MacMost Now 248: Using a Microphone With Your Mac

The line-in input on your Mac isn't meant for a microphone. Instead, you'll need a USB audio interface. Learn about them and what type of microphone is used to make MacMost Now.

Video Transcript
Gary Rosenzweig: Hi this is Gary with MacMost Now. On todayís episode, letís take a look at how to use a standard analog microphone with your Mac.
So, one of the differences between the Macs and the PCs is the audio inputs. Now on PCs you very often get both a line in input and a microphone in input. But on Macs, you only get a line in input. Now whatís the difference? Well a line in input expects a standard audio signal that usually comes from a powered source. A microphone in input will actually provide power to a microphone and a microphone without any sort of power, without a battery or without an independent power source can be plugged into one. It will then convert this audio into a digital format which then can be used by programs in the computer.
So if you donít have a microphone in input and you try to plug your microphone into the line in jack on a Mac, usually youíre going to get extremely low volumes and very poor quality because thereís not enough power coming from the microphone to give a good audio signal. So the bottom line is you canít use a microphone with a line in input on your Mac.
So how do you get around this? How do you use a microphone like this one, a standard analog Lavalier microphone with your Mac? Well you need an audio USB interface. Now one example is the iMic USB audio interface. This is similar to what I use; I just use an older version. Itís from Griffin Technology and itís basically usually around 30 or 40 bucks. You can plug in a microphone into this device and it could be a standard analog microphone like this Lavalier microphone that I use for the show. And this will work for just about any program you use including things like Garage Band, Audacity; any recording medium that you want to use. And it will also work as a microphone if youíre doing web chats.
The microphone I use by the way is the Audio-Technica ATR-35S right here and it costs about $30 also and you can plug it right into this Griffin device and they work great as a pair.
Now of course you can go even higher end than that. Spending over $100 will usually get you a small mixing board capable of perhaps having even more than even one microphone input and maybe adjusting the volume and quality of that input as well.
Or you could actually just skip the two device method and go with a USB microphone. As far as I know there arenít any Lavalier USB microphones, which is why I use this setup. But you can get standard desktop microphones or headsets that go directly into USB. Quality varies greatly and usually you get what you pay for so buying a cheap USB microphone usually gets you bad quality.
You can also of course try to find a powered microphone or an amplifier to take your microphone into the line in jack on your Mac. However in my experience, quality isnít that great using a line in port and you probably want to use one of these audio interfaces anyway. They usually focus a lot on the quality of the audio signal whereas the line in input on your Mac is usually just basically a standard quality device.
Hope you found this useful. Til next time this is Gary Rosenzweig with MacMost Now.

Check out the equipment mentioned in this episode:
iMic USB Audio Interface from Griffin Technology
Audio Technica ATR35S Microphone

Comments: 20 Responses to “MacMost Now 248: Using a Microphone With Your Mac”

    8/31/09 @ 11:38 am

    Yes ive come accross this issue as well, what would be great is that if you could explain how to use the iphone (mine is a 3gs) as an USB webcam and/or microphone.

    Around the internet they even say that this is possible without even connecting your iphone to your mac. I don’t really know however if you have any info on how to get a microphone+webcam OR just simply a microphone by using an iPhone 3gs that would be greatly appreciated.

    Great show btw.


    6/14/10 @ 10:01 am

    i use Plantronics .AudioTM 995 wireless headset i love it u can get about 40 ft away from your computer. it retail i think at around 90 dollars and i got mine on amazon for 45-50 dollars

    11/8/10 @ 2:00 pm

    I’m having trouble with IMovie and using the 2 products in this video. I just bought the microphone and the USB adapter. So here is the issue, the mic sounds great when I do voice overs in Imovie but when I try to video record with the ISight in IMovie it uses the built in microphone instead of my Lavalier Microphone. Do you know where the setting adjustment for audio when shooting the video using the ISight in IMovie 09

    Thanks !!!!

      11/8/10 @ 3:15 pm

      Look in your System Preferences under Sound, then Input. Set your Mic as the Input source before recording a video.

    11/9/10 @ 10:25 am

    I needed to reset my computer…. I woke this morning thinking what might the issue is and it hit me I never reset my computer after I made those changes.

    It sounds good! Time to make a new video. I’m always looking for new ways to make my Real Estate videos better so. I will check back to this site often.

