Three Equipment Setups Ranging From $150 - $600
These recommended audio equipment setups range in cost from as low as $150 to a little under $600. We purchased and tried quite a lot of equipment to come up with these recommendations. All of our setup and install videos are based upon them and if you don’t already own equipment, that you strongly consider these recommendations as our videos will be able to help you avoid confusion and have a better singing experience.
We Strongly Advise that you Avoid Wireless Anything! In particular BlueTooth headphones. They will have a delay in the audio that will drive you crazy and give you a terrible singing experience.
Preferred Optimal Setup
There are lots of acceptable Audio Interfaces, Headphones, and Microphones for use with the VE-7 Singer’s Tool-Kit, however if you need guidance, we recommend the following:
This is the setup we use in our tutorials and is the recommended equipment. The sky is the limit on what you can spend for microphones and interfaces, but you really won’t get much better performance than this setup no matter what you spend!
The Behringer UMC204HD has four output channels allowing you to take advantage of the VE-7’s separate Monitor Mix feature and will equip you for additional features to be added in the future to the VE-7’s already robust existing feature set.
The desk stand may place the microphone higher than you would like and you may want to consider a desk mic boom that would allow you to more accurately place the microphone for singing as well as move the mic away when you aren’t.
Amazon or Sweetwater Sound ? (Lacy’s Recommendation)
In general, I would highly recommend Sweetwater over Amazon. With Amazon it’s frequently hard to tell who you are dealing with if you don’t carefully check the ‘sold by’ for the item. With Sweetwater you know who you are dealing with and they provide support. Sweetwater Sound started business in 1979 only three years after I started LT Sound in 1976. I have known Chuck Surack the founder of Sweetwater since the outset of the company. They are great folks to deal with and Chuck’s focus, like mine is on the Relationship with you, the customer.
Sweetwater can help you with all of your audio equipment needs in a way Amazon can’t and whenever possible I choose Sweetwater over Amazon when I purchase audio equipment.
Budget High Quality Setup
This setup is still capable of fully professional quality results and will give you an excellent singing experience. The Audio interface features the same ultra high quality mic preamps and a/d converters. The primary difference is that it has two audio outputs instead of four. The MXL-990 has a very similar sound to the NT-1A but with a slightly higher noise floor, which shouldn’t be an issue with the very close mic placement that we recommend. The Audio Technica ATH-M20x has the same excellent flat mid and high frequency response of the ATH-M50x but with less bass extension. Unless you are willing to jump up to over three times the price with the ATH-M50x, we recommend sticking with the ATH-M20x which is a truly excellent headphone at an incredibly low price.
Lowest Cost High Quality $280 (approx)
Audio Interface Behringer UMC202HD – $99
Microphone MXL-990 – $100 Amazon Sweetwater
Headphone Audio Technica ATH-M20x $50 Amazon Sweetwater
Mic Cord (3 foot)$15 Amazon Sweetwater
Desk Mic Stand $15 Amazon Sweetwater
Pop Filter (compact) $10-$25 Amazon Sweetwater
The above Budget choices are the lowest cost that will provide acceptable performance with the VE-7.
Lowest Cost Decent Quality Setup
A USB microphone with a headphone output allows you to use the mic as the audio interface to your computer. On Windows, you do need to install ASIO4ALL in order to avoid an unacceptable delay(latency) on the microphone.
We tried Lots of USB microphones, but virtually all of them did not allow us to bypass the direct microphone signal in the headphone output. The Blue Yeti Nano, was the only one that allowed us to easily defeat the direct signal. The biggest downsides of this setup is that you are going to have to be careful not to damage the USB cable input on the mic. Also the mic height is too low on most desk setups to use the stand without putting it on top of a stack of books or something. It’s light enough that you can use a relatively inexpensive desk boom arm to place it at the ideal height or move it out of the way.
Either of the first two systems above would be our top recommendations, but if you aren’t sure whether you are going to become addicted to singing, this system minimizes your exposure and is far more portable if you want to take your laptop on vacation and do some singing.
If you are looking to upgrade your system or purchase a new computer, we recommend the following:
- Windows 10 Laptop
- 1.8 GHz (4.0 GHz Turbo Boost) CPU (or faster)
- 8 GB RAM (or more) – 8GB is more than sufficient for the VE-7
- 4 Cores, 8 Threads (or more)
- Built-in USB Ports (at least one)
Lots of good brands out there but if you don’t have your own brand preference, we like Lenovo for a good value to performance ratio. If you envision using a larger external monitor, then you might look for one with a built in HMDI port though a dongle can provide one as well.
