Field recording, pre-amps, and Twitter

Reader Craig Messerman is hitting the trail to record the sounds of the world around us. He’d like to use his MacBook in the process, but has hit a snag. He writes:

How can I use an AudioTechnica Pro24 stereo microphone for field recording with my MacBook? It makes beautiful recordings with my Sony DV camcorder (with plug-in power), but I can’t get high enough gain with the MacBook. It has a battery, and I’ve tried plugging it into the computer’s audio input, and into a Griffin iMic (first gen.). It doesn’t matter what I set the iMic switch to, it’s just no good. All I get is pretty good close up recording like we can with our Shure SM57 and 58. Any thoughts?

As much as I love geeking out over microphones and recording setups, I understand that this question has the potential to interest exactly two people—me and Craig. But hang on, there’s a moral here.

Before we get to that moral, the answer is that because your MacBook lacks a FireWire port (so you can't use a FireWire bus-powered audio interface) you need either a battery-powered pre-amp that sits between the microphone and your MacBook (this pre-amp, for those that don’t know, will amplify the mic’s signal) or you do what others in the business do and use a digital field recorder. These things are made by any number of companies including Sony, Marantz, Samson, Korg, Yamaha, Edirol, and Tascam; use removable media (Compact Flash and SD cards); and often include a microphone.

But this is Mac 911, after all, so let’s address the pre-amp-to-MacBook issue, which leads us to the moral.

I did my best to scour the Web for battery-powered pre-amps and came up with a few schematics but no single great suggestion. So, I turned to the power of Twitter (where I appear as @BodyofBreen). I put out a general call for such a pre-amp and follower/AV tech/all-around-helpful-guy Chris Eschweiler (@chrisesch) piped in with the suggestion that I check out Sound Devices’ $350 MM-1 Portable Mic Preamp With Headphone Monitor. It’s powered by AA batteries and offers impressive audio specs.

The moral, of course, is that good as Google can be, it sometimes doesn’t hurt to raise up your head and shout, “Say, anybody here have a recommendation for….”

Twitter: It’s not just about breakfast.

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