Tag Archives: Supplies

The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones

The Beginner's Guide to MicrophonesAre you a musician shopping for that first microphone to get your home studio off to a good start? Before you spend any money on a mic, spend just a couple of dollars on some great information—The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones by Brendan Krueger.

This book is exactly what it claims to be. It is not an encyclopedia, nor is it geared toward seasoned professionals. It is a handbook for the absolute beginner. But, considering the valuable information you receive for the price, The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones is truly impressive!

The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones starts right at the beginning with a lesson in vocabulary. You will learn the parts of a microphone, the meaning of acronyms such as DAW, and all about frequency response, among other topcis.

After a discussion of microphone shape, the guide gets down into the characteristics and uses of four common mic types:

  • Dynamic.
  • Condenser.
  • Shotgun.
  • Ribbon.

But different microphones can also have different polar patterns, and these patterns all get due treatment in this guide. Once you have finished reading the book you will understand polar patterns from unidirectional to cardioid and everything in between.

The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones wraps up with a discussion on microphone placement, which should give you some ideas to experiment with once you have made your microphone purchase.

Again, this is not a comprehensive reference, but a beginner’s guide. You could probably find most of this information online for free. However, given the price of the book, the experience backing up the research, and the quality of the presentation, The Beginner’s Guide to Microphones is an excellent value and a great way to sift through the options in a short amount of time.

Highly recommended for all beginning home producers!

Choosing a Flat Pick for Guitar or Mandolin

Choosing a Flat Pick for Guitar or MandolinGetting into guitar or mandolin picking? One of the first things you will need (besides your instrument) is a good collection of picks.

It’s never a bad idea to start out with an assortment—over time some picks will definitely come to the forefront as favorites. Furthermore, until you have a handle on basic flatpicking technique, your playing will be more of a limiting factor than your pick.

But once you have implemented good picking technique in your playing, you may want to expand your pick collection to create a sound that is uniquely your own.

So what do you look for in a good pick?

Shape

Shape does affect sound to some degree, but the main reason that shape is important is that it affects how easy the pick is to hold and maneuver.

The standard pick shape, sometimes known as the 351, is a triangle with rounded corners. All other picks are essentially variations on this design. Therefore, it is a good idea for beginners to become acquainted with this shape right from the start. You can’t go wrong with the balanced playability and precision of the 351.

One of the most common variations on the 351 is a sharpened tip. The pointed tip enhances playing speed and precision, making dazzlingly complex lead lines easier to play. Note that balance is necessary here—a point that is too sharp becomes too awkward to use.

Similar to the sharpened tip is the true triangle. This pick is sometimes used by bluegrass guitarists who play both rhythm and lead and thus need both a good hold and a precise tip. Triangular picks are typically larger than other picks to give the guitarist more surface area to hang onto. They also have the advantage of having three identical playing surfaces, so the pick can be rotated as it wears out.

A deviation from the standard rounded triangle is the round pick. Round picks allow for a fuller, thicker sound. This is superb for mandolin use due to its big, rich sound, although it may be a little muddy on the guitar.

Material

There’s nothing wrong with a basic plastic pick. It’s probably where every instrumentalist will want to start. Note that there are many types of synthetic materials available, and each will have slightly different tonal characteristics. Your options range from bright, flexible nylon to an extra-stiff material known as ultem. One of the most popular synthetic materials is celluloid due to its long tradition of smoothness and warmth. Every company seems to have at least one unique formulation, so be sure to read plenty of reviews before purchasing.

The traditional tortoiseshell pick was banned in the 1970s as the sea turtle species used to make them became endangered. However, they are manufactured for the black market. If you discover a tortoiseshell pick for sale online, make sure that it is a vintage item—antique picks are still around due to their great durability. There is an authentic farm-raised slider turtle shell pick that is sold as a legal substitute. Because, however, the slider turtle has a rough shell, playing with a turtle shell pick will produce a scratchy noise and feel.

Another tortoiseshell substitute is buffalo horn. While this provides a classic sound and smooth feel very much like the genuine tortoiseshell, buffalo horn is brittle and prone to splintering. Buffalo bones are sometimes used to make picks, as well, but they have a very rough surface. Some people think they sound harsh, while others appreciate their volume capabilities. It’s all a matter of preference.

