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My sister has a mic, a good voice, and a Mac, and she's getting voice-over work. I'm trying to help her set up a simple home studio, and so far we haven't hit on any combination of hardware and software that hasn't either been unreliable or ridiculous overkill. Her needs are extremely simple: to record herself in one mono track, perform a few basic edits (normalize, insert, cut), and export as either uncompressed (WAV or AIFF) or MP3.

We have tried SoundStudio, Audacity, and now ProTools LE 7.2 with Mbox 2, and the complexity has been comical in the extreme. The last straw came when, after recording 50 minutes of material, she tried to output her work as a WAV file using the Bounce command, and learned that it would take ... 50 minutes! (I now understand why, but that's not the point.)

Half of the battle has been getting an A/D converter box that is DIRT SIMPLE to use (prior to Mbox we were using a "Firebox" I think), and getting the Mac and audio software to all be in agreement as to where the sound is coming in from. The other half of the battle is finding audio software that is robust, simple, and can work with the hardware. I'd hoped that a hardware/software solution like Digidesign would solve the integration problems, but it hasn't really made the job easier, and working out all the OS version dependencies was completely maddening.

It occurs to me that investing in a USB microphone might eliminate the hardware complexity. If so, then it might be possible to use it with nearly any audio software, right?

If someone can suggest a good, minimal solution, I'd be grateful.

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While I understand what you are talking about and empathize – setting up such things always tends to be quite a mess – I still do not quite see what your problem is. For even the more complicated solutions work quite easily and trouble-free once you have set up everything. I do not think it's any good to watch out for a over-minimalistic solution here, which may work out fine at the beginning but later proove to lack some features you did not think you would need, but do. Because then, you would need to set up a new system, which means besically the same trouble again! –  leftaroundabout Jul 16 '11 at 20:42

3 Answers 3

I would try WavePad, it has worked for me perfectly in the past. But now I use Final Cut/Logic Pro, which I would also recommend trying.

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I hadn't heard of WavePad, but I've dl'ed the demo and it looks pretty nice. Ability to save directly as WAV or MP3: big plus. Doesn't try to look like a mixing board: HUGE!! Thanks. –  Chap Jul 15 '11 at 3:22
I had a look at Logic Express ($199) - it's got a lot more features than we need, but the fact that Apple makes it is a big plus: I know it'll be compatible with, and take full advantage of, the hardware and OS. Have you encountered any latency issues with Logic? –  Chap Jul 15 '11 at 3:55
I have not encountered any issues with Logic, but I have recorded the audio in Final Cut (Really easy interface) and then imported it into Logic. But, there has been no latency issues that I have encountered. –  Colum Jul 15 '11 at 11:40

SoundStudio used to be a lot simpler in previous versions. Similar to Audacity, but native for the Mac and a little less complicated. I still use that old version when I don't need multitrack capability, but both the new version and Audacity can be a bit complicated.

I would take a strong look at Fission. Rogue Amoeba is a great software company that makes excellent Mac audio apps. It might be just what you're looking for in terms of the balance between simplicity and feature set--VERY Mac-like.

The SIMPLEST hardware solution given the circumstances you describe will probably be a USB microphone, such as the Audio Technica AT2020-USB. Pro-grade microphone, "dirt simple" USB connector.

Configuring your audio interfaces on the software end shouldn't be all that confusing. Here's some pointers that might help you out. Every audio input or output your system has access to is presented in the exact same way to the system and your software. You can view available devices by either going to System Preferences->Sound->Input or Output tabs or by opening the Audio MIDI Setup utility. (See /Applications/Utilities/Audio MIDI Setup or just Spotlight search it.) Audio MIDI Setup From System Preferences or from the gear icon under the list you can select which device(s) to use for default input, playback, and system output. HOWEVER: Any application specifically used for audio processing is going to have its own means of selecting these interfaces that will supersede any selection made in System Preferences or Audio MIDI Setup. In most Mac-native apps, this selection will be somewhere in the application's own preferences. Apps like GarageBand, Sound Studio, even iChat and Skype have this device selection in their preferences.

To summarize, the simplest "step 3" after the first two steps of acquiring hardware and software is to simply find the preference in your software that lets you select your audio devices, and then choose the one you want to use for input.

GarageBand '11 can do all of the recording/editing/exporting, but it's geared towards making music with loops and easy exporting to iTunes, so some things are going to be a little less obvious. There actually isn't a function to select a portion of audio waveform, but you can achieve the same thing by splitting tracks and automating track volume. It's got an auto-normalize function too. You should experiment with it to see if it'll work for your purposes.

There is always going to be latency when converting from analog to digital, and how much depends on the quality of the A/D converter itself. The MicPort Pro is obviously a very high quality converter that has an analog headphone jack right on it that taps into the signal before it is converted, but there will still be latency before it is processed by your software. Garageband can monitor any source, but that is all happening after the A/D conversion.

You may want to check out Blue Microphones; the Yeti is a USB mic with a built-in headphone jack for monitoring, and the Icicle is a cheaper XLR-USB interface than the MicPort Pro.

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Fission doesn't appear to have recording capability - have I got that right? And it doesn't look like the Quicktime exporting includes an option for MP3. Other than that, it cuts, it pastes, and it normalizes, which is about all the editing we need. –  Chap Jul 15 '11 at 16:38
You can always export to Mp3 with iTunes. Fission doesn't record, but the simplest recording method is easily the QuickTime Player. Find it in the Applications folder and choose "New Audio Recording" from the file menu. You can then save an AIFF that you can edit in Fission. –  NReilingh Jul 15 '11 at 17:26
I didn't know that about Quicktime Player - thanks. As to mic recommendation, I've seen the Audio Technica AT2020-USB mentioned elsewhere, so it definitely sounds worth a look. Another option I've seen mentioned (not quite as dirt-simple, but close) is the MicPort Pro, allowing her to use her current mic. That would eliminate any latency issues (the device has a headphone jack); would latency be a significant issue with a USB mic? –  Chap Jul 16 '11 at 14:16
Also - what about GarageBand for recording / editing / exporting? –  Chap Jul 16 '11 at 14:17
@Chap I've edited my answer with some more information. –  NReilingh Jul 16 '11 at 19:05

If you are just doing voice over, what about recording to a Zoom H4n or something... then you have some field recording options as well.

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