Vox Daily The Official Voices.com Blog

Home Studio Recording Using a Macintosh Computer: Part 1

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

July 29, 2009

Comments (12)

Apple Garageband screenshot

Do you own a Mac or wish that you did?

Perhaps you've been curious about making the leap from a PC to a Mac and would appreciate an insider's look at how the Mac operates and what using a Macintosh computer could do for you and your voice over business.

James T. Dawson joins us today as a new contributor to VOX Daily, and as a Macintosh Technical Support Specialist, is writing from the perspective of someone who knows more than the average Mac enthusiast about how they work.

In his debut article, James discusses some basics and gives you a lovely introduction to working with Macs to make audio recordings.

Recording VOs With a Mac

Recording voice-overs with a recent Macintosh computer is relatively easy given the number of high quality and affordable audio interfaces available, and Garageband, the Apple application for recording audio that comes as part of the iLife Suite that is included with most new Macintosh computers.

(Note: PC users tend to refer to software as programs, Mac users as applications.)

Let's begin by looking at the signal chain and how your voice winds up as a computer file ready to be sent to a client.

Microphone > Audio Interface > Computer > Software > MP3

The first element in the signal chain is the microphone. It captures the sound of your voice, which is facilitated by the preamplifier. Preamplifiers raise the signal level so as to compatible with the next element, the digital converters.

In most recording studios the preamplifiers (sometimes contained within the mixing consoles) are separate from the digital converters, but with computer based recording, often referred to as Digital Audio Workstations or DAWs, the preamplifiers and the digital converters are contained in the same unit. These are called audio interfaces.

So the second element in our chain is the audio interface. Audio interfaces facilitate the input and preamplification of the signal, monitoring of the signal via headphones or powered monitors, and conversion of the signal into a digital format compatible with the software you are using to record and edit.

The audio interface will connect to your Macintosh through a cable like the one you use to connect your printer, a USB cable. Or via a slightly different cable referred to as Firewire, or IEEE 1394.

Once the signal has been converted and present within your computer, the third element in our signal chain, the CPU sends it to our software, in this case "Garageband," the forth element in our signal chain.

Garageband offers high quality, multi-track recording capability with the added benefit of predetermined tracks designed for male and female vocals. These "presets" remove some of the guesswork from recording your voice, and make it easier to choose from all the options available.

Once the sound is recorded in Garageband, you can easily edit the file, removing mistakes, adjusting audio levels, alter the sound through equalization or even adding effects such as compression. And when the file is to your liking, you can easily export or "share" the file to iTunes. And in iTunes, you can select the appropriate file format your client prefers. i.e. MP3, WAV, AAC, etc. This is the fifth and final element in our signal chain.

As the computer is often the most expensive element in the signal chain, lets look at what you really need to purchase or own in the way of a Macintosh computer.

Computers and their capabilities are often judged by four distinct areas:

1. The processor speed
2. The operating system
3. The available RAM (or memory)
4. The amount of hard drive space

The minimum I would suggest for recording voice over would be as follows:

๏ Processor: 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo
๏ OS: OS X 10.4.7
๏ RAM: 2 Gigabytes
๏ Hard Drive: 160 Gigabytes

Please be aware, that there are many studios running much older systems with slower processors, but they are not always compatible with latest audio interfaces.

How Can You Tell What Your Mac's Capabilities Are?

To determine the capabilities of a Macintosh you currently own, or of one you are considering purchasing, click on the Apple icon in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and select "about this Mac" and it will list the processor speed and RAM. Clicking on "more info" will provide a detailed list of all the features of the computer.

If your present computer does not have enough memory or RAM, do not worry! RAM prices are at an historic low with 4 gigabytes of RAM for many Macintosh computers being much less than $100 US.

Now that we have a computer sufficiently powerful to record with, let's look at the audio interfaces that are available and have been designed specifically for Macintosh computers.