It’s a real shame so many manufacturers are eliminating basic ports in favor of USB C dongles.
Expect to pay in the $500 + range for the above specs.
One thing to take into consideration is a Touch Screen capability. In the coming months we will be adding interfaces that are much quicker to access through a Touch Screen than with a keyboard and mouse.
Virtually all mid to high level laptops will come with Windows 11 Home or Pro, however the budget models typically have Windows Home S Mode which restricts you to running Only apps downloaded from Windows App store. Only the lowest level of the Home version handicaps the operating system this way, and fortunately it can be disabled as per this article. After S mode is disabled, the VE-7 software can be installed.
BestBuy TouchScreen Laptop $770 HP No Touchscreen $550
We have gotten truly Stellar performance on all of the new Apple Silicon Macs – M1, M2 etc.
The Audio Interface is Grand Central Station for the Audio Inputs And Outputs. It’s where you connect your microphone, your headphones, and provides the audio outputs to speakers if you have them. It’s where you control the overall volume of your headphones and speakers. It also provides the 48 volt phantom power and preamplifier which is required by the large diaphragm condenser microphones we recommend.
On Windows, the Audio Interface must have ASIO drivers to provide Low Latency or there will be an unacceptable delay in the microphone signal you are monitoring. It is absolutely essential equipment to allowing the VE-7 Singer’s Tool-Kit to provide The Ultimate Singing Experience provided by the VE-7’s SledgeHammer Vocal Enhancement.
We have a strong preference for Focusrite, Behringer and PreSonus. All three companies offer audio interfaces with excellent performance as well as value. Lately we have had better experiences with the Behringer interfaces. They have extremely high quality pre-amps, strong clean headphone output and have been more stable in our recent experience than the Focusrite interfaces.
You do need to go to the manufacturer web sites and download the ASIO drivers to get the very low latency you need for real time vocal effects. Without ASIO and a buffer size of 128 or less you will get an annoying delay in the audio from the microphone.
If you are using only one mic input, you would be fine with something like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo ($120) but avoid the Behringer UM2 as it does not have sufficiently low latency.
Here are the models to consider:
Behringer UMC202HD – $90, UMC204HD-$120, UMC404HD-$180
Focusrite Scarlet Solo – $120, Scarlett 2i2 – $170, Scarlett 4i4 – $240
The Behringer UMC404HD and the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 have an additional pair of audio inputs that would allow you connect another audio device such as a CD player or MIDI Sound Module to your computer which may be useful to you down the road.
Combination Studio and Performance Use – Behringer UMC204HD -$120
The extra set of outputs will be useful down the road as we add the ability to
output a differently mixed and eq’d monitor mix. This is the interface we use
in our step by step videos, and it is our Prime Recommendation.
Simple Setup for In Studio Use – No Performance : Behringer UMC202HD – $90
On Windows you will need to install the ASIO drivers and go into the VE-7 Settings menu and change the Audio Device Type to ASIO. Then select the specific Device Driver for your audio interface. For Behringer select UMC ASIO Driver. For Focusrite select Focusrite USB Audio. Then set the Sample Rate to 48000 Hz and the Audio Buffer Size to 128 Samples.
This setup is done once and the VE-7 will store and recall the settings automatically. If you do not use ASIO drivers and a 128 sample buffer size there will be an unacceptable delay or latency in the microphone signal.
For your convenience, Here is the correct driver to use for the Behringer UMC Series. And Here is the link to Focusrite’s download page.
Your choice in a headphone is at least as important to providing The Ultimate Singing Experience as your choice in a microphone! Our top pick is the Audio Technica ATH-M50x which typically sells for $170 followed by the Audio Technica ATH-M20x ($50)
To use the VE-7’s incredible SledgeHammer Vocal Enhancer, you are going to need to be monitoring over headphones with the speaker volume (Main Out on Audio Interface) turned down to avoid audio feedback. Once you switch to quality headphone monitoring, the only time you’ll use speakers is in live performance with the speakers placed in front of you and pointed away from you and towards the audience.
Because you will be able to hear yourself so much more clearly over quality headphones, your singing will be better and you won’t be tempted to ‘over-sing’ in order to hear yourself.
