Attaching Audio Accessories to Mac OSX
Various gear is necessary for starting a your own Apple music studio. Microphones, keyboards, guitars, basses, headsets, home stereos, audio interfaces, speakers and monitors are just of few of the components you may wish to incorporate into your Mac recording studio. All of these devices require some sort connection in order to function with a computer. Home recording equipment in general largely requires some sort of interface in order to establish connectivity. Other devices may patch directly into your computers existing ports, but the majority of audio gear requires a middle man (a FireWire or USB interface). Whether you're starting your own Mac compatible audio studio, or simply recording vocals for a podcast, you may find information in this blog useful in your endeavor.
Even with the best home recording equipment for Mac, the majority of your audio definition will result from your choice of interface. If you’re a podcaster, you may have interest in a USB mic, or even a voice over studio headset. While neither will provide the power to fuel a full Apple recording studio; they should have the capabilities to complete most podcast and voice.
Connecting through an Audio Interface – Integrating Instruments and Mics to the Computer with USB or FireWire powered controllers.
If you’re looking to record either instruments or mics, an audio interface will be a very essential piece of recording gear. Using either USB or FireWire, audio interfaces allow your computer to connect to either XLR, or quarter inch (1/4 inch phono) inputs from instruments (guitar pickups, basses, piezo-electrics, etc), or microphones. Sometimes devices feature additional connectivity for MIDI, S/PDIF, TDIF, ADAT, RCA and some other connection formats, but this largely depends on the type and price of interface you're looking for. Needless to say, interfaces are among some of the best home recording equipment for Mac when starting a home music studio.
If you’re a hardcore musician or producer, you’ll probably be interested in a high definition audio interface. Theses are available as USB or FireWire analog to digital converters from M-Audio, MOTU, Blue and Digidesign (among others). There is some debate as to which provide the most optimal sound quality, but that is not the subject of this entry. If you perhaps still seek a large number of ports, but wish to avoid cost, a unit from PreSonus, MOTU, or M-Audio usually can do the trick. If you’re a hobbyist or podcaster, looking for only a few tracks, you could save cost and space with a smaller unit from M-Audio, Blue, or Edirol. Some of these options are very affordable, and give you studio quality digital audio conversion (24-bit/96kHz) to your computer. Any of these devices can be the start of your own apple music studio, just depending on your expectations, you may need to add additional channels for greater numbers of tracks.
Connection to an Interface – Communicate between the Interface and Sound Recording Software.
If you decide to get an interface, you will have to select it as an input source within your chosen medium. Depending on the recording software for Mac you decide to use the steps may vary. Generally, each device will be connected in the same manner. However, minor changes (such as a few FireWire devices requiring a full system shut down prior to use), do occur from device to device.
If you’re without an audio converter for your computer, you could settle for its built-in audio port. Some Apples feature an 1/8-inch audio input, which, assuming you obtain the correct adapters, will provide the ability to record guitar, bass, and passive XLR microphones. While this is the easiest and most convenient way to record vocals and instrument pickups on Mac, it sometimes lacks the audio quality most users seek (certainly not that of sound studios). Quarter inch input from guitars and basses (and piezo outputs) require a ¼ inch phono to 1/8 stereo mini adapter. You’ll need a stereo mini plug to XLR connector adapter for microphones that do not need phantom power. This again will allow you to easily connect to the computer, but will not provide for studio quality sound recordings.
Connecting an interface is really quite simply, just plug it in and set it up…
- Check whatever set up guide may have been included with your device. If there are any precautions to be made aware of, they should be in the manual.
- Install the necessary drivers to ensure a proper connection. It is often best to then check the internet for any possible driver update in order to maximize efficiency. After installing the proper drivers, it is also advisable to restart you OS at least once before continuing with use.
- Connect the device to you computer. Simply plug in the corresponding USB or FireWire cable that (hopefully) came with the device. Depending on which model of interface you use, you may also be required to provide AC power as well. Many larger units include a (so-many) volt power supply for this exact purpose. If it was included, connect this at the same time.
