Audio interface and mic for male vocals

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Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

I primarily need to get a decent mic for recording male vocals and was wondering if the Aston Element is a good choice, or if there's other options in that price range (maybe the Stealth, Spirit or Origin) that would be better for that?

I read this review https://making-music.com/review-aston-e ... icrophone/ which mentions that the Element can have issues with the proximity effect such that the vocalist may need to back away from the mic a bit, which can be problematic if the room acoustics aren't great. So even if the Element is a better all-rounder than anything else in that price range, maybe one of the alternatives would be better for male vocals specifically?

As for the audio interface, I want to get something with low-latency and very good, low noise, mic pre-amps to get the best out of whichever mic I get. I've been looking at:

USB:
Apollo Twin Duo USB (B-stock) £660,
Apollo Solo USB Heritage Edition £625
Apollo Twin USB Heritage Edition for £980

Thunderbolt:
Apollo Twin MkII Duo £639
Apollo Twin MkII Duo Heritage Edition £890

The Twin MkII Duo (or Heritage Edition) has a few extra features compared to the original and it's bit cheaper (I've only found a B-stock Twin Duo and that's £20 more than the MkII) but it's Thunderbolt only, which I don't really want as a) I'd have to buy a Thunderbolt card, which costs about £100 and b) it means I can't just take the interface somewhere and plug it in to a USB port. Are they planning to make a USB version?

Other than that, they all seem to have the same UAD-2 Unison tech. Does the UAD-2 DUO literally have twice the DSP capacity of the UAD-2 SOLO? The Solo USB loses the stereo monitor outputs and the optical in (8 channels) but I don't think I'll need those.

Is it worth paying the extra £200-300 for the Heritage editions? I understand they all come with the Realtime Analog Classics pack and the Heritage edition just adds:

UA 1176 Classic Limiter Collection
Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveler Collection
Pultec Passive EQ Collection
UA 610 Tube Preamp & EQ Collection
Pure Plate Reverb

Or should I just get a cheaper interface from another company and use native plugins? I'm going to build a new Ryzen 5 or Ryzen 7 PC, so it should have enough power to run quite a few plugins, although I guess not with the zero-latency of the Apollo's on-board ones.

If you'd recommended the native plugin router, would the SSL2+, Audient iD14 and Motu M4, all around £200, have as good pre-amps and as low latency as the Apollo, or would I have to get something like the RME Babyface, which is as expensive as the Apollo and without the plugins? It does have DSP based EQ, reverb and delay which could be useful for tracking but as the Apollo does that and more, that's probably the better choice if I have to spend that amount of money.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by CS70 »

For the mic, all "vocal" mics have more or less have proximity effect. I am not sure what you have read, but as you want to use a pop filter and the pop filter needs to a bit distant from the grille and your mouth, there shouldn't be much special with the Aston (but I haven't tried it, of course). For vocals, you can always neutralize the room's early reflection with the "duvet" trick, and if you still have too much bass, there's nothing that a bit of EQ can't remove. Use a hi pass on either the mic or the preamp or the DAW to remove low-level rumble and you'll be fine.

Usually at start the mic is far from the weakest link anways :)

For the interface, things must have changed since when I got my Twin USB Duo I got the legacy versions of LA2A and Pultec, the 610 emulation and a room reverb. How much the plugins are worth to you, only you can say. They're good (I used to have an actual Teletronix LA2A but I sold it since I have kept my hardware LA-610 channel strip, which has a 2A section).. and the UAD versions are killer.

I personally bought the Twin _only_ for using various plugins, but keep in mind these specific ones you mention (the 2As and Pultec collections) are often on sale.

The 610 emulation is good and so are the unison preamps - I have used them occasionally and again they won't be your weakest link, probably ever.

As of thunderbolt/USB I agree - USB is much more widespread and portable. Latency depends as much on the rest of your system as on the interface, but the UAD drivers are well written and stable for what I have experienced, and the company seems to be willing to support its hardware for a long time, which is the important thing (even if it doesn't have the track record of RME, simply because not enough time has passed).

