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When we saw the Producer USB microphone on the front of the Avid Vocal Studio packaging, we did a double-take--we bought that mic from an online clearance outlet last year, and for half the price of its current incarnation. But here it is again, headlining a software combo that promises everything you need to create voiceovers, podcasts, and multitrack musical recordings in one tidy package.
Isn’t that what GarageBand is for? Yes, but the included software, Pro Tools SE 8.0.3, is more adept at waveform editing. Apple’s DIY recorder is a champ when it comes to looping and software instruments, but this simplified version of industry-standard recording suite Pro Tools does both those things and makes it easier to edit recorded phrases. If you’re familiar with Audacity or Soundtrack Pro, Pro Tools SE is easy to use; if it’s new to you, plan to spend some time with the included HTML tutorials and your own what-does-this-button-do adventuring. Pro Tools SE 8 works much better than the deeply flawed Pro Tools LE 7.4, but its victory is bittersweet. Pro Tools 9 is the current standard, meaning you’re buying obsolescence here.
Pro Tools SE supports up to 24 tracks—16 vocal or instrument tracks and another 8 tracks of loops and software instruments.
The star of this show is the M-Audio Producer USB microphone. Rugged yet warm, this hassle-free cardioid condenser mic captures podcast chatter as easily as it records home-studio musical performances, and the headphone jack located directly on the mic is a major convenience. Vocal results improved considerably with a pop filter; it would have been wise for Avid to include one in the box. The included screw-in tripod mic stand is a little tippy, and if you’re not careful, you can accidentally detach part of the mic when removing the stand. Although the stand doesn’t fit in the mic’s included soft case, it collapses quickly for travel.
Fiddling with effects is surprisingly intuitive in Pro Tools SE.
During testing, we recorded a jingle to use as a ringtone. We considered everything from angelic choirs and regal brass proclamations to farting noises, and wound up with a mix of all three, after playing around with the microphone, Pro Tools SE’s included loops, and our trusty GarageKey USB MIDI keyboard. If you intend to record anything but vocals, you will need to bring your own instruments—Pro Tools does not offer the handy Musical Typing function for playing software instruments, as GarageBand does. What’s more, while you can use the Producer USB mic with other audio programs, Pro Tools SE won’t run unless the Producer USB is connected—a drag if you just want to edit and mix your project on the road. Also, Pro Tools SE only exports WAVs unless you drop another $19.95 to unlock MP3 exporting. Thankfully, we already have an application that exports audio projects as MP3s or ringtones: GarageBand.
The bottom line. The value of Avid Vocal Studio comes down to the microphone. The 3-year-old Producer USB still sounds great today. You won’t be disappointed in the mic’s performance, tone, or convenience, but you’d do well to shop around in this day and age.
Mac OS 10.5.8 or later, USB port
Producer USB is a sweet-sounding workhorse mic. Built-in headphone jack should be standard on all USB mics. Pro Tools 8 makes editing waveforms easy.
Software is outdated, limited, and uses the microphone as a hardware dongle hostage. MP3 export costs extra.