Audio Interfaces

In an audio interface there are several things to consider:

1. The method in which it connects to your computer, i.e. USB or Firewire
2. The quality and features of the preamplifier(s)
3. The quality of the analog to digital converters

The quality of the preamplifier will profoundly alter the sound of your voice, just as an inexpensive or inappropriate microphone would. Noise can be introduced. Highs and lows can be attenuated. Distortion can occur. The quality of the converters, will as well affect the quality. Lower quality converters lack detail and definition and can mask the qualities producers want from your vocal performance.

In the under $500, two channel category two models I would recommend the Apogee "Duet" and the new "One." Apogee has worked closely with Apple and their products are very well made and executed. They integrate seamlessly with Garageband and Apple Logic, which means more efficient operation. Less time spent configuring software means more time recording for clients.

The Apogee "One" and "Duet"

The Apogee "One" is a single channel audio interface with a built in microphone and an input for an external microphone. It provides the quality of the more expensive Apogee Duet, but it does not provide phantom power, which is often referred to as "48+" or 48 volts.

Phantom Power

Phantom power is necessary on most large diaphragm microphones but not on less expensive condenser mics. The microphone you chose will determine whether or not you need phantom power. I use a BLUE "Blueberry" and the Neumann TLM 103 microphones, which require phantom power, with the Apogee Duet, and it has worked flawlessly. The current "street price" for the "One" is $249, and the "Duet" $495.

The "Duet" is a two channel audio interface complete with breakout cable and 48 volt phantom supply for both channels. I have used these for studio recording, field recordings and for home use for voice overs. The preamps are excellent, as are the digital converters. I even use the Duet as my Digital to Analog converter for my home stereo system which is built around a 20" iMac.

Food For Thought

This should provide some food-for-thought for those considering a Macintosh for recording voice over in their home studio.

If you're near an Apple Store or a Best Buy, I would recommend you stop by for a demonstration of the latest Macintosh computers and Garageband. I think you'll be surprised how easy it real is to set up your own home studio!

In part two we'll look at Garageband and Logic, Apple's affordable and extensive audio production software.

About James T. Dawson

James T. Dawson is a voice over artist and Macintosh Technical Support Specialist. He is a former Program and Promotions director for five Fox affiliates, and an Addy Award winning video producer, editor and animator. He was a featured speaker at the Fox Network convention at BPME (Broadcast Promotions and Marketing) in 1991.

Look for his voice over demo soon on Voices.com.

Any Comments?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Stephanie

Related Topics: apple, Apple, garageband, mac, macintosh, Microphones, podcasting, recording, recording studios, settings, voice over, voices


Comments


    I was a PC standard bearer for nearly 20 years when I got my first Mac 3 years ago; a Mac Mini. I got it on a bet, almost. My brother had dared me to buy one when I started my recording studio. I used it exclusively for 1 month and never looked back. Now I have 4 macs including a MONSTER Mac Pro.

    Bottom Line: They are easier and more fun to use. GET ONE!

    Posted by:
    • Brian W. Roberts
    • July 30, 2009 12:18 AM

      The new Apogee ONE does have phantom power like its bigger sibling the Duet. see http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/one.php?section=features

      Posted by:
      • Sandy MacDonald
      • July 30, 2009 3:48 AM

        Thanks so much for this. I wish I would have had details such as these several years ago. I have a mac, but ended up with all sorts of miss-matched equipment based on not-so-good advice...my biggest problem has been with my CPU and finding tech guys (or gals) who aren't just pushing their fav systems (or, the ones on sale). After much research, I think I finally have what I need. (I can still use Garage Band but I mainly use Protools, now.) I think these types of problems are probably more prevalent with those of us who come from the talent side of voice, acting or radio and try to put together home studios without the proper research or information.

        Posted by:
        • Tina A
        • July 30, 2009 12:23 PM

          Can you edit as you go, (Punch and Run) with Garage Band? Or do you have to use a more sophisticated Application like Pro Tools or Logic Pro for this?

          Thank You

          Posted by:
          • Daniel Wallace
          • August 6, 2009 7:15 PM

            Can I open my voice over which was recorded with digital performer 2.7 with DP version 6?

            Posted by:
            • Sitso
            • August 9, 2009 12:39 PM

              Sandy is correct about the Apogee One. Mea Culpa, mea culpa. I relied on a pre-release article for the details and the phantom power had been inadvertently not included. The One does supply phantom power.

