# Equipment for recording sound effects

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I've been trying to build up a basic set of equipment for making my own games, and I've recently turned towards the audio side of things. I'm looking to be able to record my own sound effects for use in games or as music samples. Be forewarned that I'm fairly clueless when it comes to audio equipment, so I don't know that much about the terminology and what's available. But I'm sure there must be a reasonably cheap and easy method of recording decent sound samples. I recently purchased a microphone (Shure SM-57) based on the advice given in an earlier question I posted to this forum. Now I need a way to be able to use it with my computer, as at the moment I don't have method for using a XLR mic with the standard TRS connectors. At the moment all I have is the standard on-board audio system. Given that I'm not really aiming for ultra-high quality work, I don't know what would be best, or even what technology is available. Is it simply a case of hunting for the right connector cable? Or would it be better to look for a sound card that's compatible with high-quality audio equipment (I'm not sure if these exist)? Or should I be looking for some sort of other piece of equipment, such as another recording device, that can interface with both the mic and the computer? Sorry if this a bit clueless, but I'm really not sure what's the best approach for a beginner in digital audio, and a few pointers would be really useful.

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Well, you can either go grab yourself an Audigy sound card with all the fixins (like an XLR input), or hop over to Radio Shack and get converted. I assume you have the standard 1/8" input, and you ought to be able to get an XLR-1/8 converter (or, at worst, XLR - 1/4 - 1/8).

But the sound card would be the better method. You can also find full audio capture equipment (I recall that Guillemot had some) that come with a mixing box and everything you would need. Not surprisingly, those are expensive. So, I would recommend something in Creative's Audigy sound card line.

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Thanks for the reply! I've already tried a local Tandy (Radio Shack) store, but they didn't have an appropriate adapter (they advised me to track down a professional music supply store, but there's only a couple in Canberra and I haven't had the time to check them out yet). I might still see if I can find one since that's probably the easiest and cheapest solution, and would at least start as a "quick-fix" until I decide on something a bit more expensive.

However, I am seriously considering getting a better sound card for audio work if the motherboard chip proves to be not up to scratch (which is most likely the case). I didn't know the Audigy range came with XLR adapters. Given that the XLR connector is pretty friggin' huge, how does that work? I wouldn't think it would fit in the standard space a sound card has for a single slot in a standard PC.

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Oh, the nicer Audigy cards actually take up a space in one of the 5 1/2 slots (or they come in external pods) AND a space on the motherboard [grin].

But the one I was thinking of doesn't have an XLR slot - XPDIF, Optical, RCA, 1/4", 1/8", and S-Video (I think). In fact, none of the Creative ones have XLR, so you might have to look for a bigger package to get that. Still, I figure that one adapter and a decent sound card should be more than adequate for you.

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Even if you do get a XLR-1/4 adapter and then a 1/4->1/8 mini-jack, that SM-58 is going to need a lot more power than any standard audio card will give to effectively raise your signals significantly from the noise floor.

A good pre-amp is really what's missing on those audigy (and all other non-pro sound cards). That preamp is probably the most important part of your signal flow, because if it starts out on a crap pre-amp then it will come out crap. But if you put a crap mic through a quality pre-amp then you have a fighting chance.

Unfortunately, on top of that a dynamic mic for creating SFX isn't "the best" way to go. Yes, I have TONS of sfx I made with a SM57/58. They are the only mics you can swing around, hit things, throw off a roof, or at a moving car (don't ask) and still not completely ruin. But most SFX needs to be as big as possible, and the best way to capture small sounds and make them larger than life (the goal with most SFX) is to use a condenser mic. These DEFINITELY need a preamp (usually with 48v phantom power to boot) but you will be rewarded with accurate, clean, malleable audio...assuming you have the right room/area to record in.

Consider getting a USB mic in the future. There are lots of new USB mics on the market now and most sound real good. They average for about $150-$250 (Samson, BLUE, for instance) which is about the same you would pay for an introductory condenser (like an AT2020). I kind of like this route better since they are easy to use, install and handle. Some USB mics are multi-pattern and/or condenser for roughly the same price, it's hard to argue the point.

