Learning Audio 101

July 1, 2020

I was looking for a new mini-hobby, and found an idea staring me in the face: my audio-technica ATR-2100 USB microphone. I’ve been using it as a mic for work and gaming, but I felt like I wasn’t really getting the most out of it through its USB connection, which I also used to run my headphones, a budget-level Sennheiser HD 419. It was time to upgrade.

I quickly decided on the Massdrop Sennheiser HD6XX, which has received good reviews and lists for around $220. When you get a nice pair of headphones, apparently it’s not enough to plug them directly into your computer, you want an external soundcard called a DAC. Then you don’t just plug it into that directly, you get a pre-amp designed for headphones.

For the DAC and headphone pre-amp, I decided on a Schiit Modi and the Schiit Magni 3+. I think the good thing about these is the Modi should work with any software, and the Magni doesn’t have any software dependency so I should be able to take it with me. They’re fairly modular so I could upgrade the pieces individually.

Back to the mic–I wanted to try out the XLR connection, but my motherboard doesn’t have an XLR connection obviously. This type of mic needs phantom power to work. The XLR cable will send a balanced mono output signal to a Focusrite scarlett 2i2 I purchased. I think this is probably overkill for gaming/office VoIP stuff, but I may dabble with other things at a later date (digital piano, etc.) and I wanted to keep my options open. I think I’ve made the mistake too many times of buying something entry-level and then having to upgrade, so I decided to start mid-level here.

Then I decided I wanted to setup a place for karaoke. I had connected a newly built gaming computer to a TV downstairs for VR, but there was only a simple HDMI connection there for regular TV tasks. I bought a Yamaha MG10XU for connecting a couple of microphones (with XLR cables) and the line out on my PC. The output from the mixer will feed into some JBL Studio 530 speakers I bought. They were on sale–a pair for $300. The speakers will be powered by a “Kinter K2020A+ Limited Edition Original Tripath TA2020-020 Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier with 12V 5A Power Supply Black” that you can find online for like $40. If the karaoke isn’t a hit, I’ll be able to use everything somewhere else. Whereas if I just bought a karaoke box, I’d have a big paper weight. I haven’t got everything yet, but that’s the tentative plan.

While on this journey, I spent more time than I originally expected trying to figure out all the new terms and connectors. (I think I enjoy the learning and spending money part part of hobbies more than the hobby itself…) There are a bunch of different connector types: XLR, RCA, 3.5mm, 6.35mm or 1/4" TRS or TS, speaker wire, etc. Within those, you have terms like balanced vs unbalanced, power amp vs pre-amp, RCA vs TRS vs TS, monitor vs speaker. I probably should have spent more time on Wikipedia learning the concepts than searching for terms on the internet:

Once I get everything, maybe I’ll post a follow up if there are learnings with talking about.