Wooden picks vary considerably by species, but on the whole they are warm-sounding and easy to grip. Most wood picks retain a full range of harmonics, although some can sound muddy. Rosewood and maple are soft and flexible. On the other end of the spectrum, Osage orange is extremely stiff but rather scratchy, while lignum vitae is incredibly dense but smooth. Note that harder wooden picks can cause damage to guitar strings.

And then there is stone. Very few musicians will want to deal with playing with (let alone finding) a stone pick. But some mandolinists swear by the heavy weight, good grip, firm tone, and rich harmonics of picks made from a variety of natural materials ranging form marble to jade. Electric guitarists may also enjoy the aggressive sound. For acoustic guitar, however, a stone pick is too inflexible and harsh-sounding to provide a pleasant experience.

Or how about rubber? Rubber picks are a new concept in guitar playing. They are generally considered to produce a tone similar to fingerstyle playing—soft, but warm and clear.

Metal is another option, primarily used because it looks cool. It produces a crisp, bright sound and is very easy to handle, making it superb for lead guitar. Just keep in mind that it will tear up your strings rather quickly. Materials used for metal picks range from softer, warmer brass to durable stainless steel. (And, yes, if you are caught without a pick, you can play with a quarter from your wallet; just keep in mind that the standard quarter was not minted with smooth attack in mind and will subsequently produce a grating sound.)

Gauge

Gauge is a measure of the thickness, and hence the flexibility, of the pick. Gauge is arguably the most important factor to consider when buying a pick, as two picks made of the same materials but manufactured with different gauges will sound markedly different.

Light picks are generally recommended for beginning rhythm guitarists only. In practice, it is probably better just to avoid them altogether due to their brittleness and thin, unpleasant sound. Also, light picks can inadvertently foster bad technique because of their too-forgiving flexibility. Beginners will do well to start with medium-gauge picks.

Medium picks are good general-purpose guitar picks. This is where beginners on both the guitar and the mandolin should start, and it is where many guitarists will be content to stay. A medium-gauge pick is particularly recommended for rhythm guitarists to avoid overwhelming the other instruments. For other instrumentalists who find the stiff, chunky feel of heavy picks overwhelming, the medium pick is also an excellent choice.

Heavy picks are stiff and hard to handle, but they produce a solid tone that many will love. Their precision helps players add dynamics to their solos. The mandolin really shines when played with a heavy pick. Lead guitarists looking to beef up their sound will appreciate the heavier gauge, as well.

Extra-heavy picks are also available (check out the Dunlop Big Stubby). These can really pull some sweet tone out of your instrument, but at the expense of some crispness. Furthermore, their stiff feel offers great precision for those who get used to it, but by others has been compared to playing guitar with a 2×4. It’s a tradeoff. Be careful when buying a really heavy pick, as playability is a limiting factor. Make sure your new pick has a good grip and a nice smooth playing edge to make the transition as easy as possible.

Grip

A grip is a nice touch, but not strictly necessary in most cases. If you are having problems holding your pick, all you need to do is scratch some texture into it with a nail file.

But for those using extra-heavy picks, a built-in grip is a must. Grip designs vary by manufacturer, ranging from grooves to raised letters to powdered coatings. The best way to determine what works for you is to experiment with several picks.

Personal Preference

And, finally, there are all those esoteric things that make playing so fun. Be sure to factor in color and pattern when pick shopping—you won’t regret it in the long run.

Helpful Resource

Pick PunchPick Punch
Want to customize your picks? Here’s another way to experiment. Read our full review.

Black Gold Organic Potting Soil

Black Gold Organic Potting SoilFor whatever reason, finding quality potting soil is very difficult anymore. Most brands seem to harbor diseases, weed seeds, and bug eggs. And the nonstandard brands frequently appear to be nothing more than poor-quality topsoil dug up from the “manufacturer’s” backyard!

In light of this dilemma, we currently recommend Black Gold organic potting soil. Not just because it is organic (although that is certainly a plus), but primarily because several years of use have yielded satisfactory results in the form of healthy plants without unexpected weeds or small swarms of gnats flying around the seedlings.

Peat moss and forest humus provide a light, loose texture that works well for starting seedlings indoors. Compost and screened earthworm castings add just a little bit of all-natural nitrogen for a good start (of course, potted plants will still need to be fed periodically).

Shop around a bit before you buy—the prices do fluctuate and sometimes (but not always) a bigger size is a better bargain.

Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

Hard to believe that another year has passed and a new year is just around the corner!