About DPS power, I was using a Solo before (the PCMCIA version) and that was too small. Hence I got the Duo and unless you plan to use exclusively UAD plugins (which they would like you to, but there's no need), it should be more than enough, at least it is for me. I mainly run multiple 2A and Pultecs and the occasional Lexicon reverb. But of course all depends on your pattern of usage.

All in all I can say that I haven't regretted getting my Twin Duo even if I use much less of its capabilities that you would. They also keep their value reasonably well and if you find a pre-love one, they're rock solid.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by blinddrew »

Hmm. My take would be that if you're spending more on your interface than your microphone you might have your priorities the wrong way round. Unless you really need the effects on the way in, I'd get a cheaper interface and put the rest of the budget to some room acoustic treatment. This will make more difference to both recording and monitoring than spending money on an interface (or a mic probably).

Proximity effect is a property of the microphone pattern, so all cardiod mics will have a degree of proximity effect unless the manufacturer has deliberately designed this out (RE20, KSM8 for example).
Ideally, if you're wanting to use this primarily for yourself, then you'd go somewhere to try a few out. That's not possible in most places at the moment so make sure that whoever you choose to buy from has a 'no questions' return policy.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

CS70 wrote:For the mic, all "vocal" mics have more or less have proximity effect. I am not sure what you have read, but as you want to use a pop filter and the pop filter needs to a bit distant from the grille and your mouth, there shouldn't be much special with the Aston (but I haven't tried it, of course). For vocals, you can always neutralize the room's early reflection with the "duvet" trick, and if you still have too much bass, there's nothing that a bit of EQ can't remove. Use a hi pass on either the mic or the preamp or the DAW to remove low-level rumble and you'll be fine.

I'm just going by what they said in the review that I linked to. Obviously the reviewers have a lot of experience with different mics and they felt the need to comment on the Element's issues with the proximity effect with male spoken vocals (and other sources), so presumably it's more of an issue with that mic than some others. They did say that with acoustic guitar using a HPF filter on the desk on the way in, or software EQ after recording, balanced things out. However, I don't have a desk and if my audio interface doesn't have a zero-latency HPF, having excessive bass could be a problem when tracking.

For the interface, things must have changed since when I got my Twin USB Duo I got the legacy versions of LA2A and Pultec, the 610 emulation and a room reverb. How much the plugins are worth to you, only you can say. They're good (I used to have an actual Teletronix LA2A but I sold it since I have kept my hardware LA-610 channel strip, which has a 2A section).. and the UAD versions are killer.

I personally bought the Twin _only_ for using various plugins, but keep in mind these specific ones you mention (the 2As and Pultec collections) are often on sale.

The non-Heritage version of all the interfaces, Solo or Duo USB and Twin X or Twin MkII, only come with the Realtime Analog Classics bundle, which includes the legacy versions of LA2A and Pultec that you mention, as you can see here under the "Included Plugins" tab" https://www.uaudio.com/audio-interfaces ... -mkii.html

As for the plugins included with the Heritage version, these cost £229 each, apart from the Pure Plate Reverb which is £115, so it would cost £1031 to buy them at those prices. So from that point of view, paying £200-300 extra for the Heritage version makes sense but it depends on a) how useful those plugins will be, in addition to the standard bundle, for recording vocals and b) how cheap they go on sale for. If only one or two of them will really be that useful, or if a completely different plugin that's not even in the Heritage bundle would be more useful, and they go on sale for £40, it will be better to just get those on sale.

As of thunderbolt/USB I agree - USB is much more widespread and portable. Latency depends as much on the rest of your system as on the interface, but the UAD drivers are well written and stable for what I have experienced, and the company seems to be willing to support its hardware for a long time, which is the important thing (even if it doesn't have the track record of RME, simply because not enough time has passed).

Yeah, it's a shame they seem to have decided to focus on Thunderbolt interfaces like the Twin X and Mk II going forward and their Luna recording system, which is free for owners of Thunderbolt interfaces, is only available for Mac.

About DPS power, I was using a Solo before (the PCMCIA version) and that was too small. Hence I got the Duo and unless you plan to use exclusively UAD plugins (which they would like you to, but there's no need), it should be more than enough, at least it is for me. I mainly run multiple 2A and Pultecs and the occasional Lexicon reverb. But of course all depends on your pattern of usage.

