Forward Motion

Audio Recording, Software, Songwriting, Synthesizers Comments Off on Forward Motion

Assignments from the last two weeks of SONAR class have yielded positives, I think.

Last week we began to lay out the tracks for our final project, just to get a feel for some of the MIDI elements. I tend to start things at the beginning and work through sequentially, so I put together a very rough pass at the Intro section for Volo Flamenco. This snippet adds just the bare beginnings of percussion and strings – all synthesized via plug-ins, specifically, the TTS-1 and Session Drummer synths that comes with SONAR 8.

Volo Flamenco Intro – MP3 – 256kBps – 2.5MB – 1:21 min.

This week was an overview of sound synthesis, which technically isn’t a huge part of the SONAR course (synthesizers are a course of study in their own right). The idea was simply to understand the various types – additive, subtractive, modeling, sampling, etc. The task I chose here was to manipulate a few existing sounds’ elements – attack, decay, release, modulation (vibrato) – to create new ones. This short bit has tweaked piano, bass and percussion, tied together with a melancholy little melody inspired by the piano tone.

Masque – MP3 – 256kBps – 2.7MB – 1:30 min.


Synthesizing the Tabernacle

Audio Recording, Education, Software, Synthesizers 3 Comments

This week’s assignment for the SONAR course was kind of interesting.

Last week we recorded a MIDI performance into a track – anything we wanted – just to get the hang of it. I chose something I picked out on the (mostly) white keys back when I was about 14. See ‘Organ Part’, below.

This week we had to take that single track and expand it without adding any new recorded material. Just copy-and-paste, edit the notes with SONAR’s tools, add whatever synthesizers and effects we wanted, etc. So I turned the organ part into Ron’s Tabernacle Choir (with orchestra).

Note: everything you hear is being created in the computer using the “software synthesizers” that come with SONAR 8.

Organ Part – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.1MB – 1:27 min.

Organ, Choir and Strings – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.2MB – 1:27 min.

Red Sky at Night, Coders’ Delight?

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Sorry, that was a really strained metaphor inspired by Oracle and Sun’s announcement this morning that the Java Programming Language will soon be under the direct control of one of the most money-grubbing companies on the planet (at least in my limited experience with them – that would be Oracle).

Sun is going bye-bye. That would be the “Sky at Night” part.

Looks like it may finally be time to go full-on Ruby. That’s the “Red” part.

Like I said. Strained.

Music and Moodle and Mayer (oh, my!)

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Too much time between the last post and this. Lots of other stuff has provided ample avenue for distraction.

Happily, though, recent developments include pursuing something I should have done decades ago: formalized musical education. As a Christmas present to me I enrolled in Berklee School of Music’s online program:

Berkleemusic’s programs include numerous certificates and a lot of standalone courses. See the link above for a sample course (I think it’s an excerpt from the Electric Bass course). I decided on the Preparing for Berklee ‘Specialist’ certificate, since it includes topics I’ve wanted to explore and starts where I really needed to start: Basic Music Theory (BME-101). Just finishing that course this week (actually, I’ve completed everything – just waiting for a grade on my last assignment) and I’m happy to say I learned a good deal that would have meant a lot over the years in all manner of situations. Not the least of which, in that regard, would have been an overall reduction of the frustration that has often led to discouragement and lack of, shall we say, “follow-through” with respect to a number of musical endeavors.

Next on the agenda is Basic Ear Training (BME-115), which starts next Monday. I’m kind of excited about this one, as virtually everything I’ve done by way of musical performance and composition has been “by ear”. I’m anxious to learn how to translate that ability into something more structured and (*shudder*) formalized.

I also decided to ‘jump ahead’ a bit and enrolled in a course that also starts next Monday, but which is not part of this particular certificate curriculum: Producing Music with SONAR (BMPR-177). This is actually the course responsible for my learning about Berkleemusic in the first place. Through the magic of Google Ads, one day last November I was corresponding with someone (using GMail) about some aspect of SONAR and over on the right column, in the list of related ads was an entry listing Berkleemusic’s on-line SONAR course. I hadn’t known Berklee even had an online program, much less that anyone was teaching courses on SONAR (which I’ve used since about Cakewalk Pro Audio Ver. 2 or something). Looking into that, I discovered all the other areas where Berklee provides on-line music instruction, and I decided it was something I wanted to try.