- Most devices power on with a button or switch. If you are using microphones or other audio gear that requires 48v phantom power, so devices feature additional switches for enabling such features.
- Depending on the device you choose, it may feature its own preference pane, or possible a DSP mixing application. If you wish to use they components, you will need to open them at this time. Other wise you will need to access the device from the recording software you are working with.
- You could access the audio interface from the System Preferences, however, this will divert all system audio through the chosen interface. Which, given the wrong source, may result in damage to you studio monitors or gear.
- Most DAWS and PC audio recording software some sort of audio preferences feature within their preferences.
- The usually accessed via choosing preferences from the drop down menu titled after the software (say GarageBand, or Logic).
- There should be some sort of audio input options within the audio preferences. This usually is a list or menu with possible input options listed. You will want to select your devices names, but sometimes it will be titled Aggregate Device, or some other generic title.
- If you wish to direct the playback through the interface as well, you have to select it in the output options (most likely in the same preference pane). As long as you are careful, you may connect you studio monitors to your Mac in this way.
- After connecting and powering the device, all you simply need to do is plug in your Mics/instruments and assign tracks.
- While many devices will default to recording in stereo (combining input 1 & 2 and so), this will limit your later mixing options.
- Assigning each input to an individual mono track will facilitate the greatest amount of later production that may take place to the recorded audio.
- Once you have selected and armed all of your tracks, you are ready for the greatest and most difficult aspect of sound studios, Press Record.
Recording Microphones, Instruments, and Amplifiers
If you’ve decided to go the route of an interface, connecting microphones, instruments, and amp rig line-outs is as simple as plugging into the right port. Depending on your unit, you may have both preamp control and user assignable master volume. This allows you to record guitar, bass, and many mics simply by plugging them in and adjusting the levels. Most will feature signal and peak indicators. If you have equipment requiring active power, many devices feature optional 48v phantom power.
Setting up a USB or MIDI Music Keyboard
If you have a MIDI keyboard (and an audio interface), you can simply plug the MIDI out into the MIDI in of the interface. Your keyboard may feature additional PC mixing software or OSX music software to install prior to use, but it should be pretty straightforward. One necessary step is select the input within the PC audio recording software you’re using. This commonly is done within the audio preference pane (or sometimes MIDI preferences), and requires the driver to be installed first.
If you have a USB keyboard (or controller) its only a matter of plugging in the correct cable (and possibly installing some audio recording software or device drivers). As longs as its functioning properly you should be able to select the keyboard as you would another input source.
Connect Headphones and Speakers
When it comes to jamming, Mac’s built-in speakers sometimes won’t cut it. While they are sufficient for the usual playback of audio and movies, headphones and external speakers usually pack much more of a punch than the factory installed ones. Luckily, this means a simple matter of plugging in the correct cables to your Mac 1/8 stereo mini port. Since many headphones as stereo already feature this port is incredibly easy. 1/4 inch stereo and other formats require a number of adapters to function properly. Speakers and headphones, unlike most audio peripherals, do not require any drivers to function with the OS.
Using Your Home Stereo Equipment on your Mac
There are a few ways to connect your home stereo to you computer. To play material from your Mac through you home sound system you may either use an audio interface, or you computers 1/8 stereo mini jack. While the stereo mini jack may not have a gain an audio interface has to offer, it can be fitted with a stereo adapter to fit most RCA ports.
Connecting Monitors to your Mac
Unlike headphones and home theatre speakers, monitors commonly require a preamp to function optimally. The easiest way to accomplish this with a Mac is to either purchase a preamp or use an audio interface. With such a device, use the L and R main outputs to connect a set of studio reference monitors. If you are seeking an all-around device for a studio and do not currently posses either it would be best to start with an audio interface. This will not only handle audio the speakers, it will function to connect MIDI controllers, instruments, mics, and other media to you computers music software.