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Testing equipment for the EMJKC audiobook

We had a lot of fun yesterday with one of our readers, Alfred, testing equipment, rooms and techniques for recording the audiobook for Emily Jayne and the Kairos Codex (EMJKC). We tried three options for the microphone: (a) the Blue Snowball USB (digital) condenser microphone, (b) the Audio-Technica AT2020 cardioid condenser (analog) microphone, and (c) the internal microphone for the MacBook Air. This allowed us to compare digital and analog microphones, which is a very interesting subject. The Blue Snowball mic was very easy to use, as it is a plug-and-play model (attach the stand and connect to the USB port of the MacBook Air) and has no external buttons or other hardware widgets. The AT2020 microphone was a little more work, because it is an analog microphone, and required conversion to digital before input to the MacBook Air. The AT2020 was connected to an ultra-compact and ultra-low-noise Mackie 4-channel analog mixer using an XLR cable. The output from the mixer was directed to a Behringer UCA202 ultra-low-latency analog-to-digital converter using RCA cables, and the UCA202 output went directly into the USB port of the MacBook Air.

The Audacity open-source software (version 2) was used on the MacBook Air to record the sound. We have used this software many times over the past six-to-eight years, and it performs very well. The only point to watch out for is that it requires (or works best if) the microphone is connected to the USB port prior to starting Audacity on the MacBook Air.

From our initial testing, the Blue Snowball microphone is our top choice, based on its very good sound and ease of use. The AT2020 microphone comes in as a close second. It also has great sound, but introduces the potential for error through the additional connections, cables and required settings on the analog mixer. The MacBook Air’s internal microphone was easy to use and produced a solid sound, though it was not as deep and rich as with the two dedicated microphones.

The Mackie mixer connected to the AT2020 microphone and the Behringer analog-to-digital converter, and the MacBook Air computer running Audacity 2.
Setup showing the AT2020 microphone on the stand, and the computer, mixer and converter on the table. The other microphone seen in the background of this photo is a Shure SM-58S analog dynamic microphone. It wasn’t used in this specific comparison.
Screen capture showing the Audacity software which was running on the MacBook Air computer.
The Blue Snowball USB condenser microphone.
Solo after a long day in the studio!
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