CoPA Tech Orientation: Getting Started
Welcome to the CoPA Tech Orientation. Our goal is to get you up and running with the equipment that you will be using to learn and perform during this remote semester.
This supplements the information on the Student Technology page
Here are some topics we will be covering:
- All the types of cables you may come across
- Testing and optimizing your internet connection
- How to set up your USB Microphone or external audio interface
- Some basics on using microphones
- Where to record or film yourself in your space
- General troubleshooting
Connection Speeds (i.e. bandwidth):
For online learning at CoPA, we require an internet connection speed of at least 20 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload.
For involvement in projects such as Telematics we recommend an internet connection of 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload.
“Download” speed refers to how quickly you receive data from an internet application while “Upload” speed refers to how quickly you send data to an internet application.
You can test your internet connection speed by visiting speedtest.net
Many Wi-Fi routers put out two networks with the same name, one in the 2.4 Ghz spectrum and one in the 5Ghz spectrum. An easy way to tell which is which is to look at the end of the network name and see if it 5Ghz or something similar is added to the end of it.
If you have the choice, choose the 5Ghz network. Even though it wont reach as far as the 2.4 Ghz network, the speed and reliability is worth the trade off.
Wired Internet Connections
When participating in livestreams or live online performances via Zoom, a wired internet connection is strongly recommended over Wi-Fi. If you are participating in telematics or any other real time remote collaboration, a wired internet connection is mandatory.
Great, but how do I put my computer on a wired internet connection?
The honest answer is that it varies depending on your setup. Here is the most common way.
- Find your router and look at the back of it.
- You will see several ethernet ports, If you have cable internet, one of these will be connected to your cable modem. Leave this one alone, it is the WAN (Wide Area Network) uplink port and behaves differently. It may have a symbol instead if the world WAN, Consult the router manual if you are unsure.
- Connect one end of your Ethernet cable to one of the ports labelled LAN (Local Area Network) on your router. Depending on the model of router, there may be a symbol instead of the word lan. Consult the router manual if you are unsure.
- Connect the other side of the Ethernet Cable to your computer. You may need a USB to Ethernet or Thunderbolt to Ethernet adaptor to do this depending on your computer.
- Turn off Wi-Fi on your computer and make sure that you can connect to the internet.
For those curious people who want to know why this is:
Wi-Fi and wired internet connections are both capable of incredibly fast data transfer and it is true that most Wi-Fi standards can handle the full bandwidth of a residential internet connection. The issue here is not so much about speed but more about packet loss. Packets are chunks of information that need to be transferred to and from your computer and could be anything from pieces of the file you are trying to download to the video and audio that comprises your live performance. On a wired internet connection it is guaranteed that very close to 100% of these packets will make it to your modem for transmission to the outside world. On a Wi-Fi connection this number goes drops significantly due to environmental factors such as distance to the router, how many wireless networks are around you on the same spectrum, whether or not someone is using a microwave etc. With of all these factors that you don’t have control of, packets can get lost. on the way to the router which causes skips and stutters in real time audio and video.
USB Cables and their various connectors:Used to connect your USB microphone or audio interface to your computer. Here are some of the common USB plugs and ports you may come across on the ends of these cables. Over the years and across different electronics products, the USB connections have evolved. You will likely see most of these types of plugs and ports. A plug connects to a port. On Window’s Laptops and older MacBooks, you’ll most likely find USB Type A 2.0 and/or Type A 3.0. On newer MacBooks, you will find USB Type C. USB dongles or hubs are available to convert from one port to another.
3 Pin XLR Cable:This is used to plug in your standard, professional-level microphone into an audio interface or microphone preamplifier:
1/4″ TS Instrument CableTS stands for “Tip-Sleeve”. Used to plug guitars and keyboards into audio interfaces and amplifiers:
1/4″ TRS CableTRS stands for “Tip-Ring-Sleeve”. Looks almost the same as an instrument cable but has an extra ring for carrying stereo or balanced signals:
1/8″ TRS CableAlso known as an Aux cord, commonly found on laptops, phones, and consumer headphones:
These are some of the tools you will be using this upcoming semester:
Most laptops will come with built-in microphones. This is fine for most Zoom meetings and is by far the most portable option. You’ll want something better for recording and live musical performance.
