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3:00 pm Audio Recording, Gear, Software, Synthesizers

Okay, so I was kind of catching up in that first post. This is something that’s been brewing for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it’s going to ‘phase out’ at this point. Things have a tendency to do that these days… as soon as the time spent pursuing them starts to feel too much like work it’s on to the next distraction. If this music bug sticks, well then it may turn out that the endless sequence of distractions was just something to do while I worked my way back to the right headspace to do it. We’ll see.

Deja sez: “Do NOT go to your grave without doing music again!!! Life is meant to be lived and you should use all your talents!!!

Yes, she really does use a hot pink italic font. The grave thing is a little disconcerting, but the rest makes sense. Patty seems to be 1000% behind this too. There’s a difference from past arrangements, I must say. Not that I didn’t already ‘know’ this. It was a self-permission thing (see previous post).

So, getting down to brass tacks, I’ve taken stock of what’s on hand here and did about two weeks of (spare time) reading over at TweakHeadz Lab, which is an absolutely awesome resource that I can’t possibly recommend highly enough, by the way. And not just because all the information there is made available 100% free of charge, either.

A couple weeks ago I went down to JC’s and bought a run-o-the-mill microphone, just to see what sort of damage I could do recording cello and 12-string guitar. Hey… it’s what he had on the shelf. We’ll call this microphone Mic 1. It kind of sat until I ordered a mic stand, more recently, at which point I spent a few hours experimenting. I discovered pretty good placement for mic’ing both the cello and guitar and getting a passable sound into SONAR via my Audigy 2 soundcard. It’ll work, but it turns I could’ve done a lot better.

Here’s a good example of why it’s good to do your research first – and why I’m grateful I took the time to do that before I spent any really significant ca$h on anything else. For like $40 more, I could have purchased a Shure SM57 dynamic microphone, which turns out to be an excellent all-purpose mic. I’m pretty sure we used these as far back as the band days (late 70s). Also, balanced signal paths are where it’s at, and I made the ‘error’ of getting a non-balanced cable so I could plug it easily into the computer sound card. Lesson learned. An XLR cable is on the way.

To be plugged into what, you ask? Well, I remember the kid at JC’s asking what I was going to plug the mic into. He gave me a funny/knowing look when I said I was planning to punch it straight into the soundcard… “to start.” I actually said “to start” because his question implied there was more to it and I didn’t want to seem like the totally clueless newb I really was. Turns out there’s a LOT more to it, and I’ve learned a good deal about all that at TweakHeadz’. Not only are most computer soundcards like about the worst thing in the world you can use as a front end for a microphone, but their analog-to-digital (A-to-D) capabilities leave a lot to be desired as well. Mics need a good preamp and a good converter to do anything halfway decent – and of course it doesn’t hurt to actually start out with a good mic to begin with.

Anyway, I’ll be using the XLR cable to plug Mic 1 (and later an SM57 and a condenser, when I can justify them) into a Firewire Audio Interface – specifically a Tascam FW1804. What’s the deal there? Basically, to do any serious, or even halfway serious recording using a computer, you need to find a way to take the soundcard out of the equation. One way to do this is with something called an Audio Interface. Bascially, this is a unit that preamplifies incoming sound from microphones, guitars and such, and then does the A-to-D conversion – all with hopefully far better quality components than you’ll find in your average computer soundcard. Why Firewire? Well because basically USB is still a little slow and there’ll be enough inherent latency in this system as it is.

This was a tough unit to decide on, weighing practicality, price, etc. What finally helped me decide on this unit over the Presonus Firebox was partly the increased number of inputs but moreso the availability of ‘inserts’. These are output/input jacks that allow you to insert an effect – like a guitar distortion box – between the preamp and the output to the computer. Essentially, it allows you to add effects to an instrument (or microphone) without preamplifying the noise that’s inevitably generated by the effect box. If you’ve ever run a guitar through a standard amp with the volume turned up, you hear the effect of this if you punch a distortion box (like a Boss DS-1) ‘on’ switch. The added hum you’ll hear is the noise from the box being preamplified by the amp’s circuitry. I’m guessing there are a number of amp models that have insert jacks, to avoid this very thing. Just haven’t had the need to research it.

Anyway, with the Tascam, I’ll be pretty much ready to record everything I can play – electric bass, cello, electric and acoustic guitar, MIDI synth, etc. – and some vocals as well. Next steps up for the studio will be better microphones, active studio monitors and perhaps a standalone mic preamp, but that’s all a ways off. For now I think we’re good to go. A little dated perhaps – the computer’s now almost 3 years old and my synth is probably considered ‘vintage – but I think I can produce some fairly decent tracks with this stuff nonetheless:

  • ABS PC Ultimate M5^64 w/1GB RAM, dual MAXTOR 6Y080M0 SATA 7,200 RPM HDDs
  • AUDIGY 2 ZS Soundcard and a very old Gateway 2.1 Sound System (hey, it works!)
  • Audio2000’s APM1066 Dynamic Microphone
  • Tascam FW1804 Firewire Audio Interface
  • Roland Super JV-1080 MIDI Synthesizer
  • Roland SR-JV80 Orchestral II Expansion Board
  • Roland SR-JV80 Vocal Expansion Board
  • Roland PC-200 MK II MIDI Keyboard Controller
  • SONAR 2.2 (don’t fret – it’s on it’s way to a SONAR 6 Producer Upgrade)
  • Fender BXR200 Extended Range Bass Amp (also great for beefy guitar sound)

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