When you buy a microphone for podcasting, one of the big considerations in that process is “dynamic or condenser?”
If you're not already familiar with these terms, don't worry. They're basically the two most common ways a microphone is built, how it functions, and how it records sound.
This isn't an in-depth comparison of dynamic and condenser mics, as I want to talk about the SS-1 Microphone Preamp, but it's important to touch on why these terms could be important to you.
Dynamic Microphones will traditionally pick up less environmental sound (neighbours, dogs, cars, planes), but can give you a higher level of ‘noisefloor' under your recordings.
Noisefloor is that constant level of background hiss you'll hear in most pieces of raw, spoken word audio. This is basically the sound of your equipment working together, and it can range from very subtle, to pretty overwhelming.
The reason dynamic mics tend to have a higher noisefloor is because they need the gain (your mic sensitivity or recording volume) turned up a bit more to work well.
Condenser microphones are generally going to give you a lot less noisefloor in your recordings, because they're powered in a different way.
The trade-off is that they'll also tend to be more sensitive to the environmental sounds around you – again, neighbours, dogs, etc
For this reason, dynamic mics are popular in less-than-ideal home recording environments, whilst condensers will be at their best inside a sound treated studio-style location.
The SS-1 Microphone Preamp
So, what does all this dynamic/condenser stuff have to do with the Simply Sound Company's little mic amplifier? Quite a lot, actually.
It's designed to power your dynamic mic as if it was a condenser mic, meaning you can record with your gain turned down much lower.
Because of this, you'll have a noticeable reduction in the level of noisefloor you're picking up.
But, you'll keep all the benefits of your trusty dynamic mic at the same time. Namely, durability, and increased protection against environmental noise.
How Does It Work?
First and foremost, the SS-1 Preamp is designed to work with XLR (analogue) mics, and not USB models.
It slots into the recording chain between your microphone and your recording destination (this might be a mixer, USB preamp, or digital recorder).
Your recording chain might look something like…
Mic > XLR Cable > Digital Recorder
When you add in the SS-1, it would change to…
Mic > XLR Cable > SS-1 > XLR Cable > Digital Recorder
What Will I Need?
You might've noticed that you now need two XLR cables, instead of one. You need to get your audio into the SS-1, then send it on its way out the other side.
I mentioned your recording destination potentially being a mixer, recorder, or USB preamp. The key factor is that it has a function known as “phantom power” – basically the power required to run a condenser mic.
The phantom power function is found in most recording devices nowadays, and usually appears as a button labelled +48v
How Does It Sound?
I had the gain dial set to 4 during both recordings. One without the SS-1, and the other with it.
I then brought both clips into Adobe Audition and set them to exactly the same loudness level. This means you can hear the drastic difference in noisefloor from one sample to the next.
The SS-1 is cheaper than its two main competitors.
The SS-1 is currently available on Amazon.com for $99.99.
As someone who has worked predominately with dynamic mics in home studio scenarios, I wish I had one of these years ago.
Granted, cleaning up background hiss from recordings is quick and easy with the noise reduction function in tools like Audition and Audacity.
However, recording the clearest and cleanest possible source material will make your episodes sound so much better. Not having to blitz your recordings with noise reduction or gating really helps protect the integrity of your vocals and speech.
I like using mics like the SM58 because of their toughness, and their protection against unwanted environmental sounds.
It's good to know that I can continue with this setup, without the trade-off of that high level of background hiss that I've always just considered a necessary evil.
The SS-1 Microphone Preamp is well worth your consideration if you're in the same boat. It's small, easy to use, and, at the price of $99.99, (or $74.99!) definitely won't break the bank either.