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My preamp sucks. Will Phantom power be better?
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TorQueMoD
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#1
20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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My preamp sucks. Will Phantom power be better?

Hey everyone.

Just joined the forums here after doing a google search. This one seemed the best of the ones that came up.

So noob question for you. I'm trying to build a portfolio as a Voice Actor. I have a Samson C01 Studio Condenser Mic that I bought ages ago with a cheap Behringer tube pre-amp. I could never get the damn thing to work properly so back in March I decided to buy a new one. I got a Behringer Xenyx 502 USB pre-amp to plug directly into my computer. It was a lot more straight forward to use than my previous one but there's constant noise in all of my recordings that I then have to remove in Audition which affects the overall quality of my recordings. I was thinking of buying a cheap phantom power supply instead; specifically the BLUE ICICLE XLR To USB Adapter. I'm wondering if this will fix my problem?

I thought that a phantom power adapter would simply supply power to my mic and if I use an XLR to USB cable to connect to my computer it would be perfect. However when looking into different Phantom Power Adapters, I noticed one of them had a bullet that read "Output Noise: -115 dBV". Does this mean that if I buy a cheap Phantom Power Adapter I might simply run into the same problem I had with a cheap Pre-amp where it introduces noise to my recordings? Would it be better to buy a higher quality pre-amp used if I have a limited budget?

Thanks!
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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You use the word 'cheap' a total of 4 times in your message & I fear that's the root of the issue.

However even at the budget end of the spectrum there should be a way to get the equipment you are using to work adequately. are you working on a laptop? If so try unplugging the laptop from the mains and make a recording. Is the noise still present?

OR, can the laptop and Behringer pre share a single mains socket to eliminate grounding issues?
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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It is probably the C01 itself, which is noisy.
Borrow a different mic and do the check.
Anyway, you're better off with some decent USB interface, capable of 24bit/48kHz recording and a better mic. Surely, one can get both for under $ 300.
I would get Steinberg UR22 and MXL 990 and live happily ever after )))
Good luck.
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
Hey everyone.

Just joined the forums here after doing a google search. This one seemed the best of the ones that came up.

So noob question for you. I'm trying to build a portfolio as a Voice Actor. I have a Samson C01 Studio Condenser Mic that I bought ages ago with a cheap Behringer tube pre-amp. I could never get the damn thing to work properly so back in March I decided to buy a new one. I got a Behringer Xenyx 502 USB pre-amp to plug directly into my computer. It was a lot more straight forward to use than my previous one but there's constant noise in all of my recordings that I then have to remove in Audition which affects the overall quality of my recordings. I was thinking of buying a cheap phantom power supply instead; specifically the BLUE ICICLE XLR To USB Adapter. I'm wondering if this will fix my problem?

I thought that a phantom power adapter would simply supply power to my mic and if I use an XLR to USB cable to connect to my computer it would be perfect. However when looking into different Phantom Power Adapters, I noticed one of them had a bullet that read "Output Noise: -115 dBV". Does this mean that if I buy a cheap Phantom Power Adapter I might simply run into the same problem I had with a cheap Pre-amp where it introduces noise to my recordings? Would it be better to buy a higher quality pre-amp used if I have a limited budget?

Thanks!
The best way would probably be to get a proper audio interface first - a 50$ USB adapter wouldn't be a big improvement over your Behringer Xenyx, I bet.

There are some decent audio interfaces with built in preamps for around 150$, like the Scarlett 2i2 (135€ here in Germany) or the Steinberg UR22 (139€).

With them you get decent preamps, decent converters and phantom power. And you can upgrade to a better external preamp later, if you want.
RiF
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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I read two user reviews of the Xenyx 502 USB on Thomann's website and both said that the thing is a little noisy. And if it's true what recordit said, that the C01 is noisy as well, it has the potential to sum up to little mess :-).
And check what thenewyear said. I had a similar problem with my Digi MBox Mini (USB) that always produced a 1000 Hz'ish tone unless I ran my laptop on batteries.
Getting a decent interface like the Scarlett, would be worth trying out.

