and it will immediately sound good?

Concretely, my question has three parts:

1) Will a better setup produce better quality recordings?

2) as stated above, what is the setup that I need to make reasonably decent recordings? E.g. a mic plus something else? I would like to continue using Audacity as I am a little accustomed to it, and it seems relatively easy to use. Plus I run Ubuntu on my laptop so Audacity is nice and compatible.

Thank you in advance for answering my very basic question!

  • Would it be OK to edit or some things from the second last paragraph? The part about "recommend[ing] specific mics to purchase" is clearly of topic. – Ye Dawg Dec 14 '17 at 10:57
  • Did you mean that you want me to change it? – steve zissou Dec 17 '17 at 9:31
  • If you like any or all of the answers, you can indicate that by clicking on the little up arrow in the upper left corner of the answer. If one answer is the best answer that has helped you solve your problem, you can mark it as the best answer by clicking on the check mark under the up and down arrows. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '17 at 16:50
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1) Will a better setup produce better quality recordings?

A better setup will make it possible to produce better quality recordings, just like a better guitar helps a good guitarist sound better, but doesn't do as much for someone who has no idea how to play. Learning to record is like learning an instrument. It requires years of study of theory and technique, and years of practice.

2) as stated above, what is the setup that I need to make reasonably decent recordings? E.g. a mic plus something else?

You do need a mic. I suggest getting a mic that has an XLR interface, not USB or 1/4" or anything else. Along with the mic, you will want an audio interface to connect the mic to the computer. The interface should have a built-in mic preamp that has an XLR input. Then you'll want an XLR cable to connect the mic to the interface and a mic stand to put the mic on. At that point it should be possible to set up the mic and the interface to record audio into Audacity.

You will probably find that you have many little troubles along the way. I suggest reading instructions, doing web searches, and asking questions here. Don't expect to get your new toys and have a professional sounding recording that afternoon.

One more note on microphones: they are like the musical instruments of recordists. You can start small but with a quality mic that will last you for decades. I suggest looking at dynamic microphones in the range of prices around $100/€100. A good starting interface will run about the same, but you might consider saving for something that has at least two mic preamps for when you get your second microphone.

I strongly suggest not compromising on budget, and instead saving every penny and prioritizing your spending on what you care about most. If that's music, you will quickly find that cutting back on everything else makes it possible to afford great gear that will last a lifetime.

3) Can anyone recommend specific mics to purchase?

We don't do specific recommendations here. I suggest finding a store or an online retailer where you can go in or call and ask questions.

  • Great thanks for the answer! But regarding question 1. Assuming the person has years of experience in singing and thus is pretty good at it, wouldn't there be an immediate improvement to be heard in the recording quality if the person was to switch from the computer's buit-in mic, to a dynamic mic as you suggest? – steve zissou Dec 12 '17 at 8:58
  • On what basis do you suggest a dynamic mic for vocals instead of a condenser mic? Google seems to suggest the opposite is better... – steve zissou Dec 17 '17 at 10:16
  • @stevezissou Remember how we don’t do recommendations here? Well I was kinda trying to steer you in a certain direction without actually recommending something. Regarding what is “better”: Thriller by Michael Jackson is by far the best selling album of all time. All of MJ’s vocals on Thriller were recorded using the Shure SM7 dynamic microphone. It just worked for his voice. So there is no “better”. The SM7 is a great mic and there is a more affordable mic that uses the same capsule called the SM-57, which is a very popular and useful microphone. So... just throwing that out there. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '17 at 16:47
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As usual, there are many useful resources and tutorials on the internet. Feel free to research the topics i mention, but beware of taking advice from HiFi cultists, y'know, those "700 buck solid gold cable" people. Here are the basic components of a digital recording rig:

  1. Sound source (in this case your voice and guitar)
  2. Microphone(s)
  3. Sound card (your laptop mic jack will often not do)
  4. Computer/ digital recorder

So let's quickly go through them one by one in your case, with a professional result in mind.