We’re looking forward to bringing you more helpful content and resources in the coming year. There are some exciting plans in the works!

Meanwhile, have a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and a great time browsing this year’s lineup of our favorite posts and resources.

Best of 2018

From Homestead on the Range
Publishing Newsletter

Homestead on the Range Publishing Newsletter


5 Years of Abundant Living in Flyover Country

5 Years of Abundant Living in Flyover Country


Posts
How to Test Seed Germination Rates

How to Test Seed Germination Rates


Is Raw Honey Safe?

Is Raw Honey Safe?


How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks

How to Welcome Your Mail-Order Chicks


The Broody Hen vs. the Incubator

The Broody Hen Versus the Incubator


Pros and Cons of No-Dig Gardening

Pros and Cons of No-Dig Gardening


What is Permaculture?

What is Permaculture?


C:N Ratios of Common Organic Materials

C:N Ratios of Common Organic Materials


Adding Value to Wool

Adding Value to Wool


Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables

Basic Principles of Breeding Heirloom Vegetables


An Introduction to Sheep Dairying

An Introduction to Sheep Dairying


Series
Goat Breeds

Goat Breeds


Kansas Populist Movement Basics: The Beginning

Kansas Populist Movement Basics


Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and Rice

Milk Substitutes


Eat Your Colors

Eat Your Colors


Resources
Territorial Kansas Online

Territorial Kansas Online


Johnny Kaw

Johnny Kaw: A Tall Tale


Kansas Historical Markers

Kansas Historical Markers


WunderMap

WunderMap


Dear Readers and Riders

Dear Readers and Riders


Grazing Systems Planning Guide

Grazing Systems Planning Guide


Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course


Heritage Livestock Breed Comparison Charts

Heritage Livestock Breeds Comparison Charts


Top 10 Skill-Building Resources

Top 10 Skill-Building Resources


Lightning

6 Sources of Free Stock Photos


Supplies
Nebo Lights

Nebo LED Lights


Choosing Studio Headphones

Choosing Studio HeadphonesHeadphones are a critical addition to any home recording studio. They come in handy for instant feedback as you record, and they are also useful for mixing.

It is important to purchase headphones specifically designed for studio use in this application. Consumer headphones are generally tweaked to ensure an enjoyable listening experience—in other words, you are not listening to the raw sound. Studio headphones are more transparent, letting you hear exactly what is going on in the audio, whether that is good or bad.

You can purchase studio headphones without breaking the bank. However, it is important not to cheap out and waste money on a pair of headphones that sounds distorted, acts up with age, or feels like wearing a vice on your head.

Here are some factors to consider when shopping for the right set of studio headphones.

 

Sound Quality

For recording and mixing, a flat response is a must. Detailed sound is also essential. What you want to avoid is any type of “sweetening.” Good studio headphones may, frankly, sound terrible to you at first because you are probably used to consumer headphones that have been optimized to make everything sound good.

To make sure you get accurate studio headphones, try these two tests:

  • Read online reviews.
  • Listen to a few songs that you are intimately familiar with through the studio headphones. If they are any good, you should be able to detect details and nuances (good, bad, or indifferent) that you have never heard before.

Make sure noise will not be an issue with your headphones. A shielded cable will help. Also make sure the cable is no longer than necessary for your application, as longer cables are more prone to noise issues.

Why a cable instead of wireless? Because wireless headphones receive a compressed signal. Compression inevitably alters the audio. It may even reduce amplitude. For studio purposes, always use wired headphones.

 

Shape

Earbuds and headphones that don’t entirely surround the ear are typically not used in studio applications. For this purpose, it is important to have headphones that are circumaural, or completely surrounding the ear, to block outside noise and allow you to fully hear the nuances of the audio.

Within the world of circumaural headphones, you will find three variations:

  • Closed back. This style allows for complete sound isolation and no bleed. It’s just you and the music with closed-back circumaural headphones, no matter how loud the room is. One warning—it’s also just you and the bass frequencies. If you aren’t used to having a lot of bass placed in close proximity to your ears, don’t get thrown off during the mixing process, and be aware that you may experience ear fatigue when using them for long periods of time. Close-back headphones are often used for recording rather than mixing.
  • Open back. Why would we consider open-back headphones, knowing that they will let in more background noise and allow headphone bleed to get into the recording? Because they frequently have a clearer, more natural sound, and this can be very advantageous for mixing. Also, open-back headphones subject the ears to less air pressure buildup, an important consideration if you will be mixing for extended periods of time. Open-back headphones are often used for mixing rather than recording.
  • Semi-open back. This type attempts to combine the best features of both styles. While it does allow some sound leakage, the isolation is much better than with open-back headphones. They usually have both good bass response and a realistic sound. Semi-open back headphones are commonly used for recording in situations where the microphones are unable to pick up any headphone noise.

