Basic Adapter 101: Choosing the Right Adapter for Your Recording Needs First, as stated, any change in signal can alter the sound quality, so by using a direct input you are able to avoid a good portion of potential problems. Even though they are designed to transform the signal, the more devices you have to go through, the more your quality will become degraded.
The “Rock Star”
So, you just bought that shiny new Shure SM58, huh? You invite the rest of the guys from your Justin Bieber cover band (don’t lie, that KoЯn shirt isn’t fooling anyone), you hook up all your synths to your computer and then realize that your mic cable’s quarter inch adapter won’t fit the input. What do you do now?
You already opened the package and the store won’t let you return it. Don’t give up just yet though, you haven’t wasted your money, you just need the right adapter.
I Need A What?
For those of you who haven’t been blessed with fully compatible equipment up to this point, an adapter is generally a small piece of equipment that can change the way your hardware transmits its signal to another device.
As with anything, changing the signal type can slightly alter your sound quality because you are changing the signal itself, not just the connection, but it shouldn’t be enough of a change to cause any actual problems if done right.
Adapters come in various designs and plug sizes to accommodate your individual needs. 99.9% of the time a microphone will need to connect via XLR (3 pin – Mono/ 5 pin – Stereo), TS (Tip-Sleeve)(mono), TRS (Tip-Ring-Sleeve)(Stereo), or USB, so finding an adapter for those will be easy at most music gear stores.
Most adapters are also relatively inexpensive unless you want something more advanced. Figure on spending between two and fifty dollars for the majority of them.
What Kind Of Adapter Is Best For Me?
In the example above, our “hero” is attempting to connect Shure’s SM58 to a computer, so odds are good you’ll be starting with XLR and want a USB adapter (All adapters are designed to do the same basic thing, so for the sake of ease I’m going to continue using that as an example.
You can find the specific connection you need by looking at your gear’s connections online). If you plan on sitting still or remaining close to your input then you might want to pick up something like Blue’s “Icicle”(generally $50 give or take), which you can plug your existing microphone cable into and then from there plug into your computer’s USB port.
If you want to be able to move around more, you might want to go for a full size XLR cable that will plug directly into your microphone with one end and then converts the signal within the cable to USB on the other end ($10-$20. Price can vary depending on the cable, but this is usually the cheaper option).
While your exact needs will dictate what you end up needing, between the stationary adapter and a full cable the cable is usually the best option. There are several reasons why I say this.
First, as stated, any change in signal can alter the sound quality, so by using a direct input you are able to avoid a good portion of potential problems. Even though they are designed to transform the signal, the more devices you have to go through, the more your quality will become degraded.
Second, a desk microphone will be fine with going through a secondary piece because it will probably have a stand of its own, but most microphones are meant to be held or elevated to some degree, so you’ll have to use a cable in addition.
If you try to take the SM58 mentioned above and plug the adapter directly into the microphone without some sort of cable in between, you can’t lift it, and if you’re not careful with placement could snap the adapter or damage the microphone.
My last reason is actually just for the sake of having another cable. If I’ve learned one thing about equipment use it’s that you can never have too many cables. It seems that every time you buy a new piece of equipment to replace, or use in conjunction with existing items, it needs just one more cable beyond what the manufacturer provided (I’m sure they’ll include some paperwork that shows they just happen to carry the exact cable you need… How convenient).
Regardless of your primary reason though, it’s just generally helpful to have an alternative way of connecting your equipment. If you think your microphone is broken while using the original cable, testing it with the other might save you a small fortune.
What If I Have A USB Microphone Already, Is There A Way To Convert It To Another Format?
That’s a good question. As much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, this is not currently possible. Normal adapters transmit audio, but one that transmits your audio via USB is turning your original signal into digital data, so the computer is simply translating the new information into sound. This is why if you listen to a voice recorded via a poorly made USB device it may sound somewhat robotic.
I’m sure this then leads you to ask why it won’t work the other way. Normal USB microphones and adapters send data to a computer for translation, but you can’t send data into something meant for audio, it won’t know what to do with it.
In this case you simply need to buy a normal microphone, or if your USB mic is compatible with other kinds, just buy a different cable. This is probably one of the biggest advantages of putting out the extra money for a high quality microphone, so you can just use one mic and switch cables as needed.
I Think I Know What I Need Now, But The Store Has So Many…
Once you figure out the kind of adapter you want, you’ll need to decide what brand to go with. Just as with microphones there are a million different brands for any kind of adapter you might need, so with so many choices it’s no surprise that you might be a little confused about which kind to buy.
If you trusted a company enough to buy their microphone, your best bet is generally to go with something made by the same company; it will be designed to work with their hardware with minimal changes to quality. You can still choose to get another brand’s adaptor and it may work just as well or better than the one your mic company made.
Understand though that it still comes down to hardware and software quality. You can only “upscale” so much, if you have a terrible microphone the adapter won’t change that.
Time For Some Music
Finally, you have everything you need, and it’s time to make some music! (Be sure if you’re not familiar with it already to check your manuals and/or the internet for the specifics of your equipment to avoid damaging your device or adapter.)