OK, I'll rule out the Solo then. Better to have too much power than not enough. Are you saying that you can run other plugins on the UAD-2 DSP other than the ones that UAD sell? https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins.html
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

blinddrew wrote:Hmm. My take would be that if you're spending more on your interface than your microphone you might have your priorities the wrong way round. Unless you really need the effects on the way in, I'd get a cheaper interface and put the rest of the budget to some room acoustic treatment. This will make more difference to both recording and monitoring than spending money on an interface (or a mic probably).

The way I look at it is if I decide to get a more expensive mic in future, the interface will be able to do it justice, whereas if I get a cheaper interface now, I might need to upgrade it in future. You're right of course that unless I need the DSP powered effects on the way in, there's no point paying the premium for the UAD interfaces, although I'm not sure if there's anything as good in other respects but without the DSP effects for much less and if the only choices are the Apollo or the RME Babyface Pro FS, I prefer the physical layout and controls of the Apollo.

However, the Babyface is USB and their TotalMix software works on Mac and PC and provides real-time EQ, reverb and delay, so IF the DSP effects on the Apollo aren't going to be that useful for me and I'd be better off using native plugins after recording, the Babyface has some advantages over the Apollo.

I may need to do some room acoustic treatment for recording but I'll try stuff like the duvet trick first to see if that's good enough. I'd probably have to spend a shed-load of money on soundproofing and acoustic treatment before I could do any mixing at home, so saving a few hundred on the audio interface isn't going to help much with that and it will probably be easier and cheaper just to go to a studio for that.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Humble Bee »

Well as others have mentioned the importance of different components in a recording chain is given. So before you start spending what seems quite a large amount of money I would recommend you to read up on the subject and my recommendation is to read the following two books and go from there. This will save you a lot of money and frustration.

By Mike Senior:

https://cambridge-mt.com/rs/main/

https://cambridge-mt.com/ms/main/
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Trent in WA »

I'm in the unusual position (for me at least) of using all the kit in question. If you're on a Mac, I'd definitely go with the UAD Twin X (which has better converters than the MkII)--the included preamps and plugins will serve you well in pretty much any recording context, and if you want to get a few more plugs when you get the Twin the combination of the Manley VoxBox and the Element makes my baritone sound more like Paul Robeson and less like Kermit the Frog, which in my book is an improvement. Using the DSP effects while recording will give you a great basis for your mix. I upgraded to a Twin X after using a Scarlett 2i2 and appreciated bump in quality, even in my minimally treated space.

The Element can have a pretty pronounced proximity effect which can be challenging to deal with if you get closer than about 12" to the mic. It's got excellent off-axis rejection, though, so there's no real need to swallow the mic unless you're going for something really soft and intimate-sounding. It's a good mic that takes well to EQing. I'd say to go for it.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by CS70 »

Doveman wrote:I'm just going by what they said in the review that I linked to. Obviously the reviewers have a lot of experience with different mics and they felt the need to comment on the Element's issues with the proximity effect with male spoken vocals (and other sources), so presumably it's more of an issue with that mic than some others. They did say that with acoustic guitar using a HPF filter on the desk on the way in, or software EQ after recording, balanced things out. However, I don't have a desk and if my audio interface doesn't have a zero-latency HPF, having excessive bass could be a problem when tracking.

As I said, all of these types of mics have proximity effect, but I never said they were all equal. Determining the placement (and hence the effect) of the microphone you have in your hand is far more important than its specific characteristics. It's recording basics - you position for the sound you like, and if there's too much bass you cut it out with a HPF.. somewhere. I routinely work with both traditional ribbons and handheld stage mics, which have plenty of proximity effect, and unless you want to put the Element inside a bass drum, not sure why anybody would say it's challenging. If anything, if you sing in it helps you to learn proper mic technique. :D

The HPF doesn't need be in the mic or the desk: any software EQ will allow you to apply an HPF in post and that's it. The only difference is that not having it on the microphone or the desk (i.e. before the converters) will rob you of a little bit headroom so your gain may end up being slightly lower. At 24bits word length it means nothing, and given that most people overcook level, a iota less gain is actually a plus.

