Question from a Audio Masterclass visitor...
"I am the worship leader for my church, and as is the case of many worship leaders, I wear several hats in regard to my job description. Among those tasks, I am in charge of recording the sermon each week, editing it in Audition, and uploading it to our website. We are recording the sermon simultaneously to a live CD recorder, and directly to our sound booth computer via Audacity.
"Getting to my question: What is the best way I can consistently get a good sermon recording each week? Right now our CD recorder records at an almost inaudible level, and our both the CD and computer recordings have terrible buzz and hum when turned up. Some weeks the gain is too hot on the computer recording, and others it's too low. We are currently in the process of upgrading our sound card to a more professional one, but I want to know if I should also get a special FireWire audio interface or something along those lines to make it work better? Much of my knowledge or sound and recording has been learned through trial and error, so having some professional input would be greatly appreciated."
It's nice to get a straightforward question now and then, and a pleasure to give a straightforward answer.
Start with the microphone. It must be a balanced mic. It should have a three-pin XLR and the specification should state that the mic is balanced.
Ideally the mic should be fixed to the speaker's head in theatre style. If the mic protrudes a little from above the ear, or the hairline at the front (if hair is available there!) then that will be OK. It is a little better to use a mic with a short boom that extends from the ear, but sometimes this is considered too intrusive visually.
A suitable mic would be the Sennheiser MKE2. There is a data sheet available here. It may seem expensive for a very small mic, but it's worth the money. You could buy a cheap mic and struggle every day you use it. Or pay the extra and enjoy fantastic sound every time.
Fitting the mic to the head works really well, but it isn't always desirable. So your next best bet would be a lectern microphone such as the AKG C747. Data sheet here. The drawback is that if the speaker turns to the left or right, then the level will drop. That is why the head-mounted mic is better. But the level drop won't be noticeable to many, and you could use compression to even it out.
Next, you need a cable from the mic to the sound booth.
You could use a wireless mic system, but it's one more thing to have problems with. In a fixed installation like this a simple cable is by far preferable.
Any standard twin core + screen mic cable will do. If you use lighting dimmers then a quad core cable is better at rejecting interference, but you have to have quite a lot of interference to notice a difference. You can find info on quad core cable here.
Next... a microphone preamplifier and audio interface.
The reason why your CD recorder doesn't give you the results you seek is either because it doesn't have a proper microphone preamplifier, or the preamp is inadequate, as they traditionally are when built in to recorders.
You don't need an expensive preamp. You've spent quite a lot on your microphone already, so a basic professional model will be fine. You might as well get one that combines an audio interface, so you don't have to depend on a cheap soundcard. The M-Audio Fast Track Pro should fit the bill.
In summary, you need equipment that is capable of working to a pro standard. If you have this, you will get great results easily.
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