Freeze! Stop right there. Put down the microphones. If you’re starting a podcast and purchasing equipment or trying to record an episode, you need to read this article first. If you’re thinking of recording with multiple USB microphones, this especially applies to you.
Improper purchase and use of USB microphones is one of the most common newbie-podcaster gaffs we encounter. This leaves us to be the bearer of bad news like “I hope you can return those” or “sorry, that amazing hour of audio magic you recorded is unusable.”
What’s the Deal with USB Microphones?
USB microphones are amazing because anybody competent enough to plug in a USB cord can set one up. There are many inexpensive models which sound great. What once required multiple pieces of equipment and wires is now completely self-contained and portable.
One caveat is that USB microphones are most ideal for solo recordings. This includes a solo podcast host recording alone, or speaking with a guest connected remotely by internet. Any situation where just one person is using one mic in the same room.
Recording with Multiple USB Microphones
Here’s where the trouble begins. You may think “my computer has more USB connections, buying and plugging in more USB microphones simply makes sense.” And why wouldn’t it?
But unlike plugging in 10 printers, using multiple USB microphones is only going to cause you great stress.
If you are recording more than one person in the same room, having an individual microphone for each of them is definitely the way to capture optimal sound. The problem is that USB microphones are not meant to be used in this manner.
There are articles out there which demonstrate how some models of USB microphones can be configured to connect more than one to a computer. This is only the beginning of your troubles.
Digital audio devices use a “digital clock” to provide timing, which is the foundation of how digital audio signals are formed. Each USB microphone has its own clock, and due to minor inaccuracies, they will each vary slightly in time compared to each other. This is never a problem until you connect more than one USB microphone in the same room.
Being in the same room means the audio from each voice bleeds into all the microphones, where it is then heard comparatively to the other microphones. This manifests audibly into an echo by hearing the same voice multiple times, not in perfect sync. Since the amount of delay varies over time, you can never simply make one adjustment during editing to line up the tracks.
Click play to hear what this sounds like. Or, if you’ve ever tried speaking into a spinning fan, you already know how it sounds:
Recording with Multiple Computers
“Aha!” you may say. If I can only connect one USB microphone to a computer at a time, I’ll simply record on multiple computers with one microphone each!
Well, sad to say, that doesn’t work either. It will give you the exact same problem as mentioned previously.
To be clear, you CAN use one microphone and computer per person if you are recording remotely and are NOT in the same room. This article is referring to a podcast host speaking with one or more guests sitting in the same room.
How to Properly Record Podcast Audio with Multiple Microphones
It wouldn’t be right if we told you how NOT to record without offering solutions, so here they are.
1. If you’re fed up and not ready to buy any more equipment, you may be able to just use a single USB microphone. Some, like the Blue Yeti, have a pickup pattern switch which will give you better results with multiple speakers. Instead of the microphone just picking up sound from one direction, it can do so from two directions, or all directions equally. The downside of using a single mic for multiple voices is increased noise and echo, but it will work much better than recording with multiple USB microphones.
2. Get traditional microphones with XLR connectors, and a single digital USB device to capture the audio with your computer. This could be an audio interface or a USB mixer.
3. Again, using traditional XLR microphones, forgo the computer completely and use an external recording device like a Zoom H4n.
The Final Say
There are a variety of options available for every budget when it comes to recording podcast episodes with multiple speakers in the same room. Recording multiple USB microphones, however, is not an option that works.
There is at least one exception where you can use multiple USB microphones and be quite certain in getting good results. RODE has launched a feature with its RODE Connect software which allows a user to connect 4 of their NT-USB Mini microphones to a single computer (PC or Mac) with ease. Cool!
East Coast Studio was founded by a graduate of one of Canada’s top audio engineering schools. We offer consulting services to help you select, configure, and use podcasting equipment that will work best for your budget and situation. Get in touch today!
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