And if you want to be a voice actor, mind that the quality of your recordings can have a big influence on getting jobs (or not). I am not a "good gear is the key" type of guy at all, but using absolute lowest end gear (I don't know of anything cheaper than the gear you've listed) might not give you decent results. If you want to go the cheap route, be prepared to invest time and research in finding the few good things that are decent in that price range. For starters, I'd put the Scarlett 2i2 on my shortlist.

Just to make sure to have everything covered, some basics:
For voice recordings, you want:
  1. A microphone. Preferably a large diaphragm condenser (LDC). The C01 is such a thing.
  2. A microphone preamp, which amplifies the signal of the microphone to a line level signal (hence the name "preAMP"). Plus, an LDC needs 48V phantom power to operate. Usually preamps provide phantom power, but you have to make sure it does.
  3. An audio interface to get the signal that comes out of the preamp into your computer.
2 and 3 come bundled in modern audio interfaces like the Scarlett 2i2.
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TorQueMoD
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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Thanks for all the feedback guys. I'm running a desktop system so that shouldn't be an issue. The mic I bought back in 2001 so at the time I spent $300 on it. I had a feeling it was considered a low end now a days. Didn't think it would be noisy though. So I guess for my amateur recordings right now I'll just have to stick with what I have and start saving for some better quality equipment in the future. At the moment I'm flat broke so $50 is about my limit which obviously isn't going to help.
I'll look into the Scarlet or the Steinberg for my pre.

So what would you guys recommend for a mic that's around $100 - $200? I noticed recordit suggested the MXL 990? If I were to go with the 990, would it be beneficial to simply get the USB powered version and skip the pre-amp all together? This way I'd be eliminating one extra device that could possibly add noise.
http://www.musiciansfriend.com/pro-a...ser-microphone

Oh, and just incase it does matter for included software, I'm running a PC with Windows 7, not a mac.
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
Thanks for all the feedback guys. I'm running a desktop system so that shouldn't be an issue. The mic I bought back in 2001 so at the time I spent $300 on it. I had a feeling it was considered a low end now a days. Didn't think it would be noisy though. So I guess for my amateur recordings right now I'll just have to stick with what I have and start saving for some better quality equipment in the future. At the moment I'm flat broke so $50 is about my limit which obviously isn't going to help.
I'll look into the Scarlet or the Steinberg for my pre.

So what would you guys recommend for a mic that's around $100 - $200? I noticed recordit suggested the MXL 990? If I were to go with the 990, would it be beneficial to simply get the USB powered version and skip the pre-amp all together? This way I'd be eliminating one extra device that could possibly add noise.
MXL 990 USB Powered Condenser Microphone | Musician's Friend
I wouldn't recommend an USB mic - that's OK for a mobile setup to quickly plug it into a laptop and start recording where ever you are. For a home studio I would always prefer an audio interface like tho ones mentioned above and a Mic with an XLR-plug. Those USB mics have a preamp and a digital converter built into their small case - so you get a cheap preamp and a cheap converter and are unable to upgrade later, because they're built into the microphone.

The cheap MXLs don't have the best reputation - they're great for modding though (buying quality replacement parts for the internal electronics and swap them out) - but I guess you don't want to start tempering with a soldering iron.

There are a lot of crappy low end condensers out there, but there are also some "bang for the buck" Mics that offer quite decent quality for little money. Here are some that get often mentioned here (I also own some of them):

- CAD M179 (about 100$ used on amazon marketplace right now)
- Audio Technica AT2020 or AT2035
- Rode NT1
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20th June 2013
Old 20th June 2013
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Oh thanks for that explanation chk23. I would never have guessed that they have a built in pre and audio interface. Definitely don't want to mod anything. I just want a mic that's simple to use, straight forward and good for voice recording. Thanks for the suggestions. The CAD looks gorgeous!
#9
21st June 2013
Old 21st June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
would it be beneficial to simply get the USB powered version and skip the pre-amp all together?
Avoid USB mics!
Get a decent interface first, then choose a mike.
It is necessary that you test and compare LDCs yourself and pick one best for your voice.
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21st June 2013
Old 21st June 2013
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Hi
You haven't defined 'noise' as far as I can see in these posts.
Is the problem: Hiss, Hum (picked up on cabling and typically powerline frequency) or other 'squeaks, whistles or whatever, which would typically be computer (or some interfaces) power supply/?? sourced?
Each have differing causes and solutions.
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TorQueMoD
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21st June 2013
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Oh thanks Matt. Constant hiss. Just like white noise that an old tube TV would make when you can't get a station. So even when I'm recording dead air, there's constant noise and it doesn't matter what settings I change on the pre, the noise is still there even if I lower the gain etc.
#12
22nd June 2013
Old 22nd June 2013
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it is mic-pream combination in that case.
100% sure!