Another plus to having a USB mic is you can hook it up to your laptop and you suddenly have a budget field rig for collecting SFX outdoors. Carry them with you go and record every cool thing you can...ambiences, SFX, random things. You'll use them eventually!

No laptop? Then you'll need a good place (usually with some room to "swing" things, heh.) Most people starting out do it in two places...their bedrooms, or their bathrooms and their closets (usually in that order.) The problem with your bedroom? Not only is your noisy computer in there but usually a large sound absorbing block of fluff (your bed) is right in the middle of it. Next, the bathroom. You can get good levels and keep outside noises at bay, but your assets will sound like you are recording everything in a BATHROOM and the slight reverberations and reflections of a shiny, porcelain laden room will give you away immediately. So then you jump to the closet and have to deal with getting longer cables, extensions for your headset...

Ooh...get a good pair of headphones! You definitely want to hear what you are recording as closely as possible (not through monitors) and a good pair of headphones (preferable non-commercial as they come a bit biased, look for the words "flat-response" or "zero-response")

So bottom line? Get a good preamp/audio interface, try to upgrade to condenser (though learn everything about your dynamic mic and you will discover it's shortcomings for certain applications and eventually try something else), use quality headphones, and make sure your recording area/room is as controlled as possible.

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Using the internal soundcard for recording high-quality audio is nonsense.
Especially the built-in microphone connector is somewhat noisy...

Try thinking of purchasing an external firewire or usb2 audio a/d device, with line input and a mid-level to above-average mic preamp.
Behringer sells some devices which are quite ok for doing this job, i use one of those myself in my bandroom.
If you've got the money, for the a/d the digidesign mbox is definately worth a look, plus you get a copy of Pro-Tools LE with it, which is excellent recording software.

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Thanks everyone! It's all a little bit confusing, given my unfamiliarity with the area, but I've had a look at the M-Audio line of products and something like the Fast Track USB seems to be appropriate for my price range. Given that it's meant for garage bands something like that should be available from local stores if I hunt for it. Plus it will be useful for music too.

Of course, if I'm completely off-track please let me know [smile].

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Well, the pre-amp is a good idea. I don't have one now, but I always used it in the past. It does seem to help. But it's okay, because I can't even find my SM-58 anymore.

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just a heads up - Ive done a lot of music shopping so I have a recommendation for purchasing things. The hard part is finding what you want. One way to do this is to go to guitar center and try these things out, ask about them. Now the important part - do not buy it there. Say you will come back after you get your paycheck (if your uncomfortable with just leaving). Now that you have a model that you like, purchase it offline. A great site for this is www.zzounds.com. They are very competatively priced, and if your purchase is over a certain amount the shipping is free. Also one thing I learned is, that If the business does not reside in your state there is no sales tax to pay. Another good site is www.musiciansfriend.com, although I would recommend zzounds over them. Good luck.

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www.zzounds.com looks like a great on-line store, which will be useful for other people in the U.S. looking for equipment. Unfortunately it doesn't ship to Australia, though. The prices at most on-line Aussie stores seem to be pretty uniform (and nearly twice that offered by the U.S. stores, sadly).

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drat re: Aussie prices. zzounds is pretty killer.

The Fast Track is pretty serviceable. With that you could get a kick start at creating SFX with that 58.

Good luck!

Tony

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As others have pointed out, don't rely on the inputs on your sound card in order to get good audio quality. For one, you're going to need a preamp to boost the signal of your mic before your sound card is ever going to pick it up with its line inputs, and then on top of that, the line inputs on a lot of consumer-level sound cards (e.g., Creative sound cards) tend to be more on the noisy side.

Seriously look into getting a USB or Firewire based audio interface. You don't need anything fancy. Someone suggested the Maudio Firewire 410. Another one to look into is the Presonus Firebox. I own its big brother, the Firepod, and find it to be great piece of hardware. I've found the preamps on Presonus' interfaces to be crystal clear, which is probably the number one feature you should look into when considering an audio interface (aside from whether it has all ins and outs that you need). Both the Firewire 410 and the Firebox cost the same here in the States, so I would assume they're priced about equally over in Australia.