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How To Use a USB Mic To Record Music at Home

Using a USB microphone is the easiest way to record music at home. Whether you are recording a performance to share with your fans on social media, an audition or academic submission, or even sharing a music lesson, a great USB mic, a computer with simple recording software, and some basic knowledge of audio production is all you need to create great-sounding recordings.

Below we’ll be taking a look at some of the basics of using a USB mic to record at home, including getting set up, choosing a space to record in, and microphone placement.

The RØDE Podcaster.

Choosing a USB Mic

There are a number of USB mics in the RØDE range. Each microphone offers high-quality A/D conversion and signal processing and will give you pristine studio-quality sound in a wide variety of recording applications. They all feature a headphone output for monitoring your audio and versatile mounting options. However, there are a few differences between them that may make one appeal to you in particular:

NT-USB

The NT-USB is a side-address condenser microphone with a removable pop filter and tripod desk stand, and a locking thread base for mounting to an external microphone stand and shock mount. It features two knobs: a level control for the headphone output and a mix control for blending between the direct mic signal and the device output signal, which helps mitigate latency issues.

NT-USB Mini

The NT-USB Mini is another side-address condenser microphone. It’s more compact than the NT-USB and features an internal pop filter, a magnetic base that can be easily removed for mounting it onto a mic stand or studio arm, and an integrated 360-degree swing arm for flexible positioning. It has more straightforward controls, with just one knob for the headphone output level and a switchable zero-latency monitoring mode.

Podcaster

The Podcaster is an end-address dynamic microphone, making it ideal for vocal applications and recording louder sound sources. It features an internal pop filter, but it does not come with a tripod or base mount like the NT-USB and NT-USB Mini, and must be used with an external studio arm or microphone stand using the supplied ring mount. It features a headphone output with zero-latency monitoring and just one control for the headphone level.

VideoMic NTG

The VideoMic NTG differs from the others in the range in that it’s actually an on-camera shogun microphone. For added recording flexibility, it features a USB output as well as a standard 3.5mm output, so you can record directly into a computer as well as a camera. This would be a good option if you are a videographer as well as a musician and need a versatile recording solution.

Setting Up Your USB Mic

RØDE USB mics are incredibly easy to set up and use. You don’t need an audio interface to use one, like you would with an XLR microphone. Simply plug it into the USB input of your computer and it’s ready to record. These are class-compliant USB devices, meaning they do not require additional software or drivers to run.

Once you have connected your mic, you will need to select it as your input and output device on your computer. This is accessed via your system’s audio settings. Do a quick test to make sure your computer is picking up audio from your microphone – you should see the level meter moving when you talk into the mic. You also need to select the microphone as your input and output device in your recording software.  

It’s recommended that you wear headphones so you can listen to yourself while recording and listen back to your audio after you’re done. This will also ensure that you don’t experience any feedback that can occur if you use your computer’s in-built speakers to monitor your audio. All RØDE USB mics feature a high-quality internal headphone amplifier.

Choosing a Good Recording Space

When doing any kind of recording, it’s important to consider how your surroundings may affect your audio; and this is particularly important when recording music. Of course, most of us don’t have access to a soundproofed studio at home, and you don’t need one to make a great-sounding recording, but you do need to take some steps to make sure your environment isn’t negatively impacting your sound.

Rooms with lots of reflective surfaces, such as hardwood floors, concrete walls and high ceilings, will introduce echo into your recordings and make them sound distant. In most cases, this isn’t desirable (or it may be ­– that’s up to you!).

Choose a space that is smaller and has fewer reflective surfaces, like a bedroom or study. Carpet, rugs, bookshelves and curtains will all help dampen these reflections, which will add warmth and clarity to your recording. Also be sure to close your windows to keep out traffic noise and turn off air conditioners or anything that may contribute to background noise in your recording. You may also want to consider installing some acoustic panelling if your recording space is more permanent.

The RØDE NT-USB Mini.

Considering Microphone Placement

The next thing to consider is the placement of your microphone. Generally speaking, you want it to be close to your sound source but, depending on what you are recording, you can experiment with different distances.

When recording vocals, aim to be about 20cm from the mic. If you are singing softly, try getting closer to the grill for a more intimate sound or if you are singing loudly, try backing off the mic to get a more open, experimental effect.

If you are recording acoustic guitar, place the mic a little further away and make sure it’s pointed at the centre of your instrument. This will give you a balanced sound, but you can also experiment with different positions to see how it affects the tone. For electric guitar, placing the mic roughly 10cm from the centre of the amp speaker will give you a clean, clear sound. 

When it comes to recording at home, there are so many things to learn and experiment with. Using a USB mic and following the steps above will give you a great platform to start from, but of course, this is only the beginning. Good luck and happy recording!