Mackie Blackjack vs. Emu



and yes, it is phantom power/ USB bus power driver related.
i had exactly the same problem.
support team went hands down, both on mic and preamp side.
some mics just go wrong with some pres on USB,
i had to return a couple of mics which won't work with a Mackie interface pres.
then i had to return the Mackie interface too.
not taking any chances now - use Roland interface, not a single problem with any of my mics so far.
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22nd June 2013
Old 22nd June 2013
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Cool thanks for the feedback. It'll be a while before I can afford something new so for now I'll have to work with what I have.

Thanks guys!
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23rd June 2013
Old 23rd June 2013
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Hi
If you reduce the gain, I presume the hiss reduces also?
It seems like others may be onto the case, but in the short term if you can get to try out other mics or preamps, see hwt you find.
Matt S
TorQueMoD
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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Well to a point. The hiss is always present even if I reduce the gain to 0. But it definitely increases if I up the gain. Yeah, I took the pre back to the shop I bought it from, unfortunately I bought it 3 months ago so there's not much they can do. Going to talk to the boss tomorrow to see if they'll let me swap it for a phantom power.
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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this might be a really stupid question, OP. but you did have the mic connected to your preamp with a proper mic cable, and you did have the preamps phantom power turned on?
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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Sorry for the dumb questions I'm about to ask.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
I got a Behringer Xenyx 502 USB pre-amp to plug directly into my computer. It was a lot more straight forward to use than my previous one but there's constant noise in all of my recordings that I then have to remove in Audition which affects the overall quality of my recordings. I was thinking of buying a cheap phantom power supply instead; specifically the BLUE ICICLE XLR To USB Adapter. I'm wondering if this will fix my problem?
Are you using the Samson mic and it's going into the Xenyx 502 USB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
Well to a point. The hiss is always present even if I reduce the gain to 0. But it definitely increases if I up the gain. Yeah, I took the pre back to the shop I bought it from, unfortunately I bought it 3 months ago so there's not much they can do. Going to talk to the boss tomorrow to see if they'll let me swap it for a phantom power.
If you're using the Xenyx 502 USB, it already has phantom power. From the Behringer website: "State-of-the-art, phantom powered XENYX Mic Preamp comparable to stand-alone boutique preamps". I'm not quite sure what you're looking to replace it with.

I think the hiss has something to do with the Xenyx- it's a pretty low-end piece of gear really. If your mic is sensitive, it could actually be the hum coming from your fridge or air conditioner too. It happens.

Going the Scarlett 2i2/CAD M179 is probably your best bet for a basic setup. The XLR/USB Adapter route is just another cheap thing that will not solve your problem with hiss.
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeInOttawa View Post
Going the Scarlett 2i2/CAD M179 is probably your best bet for a basic setup. The XLR/USB Adapter route is just another cheap thing that will not solve your problem with hiss.
+1, totally agree