Some folks will undoubtedly note, correctly, that there are all manner of books and instructional material available to learn pretty much everything in Berklee’s on-line catalog. What I’ve found over the years – and something likely at the heart of the delay in my formalized musical education – is that when I pursue learning along those lines I invariably “lose interest” and move on to something else. Sometimes I’ll pick whatever-it-was back up again later, but that’s rare. I just don’t have the self-discipline to study in a vacuum. I’d be surprised if many people do. So the rationale here was that if I paid for the course – which has a very specific calendar schedule for completion – I’d be inclined to follow through. And so far that’s pretty much how it’s worked out. We’ll see how that translates to these next two courses, but I’m optimistic since they’re both in areas of “musical recidivism” that I’ve gone back to several times.

One interesting aspect of Berkleemusic is that the system they use for their online instruction is a highly customized instance of Moodle – an Open Source distance learning software package. Although we didn’t make use of a lot of its capability, or spend much time customizing it anywhere near as well as Berkleemusic has, we used the Moodle package at my last job to manage training for various technical courses on BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) and other related technologies. It was also the system used for administering our Certified BPEL Engineer exam. Kinda cool to use it as a student and see how flexible it is. Patty’s talked about putting the course of study she’s developing (as a doctoral student) on-line at some point, and I may go back to considering that as a system to support it in my next career as “Obi-Ron: Househusband and Tech Guru”… now potentially scant months away.

One final thing to mention, because I personally got a lot of inspiration out of this as well, is the access to stuff like John Mayer’s workshop (students-only, sorry – but there’s a preview there). I’ve always liked his music, but didn’t know he was such a philospher as well – at least with respect to his art – and on top of that he’s able to communicate that philosphy and make it accessible to others. Musical composition and performance is, at it’s core, an emotional activity. Mayer’s managed to rein in that emotion with a kind of enlightened pragmatism that has worked (exceptionally well) for him. If nothing else, it’s enjoyable to watch that expressed in a forum like this workshop, where I think a lot of Berklee students learned quite a bit that they weren’t expecting to. John has a blog – Battle Studies – where he’s intermittently chronicling the development of his next album. Interesting stuff there. He describes it thus:

It’s a house,
in a clandestine location,
that’s being converted into a music studio.
No, not a music studio.
An entire music experience.
A living, breathing, ever-evolving organic space that contains every part of the record making process.
Everybody involved has left their comfort zone. Including myself.
I need to be disoriented again.

I can relate to the need to be disoriented, again. Looking back (as I’m guessing John has), moments of best inspiration and motivation have come from disorientation. The need to make some internal sense of the externally unfamiliar is, I think, a kind of rocket fuel for musicians. I don’t know if The Music Room we keep talking about adding on over our garage would qualify as a disorienting environment. Likely not. But since all my Grammy nominations are in the future, and I can’t afford to remodel an entire house yet, that’ll have to do.

Months go by… each one much like the last

People, Software Comments Off on Months go by… each one much like the last

Wish I had more to write about, musically, but I’ve just spent the last month – plus – working 12-to-14-hour days, 7-days-per-week, helping to build a sales and marketing infrastructure where I work.

The company’s well over five years old at this point, so it’s sane to ask why this might have been necessary. The answer is that we were originally a technology company that was created and bred to be sold for its intellectual property. That didn’t happen. So we recently got yet another new CEO (the 4th or 5th, depending on how one counts), were re-classified back to “startup” status, and are now going to be selling a product based on the IP we’ve developed over the last 5 years. This transition took place over the last 6 months and entailed enormous effort on the part of almost everyone in the company. Yes, almost.

Anyway, selling a product in volume requires something more than the half-assed CRM system we were using to track the (relatively few) customers we had. That had to be rebuilt and integrated with a new, internet-based public face. Thankfully, we have a guy on-site who thoroughly understands the CRM side of this equation. He was able to do some amazing stuff in that area during the time we had. My focus was elsewhere, and included:

  • an entire commercial-grade, PHP-driven web site – reclaimed from a SaaS/CMS company (eMagine) who was charging us by the hour for making changes to things as simple as a web form field;
  • a separate staging site;
  • two different customer support forums – one of which has a complex access control scheme that will eventually be integrated with customer data from our CRM system;
  • policies and procedures for migrating customers over from the ‘old’ system to the new, as well as for site content maintenance (using Dreamweaver and CVS);
  • a PHP-based, content-driven document delivery system that requires no changes to the actual listing pages when documents in the listing itself are added, deleted or changed;
  • a multi-tiered, access-controlled education center for customers who’ve purchased different levels of support, also based on the above document delivery system;
  • dynamic product download pages that automatically update themselves with file sizes, MD5 checksum values, etc;
  • auto-regenerating sitemap, automated page redirection (from our old, dead links), interactive Google maps, ‘smart’ menu highlighting, floating navigation menus and lots of other stuff that’s pretty much just a blur, now.