Need the airy sound of open-back headphones, but can’t afford circumaural? On-ear (supra-aural) headphones may seem like a compromise, but their sound quality is usually not as good. You will have to spend a great deal of money to get professional recording-quality supra-aural headphones.

 

Comfort

This criterion is not negotiable! If you are constantly battling your headphones, you will not be paying attention to the task at hand. Likewise, if you can’t wait to rip those things off your ears, you won’t be able to put in the time it takes to get a good mix.

To truly test the comfort of a pair of headphones, you need to wear them for at least 20 minutes straight. But what if that’s not an option before purchase? Here are a few tips:

  • Look for large ear cups when buying circumaural headphones, and small ear pieces when buying supra-aural headphones.
  • Make sure that the ear cups are padded with fabric or leather.
  • The more adjustable the better. An adjustable headband is a must, and rotating ear cups are strongly recommended.
  • Read reviews before making your final decision. Regardless of where you are planning on buying your headphones, head to the website of a good online music supplier and read what those with some experience have to say.

 

Other Factors

There are other things to consider when shopping for studio headphones:

  • Protective case.
  • Portable folding design.
  • Plug and adapter sizes.
  • Single- vs. double-sided cable.
  • Availability of replacement parts.

There are no hard-and-fast rules on most of these. Just make sure you get a pair that fits your needs and is compatible with the rest of your equipment.

 

The Final Criterion—Price

Of course, you will likely have to set an upper limit on the price tag. That’s just the way it goes.

So what is a good price to pay for headphones? Professional sets are generally expected to cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000. Good news—you likely don’t need to spend this much to get a good pair. You may be able to find a nice pair of headphones for as little as $100, but you will have to do plenty of research to make sure you are getting the quality you expect.

A few tips for lowering the cost without compromising on quality:

  • Look for a recording bundle that includes headphones from a reputable manufacturer. Buying the whole package at once usually allows you to save on the individual items.
  • Shop the big sales. (Did you check your favorite gear supplier on Black Friday or Cyber Monday?)
  • Compare the prices at different stores. For some products and on some days, Amazon is the way to go. On other occasions, you may actually get a better deal at a music company.

With just a little research and planning, you should be able to get quality studio headphones—without breaking the bank.

Pros and Cons of USB Microphones for Home Recording

Pros and Cons of USB Microphones for Recording MusicAre you interested in recording at home? It can be done, but it requires some special equipment.

The most obvious first purchase is a microphone. A good microphone can be dauntingly expensive. A USB microphone promises an easy way to get started at less cost—or does it? Let’s find out.

Pros

  • Low cost. A USB microphone is typically quite affordable. Furthermore, no digital audio interface (DAI) is required to connect it to a computer, further cutting down on the expense.
  • Simplicity. Plug the mic into the USB port on your computer. Done.
  • Portability. USB microphones are powered by the computer, eliminating the need for a phantom power source. This cuts down on the amount of gear you have to haul around when you are recording. The mic, the stand, the cable, and the computer are all you need.

Cons

  • Doubtful economy. A cheap USB microphone will yield unsatisfactory results, guaranteed. The price of a truly good one will typically buy a decent XLR microphone and an audio interface. If you buy cheap to begin with, you will soon spend more on a replacement. Be careful to read plenty of reviews to avoid the cheap trap!
  • One at a time. You can typically only record with one USB microphone at a time and get good results. A digital audio interface allows for recording multiple instruments at once with multiple inputs; even the most basic interface will typically allow for recording both one XLR signal and one high-Z signal (for plugging in electric guitars).
  • Latency. Most (but not all) USB microphones have latency problems. In other words, there is a delay between the time the sound enters the mic and the time it exits your headphones. Most audio interfaces are designed with low latency in mind.
  • Reduced sound quality. USB microphones tend to sample at bare-minimum rates (many are designed for podcasting), resulting in a considerably less professional-sounding recording. And this does not even take into consideration the all-too-common cheap inner workings that add noise to the mix (pun intended). A little more cash outlay can get you a quality digital audio interface that is specifically built for high sampling rates and top-notch sound.
  • Reduced control. The USB microphone will do whatever it is built to do, end of story. Little room for adjustment here. Hooking a microphone up to some type of audio interface opens up new options, depending on the interface. The interface adds an extra element of control over input levels and mixing.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that a USB mic may appear at first glance to be an attractive choice for a beginner’s home studio—after all, it’s so cheap! However, there is typically a reason for this. Cheap parts equals cheap sound.