Speakers in a recording setup are totally optional and only used occasionally as an additional source of reference. Speakers introduce the variable of room acoustics and feedback as well. This makes the choice of the headphone that much more important. An extra $100 spent on headphones like the ATH-M50x is probably going to do more to enhance your Singing Experience than spending $100 elsewhere.
We purchased and tested a lot of headphones, among them the Sony MDR7506, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, KRK KNS8400, Sennheiser HD280 Pro, AKG K271 MKII, AKG K52, Audio-Technica ATH-M20x, AKG K240 Studio, and Samson SR850.
Our selection criterion certainly wasn’t listening for which headphone ‘sounded best’. We considered a multitude of factors including comfort, durability and the audio isolation needed to prevent audio feedback. We were concerned with accuracy and flatness of frequency response primarily in the midrange and high frequency areas of the audio spectrum. When you are adjusting the EQ on your vocals, an overly bright set of headphones will cause you to use less EQ than you should and when you play back in your car, and home stereo that aren’t hyped, your vocal will sound dull and muddy.
Most of the highly reviewed headphones such as the Sony MDR7506, and KRK KNS8400 we found to be a bit hyped on both the low and high end of the spectrum. The Sennheiser HD280 Pro we found to be hyped in the upper mid-range. The Sennheiser is not an acceptable choice in our opinion.
The Samson SR850($50) is slightly hyped on the top end, however it has excellent low frequency and mid-range frequency response. It’s quite comfortable. It’s weaknesses are it is a semi-closed back design and so it’s isolation is less than what we would like to have. It’s also not as durable as most of the other headphones we reviewed. Otherwise it provided a very high quality singing experience, particularly for the money.
The sound of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x and Audio-Technica ATH-M20x is very similar in the mid-range and high frequencies. The ATH-M50x has a fuller low end and is more comfortable and durable than it’s less expensive sibling.
The ATH-M50x ($170) would be our top recommendation, however if that is outside your budget, the ATH-M20x ($50) as our second choice. In This Link Barbara Streisand and Michael Buble are in the studio using the ATH-M50x.
Caution: Avoid wireless headphones because of unacceptable latency (time delay) and possible interference from other wireless devices.
A Large Diaphragm Condenser which requires 48 volt phantom power (provided by Audio Interface) has been the preferred microphone type for capturing singers in studios. Our recommended microphone if your budget allows is the Rode NT-1A at approximately $230. You can spend a virtually unlimited amount of money on Neumanns, but don’t really expect any ‘Secret Sauce’ from the money you spend. The differences will be quite subtle once you get to the level of the Rode NT-1A. This YouTube video shows a comparison between the Rode NT-1A and Neumann U-87 which lists at $3,999.
The ‘Secret Sauce’ is in the VE-7’s SledgeHammer Vocal Enhancement. People who don’t understand the power of finely tuned EQ, Compression, Expansion, De-Essing, Limiting and top notch Delay and Reverb effects know their sound is falling short of what they are hearing so they start looking for the explanation in what they can see, which is the microphone.
They are barking up the wrong tree.
You’ll get a more noticeable boost in your Singing Experience by spending a bit more for an excellent set of headphones such as the Audio Technica ATH-M50x than going crazy on the microphone. If you can’t accurately hear what is actually going on, you will misadjust the EQ making your actual sound worse instead of better.
If you’ve got the money and take the time to really audition the more expensive mics through the VE-7’s SledgeHammer, then you may find value in some of the stratospherically priced mics. Just be realistic in your expectations.
At the other extreme there is no shortage of excellent affordable large diaphragm condenser microphones from which to choose. Hopefully the videos have shown you that getting the best vocal sound depends primarily in the Vocal Processing, not the microphone.
Most of the differences in the sound of microphones is attributable to the specific frequency response of the microphone. Because the VE-7 has a powerful equalizer tailored specifically for vocals that can correct these frequency response differences, any of these mics is capable of producing a truly excellent singing experience. We’ve also never found any microphone that didn’t need a substantial amount of equalization such as the VE-7 provides, to bring out the best in vocals.
If you cannot afford the Rode NT1-A then the budget choice would be the MXL 990 ($100) which sounds quite similar at roughly half the price.
Here is a Link to a YouTube video comparing the sound of the Rode NT1-A to the MXL 990.
In the live performance arena you’ll hear a lot about the Shure SM58, however for serious studio use, we are not really a fan of the Shure SM58 because after using condensers, the lack of extended high frequency response in the SM58 to be unacceptable. There is also something about a large condenser’s overall sound that no dynamic microphone can capture.