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I originally thought I could just record my guitar using my laptop camera/mic, like I assumed many of the very-non-professional Youtubers I saw do. This (just the first part) was the result. I then tried using my camcorder - even worse.

So I caved in and bought a USB-to-stereo-jack LightSnake along with an acousic-pickup. To my surprise, I still didn't like what it sounds like - it's still all fuzzy and quiet.

I also tried using LightSnake + my dad's old (circa 1970) professional microphone (no recording of this), but I could still barely hear the guitar.

Finally, I borrowed an acoustic/electric, and tried plugging it into the LightSnake. Still quiet and fuzzy.

So, I give up, and I'm turning to the experts: Why is my recording so fuzzy and quiet? How can I record my guitar onto my computer? I'm really hoping the answer doesn't require me to purchase a $300 USB-to-stereo-jack converter...

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Do you have any audio interface? Can you use phantom power? –  bluszcz May 5 '11 at 9:43
    
bluszcz: I don't know what either of those questions mean. I have a USB-to-1/4-inch-(female-and-male)-audio-jack(s) adapter called "LightSnake," which I plug into my computer, and which I plug my mic/guitar into. However, the recordings come out quiet (even with the "mic volume" turned up in Windows) and with a lot more background fuzz than I was hoping. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 5 '11 at 15:28
    
I believe what @bluszcz was asking was: Do you have an external sound card? From what you've indicated it sounds like you don't. A pretty decent one can be had for <$100. They tend to work much better than the inputs you find on motherboards, particularly when it comes to recording. –  boehj May 6 '11 at 10:34
    
@boehj: $100 for a sound card!? I am used to sound cards costing ~$5 - why so much (I can't imagine it's just RF shielding - do they do something extra to reduce signal noise that internal sound cards don't)? Also, is the LightSnake not considered an external sound card (it takes the analog input and converts it to a digital signal, after all)? –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 10 '11 at 4:04
    
I'd say most people are used to sound cards costing nothing as they're bundled with every motherboard sold. External sound cards do improve RF shielding in that they sit 2 metres away from the PSU. Other things that help reduce noise: a) the use of balanced ins & outs, b) better AD/DA converters, c) the ability to record at higher bit depths and frequencies. RE: Lightsnake. I'm not sure what the definition of a sound card is, but if I bought one I'd like it to do both input and output. But, yeh, Lightsnake quite possibly is a sound card. –  boehj May 10 '11 at 7:41
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4 Answers 4

Sounds like am impedance mismatch between your instrument and interface.. Could it be a line/mic level issue? Maybe the 'driver' for the LightSnake allows you to decide it?

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I have the sound levels turned up in windows, if that's what you mean. Not sure how I would fix an "impedance mismatch".. –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 5 '11 at 15:25
    
So basically (electrical) impedance is a property of all electrical devices. For the best transfer of audio through a chain of devices happens with all the impedances are matched (equal). –  notthetup May 5 '11 at 16:37
    
I am just wondering if the pickup outputs at a much lower voltage level than expected by the LightSnake. Can you check if the LightSnake has any specs on input levels?? And the same with your pickup for output levels? –  notthetup May 5 '11 at 16:45
    
OK. I just found this off the manufacturers website for the LightSnake.. Specifications Resolution: 16 bit 48/44.1KHz THD + N (-3dBr): -76.1 dB SNR: 83.1 dB Dynamic Range: 81.6 dB Input impedance: 1M Ohms Frequency Response: 48KHz: 20 - 19.2KHz Signal Input Range: 0 - 2.88 Vpp Signal Boost Gain: +20 Db Cable Length: 10Ft / 3.05M USB Bus Powered Complaint with USB2.0 Full Speed Operation Compliant with USB Audio Device Class Specification v1.0 –  notthetup May 5 '11 at 16:47
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Few things to look at, and I'm speaking from just the question text - not a good idea to listen to YouTube in the middle of a meeting...

Step 1

What is the recording level for the USB device?

In your computer's Volume Control settings, what is the Volume level for your Light Snake? I've seen where Windows will automatically set the recording level very low for a new device, and you may just need to bump it up.

Step 2

What program are you using to record the audio?

I don't know what specifically other people are using, but I will often record the audio separably from the video and splice them back together later. This lets me use a dedicated audio recording program (like Audacity) to do a proper check on levels, watch for clipping, etc. and gives me some better audio editing options for fixing things in post.

Step 3

What is the recording level in the program you are using to record the audio?

The recording levels may be off in the program itself, and you may be hearing some clipping or other artifacts from the levels as set in the app.

Misc.

There may be something else entirely going on, but answers to the above will at least help direct the inquiry.

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Recording levels are all the way up. I tried both Windows recorders and Adobe Soundbooth to record the audio (recorded separately from the video), with the same result for both –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 13 '11 at 1:15
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Your guitar will give out MIC level at best, I have rarely seen a guitar with LINE LEVEL outputs.

MIC level is significantly lower than LINE level. In every mixer the gain pot is adjusted to bring MIC level up to LINE level. 1

It sounds like the device you are using is just a slightly better ADC (analogue-digital convertor) than what is built into your computer. The advantage of that is that the onboard sound card typically picks up computer noise such as your fan on the actual take.

What I believe you need is a pre-amp 2. It takes the MIC level and turns it to LINE level (just like the gain pot, aka pre-amp.

You can buy standalone preamps, many people I know swear by them (though they spend $3-5k per preamp).

In terms of what pre amp to get, realistcally you are better off buying a proper audio interface, than mixing a bunch of parts.

For your purpose you should be able to find one for around $150USD.

What is LINE LEVEL

What Is a preamp?

Lexicon

List of Cheap Interfaces

Forum thread on cheap interfaces

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That "List of Cheap Interfaces" link looks quite dated. The forum thread is fairly old too. Might be worth trying to find a more up to date resource as there have been a lot of new interfaces in recent years. –  Mark Heath May 17 '11 at 15:00
    
In reality any interface around $150 will be adequate for his purposes. As someone with a high end presonus, I would suggest this presonus.com/products/Detail.aspx?ProductId=60 –  Owen Kelly May 17 '11 at 15:11
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Perhaps LightSnake is expecting higher signal levels.

You might need a preamp to boost the low signals you are getting from your guitar or mic.

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Is this the same as "phantom power" mentioned above? –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft May 10 '11 at 4:02
    
No - phantom power is merely a way to provide power to a device through the wires used for the audio signal. –  Rory Alsop May 10 '11 at 7:38
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