Thankfully, others were responsible for writing the volumes of actual page content of the site. And the web design firm did a very nice job, for their part. They did most of the interactive Javascript and cross-browser compatibility stuff, and were exceptionally responsive given the timeframe we had (weeks, not months). Even so, they originally wanted to maintain each page of the site as an individual file – with all the duplication of HTML and Javascript that would have entailed (er… “want to move that ad banner to the right 3 pixels? sorry – you gotta edit 60 files – arrrrgh!!”).

It used to be the case that many (most?) developers I ran into were also musicians or at least musically inclined. Something about being comfortable with things In The Abstract, I think. Most places I’ve worked in the past, if you tossed a whiteboard eraser into a cubicle farm, it’d bounce off of three bass players and a drummer before it hit the ground. Is that not the case any more? Or have they just forgotten about things like D.S. al Coda or al Fine?

Duplication of effort has always bothered me. I have this visceral, negative neuro-associative reaction to making the same change to a system in more than one place. That carries over to having to verbally explain to people multiple times how a system works – especially after it’s been documented with step-by-step instructions that are way simpler even than the “getting started” documents we expect our customers to follow when they install and configure our product. But it seems like I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Part of the job, I suppose.

Anyway, here we are starting over on a “new” venture with a five-year-old enterprise. Those of use who’ve been there from the beginning are effectively duplicating a lot of the effort we’ve already expended. Maybe it’s one of those “if at first you don’t succeed” things, I don’t know. Experience makes me skeptical. After 30 years of doing this, it’s been the all-too-rare occurrence that people (read: management) ever learn from past mistakes. As such, “try, try again” is starting to sound a lot less like tenacity and a lot more like the endless repetition that some folks use to define the term insanity.

First Time Using the Tascam FW-1804, Part II

Audio Recording, Gear, Software 2 Comments

I started this some days back but got distracted with the return on the ’52 Telecaster and then other stuff that’s come up since (still waiting for the B-Bender, by the way – that’s fodder for another post, once I actually have it in my hot little paws). Unfortunately, because it’s now all set up and I really don’t want to go back and start over, this follow-up is going to be somewhat abbreviated from what I had in mind, which was a step-by-step on getting from installation to a clean, direct-input guitar recording. Hopefully this will be helpful to some, though.

SONAR – even my old 2.2 version – was pretty smart about connecting to this unit. Once the drivers were installed, everything just kind of appeared where it needed to be, as I would have hoped. Of course that didn’t mean I could get the thing to record without some work. Here’s what I ended up with. It will at least get you on the air, but I make no claims that this is optimized – or even ultimately correct for all purposes.

SONAR Settings

Power up the 1804 and then start SONAR. The order is important because SONAR detects what’s available when it starts up. Confused hardware drivers can cause BSODs and I prefer not to see those any more than necessary. So if I start SONAR and realize I forgot to kick on the 1804, I’ll shut SONAR down first, then turn on the AI. Call me a namby-pamby. It’s just how I roll.

That done, select Options / Audio… from the main menu. On the Advanced tab, locate the Driver/Mode drop-down list and select WDM/KS to use the WDM drivers you installed with the FW-1804. SONAR may tell you you’ll have to restart the program when you do this. If so, do it, then get back to the Audio Options dialog. Note – you may run into an issue here if your sound card doesn’t support WDM. Most newer ones do. This is just a heads up. I’m not sure of the implications if you have an older card but want to use WDM.

Next, go to the General tab (Advanced in SONAR 2, IIRC) and locate the Wave Profiler button. Click that to profile the new hardware and verify all goes well, meaning no errors. The profiler will assess the AI and any soundcard(s) you have installed.

Going through the tabs on the Audio Options dialog, here’s the settings I’m currently using (these are working).

General Tab – I changed the Audio Driver Bit Depth from 16 to 24, on Rich the Tweak’s recommendation that this increases dynamic range and eliminates the need for compression during recording. I don’t have a standalone compressor, so this seemed like a good idea. I set the Sampling Rate to 44100 (this has to match the FW-1804 Control Panel setting – see below). I also had to spend quite a bit of time getting the Mixing Latency settings correct, and it’s something you’ll probably have to experiment with because the settings will interact with those on the 1804’s Control Panel (again, see below). With these settings, you’ll definitely experience a bit of a delay if you’re monitoring using your computer’s sound card output, so monitor using the output(s) provided on the 1804. I found the headphone output on the unit’s front panel to work just fine for this, and the ability to switch between monitoring the unit’s Inputs, the Computer or Both was definitely a boon.

