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Recommended Audio Setup: USB Mixers
This setup is geared towards people with little to no audio gear who want to get into online streaming with minimal investment. This will work as a good quality entry-level setup for solo musicians with one or more instruments and for small groups. Since the mixer is the focal point of this setup I’ll be focusing more on that than outboard gear.
Here we have a mixer with a built-in audio interface. For most people this is going to be the best option as you can mix several instruments and not have to deal with any workarounds in software.
Alesis MultiMix 8 USB FX
The Alesis MultiMix 8 USB FX sends and receives 2 channel stereo audio through USB. This is exactly what you want for Hangouts. No tricky software routing required. Features built-in effects, EQ and a bunch of I/O for the small footprint.
Set the Alesis as the input/output in the Hangout settings and turn on Studio Mode. That’s it!
You don’t want your laptop speakers to be on when you’re performing. Make sure you’re not routing sound from the computer back into the computer, which would cause echo.
Monitoring isn’t as tricky here because the interface is acting as both your audio input and playback device. None of that feedback loop nonsense to worry about.
What about this other mixer?
Look out for mixers that multitrack output (8 or more channels) and not a 2-channel stereo mix. They are meant forrecording, but Hangouts require more of a live sound setup. In that case, again, you’d need some sort of software routing solution if you’ve already got a mixer with multichannel output.
The support for Firewire audio devices in Hangouts has historically been hit or miss. You may find that you’re only getting one channel into the Hangout, or none at all. What you may have to do is run through a DAW (digital audio workstation) first and then route the signal from there to the Hangout. See the “Software Routing” section below for info on how to do this.
There really are about a million different ways to skin this cat. If you have any questions about a specific setup, let me know in the comments.
Basic Audio Setup: USB Microphones
The most basic setup you can have for Studio Mode is to use the microphone on your webcam. I generally don’t recommend this unless you have a webcam with a higher quality stereo microphone like the Logitech c910 or c920, which will work in a pinch but only for quieter acoustic music. Webcam microphones distort easily so louder music is going to require more complex sound reinforcement. The previously mentioned c930e from Logitech unfortunately has noise reduction which can’t be turned off.
With USB microphones, you’re stuck with a one microphone setup. That can work fine for a solo artist but not so well for duos or groups. The advantage of USB microphones is the simplicity of setup. Plug it in, tweak the volume, and go.
The built-in mics on laptop computers are designed for voice and don’t do a very good job with that.
The Blue Snowball is a great step up from any sort of built-in laptop or webcam mic.
This is a mono microphone with omni, cardioid, and cardioid with -10db pad modes. It has no volume control, so you will have to adjust that in your computer settings.
The Blue Yeti is a sizable step up feature wise.
It has omni, figure 8, cardioid, and stereo modes. Stereo is going to add greater depth and breadth to your sound.
It also has it’s own volume knob, and a headphone jack for direct monitoring.
Like the Snowball it’s a Plug-and-Play device so no drivers to install.
Turn off noise reduction
If you’re relying on the microphone in your webcam to pick up sound, you must turn off noise reduction. You’ll get more background noise this way but noise reduction designed for speaking voice does nasty things to vocals and instrumentation. Try to reduce sources of background noise as much as possible.
You’ll find the setting for this noise reduction in the control software that comes with your webcam. For example, Logitech calls this “RightSound”
Beware the auto volume control
Important: Voice Mode has automatic volume control. Studio Mode does not. The reason I mention this is because switching back and forth between Studio Mode and Voice mode will mess with your volume level. When you first enter a Hangout you will be set to Voice mode by default so you have to set your volume level every time you join a Hangout (after switching to Studio Mode). Always double-check your Hangout settings.
Intermediate Audio Setup: XLR Mics and Mixer
If you’re a musician you might already have a bit of studio or live gear. If so, you can incorporate this into your Hangouts rig. I’ll be writing a little bit about microphone selection and setup later in the article.
Just about everybody’s computer has 3.5mm jacks for Headphones and Line-In. This is what you’ll be using for this setup. This solution is probably going to come with a fair bit of background hiss, but it’s a manageable solution if you already have the gear to use.
Now, you can’t just plug an XLR based microphone into the MIC jack on your computer via an adapter. There are two issues with this. First, you probably wont have enough gain. Secondly, your mic will likely only come out of the left channel when you’re in Studio Mode.
One option for Hangouts is to get a little mini 4 channel mixer with RCA outs. Here’s an example from Mackie (pictured above). You would then run the RCA out from the mixer through an 3.5mm Male to 2-Male RCA Adapter (pictured) and into the Line in on your computer.