If you don't have the money right now - better save it for a decent basic setup like 2i2+CAD M179 (and maybe keep an eye on the second-hand market), than investing more money and effort just to replace one piece of cheap and noisy gear with another one that probably won't solve your problem.
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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yes the mic is plugged in otherwise I wouldn't be able to record.
Yes I know the preamp has phantom power. What I'm saying is that if I buy a phantom power box and then plug the mic into the phantom power and then go from the phantom power to the computer via an XLR to USB cable, I can bypass the pre all together and hence remove the extra noise. Unless the phantom power won't transmit the audio signal, but I imagine it will since it would have to send the info to a pre anyway.
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RiF View Post
Just to make sure to have everything covered, some basics:
For voice recordings, you want:
  1. A microphone. Preferably a large diaphragm condenser (LDC). The C01 is such a thing.
  2. A microphone preamp, which amplifies the signal of the microphone to a line level signal (hence the name "preAMP"). Plus, an LDC needs 48V phantom power to operate. Usually preamps provide phantom power, but you have to make sure it does.
  3. An audio interface to get the signal that comes out of the preamp into your computer.
2 and 3 come bundled in modern audio interfaces like the Scarlett 2i2.
Just to quote myself, you don't change anything by switching the Xenyx to what you call "The Phantom Power" (which seems to be a preamp+phantom power+USB audio interface in one little box). It might even get worse, because you're switching something ultra cheap out for something that seems to be even cheaper than that.
My advise is to go to the shop and say "I've got this Samson mic here and I want something less noisy than what you've sold to me for as little money as possible". And if he hands you over something, you say "OK, looks fine. I brought my mic and let's do a quick recording that I can take home and check to make sure you did not sell me the same crap you did last time."
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24th June 2013
Old 24th June 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TorQueMoD View Post
yes the mic is plugged in otherwise I wouldn't be able to record.
Yes I know the preamp has phantom power. What I'm saying is that if I buy a phantom power box and then plug the mic into the phantom power and then go from the phantom power to the computer via an XLR to USB cable, I can bypass the pre all together and hence remove the extra noise. Unless the phantom power won't transmit the audio signal, but I imagine it will since it would have to send the info to a pre anyway.
OK, seems like you are confusing some terms and basic concepts, so I try to clarify things a bit.

First you have to learn the difference between digital audio data and an analog signal. An analog signal is the actual sound, the vibrating air waves turned into an oscillating electrical signal. In an analog setup, this signal wil be amplified by an amplifier, sent to speakers were the moving coils of the speaker will convert it back into sound.

A computer can only process digital data. It can't do anything with analog signals directly, so an analog signal like that coming from a microphone has to be translated somehow into digital data. This is done by a so called analog to digital converter, or short, AD-converter. So there is no such thing as an "XLR to USB" cable - it always has to be some kind of converter involved.

As the signal from the microphone is too weak to get a loud and clear signal into the computer, it has to be amplified before it's converted. This is done by the microphone preamplifier, or mic preamp.

So all USB devices that get analog microphone signals in and digital data out, have a preamp and an AD converter inside - like the USB mic, your Behringer Xenyx and the "phantom power" you mentioned. But phantom power is something completely different, that has nothing to do with the converting process. It's just a power supply for a certain type of microphone, a "condenser mic" that needs power to operate - in contrast to a dynamic mic that can be used without any additional power supply.

So this "phantom power" you mention is just another kind of audio interface - a very simple one. With this "phantom power plug" you pay for the miniaturization necessary to put an AD-Converter, a power supply and a preamp that usually take up the space of a much larger box into a little plug. You don't pay for better audio quality.

So it's not very likely that this USB phantom power interface will be of much better quality than your Behringer. Also it lacks a lot of functionality, a "real" audiointerface like the 2i2 will provide. Like a gain knob. Or instrument and line inputs. Like a second Mic input for stereo recordings or to use a room mic in addition to the mic close to your mouth. And it offers additional mixing capability, reducing latency while recording several tracks simultaneously or successively while using plug ins during recording. And analog outputs that will give you a much better audio quality than your computers integrated soundcard. So buying this "phantom power" will very likely be just a temporary fix until you can afford to buy a real audio interface.

So imho you would be well advised to save your money for a decent audio interface instead of spending half of the price of a 2i2 now for something that will just be a temporary solution.
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27th June 2013
Old 27th June 2013
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Oh ok thanks guys for clarifying. I was thinking that Phantom Power was just like a power adapter that would power the mic and then the XLR to USB cable that I bought would then take the signal from the phantom power adapter (BLUE ICICLE XLR To USB Adapter) and simply send it into my computer. I didn't realize that it still needed to convert the signalwith a built in pre.
Thanks for your patience with a complete noob

Ok then. so I guess for now I'll just get my preamp back since sending it through RMA isn't likely to make a difference and I'll buy a new pre when I can afford to.

And I'll definitely take the mic in with me next time to make sure everything works well.
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