    Jam Mo
    9/1/11 @ 7:53 am

    Good video – answers my long standing questions regarding the audio line-in port. Off to buy the pre-amp…!

    1/13/12 @ 12:05 am

    I want to use imovie and the camera on my Mac OS X 10.6.8 to make videos where I interview one other person so I need 2 microphones. the USB Audio Interface only allows for 1 mike right? Which one allows for two or, should I get a splitter and use that to attach 2 mics?

      1/13/12 @ 7:42 am

      A splitter (actually a small mixing board is what you want) is the best way to go. But you can have two Mics come into your Mac (two USB ports) and then use Audio/MIDI Setup (in Applications/Utilities) to create an “Aggregate device” that combines the two miss. Bit of a ninja trick.

    2/18/12 @ 11:49 am

    I have Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavalier microphone and I’m trying to use it with the iMic on my Mac but the audio is still painfully low.
    And that little voice you can hear is even mono. I thought the iMic would take care of that too.
    Any hints on why my audio is still unuseable? Any advice would be highly appreciated.
    Thank you!

      2/18/12 @ 12:57 pm

      I’ve used that mic and the iMic many times before. Check in System Preferences to make sure your Input volume is up. Same in whatever program you are using to record. Make sure you are using the right input on the iMic.
      Most microphones, especially lavalier mics, are mono, not stereo. Our voices are a single sound so it doesn’t really make sense to record in stereo.

        2/18/12 @ 1:45 pm

        Thank you for your really quick reply!
        In System Preferences the volume is on maximum. I’m trying to record a video with ScreenFlow. With very poor results. When I record with ScreenFlow without a video, I use a Logitech headset and the sound quality is excellent.
        I expected a very similar quality with this lavalier mic as well, and when I bought (today) this iMic, after watching your video I was really hopeful that I would get it. No luck so far… :(

          2/18/12 @ 2:06 pm

          Did you try adjusting the volume in ScreenFlow? There is a setting there for after you record. It also includes a handy “mix stereo to mono” setting.

    2/18/12 @ 2:33 pm

    Thanks a lot for the tip for “cheating” the audio to stereo. There is indeed a setting that says “Mix input to mono” and now the sound is higher. :)
    The volume is on 300%… so I got a loud background noise. If I remove background noise it changes quite a bit my voice, it becomes fake, almost like a computer sound.

      2/18/12 @ 3:29 pm

      Noise? Maybe your mic needs a new battery?

    2/18/12 @ 4:59 pm

    It’s brand new, but I’ll get new batteries as soon as possible.
    Thank you so much for your instant answers! You already helped me a lot!

    6/7/12 @ 12:13 pm

    Gary: I need to record lectures and conversations from about 10-12 feet away and want to use my iPhone (3gs.) Typically these are about 1.5 hrs long and then I am hoping to download to my MAC OS 10.6.8. I tried just using the mic on my iPhone with Voice memo and then iRecorder (app.) Sound pick up is still very poor. Recommendation for Mic for this purpose? Do I need to change something in preferences / settings for iPhone?

      6/7/12 @ 1:03 pm

      I wish there was a good solution for this. What you need is an external mic. They have them, but they usually just sit right there on your iPhone. You need an external mic with an extended cord. I’ve only seen relatively short ones. Don’t know why no one makes a long one. Or why no one makes a long earbud extension cord (then you can use your earbud mic). There are extension cords, of course, but they don’t carry the mic, just the speakers.

        6/7/12 @ 7:04 pm

        I see those little external mic’s that plug into the iPhone but seem to have mixed reviews. Was going to buy a digital recorder but then someone said “Why not just use your iPhone?” Thanks for getting back to me. You are great. Maybe the $10 or less investment is worth it just to see if the plug in external mics actually will work for me. Would be happy to pay 50 if they would work.

    7/23/12 @ 10:18 am

    Hi Gary, I’ve been trying to use an ATR3350 through an iMic as a microphone for my iMac for iShowU HD. The problem i’ve been having is that the resulting sound is so quiet! The preference panel shows that the input volume is at max and in iShowU it’s the same volume is at max. On your video you say you use the same set up, how did you get the sound to be so good? I’ve tried everything but no joy….any tips?

      7/23/12 @ 10:29 am

      Perhaps your mic’s battery is dead? Or maybe iShowU has its own volume setting independent of the system prefs?

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