The MicPort Pro is a handy, high-quality mic preamp and A/D converter that turns any microphone into a USB mic.
Lest anyone think digital audio converters can't get smaller and still maintain good sound quality, CEntrance's MicPort Pro ($124.95) stands ready to take on all doubters. The bus-powered device is a USB adapter that connects directly to almost any microphone and computer. It is suitable for Podcasts, field recordings, songwriting — in fact, just about any recording task that requires a mono mic. The MicPort records 24-bit, 96 kHz audio and has plenty of headroom and output power, and it sounds great.
The MicPort Pro is cylindrical, with flat panels on opposite sides, and is about the size of an XLR-to-¼-inch high-impedance transformer. On one side are a pot for mic level and another for headphone level. The headphone pot allows you to adjust the level of audio routed from your computer to the headphones as well as from the microphone.
On one end of the MicPort Pro are a mini USB connector (like those on digital cameras), a stereo miniplug headphone connector, a tiny button that engages 48V phantom power, and an LED that glows when phantom power is on. The 48 volts are generated internally using the 5V USB connection. On the other end is a female XLR connector.
Surrounding the device is a transparent plastic ring that houses an LED. When a USB cable with an active connection is plugged in, the ring glows brightly, leaving no doubt that the unit is ready to digitize a signal.
When I first heard about the MicPort Pro, I was intrigued. Although lots of USB mics are designed for quick connection to a computer, the MicPort Pro gives you the same convenience with any mic. I was eager to give the device a whirl and grabbed a Shure SM57 to try with it. When connected, the SM57 and the MicPort, with its glowing blue ring and dangling headphone and USB cables, resembled some kind of alien medical probe from a '50s sci-fi flick. But as soon as I established communication with my Mac G5 and donned a pair of headphones, I knew I was dealing with a down-to-earth, high-quality audio device.
The audio signal had plenty of presence, even before adjusting the mic-level pot. The unit's headphone level was also ample and crystal clear without any boost from the headphone-level pot. When I did adjust the pots, the digitized mic signal sounded great, and when I fired up some iTunes material, the MicPort mixed its signal with the computer's audio, turning iTunes into a convenient, high-quality karaoke machine. The MicPort Pro provides zero latency by mixing the direct mic signal with the stereo return from the computer.
I replaced the SM57 with a Studio Projects large-diaphragm condenser mic, engaged phantom power, and set up to record some acoustic guitar. Again, the MicPort Pro digitized the signal cleanly, with the higher detail of the condenser coming through clearly.
With low latency settings in MOTU Digital Performer 5.1, I was able to add the guitar signal to the computer mix without causing any delays relative to the direct signal, which can't be muted, and boost guitar to whatever monitor level I needed while maintaining a constant recording level. All the time the MicPort Pro just did its job cleanly, without adding any questionable artifacts to the recording. When I wanted greater flexibility to reposition the microphone, I just inserted a standard mic cable between the mic and the MicPort Pro, which I left on my computer station.
For a majority of studio miking tasks, however, I prefer to have a high-quality dedicated mic pre and dynamics processor between the mic and the converter, because of the possibilities they provide for creating warmth and shaping the sound. The MicPort Pro was at its best when I used it for several Podcast interviews and video voice-overs on different computers scattered about my house, yet it seems almost overqualified for such jobs.
MICPORT IN A STORM
The MicPort is so handy and so clean that several variations come to mind. I would like to see a stereo unit without XLR or phantom power; you can already download a driver to use two MicPort Pros in stereo. How about an accessory to clip the MicPort Pro to your laptop? CEntrance has probably had similar ideas. However it evolves, the MicPort Pro is a great little audio interface and a very convenient mic pre and converter.
Value (1 through 5): 5