Not particular about the Element, just pointing out that the reasons for picking up a microphone vs. another are not these. Primarily it is how much it matches the expected type of source (and with singers, alas, even the best mic in the world may be not well matched to a specific vocals, so the only trick is to have many.. or, if it's only for you, go thru many till you find the one which works best); beyond that it's how quiet (or not) it is, the timbre you want to achieve, the transient response in the time domain, how it handles the side sound, the versatility (how many SPL it can handle) and down to things on how easy it is to put between the toms to point at a snare drum bottom. :)

So from that point of view, paying £200-300 extra for the Heritage version makes sense but it depends on a) how useful those plugins will be, in addition to the standard bundle, for recording vocals and b) how cheap they go on sale for. If only one or two of them will really be that useful, or if a completely different plugin that's not even in the Heritage bundle would be more useful, and they go on sale for £40, it will be better to just get those on sale.

Yeah that's always a tricky one. We like our toys, and the more the merrier! :D

Thing is: you don't need any UA plugin (or any specific plugin for what matters). What you have in your DAW (whatever the DAW) is guaranteed more than enough to allow you to make a great mix... if you know what a great mix is and how to make it. :)

These UAD plugs are faithful reproductions of classic analog gear. They do what they do, and you can probably get it done in other ways. The reason they became classic is because they were there, they were sounding good and word of mouth and familiarity did the rest. You move to a new studio, you're happier if you can get down and make music (and money) right away rather than learning a new tool. So you go buy your Pultec and Teletronix because you used to use them in the studio you just left and you know what they do and they do it very well. 30 years later, people uses these tools thinking that they are the pinnacle of everything.

A reason for me to have say the 610 plugs is that I have a hardware LA-610 one on my desk, but just one.. so on Friday when I was doing some guitars and wanted to use a stereo pairs, I just enabled the Twin, plonked two 610 emulations on the two channels and voila - two channel with "my" sound.

How much these plugs are useful to you is really dependent on you - how used you are to the "real" hardware and its effect, how much you understand why it's doing what it's doing and can get in the ballpark with different plugins (or hardware) etc.

The one important thing to realize is that there's no magic bullet. UAD plugins alone (just like their hardware counterpart) do not maketh a good mix - it's you making a good mix.

You can make great mixes without these plugs, for sure. :)

Yeah, it's a shame they seem to have decided to focus on Thunderbolt interfaces like the Twin X and Mk II going forward and their Luna recording system, which is free for owners of Thunderbolt interfaces, is only available for Mac.

Didn't know the had dropped USB! It is indeed.

Are you saying that you can run other plugins on the UAD-2 DSP other than the ones that UAD sell? https://www.uaudio.com/uad-plugins.html

No, no - you can only run UAD plugin insofar I know. I'm saying that there are other excellent plugins - comparably good - that are not UAD. :D
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

Trent in WA wrote:I'm in the unusual position (for me at least) of using all the kit in question. If you're on a Mac, I'd definitely go with the UAD Twin X (which has better converters than the MkII)--the included preamps and plugins will serve you well in pretty much any recording context, and if you want to get a few more plugs when you get the Twin the combination of the Manley VoxBox and the Element makes my baritone sound more like Paul Robeson and less like Kermit the Frog, which in my book is an improvement. Using the DSP effects while recording will give you a great basis for your mix. I upgraded to a Twin X after using a Scarlett 2i2 and appreciated bump in quality, even in my minimally treated space.

The Element can have a pretty pronounced proximity effect which can be challenging to deal with if you get closer than about 12" to the mic. It's got excellent off-axis rejection, though, so there's no real need to swallow the mic unless you're going for something really soft and intimate-sounding. It's a good mic that takes well to EQing. I'd say to go for it.

Apologies for the tardy reply. I had some legal stuff I had to focus on and I can't multi-task!

The decision would have been harder for me if UAD made a USB Twin X but as they don't, I've decided to get the RME Babyface Pro. If there was a USB Twin X, the price would probably be about the same as the BFP and it would leave open the option of buying some of the UAD plugins in future but there isn't and I don't want a Thunderbolt interface.

