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I am in the planning stages of producing a podcast consisting 2 or more people in the same room. I have a large diaphragm USB condenser mic, and another non-USB mic. At this point, I need to decide which direction to build out the configuration, whether it is using USB mics or non-USB mics. I would like to minimize the amount of gear necessary to pull this off, which leads me down the USB road...

My question is this: Is there a way to monitor 2 or more USB microphones live, simultaneously, and with 0-latency?

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

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What kind of machine are you recording to: laptop / desktop? What kind of mic is it? What is the max. no. of people that will be on the panel? –  d-_-b Jan 30 '11 at 4:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

USB was designed as a general purpose bus. Hence, there will always be some latency. The more devices you have connected to the bus, the more problems you will run into. I suppose the only purpose a USB large diaphragm mic would have is for one or two mics during a pod cast. I would never use such a mic in my studio.

That being said, if you plan on adding more mics to your setup, you will have problems with USB.

My general advice is to stay away from USB for audio/video/realtime application. USB works well for printers.

Whether you can do real time monitoring depends on the software/driver included with the mic. Since the mic is USB, obviously you'll be doing the no-latency monitoring via software.

If the desire to use less gear is related to cost, then there are many things you can do. You can get a small mixer and mics. You can get a multi-channel interface and mics. I don't think either be that expensive.

If you want to minimize gear because of space, or hassle, then get a multi-channel FW interface and a bunch of mics. 8 channels is quite common these days.

I've asked some questions as comments to your question. If you give more details, the answer will be clearer.

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This is what I figured. At this point, I think the most solid, straight-forward solution involves a USB or firewire interface using standard microphone connections. As a musician with audio engineering experience "back in the day", I am just getting re-familiarized with the available technology, and while I am looking at the possible applications of this technology, I would not use USB microphones in recording music projects either. –  Tom Miller Jan 31 '11 at 14:10
    
If your computer has FW or you can add a FW card, I would go for that over USB. FW has it's own controller and is less demanding of system resources. –  d-_-b Feb 1 '11 at 8:59

It is best to use regular microphones and a small mixer, which then hooks to a USB or other sound interface to your computer.

The reason is that USB microphones are simply regular microphones with built-in sound cards. Even if you set them to sample at 44.1kHz for example, they will drift apart over time, as their clock rates are completely independent.

As others have said, zero-latency monitoring in this computer configuration isn't possible anyway. Zero-latency monitoring works with an internal analog mixer. Any time you are monitoring through a computer, with any interface, there will be latency. Although these days it is possible to get the latency down to an acceptable amount (<10ms or so).

If you use a regular analog mixer, you can monitor in your headphones regularly this way while you record.

If you do choose to attach a couple USB devices to record audio with, use ASIO4ALL. It will allow you to use multiple sound devices with one ASIO driver, so you can record from them simultaneously. You may still have clock drift issues, but you will be unlikely to notice them unless you are recording over long periods of time.

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"they will drift apart over time, as their clock rates are completely independent" Not necessarily. They can sync their clocks with the USB bus frame rate, so that all the mics on the same bus stay in sync. –  endolith May 12 '12 at 1:00

I agree with Sims that it's highly likely that you'd end up with problems. But, if you still want it give it a try (and I have done it, and why not??.. it's free), here's what you can do.

You'll need a Mac, as it can aggregate multiple Audio devices. I have tried it with two USB microphones attached to my MacBook and 'aggregated' them as a single 2 channel device, when I then recorded using Audacity (or your favorite recording software).

Here's how you can setup aggregate devices.

If you're on Windows side, there's so simple way to do something like this. I'd recommend then you go for the HW solution with a USB or Firewire mixer.

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Thank you for your reply--unfortunately, I am on Widows systems. I have tried a several different similar solutions, but while trying to avoid the complexity of adding a mix console to the configuration, the USB solution creates just as much complexity and even more issues with regard to quality and reliability. –  Tom Miller Jan 31 '11 at 14:13
    
Yup. On the Mac, it works without adding too much complexity, but still stability is an issue.. You can look at small portable mixers to make it simpler and mobile. I have had my eyes (I have wanted to do the exact same thing as you) on the Zoom R16. samsontech.com/products/… –  notthetup Jan 31 '11 at 14:54
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Your post is inaccurate. You do not need a Mac. Simply use ASIO4All, which he will need for ASIO on class-compliant USB devices anyway. asio4all.com –  Brad Jan 31 '11 at 16:44
    
@Brad. Yes. Agreed. It can work on Windows, but it only works with specific devices, and is more complicated to setup than the way the Aggregated Devices work on OSX. It's built into the Audio Stack and supports all USB Audio I/O devices. P.S. The site for these drivers is giving a SERVFAIL currently.. –  notthetup Jan 31 '11 at 22:18
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@ntt, that would be for bundled ASIO drivers for the specific hardware. ASIO4All is a wrapper for WDM drivers that does a decent job of using the hardware in a very low latency way, and as a bonus, allows you to select multiple sound interfaces to present to the ASIO client. –  Brad Feb 2 '11 at 16:25

You could try a multi-channel USB microphone like the Microcone. This gives 6 separate audio channels which are highly directional. Not sure it will meet your latency requirements but worth a look.

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