              Daniel, it is very easy to edit on the go with GarageBand and I find it a bit easier than Logic. In fact, you can easily set to record multiple takes without having to pause or create a new track. I'll explain that feature in a future article.

              Sitso, I do not know if you can import a multitrack project from Digital performer, but as DP will output as a .wav or aiff, those can be easily imported into Garageband.

              Thanks for all the great comments! And I am glad the article was of assistance.

              Posted by:
              • James Dawson
              • August 26, 2009 8:54 AM

                I followed all of these suggestions, set up my studio with a mac, apogee duet and blueberry and am not getting the sound quality I expected. I am not sure what I am doing wrong. Who can help me?!

                Posted by:
                • Therisa Bennett
                • September 28, 2009 12:04 PM

                  Is Part 2 in the works? I am looking for more instruction on using Garage Band for recording and editing Voice Over work. All the information on GB that I have found is about recording music or podcasts. I became fairly competent in using Audacity when I had a PC, but I keep hearing from other Mac users that GB is the way to go. I just haven't found the way to do on GB what I have been doing on Audacity.

                  Posted by:
                  • Rich Wilson
                  • December 1, 2010 10:30 PM

                    Hi Rich,

                    Thank you for your question!

                    Here's a link to where you can read James' most recent contribution:

                    http://blogs.voices.com/voxdaily/2010/12/getting_started_with_garageband.html

                    Best wishes,

                    Stephanie

                    Posted by:

                      I have been using Macs since the late 80's. For years I used a cumbersome USB to Mac interface and a proprietary Protools system, but every time I upgraded the OS, I was forced by Digidesign to purchase new software.
                      finally I realized that I should follow the old KISS (keep it simple stupid) formula for VO.
                      99% of the time, all our clients need from us is a single mono track at 16/44.1 or 16/48. Wav or aiff. Often times these days my clients ask for MP3s.
                      I ditched complex for simple. tossed out Protools, started using Sound Studio by Felt Tip Software ($50.00). I have a variety of Mics, a WhisperRoom Booth, a Mackie Mixer/preamplifier, and I simply run my audio out of the RCA connectors on the mixer and into the sound input on the Mac laptop. I use an inexpensive G4 silver MacBook pro.
                      You cannot hear and loss in quality over the previous set up.
                      If a client needs a fully produced spot, I simply drop my audio into the timeline in GarageBand and edit there.
                      simple is elegant. I also have the option of patching in compression or preAmp through the Mackie if I need.
                      After having tried it both ways, I can honestly say that you or my clients can't hear the difference. And because SoundStudio is so simple to use, editing is a breeze. I keep a separate monitor, keyboard and wireless magic mouse in the booth, so I can edit as I record. that save huge amounts of post time.

                      Tim Powell
                      Bark at the Dog
                      Productions, Inc.

                      Posted by:

                        Tim - that's so reassuring. I've kept it simple, too: choice of NT1A or Coles ribbon with a Fethead inline pre, then the small but excellent P1 comp straight into iMac 10.6.8 with Twisted Wave. Overall, on voice and piano, the system sounds slightly better than a CD, and slightly worse than a very good analogue tape - ignoring that vintage hiss! And the noise (mic off) is better than 100dB down. Based on BBC-training, I would take that to be well up to the mark for mono voice, and no client has complained. Could one really expect much improvement with external A-D? If any, what sort of improvement?

                        Posted by:
                        • Howard Ellison
                        • October 24, 2011 4:03 PM

                          I use a snowball blue with GarageBand and have no problems with it. About the interfaces, you can get a little app called sound flower and if needed you can run the audio from another program to GarageBand and record it. So if you have a sound bed in another program you can rout the audio through that program and record it to GarageBand. Its a prity nice thing to have when your in a rush at least for me. If someone wants to know my studio setup or needs help with audio on the mac you may contact me on twitter. http://twitter.com/jamesclark13
                          I really love the flexibility of GarageBand. For all those who don't have macs go get them.

                          Posted by:
                          • Anonymous
                          • November 6, 2011 12:42 AM

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