I'll probably wait on the Element until I can go and try it out in-store and compare it to some other mics. It's cheap enough that it wouldn't be a disaster if I could only use it for some vocal recordings and I had to use another mic for softer stuff but I'd rather just have a single mic that can handle all kinds of vocal styles. Obviously, if a mic like that will cost a lot and I can just buy two mics to cover all scenarios for a lot less, then I'll do the latter.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

CS70 wrote: The HPF doesn't need be in the mic or the desk: any software EQ will allow you to apply an HPF in post and that's it. The only difference is that not having it on the microphone or the desk (i.e. before the converters) will rob you of a little bit headroom so your gain may end up being slightly lower. At 24bits word length it means nothing, and given that most people overcook level, a iota less gain is actually a plus.

Sorry for my tardy reply. Thanks for explaining that it doesn't matter whether the HPF is hardware or software with 24bits. I've only recorded in 16bits before, so I need to adopt a new 24bit way of thinking!

Yeah that's always a tricky one. We like our toys, and the more the merrier! :D

Thing is: you don't need any UA plugin (or any specific plugin for what matters). What you have in your DAW (whatever the DAW) is guaranteed more than enough to allow you to make a great mix... if you know what a great mix is and how to make it. :)

These UAD plugs are faithful reproductions of classic analog gear. They do what they do, and you can probably get it done in other ways. The reason they became classic is because they were there, they were sounding good and word of mouth and familiarity did the rest. You move to a new studio, you're happier if you can get down and make music (and money) right away rather than learning a new tool. So you go buy your Pultec and Teletronix because you used to use them in the studio you just left and you know what they do and they do it very well. 30 years later, people uses these tools thinking that they are the pinnacle of everything.

A reason for me to have say the 610 plugs is that I have a hardware LA-610 one on my desk, but just one.. so on Friday when I was doing some guitars and wanted to use a stereo pairs, I just enabled the Twin, plonked two 610 emulations on the two channels and voila - two channel with "my" sound.

How much these plugs are useful to you is really dependent on you - how used you are to the "real" hardware and its effect, how much you understand why it's doing what it's doing and can get in the ballpark with different plugins (or hardware) etc.

The one important thing to realize is that there's no magic bullet. UAD plugins alone (just like their hardware counterpart) do not maketh a good mix - it's you making a good mix.

You can make great mixes without these plugs, for sure. :)

That's really helpful thanks. I hadn't thought of it being more about familiarity with the hardware than about the emulations being particularly better than other plugins that don't emulate old hardware. I can see it makes more sense to spend £200 on an emulation plugin if it saves you a lot of time because you know what settings to dial in.

I've decided the Babyface Pro is the best option for me, not least because UAD aren't making USB versions of their interfaces any more. I think the hardware EQ and reverb will be sufficient for tracking and then I can just use software plugins to do everything else.

I just need to wait for it to come in stock now, as everywhere's saying OOS until June but I'm in no great rush.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by Doveman »

Just revisiting this topic as I haven't got round to buying the Babyface Pro yet as it's been out of stock every time I checked, and is still only available to pre-order for £680-700. So I was wondering if there's anything new that's as good (or better) and maybe cheaper or more readily available?

I understand that driver stability and low-latency are often where USB interfaces are lacking, even if the hardware is OK, so that's my main concern. My input usage is mostly going to be a single vocal mic, and maybe a stereo signal from a drum machine or similar, so I don't need loads of inputs but there's no harm if the most stable device has more inputs than I need. Having two headphone outputs, in addition to the main monitor feed, would be useful sometimes but that's not a deal breaker.

A couple that look interesting are the Universal Audio Volt 476 for £280 and the Apogee Duet 3 for £500. Does anyone have any experience with those, or know about any particular issues with them? The Duet 3 is bus powered, so that might limit it a bit, compared to the Volt 476 and the Babyface Pro which have a separate PSU, and I'm not impressed that they haven't bothered to tilt it so you can easily see the meters and they expect you to buy their dock to make it more ergonomic.
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Re: Audio interface and mic for male vocals

Post by James Perrett »

It looks like if you want an RME Interface you just have to take the plunge and get into a queue. I'd be wary of suggesting any alternatives because my experience of RME is very positive.

We had a similar issue with buying a Raspberry Pi earlier this year where delivery dates were quoted as anything between 3 weeks and 3 months. In the end I ordered it from a trusted supplier and it came within 2 weeks.
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