To be able to hear both the Hangout and microphones/instruments is a bit tricky. You would need to run the same type of cable from the computer Headphone/Line Out to an input on the mixer. Depending on the mixer’s signal routing though, you might just be running the audio from the computer back into the microphone input causing a monsterous echo. Not good. There is a way around this though.
Do you have two pairs of headphones? Good! Plug the better of the two into the headphone jack of your mixer, the other directly into your computer. It might be a bit of a pain switching back and forth between songs if you want to talk to people, but this might be the only way to do it without buying yet more equipment.
Actually, it’s a blessing as well as a curse. If you can’t hear audio from the Hangout while you’re performing, you also won’t be able to hear people typing, talking, munching on food and otherwise making noise when they forget to mute their microphones. This happens a lot. You may want to talk to the host (maybe that’s you) about force muting the other participants during performances.
If your onboard sound has low latency monitoring capabilities, you may just want to plug your headphones into the computer and listen that way. That’ll let you hear the Hangout and your mixer feed. Latency is the time difference between the real-time signal you’re sending in and what would come out of your speakers once it has been through the computer. You may be able to select “Listen to this device” or similar in your line/microphone input’s audio control panel. Give it a try, but there may be quite a lot of delay so the usability of this method varies.
Intermediate Audio Setup #2: Outboard USB Audio
Similar to the previous setup, but with less noisy, cleaner sounding audio. A bit simpler too.
As a starting point I would recommend getting a 2 channel USB audio interface. The hitch is that when you run most interfaces directly into the Hangout you get your microphone on the left channel and instrument on the right. This is because most USB audio devices are designed for multichannel output, and not the two channel stereo mix needed for Hangouts.
The solution to this is either to run a mixer into your USB device (see below) or to use recording software as a mixer as described in the “Software Routing” section.
Make sure that when purchasing a USB audio interface that it accepts both mic/instrument input AND line level input. Many entry-level USB audio interfaces, like the M-Audio Fast Track USB, don’t accept line level signals so you can’t run a mixer into them. An interface that accepts both is going to be much more flexible in use.
Audio Interface + Outboard Mixer
As previously mentioned, you do not necessarily need a software mixer if you’re using an outboard mixer to input into the audio interface. You do need an interface that will accept line level signals though. The Tascam US122MKII USB is an inexpensive example. It has microphone, line and instrument inputs, but you’ll only be using the line inputs connected to the main outputs on your mixer.
With the Tascam or any comparable unit, select it in the Hangout settings as both the Microphone and the audio out. Then plug your headphones into the interface.
Advanced Audio Setup: Multichannel Interface and Mixer (8+ Channels)
What you’ll want to do here is going to be heavily dependent on your mixer topology and your outboard gear.
I will go forward based on the assumptions that your mixer has direct outputs for each channel going directly into your audio interfaces inputs, and that the outputs of your interface go to the line inputs on those same channel strips.
You will not be using the monitor, mix or tape output from your mixer to the computer as in the intermediate setup, with one notable exception explained below. If you have “Pre-Fader Output” switches on your channels (on my board they’re called “Direct Pre”), use them. This setup is one which you’ve already setup for computer recording and won’t require you to plug in your mixer differently.
Recommended Hangout Settings:
- Microphone: Software mixer (not multichannel) of your interface. This may be called “Monitor.”
- Speakers: A discrete pair of hardware channels
System Audio Settings:
Important: Mute any hardware inputs and software returns you don’t want feeding into the Hangout. Doubly important for the channels the Hangout outputs to, so as not to create an echo.
Set your system sounds to a pair of hardware outputs, rather than to just the software mixer. To do this, select a pair of discrete channels (Channel 5 and Channel 6 e.g.) in your operating system’s audio control panel (“Sound Devices” or similar) as the default sound device. In Windows, they will still go to a software return even when hardware channels are set as the default device. Not sure about Mac OS X.
This way, you can mute system sounds in the software mixer (to prevent them from being heard in Hangouts) but still hear them via the hardware outputs and thus through your mixer.
Make sure that, for example:
- Software mixer’s master output goes to channels 1 and 2
- Hangout Audio and System Sounds go out to 3 and 4
- Instruments/Vox are located on channels 5 – ?
What you’re going to be able to do here is create your own monitoring mix on the board and have a separate master mix go into the Hangout, which you would mix in your interface’s software mixer. You would of course mute channels 1 and 2 on the board so you’re not hearing your master mix both from the board and from the software mixer.
This setup also allows you to record your performance in your DAW software. You could of course record the audio from the Hangout as well.
