Mic + Mixer + your existing computer

Better Option if quiet with no echo in your computer room.

Total: $110

Parts to buy: Behringer XENYX 302USB + Audio-Technica ATR2100 + Windscreen

To do better than just the ATR2100 alone, you’ll want to add a mixer. To connect to the mixer, you’ll use a 3-prong XLR cable. Fortunately, the ATR2100 supports that as well as USB and includes both cables (or at least it did at the time of this writing; make sure that’s still part of the package when you buy, or grab another decent XLR cable of whatever length you think will make sense). The mixer lets you adjust the gain, and adjust the treble and bass to reduce hiss or rumble, and generally optimize the recording for your voice.

You’ll need to adjust these to find what’s best for your voice, but here’s what I found works well for me. I suggest starting with these settings and adjusting the bass and treble levers and mic dial to get it just right for you, your recording room, and the natural added gain and noise of your computer. See #5-#9 in the setup steps below for more on configuring the mixer options:

Gain: 6 (each tick is 1, so 5 is straight up)
Low: +0 (center)
High: +1 (1st line above +0)
Mic: 6 (same numbering as Gain)

Click to enlarge

Physical setup for ATR2100 + XENYX 302 USB

  1. Put the windscreen over the ball of the ATR2100.

  2. Connect the USB cable from the USB port on the back of the XENYX 302USB to your computer (see image for USB port location).

  3. Connect XLR cable to ATR2100 and to the port on the upper left on the face of the XENYX 302USB (see the image for XLR location).

  4. If you want to use the included mic-stand, set the microphone in the stand. Note that however the mic is held, you want to be sure you avoid noises from shifting your hand as you hold it or touching the table or desk on which it’s sitting. It will pick up any such noises and those will ruin your recording.

  5. Setting the buttons: Depress the red button under LINE/USB FROM, so it’s set to USB PLAY. The two black buttons to its right, LINE/USB TO and 2-TRACK, should both be up and set to MAIN MIX. This will allow you to use headphones both to monitor your recording as you speak and also to play back through the XENYX to listen to the final product without needing to ever make any changes to switch back and forth. There should be no need to ever change these button settings whether you connect headphones or not.

  6. Setting the recording dials and levers: There is no one right group of settings that can apply in all cases. Depending on your voice, differences in your electronics and computer, the line-in recording level on your computer, and background noise in your room, some experimentation will almost certainly be needed. There are 4 controls that affect the recording: the GAIN and MIC dials on the left side of the unit and the LOW and HIGH levers between them.

  7. GAIN and MIC dials: For the novice, in order to reduce the number of things you are changing, we recommend keeping the GAIN and MIC set to the same level as each other. I found setting these to 6 provided the right sound level without introducing too much noise with my equipment. Start there, but be prepared to change this (turning both dials up or down together, so their settings remain equal) while monitoring your signal and noise levels when you get to the sections on Getting Everything Ready to Record with Audacity and Recording with Audacity.

  8. LOW and HIGH levers: These set the tone of your voice. I found setting LOW to 0 and HIGH to +1 worked well for me, but that’s not necessarily right for you. If there’s too much rumble, turn down the LOW. If your voice sounds hollow turn up the LOW. If there’s too much hiss, turn down the HIGH. If your voice sounds muted, like you are talking through a sock, turn up the HIGH. As with the GAIN and MIC, some experimentation will help you find what sounds best.

  9. Record a piece, play it back, make small adjustments and try again until you like what you hear, as described in Recording with Audacity.

    If using headphones (we recommend you do), then also follow steps #8 and #9 below.

  10. Plug them into the HEADSET jack in the upper right on the face of the XENYX 302USB (see the image for HEADSET jack location). Note that you cannot use the headphone jack built into the mic when connected through the XENYX 302USB, because the jack on the ATR2100 only works when it’s under USB power. Connecting the headphones to the XENYX 302USB also lets you hear the effects of the adjustments you make on the mixer, which can be very helpful once your ears get used to this.

  11. Adjust the PHONES dial in the upper right, just below the HEADSET plug (I set it to 4). The PHONES dial sets the volume of everything you hear in the headphones. Also tune the LINE/USB in the center at the bottom to get the playback volume you prefer when playing computer audio back through the XENYX (I use 1, which is plenty loud on my system with the PHONES set to 4). The MAIN MIX dial is not used in this configuration.

  12. Recording

  13. When speaking, point the top of the mic toward your mouth. Don’t talk to the sides of the mic.

  14. Tune the XENYX 302USB, using the settings above this list as a starting point. You’ll need to make recordings and adjustments a few times to find the setting combination that sounds best.

Next proceed to the Downloading and Installing the Recording Software step.