Please note that some information might be out of date.
A wide variety of equipment can be used to make an audio recording. Generally you need a set of headphones and a microphone. Perhaps the majority of our volunteers use USB headset microphones (usually Logitech), which combine headphones with a mounted microphone. However, some models are very uncomfortable to wear (use padding), and while their audio quality is adequate, the sound is typically a little harsh, particularly on PCs (scratchy, spikey s's, and an over-crisp, digital edge). But the quality is fine.
Many long-time readers feel the desktop microphones yield a better audio quality than the headsets. For the very budget-minded, several of us recommend the balance of ease and cheapness and sound quality of the little Logitech "wand" mic (~$30) rather than a headset mic (which usually costs more).
When you know you're truly hooked on recording and want the rich expressiveness of your voice to reach the listener, an upgrade to one of the Samson mics (~$50-90) or the Blue Yeti (around $110/£100) yields a big step up in quality. These simple recommendations are based on the accumulated experience of several volunteers over six years of recording for LibriVox and listening to many recordings. Lots of other wonderful equipment will get enthusiastic endorsement from individual volunteers.
A summary of microphones most widely in use at LibriVox is given on the Newbie Guide page.
You may also be interested to listen to the recordings made with many different microphones and other recording devices in the Microphone Showdown project.
These desktop mics work well for those who aren't comfortable in a headset. They're cheaper than most headset mics.
- Logitech USB Desktop Microphone available from Amazon for about £15 or $25.
- Samson Go-Mic available from Amazon for about $40
- Blue Yeti - big and solid, virtually no background noise, great sound quality. Available from Amazon for about £85 or around $100 or less.
- Samson Q1U Budget priced USB mic (Amazon US link)
- Samson Q1U Budget priced dynamic USB mic (Amazon UK link) Likely to generate some hiss.
- Samson C01U usb mic ~$90 (links to review: "The Ultimate Podcasting Mic?")
- Shure SM57
- M-Audio Nova
- Audix OM-5
- AKG C 1000S Condenser mike Requires an interface for XLR cable
- Sony ECM MS 970
- Neumann U87 Ai If you're looking for the ultimate in a adjustable directional pattern studio condenser mic, this is it - with a price to match.
You can get an idea of how much improvement in sound you are likely to get when upgrading from a Logitech to a budget capacitor microphone by listening to this audio clip logitech_and_samson. The same text is read in the same room with exactly the same microphone set-up. The text is read into the Logitech desktop microphone first followed by the same text read into a Samson C01U.
Headsets keep the microphone very close to your mouth and allow you to move your head without changing the volume level. Built in noise cancelling is helpful with removing consistent noises (e.g. fan noises), but not the occasional noise (e.g. dog barking). Some models are comfortable, and others are surprisingly uncomfortable. Some readers find that headset mics pick up the sound of their jaw moving, creating small pops in the recording. Despite some drawbacks, many volunteers consider headsets to be the easiest to use.
- Labtec Stereo 342
- Logitech USB 350 No longer listed on Logitech site
- Logitech USB 250 No longer listed on Logitech site
- Altec Lansing AHS 202 No longer listed on Altec Lansing site
- Logitech ClearChat Pro USB headset has a constant buzz in the background.
- Microsoft Lifechat USB headset Mic makes the voice sound hollow and reduces bass tones.
- Any microphone which has noise-cancelling or noise suppression built in, UNLESS you can disable this. For audiobook recording, noise-cancelling kills the finer tones of the voice, and it is far preferable to eliminate the noise at source, if possible, or to use Audacity's various noise-cleaning features.
Logitech USB Playstation Since my only mike was a cheap plastic thing which had been stepped on a number of times, I decided to get a new one when I embarked on my LibriVox addiction. Where does the cantankerous old computer geek go to get such a thing? Why WalMart, of course!