USB Microphones are the simplest way to get high-quality audio into your computer or tablet. Most of them also come with a headphone jack that can be used to listen to the output of your computer as well as the direct sound of your microphone with no delay.
External audio Interfaces are another way of getting high-quality audio into your computer. You would use one of these if you already own a high quality XLR microphone or if you have an electric instrument that you want to record without a microphone (great for those late-night practice sessions!). The audio interface then connects to your laptop via USB cable.
MIDI Keyboard Controller:
A keyboard that connects to your computer via USB and allows you to play instruments on your computer. These controllers usually have no sounds of their own.
On laptops, smartphones and tablets this will be built-in to the device. On desktop computers you will need to purchase an external webcam for use with Zoom.
Both USB Microphones and External Audio Interfaces show up in the same way on your computer. While these instructions are geared towards the setup of a USB microphone, the same holds true for an External Audio Interface.
- Download the software from the manufacturers website if needed. The easiest way to do this is to google the make and model of your microphone. This software will usually enable some basic functions like gain and pickup pattern control.
- Plug the USB Mic into your computer.
- Check that it is working
On a Mac:
- Go to the Apple menu in the top left corner of your screen and click “System Preferences”
- Click “Sound”
- Click “Input”
- Click the name of your USB Microphone or Audio Interface in the list
- Talk into your microphone and make sure you can see the meter at the bottom of the window moving with your voice.
- For some USB microphones such as the Rode NT-USB Mini, the the slider next to input volume will control the mic gain. For external audio interfaces, this slider will be greyed out as gain is controlled on the hardware.
On Windows (Adapted from the Audio-Technica Website):
- To verify or make changes, click the Start window.
- Click the settings icon (the gear).
- When the settings window opens, click System.
- When the System window opens, in the left column, click Sound.
- The Sound tab opens showing the active input and output devices, both of which should be the USB microphone. To use the computer’s internal speakers, external speakers, or headphones as your output device, click “Choose your output device” and in the drop-down menu choose the desired item. (Please note, in this example we are using the ATR2100x-USB microphone, which has its own headphone jack, as both the input and output.)
Connecting your Microphone
A USB Microphone is connected using a USB cable as outlined on the previous page. No additional setup is needed.
Most microphones connect to your audio interface using a 3 pin XLR connector. Connect the XLR cable to both the microphone and the mic input of your audio interface. Some microphones (generally condenser microphones) require something called Phantom Power to operate. If your mic doesn’t work, try pressing the button on your interface that say either “Phantom Power” or “+48v”. Make sure your headphones are disconnected and your speakers are muted when you do this as it can cause a loud POP!
Here are a few basic and helpful terms
Side Address and End-Address Microphones
Side address microphones are microphones that you talk or play into from the side, end-address microphones are microphones that you talk or play into from the end. Sometimes the design of a mic can be deceiving so check with the manufacturer of your mic to make sure you are talking into the right part.
Here are some examples:
Side Address Microphones:
End Address Microphones:
Gain is how much amplification is being applied to the microphone signal. This is either a knob on the front of your microphone, a setting in the configuration application for your microphone, or a knob on your audio interface. This is the first place to address distortion. If your instrument or voice sounds distorted, turn down the Microphone gain. If your instrument or voice is too quiet, turn it up.
Heres a great video that explains this concept:
Polar or Pickup Pattern
Some microphones have the option to adjust what direction they pick sound up from. You will see these settings either printed directly on the microphone or in the configuration application provided by the manufacturer of you microphone. Here are some common ones:
OK so what does that all mean? Let’s break down what we’re seeing here.
Microphones in omnidirectional mode pick up sound equally in all directions. A lot of older recordings where a band or ensemble played together in the same room were recorded with everyone surrounding a mic set to this pattern. Unless you have a really well treated room or want to record a lot of room sound along with your instrument, it’s best to avoid this setting while playing a solo instrument.
