XLR microphones need an interface, and let me say right up front that I recommend the Focusrite Scarlett Solo 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface. I started with a different interface but I get a better sound with the Scarlett Solo, and it's easier to use! The interface is the thing that converts the analog signal to a digital signal so the computer understands it. XLR microphones are connected to the interface by an XLR cable, and the interface is connected to the computer by a cord that plugs into a USB port. You only need an interface if you use an XLR microphone, USB microphones connect directly to the computer via a USB cable and convert the signal without an interface. Voice actors typically use XLR mics. See my Microphones blog post for more information.
After deciding I did not like my sound on my Shure MV7 microphone using USB direct, I needed to figure out what interface to get so I could switch to XLR (the Shure MV7 has both USB and XLR capability). I purchased a ROLLS PM55P Personal Monitor Amp+ interface because it had all the right words in the description and it was priced somewhere in the middle. I struggled with this interface, mostly because of my own ignorance. For example, I didn’t realize it would need its own power source. I thought because it didn’t come with a power cord and because it was connected to the computer, that it drew power from there. It wasn’t until I was showing it to my daughter that she questioned whether it was getting power. It was not. It operates on either a battery or a power cord. A 9V battery and a PS27s power cord later, it was operational. This took longer for me to figure out than you would think because I was getting sound through my microphone, or so I thought. I was not. For a couple of months my sound was actually being captured by my laptop mic and I didn’t realize it.* So, all my earliest recordings, and all the sound to my Zoom classes, were actually captured by my laptop mic.
When I decided to try a different interface I chose the Scarlett Solo because, by now, I had been interacting with VO professionals for several months, and so many of them of them recommended using a Scarlett Solo. I got it, attached it to my mic with the XLR cable, attached it to my computer with the included USB cable, followed the instructions for downloading the software, and watched the tutorials.** I was not only up and running in about an hour, but I had my gain set correctly and my sound was great! Looking back to my sound struggles on my ROLLS I find myself wondering if, because I didn’t know what I was doing, I just didn’t have the gain set correctly. Perhaps one day I will reconnect it and see if experience has taught me a thing or two about getting the sound right or if the Scarlett Solo just creates a better sound. By the way, did I mention, I LOVE my Scarlett Solo!
*TIP: There is a simple way to know what is recording your voice, as well as what you are listening through. I’m on a Mac, but I assume an HP works similarly. When you go to the menu bar and click on the apple (at the far upper left corner) there is a line called system preferences which opens to give you the option to select Sound. When you click on Sound, a box opens and there are Output and Input buttons at the top. Click on Output and you’ll see a list of ways to hear your sound. I like to listen on headphones through my interface, so I select the name of the interface (sometimes it just comes up as “USB Audio Device” depending on your interface). Click on Input and you will see another list of the ways to capture your voice. Here you select your microphone (again, sometimes it just comes up as “USB Audio Device” depending on your interface). You can switch back to the speakers and microphone on your computer by doing the same thing, but selecting them.
TIP: The various apps that use sound all have a preferences line where you can choose your input and output. Again, in the menu bar at the top of the screen click on the app name (next to the apple symbol) and you’ll get a preferences option. Select it and then select your input and output.
TIP: Don’t listen to yourself through your computer’s speakers while you are recording on your mic. The mic will pick up you, AND you again as your voice comes through your speakers. This creates a terrible sound.
**TIP: Make sure your 48v phantom power button is turned on or your interface and microphone won't connect to each other.
**TIP: To hear yourself through your headphones while you record, plug the headphones into the headphone jack and engage the Direct Monitor button. This lets you hear yourself without any lag.