  1. A reasonable acoustic guitar that is intonated and doesn't have ancient strings. A vocalist who knows basic mic technique.
  2. One or more microphones. If you are going to record guitar and vocals at the same time, get at least two, since they are usually directional. You will likely be looking at dynamic mics for your budget. Look up what the intended use for the mic is, they do have different sounds. Condenser mics are nice for guitar and some vocals, but no must.
  3. A sound card (interface) that has at least one mic input for every microphone you intend to record. 44kHz 16bit is the minimum definition you want to use, good thing that such definition is abundant in sound cards. Focus more on getting good mic preamps and more inputs. Anything above 16 bit is also only necessary if you are only able to get whisper-level signals into the card and somehow manage to avoid all the other noise. Any samplerate above 48 kHz is only good if you need to capture ultrasonics.

For your particular use (Ubuntu), some cards are not compatible, but most manufacturers simply don't tell you whether a card is compatible. I recommend buying from a local store, and to make sure you can return it for a refund if it turns out to require any source building or reverse engineering (because those will fail if you don't know what you're doing). The ALSA project also has a list of some cards which are supported.

  1. A computer. It needs to be powerful enough to run recording software. A faster computer will manage a lower buffer size, and minimize latency (that delay between the signal that comes in and the one that gets recorded, that makes playing in time to already recorded material a pain). If you plan to record many tracks, go for much RAM and a fast hard drive.

  2. Some good "reference" or "flat response" monitors are also good if you plan to do any mixing beyond the simplest two-track deal.

  3. etc. etc. (There is lots more gear you can buy that's not really necessary for your current ambitions)

That's pretty much it. Let me also clarify:

1) Will a better setup produce better quality recordings?

Yes, but recording is a skill, an expensive rig doesn't guarantee anything. Get the best you can comfortably afford and start practicing. As i said, lots of helpful resources elsewhere on the net to get you started.

  • Thank you for your response! I now have two answers which make sense, however they make different recommendations, so i don't know which direction to take. You have recommended investing in a new sound card, whilst @ToddWilcox has recommended getting an audio interface along with the mic. Do I need both of these, or will one substitute for the other, for example, a good sound card means i won't need an audio interface and vice versa? Furthermore, LaurencePayne recommends just starting with a simple USB mic... – steve zissou Dec 17 '17 at 9:55
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    @stevezissou “Sound card” and “audio interface” are two different terms for the same thing. A USB mic will be less flexible in the future and only handles the input to the computer for that one mic. A sound card/interface gives you more flexible input options, more room to grow, and it also gives you better quality output options than the built in output of your computer. – Todd Wilcox Dec 17 '17 at 16:53
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For a one-microphone solution, get a USB microphone like the Samson CO1U. Link

Caveat: Check the compatibility with Audacity and Ubuntu. Some reports say it works, some say it doesn't. But as a Linuz user, you're used to sorting this sort of thing out I expect! (Is there ONLY Linux available on your laptop?)

  • Regarding the last sentence, I bet Linux is the only thing OP is comfortable with using on their personal computer. – Ye Dawg Dec 14 '17 at 10:54
  • Yeah, whatever. It's sensible to be 'comfortable' with the software that does the job you need. – Laurence Payne Dec 14 '17 at 22:47
  • thanks for the quick solution, Linux is the only thing available for now as a matter of principle ;) – steve zissou Dec 17 '17 at 9:30
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I would recommend buying a Zoom H2n Handy Recorder, with the optional accessory kit, and a upright (telescoping) microphone stand.

For little over two hundred dollars you will end up with a recording capability that is unbelievably versatile and high-quality, and for a fraction of the investment you might have expected to make.

The Zoom records to SD card, so you can export your songs to your computer (and therefore the internet) in a matter of minutes.

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Adding something which has not been addressed in previous answers: try multi-tracking software (Audacity is capable of this). First you record the guitar via an interface or via microphone, as many times as necessary until you are satisfied. Then record the vocals via microphone, again as many times as possible.

The reason for separating the recordings is that one can apply different effects to different tracks. The guitar may be ok on its own, but it probably wouldn't hurt to add a little chorus in order to thicken the sound. Similarly, the vocal will probably need to be compressed then adjusted with eq as well as adding other effects such as chorus and/or reverb.

My favourite vocal recording technique is to record in stereo, then add about 5-6 microseconds of silence in front of one track only. This creates an effect similar to 'automatic double tracking', which thickens the vocal in a pleasing way.

I've also been playing with autotune programs - not so much as to tune my vocals, but rather to create harmony parts without having to sing them myself.

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