If you are going to the trouble to do your own recording, you will want to record high-quality sound. Yes, it is possible to achieve this objective without breaking the bank. Spend the money it takes to obtain quality equipment—just don’t purchase unnecessary features.

You will want to start out with an XLR microphone and a digital audio interface for best recording results. Note, however, that cheap versions of both of these items exist—these inferior products have absolutely no advantage over a good USB mic. Research carefully to find the best bang for your buck. You may need to sacrifice a few inputs and gizmos to maximize quality without breaking the bank.

Home recording is not an inexpensive hobby. To do it well requires investment. Don’t throw your money away buying cheap!

Helpful Resource

The Beginner's Guide to MicrophonesA Beginner’s Guide to Microphones
Want to know more about microphone options and their best applications? This little eBook has the answers. Read our full review.

Nebo LED Lights

Nebo LightsWe love Nebo lights. They’re bright, they come in all shapes and sizes, and they attach to just about anything.

That last part is what makes Nebo flashlights so handy. Depending on the model, a Nebo flashlight can be attached to a belt, a pocket, a magnetic surface, a nail on the wall, or even a strip of Velcro.

Here are three of our favorite Nebo models:

  • Larry, with a magnetic swivel clip equally at home on your fridge or your pocket.
  • Big Larry, with a magnetic base and three light modes—high, low, and emergency red flashing.
  • Flipit, which looks like a light switch but has the distinct advantage of being portable. Hang it up with screws, magnets, or Velcro.

One thing is certain—whatever you need to use your flashlight for, you’ll find a Nebo that fits your needs!

Merry Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas 2017It’s Christmas time once again!

Thank you for another great year at Homestead on the Range! We are looking forward to bringing you even more helpful country living information in 2018.

Meanwhile, if you are looking for some helpful resources to start the new year right or just for a little interesting reading, allow us to make a few recommendations.

 

Best of 2017

From Homestead on the Range

3 Ways to Stay Posted3 Ways to Stay Posted

 

The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!)The Worst Jokes I Know (and I Know a Lot!)

 

 

Posts

Introducing Cowboy PoetryIntroducing Cowboy Poetry

 

Pros and Cons of Niche MarketingPros and Cons of Niche Marketing

 

Keeping a Garden JournalKeeping a Garden Journal

 

Winkler CraterWinkler Crater: A Kimberly Pipe in Kansas

 

What is a Landrace Breed?What is a Landrace Breed?

 

Seeds From the TombsSeeds From the Tombs

 

8 Reasons to Memorize Scales8 Reasons to Memorize Scales

 

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz

 

5 Tips for Improving Your Writing5 Tips for Improving Your Writing

 

British and Continental Cattle BreedsBritish and Continental Cattle Breeds

 

 

Series

Ox Yokes and CollarsOx Yokes and Collars

 

Dog BreedsDog Breeds

 

Pros and Cons of Hot CompostingPros and Cons of Hot vs. Cold Composting

 

The Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great PlainsThe Agricultural Adjustment Act in the Great Plains: Part 1

 

Kansas GovernorsKansas Governors

 

 

Resources

Web Soil SurveyWeb Soil Survey

 

Murray McMurray Chick SelectorMurray McMurray Chick Selector

 

Stockdog SavvyStockdog Savvy

 

How to Master the English BibleHow to Master the English Bible

 

ScrivenerScrivener

 

Food PreservationFood Preservation

 

Top 10 Marguerite Henry BooksTop 10 Marguerite Henry Books

 

Cover Crop Decision ToolCover Crop Decision Tool

 

An Introduction to Heritage BreedsAn Introduction to Heritage Breeds

 

Kansas Ag ConnectionKansas Ag Connection

 

 

Supplies

Luster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test KitLuster Leaf Rapitest Soil Test Kit

 

Pick PunchPick Punch

 

 

Photos

Shetland SheepdogShetland Sheepdog