There in the gaming section I found a Logitech USB Headset. Though it says specifically that it's for the PlayStation2, I figured that a USB connection was a USB connection (it does stand for UNIVERSAL Serial Bus, after all...) and for thirty bucks I brought it home and plugged it in. !WinXP picked it right up with no fuss at all.
It sounds great! It appears to have a preamp of some sort inline just before the connection and 10' of cord go between it and the headset itself. The earphone is of quite surprisingly high quality, but I run the sound through my system speakers and just use the microphone part. The mike's on a little pivoting boom which is easy to keep clear of my beard - my first take had TONS of beard-rustle in it so I pivoted the thing up and it works just fine.
The sound quality is quite excellent, and the boom allows hands-free operation while keeping the mic at a constant distance from my pie-hole so the sound levels are consistent throughout the recording. It's got noise-suppression circutry and even has a little foam pop-filter on the end to help control breath-noise.
If anyone's looking for a high-quality boom mike for a reasonable price, don't be put off by the big PlayStation2 logo on this thing; it works great!
Alternative Recording Equipment
Analog to Digital Converters
Portable Recording Devices
- Marantz PMD670
- Olympus Voice-Trek V20 (Japanese)
- Boss BR-600 —or Boss BR-600 —or FORUM DISCUSSION
- EDIROL R-09 WAVE/MP3
- Boss Micro BR
- iAudio G3
- Zoom H2 -or FORUM DISCUSSION 1FORUM DISCUSSION 2FORUM-H2 TIPS
- Zoom H1
- Archos gMini 402
- Creative Zen Vision: M
- Creative Zen Micro I've got one of these and I love it. It's small but rugged with a removable external protective shell and it holds six gigs of data. I picked it up in August of 2005 for $200US at WalMart and it's served me well every day since. It handles WAV, WMV, and MP3 files and includes an FM tuner. You can record either from the tuner or from a built-in mic. The mic's better suited to voice than to music and records at a lower file rate. Battery life is good and the proprietary Lithium battery can be recharged either with the included charger or from a USB connection to your computer.
- iAudio G3
- Apple iPod
Recording with a Video Camera or Camcorder
Your video camera -- unless it's a very strange model -- records sound as well as picture. Therefore, it can be used to record you reading for LibriVox. You can even leave the lens cap on while you read. After you finish the initial recording, you will then transfer just the audio from the camera to a computer for editing and other needed processing.
You probably have connected your video camera to your TV, perhaps through the VCR, in order to play back a video recording on the bigger screen of the television. Connecting it to a computer to transfer the audio is similar, although you may need to buy or borrow a cable or connectors.
The simplest way to connect is through the headphones jack if your video camera has one. For this, you will need a special, inexpensive cable. It has a 1/8" (3.5 mm) stereo mini plug on both ends. One end goes in the headphones jack on the camera. The other end goes in the line-in jack on your computer. If the audio jacks are color-coded, you're looking for the one that's light blue. If they're not color-coded, your task is somewhat harder; often the two in and out jacks have graphical labels which look like sound waves (sections of concentric circles) and have a small triangle. The triangle points toward the jack for line-in (and away from the other jack for line-out). It's better not to use the microphone jack for connecting audio devices like the camera.
Once you're connected, follow the instructions below in the computer section for recording. Put the recording software you're using into recording mode and push the play button on the camera. What you will be doing is re-recording from the camera to the computer. As with all methods of recording with the computer, you should test your entire set-up to make certain you have the connections and settings correct. In particular, you will need to experiment with the volume control on the camera set to the proper level: moderately loud, but not really loud.Notice that much of the above also applies to using a tape recorder. It gets connected to the computer through its headphones jack, too; even better would be the line-out jack if it has one.
A few Notes on Alternatives
For those of you who are not comfortable sitting at computer to record, relax. There are other alternatives. If the computer just isn't your thing, rest assured, You can even go out to your favorite bar and help LibriVox record something fun.
To explore some of these alternatives, look through the LibriVox Forum, especially the back pages of Need Help? Got Advice?