General Tab

Advanced Tab – Don’t think I changed anything on this one, other than the Driver Mode setting. If your settings are still at the default, you can check me on this below.

Advanced Tab

Drivers Tab – Enable what you need, disable what you don’t. They’re in pairs, so my settings are shown below, since I’m going to be recording from the audio interface’s inputs 1, 4, 5/6 and 8, as follows:

  • 1 -Microphone: vocals, cello, acoustic guitars, amps, etc.
  • 4 – Guitar direct-in: for use with Effects Inserts
  • 5/6 – JV-1080: left/right Mix Output, respectively
  • 8 – Guitar direct-in: this is the one on the front of the unit, designed for Guitars but with no Effect Insert jack

Drivers Tab - top of the lists

Drivers Tab - bottom of the lists

Driver Profiles – these are as set by the Wave Profiler, and I haven’t changed them, so no screenshot for these. Tweak at your own risk here. Get familiar with the manual(s) first though.

FW-1804 Control Panel

When you install the Tascam software, it places a TASCAM FW-1804 applet in your list of XP control panel widgets. I copied this to the desktop as a standard shortcut for easy access. When you run (double-click) this, you see the AI’s control panel application. The screenshot below shows my current settings, not the defaults.

FW Control Panel Settings Tab

When you check Compensate for Converter Delays (WDM), you get the following pop-up message:

FW Caution Dialog

At this point I of course went back to SONAR and set the Buffers in Playback Queue (General Tab) to 3. Aside from this, as I mentioned previously, the Sample Rate naturally has to match what you’ve set in SONAR. Beyond this, the most time-consuming effort was getting the Audio Latency setting correct. The optimum setting here changes depending on a combination of the Sample Rate (in both SONAR and the FW) and the Buffer Size setting (General Tab) in SONAR, which I currently have set to 90mS. I adjusted this by monitoring SONAR‘s output and/or playing back recordings and trying different settings each time. This was the first setting that worked. I tried a few others unsuccessfully, and went back to this (128). Don’t know what units this setting is in, but since it’s labeled “latency” I’m guessing milliseconds.

The other optional step you can take is to enable “Quick Start” for the FW inputs and outputs you plan to use. I’ll be using input 4 rarely, so I enabled the others to match the list above.

FW Quick Start Tab

Recording and Monitoring

With these basic settings, I’m able to set a SONAR track’s Input to a given FW input and monitor with no latency through the Headphones jack on the FW’s front panel while recording. To monitor tracks I’ve already recorded I set the track’s output to “FW1804 Analog 1:2” or to a bus that’s going out to same (set the FW Monitor button to Computer or Both for this). During recording, the JV-1080 synth output is monitored directly through the FW via the Headphones (set the Monitor button to Inputs or Both for this).

For playback monitoring, right now I don’t have standalone monitor speakers, so I simply have the FW’s monitor output connected to the Line In on my soundcard. It’s functional, but I wouldn’t use that for a professional mix. (UPDATE: since modified – I now take the 1804’s outputs and patch them directly to the input on my self-powered computer speaker system. No studio-quality monitors yet, but at least now I have the soundcard out of the loop. It does sound noticeably better, even with this older speaker system, as I’m using the 1804’s D/A converters, not the soundcard’s.)

For direct-input guitar recording, I got a pretty decent sound with the following settings:

  • Input 4 – FW Trim @ 4:00; SONAR Trim @ +9dB / Volume @ -9dB
  • Input 8 – FW Trim @ 12:05 (just before jump in gain); SONAR Trim @ +9dB, Volume @ -9dB

Initial recordings I did were with the ’52 Telecaster, with its single-wound (noisy) coils. I was able to get the hum level down to where I could easily strip it off later with compression / gating. The hum was more noticeable on input 8 than input 4, which I’m sure is due to the differences in impedance. Later recordings with my Paul II (dual humbuckers) were almost completely hum-free, as one might expect.

Next experiments will be mic’ing the 12-string and cello. Right now I only have the one low-rent dynamic mic to work with, so it’ll probably take some ingenuity to get a clear sound on those. At some point we’ll get a condenser, so this is just learning at this point.

