[Media Monday] – Getting Sound equipment on the uber-cheap

This photo shows my sound equipment used for generating voice recording on a laptop.

The most prominent devices on the photo are the pair of Optimus microphones which have no hint of XLR connectivity, and just have quarter inch jacks. I bought them 10 years ago, and they have hardly been used.

There is also a Nexxtech preamp which takes a 9-volt battery and uses only RCA connectors. The Source was able to sell me 1/4″ to RCA adaptor plugs. I already had the required RCA to 1/8″ stereo mike input at home. The Source was able to get Nexxtech to special-order the preamp for me for about 25 dollars.

So, a 9-volt battery, a preamp, and a 1/4″-to-RCA adaptor, with tax came to about $35.00.¬† I have no need for sound management software, since I use Audacity, which is free.

I thought it was time to pull the old mikes off the shelf and use them for once. But in my ongoing struggle to be cheaper than is socially acceptable, I scrounged around the music and sound shops for equipment that would utilize these mikes. I was constantly confronted by salesmen who, in the efforts to socialise me into the range of acceptability for spending  money, tried to sell me another pair of mikes that would work with the preamps and mixers they had.

Well, admittedly, $150 for a mixer and preamp is cheap compared to what used to be the case years ago. In fact, I have written before about a Behringer mixer that sells for under $50.00. And I’ve seen them and realise now that they don’t work with my relatively antiquated equipment. But because I am more of a cheapskate than is socially acceptable, I see that as their problem, not my problem. The XLR mikes in most of these places would set me back another $30 or so, not counting other needed equipment should I go that route.

The recording below is from my cheap setup, with audacity as the recording software. The sound is compromised as I am sitting right next to the air conditioner (the window is next to my desk), which is turned on. We are in the middle of a heat wave, and things are getting desparate, heat-wise.

(The audio appears to have been deleted.)

Microphones Part 2: The war of silence

With the levels down so low, my test recording needed post-processing. I used Adobe Audition 1.5. In most of these audio-doctoring softwares, all you need to do is to normalize the levels, so that “0” is the highest your levels should go. Audition had a “Normalize” setting, and of course that also boosted the background and electronic noise, along with my voice.

Now I needed noise reduction. Adobe has a fancy dancy noise reduction interface which is useable for the brave of heart. The main idea is to highlight “silence” (a moment of pure background noise) somewhere on your waveform, in order for Adobe to get a snapshot of the frequencies that need to be attenuated with the noise reduction. When I tried it, the noise was virtually eliminated when there was only noise, especially at the start, but the noise seems to have a reverberation, since if the noise is at the end, it fades in a stepwise fashion. The noise in the middle is reduced substantially, but not enough to compare with other noise reduction that I know about, like Dolby or ANRS. DBX would have been good, if they could have licensed it.

Audacity won the war of silence, in making the background noise pretty much inaudible, with its noise reduction scheme, which had a far simpler interface. The noise reduction was equally effective in the silent bits and the parts with talking. I used the same strategy in giving it a sample of pure background noise to its noise reduction profile. I found that only the very lowest setting on their “Less/More” slider would not make me sound like I’m living in a tin can, or even disappear altogether.

To be fair, I was using Audition 1.5, against the latest version of Audacity. I hear that Audition is somewhere around version 3.0. But I am happy with Audacity, since Adobe charges a pretty penny for its sound editing software.

Microphones

I had decided to do my little contribution to society, and join LibriVox.org, and record a free audio file for them. My biggest problem so far has been microphones. I have an Optimus mike that was purchased 5 years ago, and had hardly been used. I had decided to use it for LibriVox, but my first problem was in finding an adaptor, since the Optimus uses a quarter inch plug, and my sound card has only eighth-inch jacks.

I went to The Source (which used to be Radio Shack), and got two adaptors, one mono and one stereo. The stereo adaptor I purchased fell apart inside the jack, and I almost took the front end of the computer off trying to dislodge it. First, the sheath came off, leaving the bare plug, stripped of its barrel with its bare contacts hanging in the air. With a pair of pliers, I managed to remove the rest of the plug. But when that happened, I noticed that one of the insulators on the plug was stripped off. I checked the package. Made in China. !@*#$ free trade agreements! @!#@$$#$@!! global economy!

I took a chance on the Chinese-made mono plug, and Buddha smiled on me for that one, for it seemed to work fine. Trouble was Windows didn’t know it was there, so I tried the back. That was fine, but the levels were too quiet, even with the Windows levels turned all the way up.