This is the most common pattern in mics. Cardioid mics will pick up sound in front of them and try to reject sound behind them. Cardioid mics also exhibit something called proximity effect. Basically the closer you get to the mic, the more artificially boosted the low frequencies of your recordings will be. Singers will want to be aware of this and position the microphone so the sound is natural. You will probably use this setting most of the time, just make sure you’re talking or playing into the front of the mic.
Figure 8 or Bidirectional
Picks up sound equally on the front and back, but rejects sound coming in from the sides, not common on USB mics. Used a lot in the 60s to record duets.
Here’s this guy again to explain and demonstrate these 3 patterns:
Zero Latency Monitoring
When recording in Soundtrap or the DAW of your choice, you may notice a slight delay between when you play or sing and when you hear it in your headphones. It’s so slight it can feel like an echo but it can be really distracting. This is because computers take time to process audio. Fortunately, most USB Microphones have a small headphone jack at the bottom which serves as both an audio interface to hear the output of your computer as well as the signal coming directly off the microphone. We will get into how to use this feature in a later section.
How do I choose where to record or perform?
If you are making an audio recording for a layering project or even an online performance on Zoom, the simplest way to find a place to record is to walk around your living space and find a place where you like to hear yourself play and set the microphone up there. These locations won’t be perfect but they will give you the feedback you need as a performer to give the best performance possible and really that’t the most important thing.
Try to set your camera as close to eye level as possible. Sometimes this means adjusting a tripod, other times it mean putting lots of books under your laptop to get it to the right height.
Lighting is key. If you purchased the ring light package you can experiment with putting your phone or other camera in the center of the ring and adjusting the intensity and color temperature (orange-ness or blue-ness) until you like the way you look.
If you don’t have a ring light or another form of artificial lighting, avoid standing in front of windows during the day. The camera can’t correctly expose for you and the light coming in from the window at the same time. What this means is that if you are properly lit, your window will just be white and blown out.
If the camera exposes for the light coming in the window then your face will be in darkness.
The easiest solution to this is to face the window to let the natural light illuminate your face and environment.
It’s always a balance between this and finding a location that sounds good so compromises will always have to be made. Experiment, review your recordings and learn from the mistakes and successes you have. These are only guidelines.
For more advanced lighting techniques check out this video:
Sometimes technology breaks and knowing how to track down the problem can save hours of aggravation. Here are a few tips on how to troubleshoot.
Is it On?
This is actually a pretty common problem and can save you loads of troubleshooting time if you start by checking the basics. Make sure it is switched ON – there is usually an indicator light to show if the device is powered. Check your power cables, and also check your USB connections.
Is it plugged in?
Ok so its getting power, check to make sure both ends of the cable connecting your device to your computer are plugged in. Check to your USB cable, if the device uses an external source of power.
Does it work with other programs or computers?
This can help you determine where the problem is. If your USB Mic, audio interface, or webcam works with other programs, then the problem could be with the program you are trying to use your device with. This comes up more often with Windows because the standard Windows audio drivers (MME) reserve an audio device for use by one program at a time. This means the same microphone cannot be used for Zoom and Soundtrap simultaneously on Windows without the installation of a third party driver like ASIO4All. If you need to use Zoom and Soundtrap at the same time on a windows computer, select the internal microphone for use in Zoom and your USB mic or Audio Interface for use in Soundtrap.
If the device doesn’t work on your computer but does work on another, you may need to install a driver. Check the manufacturers website.
Have you tried turning it off and on again?
Sometimes hardware freezes up just like software does. A full reboot or power cycling your equipment can sometimes fix the problem.
Search for the answers
Many people often have the same exact problem as you, a Google search can be super handy in identifying common problems and solutions. Be as specific as you can in your search e.g. “Rode NT USB Mini not powering up when connected to iPhone over USB”.
These diagrams give you an overview of what cables get plugged in where and can also serve as a map to help you troubleshoot problems in your rig.