Hope this is helpful.

we have ignition…

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The move went fairly smoothly yesterday, and the exercise was a good point to clean up a lot of the cruft that has been accumulating behind my desk here over the years. I ended up replacing some long, bundled CAT-5 cables with shorter ones, removed some of the tangle… that sort of thing. Plus, I had an HP LaserJet IIIP sitting on the ‘top rack’ above my monitor (I have an old O’Sullivan Corner Cockpit) that has slowly quit feeding paper over the last couple years (the rollers are just worn out). It’s now history and allofasudden I have LOTS of room to put a growing stack of books on my reading list, plus other stuff. I was toying with the idea of stacking the Tascam and JV up there, but (1) the FireWire cable I have wouldn’t have reached and (2) it would have been virtually impossible to get at the back of either unit to change patches, etc.

I can’t imagine one of today’s HP printers lasting 15 years anymore. Of course they’re about 1/5-to-1/10th the price for what you get in terms of functionality these days. At over 15 years old, I figured I’ve gotten my use out of this one and decided not to take it in again for a repair, which would only be its second. It’s functional, though, so I’ll likely drop it off at the local tech school and let them fiddle with it. Truth be told, I probably have 5 or 6 old computers I should bring along as well. They’re just taking up space. Kind of amazing how many computers I’ve (we’ve) gone through in 17 years living here. I count …

  1. Arche Rival 286 Desktop
  2. Gateway Desktop #1
  3. Gateway Desktop #2
  4. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Windows
  5. Homebuilt (from parts) Tower – Overclocking experiment / Linux
  6. Dell Desktop (purchased when I left Meca) – Linux
  7. Dell Latitude CPxJ Laptop
  8. ABS PC Desktop #1
  9. ABS PC Desktop #2 (current -mine)
  10. Dell Inspiron 9400 Laptop (current -Patty’s)

Scary. I wouldn’t even want to count up all the CRTs and peripheral crap stuffed in drawers, chests, corners, closets, attic, boxes, basement, crawlspace, etc. The Linux boxes still fire up, as well as a few of the others. None of them older than the CPxJ will run XP or the more recent versions of the various Linux GUI desktops, however. Probably time to take the hard drives out of those and just donate them someplace. If I didn’t throw it out, I may also actually have an old Atari 520 ST (w/upgrade to a full megabyte of RAM!!!) in a box somewhere in the attic. I’m pretty sure I sold my Atari 800. The Arche was the first “IBM Compatible” I ever bought. These days I sometimes almost wish I’d taken the Mac route. Still could, I suppose.

SONAR‘s now updated to Producer ver. 6.2.1. Nice installer. Doesn’t require uninstall or overwrite of your older version (this is discouraged in their Read This First sheet, actually), which still functions fine as far as I can tell. Also does you the favor of tracking down and copying over your previous version preferences and INS settings. This was particularly appreciated, as it’s not a trivial task to get the JV-1080’s INS files installed and set up so that SONAR can make sense of them.

I loaded up the Wannabe Life project, saved it as a new copy (be sure to do this if you ever want to open the original in a pre-6 version of SONAR), moved a few of the outputs around and – after recovering from my initial confusion about the “new” MIDI latency coming out of the sound card (introduced by the Tascam), plugged a set of headphones in (to the FW-1804 monitor) and things sound great! So of course now I’m thinking about a pair of active studio monitors. Since I can simply send the 1804’s analog output to the Audigy card’s Line In, for the moment monitors aren’t really a priority. Although I have a feeling the sound difference is going to be pretty serious, as the 2.1 sound system I’m using came along for the ride with that first Gateway desktop you see up there. I’ll definitely get a pair before trying to actually “master” anything. For now, this works just fine.

Oh, and I’ve decided on Fender’s American Nashville B-Bender Telecaster.

Cello Rondo

Audio Recording, Cello, Software, Video 1 Comment

Or… an amazing feat of musical, multimedia magic!

The video below was created by Ethan Winer a couple of years back. I plead no excuse for having missed it – I used to be a frequent visitor to Ethan’s site. Kind of speaks to the overall theme here, eh? Anyway, cellists will especially appreciate this. I’m surprised I’ve never heard of it being aired on (at least) PBS or something, as it’s been viewed something like half a million times on the web. It’s fascinating. Ethan describes it:

I thought it would be a fun project to write and record a pop tune using nothing but cellos, then make a video of the performance. The original goal was to keep everything entirely acoustic, with no recording studio effects or other processing. I quickly abandoned that idea to get more variety of sounds, but everything you hear was played entirely on my cello. There are 37 separate cello parts recorded on 23 tracks using 37 plug-in effects. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to admit I spent hundreds of hours on this project, or proud to have paid so much attention to detail. You be the judge.

Uh…. proud, dude!!! Duh!!

Nice one, Ethan!!

Note: A Cello Rondo is Copyright © 2005 by Ethan Winer

Home Studio

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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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