DAW Effects Plugins
Assuming you have a reasonbly powerful computer, you can actually use the effects plugins included with your DAW software in a Hangout on Air. They need to be low latency to use them in a “live” manner.
First, set the master section in your DAW to a particular pair of channels. Make sure they do not coincide with the outputs of any of your individual tracks. Then go into your interface’s software mixer and mute everything but the software returns you chose in your DAW for the master section. You’ll now be doing your mixdown in the DAW software rather than in your interface’s mixer.
Arm your relevant tracks to record and then turn the record monitoring on for the tracks on which you wish to use effects.
I would recommend that you use this sparingly, perhaps only putting a little bit of stereo reverb on the master section.
Even if you apply effects to individual channels, if you’re recording the performance the default behavior of most DAWs is to record dry unless you choose specifically to record the wet signal. I don’t recommend this.
This is a good option for solo performers who may only be using one microphone, as you can run a single microphone out two tracks in your DAW and add stereo reverb for a bit of depth.
Not enough channels?
There is no such thing as having too many channels of I/O, but there is such a thing as having too few.
If you’re broadcasting a whole band and only a have 4 or 8 channel interface, you’ll have to do things differently. Also, you should invest in an audio interface that has enough channels to record all of your microphones individually plus a few extra channels for good measure. Less plugging/unplugging of cables that way. In the spirit of working with what we’ve got though, here’s how to pull this all off.
If you can create a separate monitor and master mix on your board, do that. Otherwise you might have to suffice with just the final master mix you want going into the Hangout. I know every musician wants to hear themselves loudest in the monitors, but you may just have to make due.
Then instead of using the software mixer, have the master output of your mixer go to inputs 1 and 2 on your interface and select those channels as your Mic in the Hangout settings. The rest of the inputs you can leave as they are. Set the Speakers in the Hangout settings to whichever output channels you like.
It may be a compromise on the monitoring front and you wont be able to record everything to discrete channels in your DAW, but you are still able to produce a high quality stereo mix for your Hangout on Air.
Choosing a Webcam
While this is an audio guide, it’s important to have great quality video too. While there are ways of integrating a full broadcast quality video production system, or better quality consumer video gear, in many cases a good quality webcam will do the trick.
Note: Your internet connection is still the most important part of the equation when it comes to video quality. Have at least 2-3Mbps minimum upload speed available, wire in directly (avoid Wi-Fi), and restrict others from using the internet when you’re broadcasting.
While there are many “HD” webcams on the market, I believe Logitech offers the best video quality.
The Logitech c920 is their high-end consumer webcam. Being a consumer webcam it comes with a software suite to control webcam video, add visual effects, and record video. The most useful bit is the Webcam Controller which allows you to adjust brightness, color temperature, zoom/pan and more.
This software isn’t available on Mac OS X but the Webcam Settings app is an excellent stand-in and is inexpensive.
The c920 has a 1/4″ tripod thread in the base for easy mounting to tripods or mic stands with an adapter.
The Logitech c930e is my current webcam of choice. It offers greater field of view (90 degrees vs 78 degrees) and better 1080p performance.
The c930e is a business webcam, so it offers better compatibility with business video conferencing apps but fewer of the consumer perks. Both the listed webcams feature UVC drivers so they are Plug-and-Play where Hangouts are concerned.
The c930e still works with Logitech Webcam Software but not at its fullest ability. You’re limited to 720p @ 15fps for still image and video capture. Note that Logitech Webcam Software was never a great video application anyway, so look at third-party applications (Open Broadcaster Software, Quicktime) for recording video instead.
It’s still recommended to install the Logitech Webcam Software to use with the c930e for the webcam controller widget. Once again, the Webcam Settings app works great on Mac OS X.
Like the c920, the c930e also mounts to camera tripods.
There are a few inexpensive accessories that can make your life a lot easier when shooting video with webcams.
Webcams will operate with a 10 foot USB extension cable just fine and will allow much more varied options for positioning the cam.
A camera adapter features a ball head mount which threads on to any 5/8″ US style microphone stand. This will allow you to tilt up or down, left and right, as well as rotate the cam with the flick of a thumb screw.
Also pick up a thread adapter for use with 3/8″ Euro style mic stands.
Gooseneck and Table Mount
While using the previously mentioned camera adapter with a boom mic stand is a great option, perhaps you want something with a smaller footprint.
A camera adapter (above) paired with a microphone gooseneck and a table clamp works great. I prefer this option because it is portable, but you may also purchase a screw-on table mount for permanent installation on desks, walls (with proper anchoring) etc.
Next: Software Routing