Audio Recording Interface

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hierogfx
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I have an Intel MacBook Pro that I've been using to record our band live in the room, using an Blue Snowball. It's decent for what it is, but doesn't allow for any mix prior to final output. I've been trying to upgrade to a solution that would allow me to record at least eight analog inputs simultaneously into eight separate tracks. Along this line I've been doing a lot of research which is how I discovered Ardour. Without spending a lot of money I'm trying to find the perfect audio recording interface to use with my MAC and will communicate accurately with Ardour. There are a handful of hardware units that are most often sited at the low end and I'm trying to develop a consensus as to which is the best unit (or gamble) to work with the MAC OS and Ardour. The units most mentioned are Alesis iO 26, Presonus FirePod or Presonus Fire Studio, Motu 8PRE, M-Audio ProFire 2626, and Tascam 1641. I would welcome any experience or guidance in choosing the best option with Ardour . . . or, of course, any better ideas . . . thanks . . .

seablade
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Just for the sake of completeness, copying my reply over from your other thread...

Hmm truthfully? I am not a big fan of any of those. I will admit a lot of my dislike of MOTU comes from their attitude towards their customers, their interfaces supposedly work fine but I have never been impressed with their software either. I know a few folks using the Tascam, I haven't myself yet to know how good it is or isn't.

I can tell you right now in my small tracking rig, I have a focusrite saffire pro40 with a digimax FS in the ADAT to allow for up to 16 tracks and since the v2 of the Focusrite drivers came out have been reasonably happy with it, along with being very pleased with their customer service. If you don't need preamps(Say if you are coming out of the direct outs of a console) then I would strongly suggest the Echo Audiofire line instead.

If you are tracking live concerts, there is one or two tweaks to Ardour's config I can walk you through to ensure you use a nice large recording buffer and don't have as many problems with disk access, but even so I would still strongly suggest using an external HD if you aren't already.

Seablade

hierogfx
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Seablade - Thank you for all of the helpful information and suggestions to date. This forum probably isn't the place for all this text, but I don't know how to contact you directly. Unfortunately once I actually have someone's attentive ear, a dozen more questions pop into my head and you've been the most forthcoming and helpful to date. Some simple background -- the band I referred to is just a half dozen guys (ages 30-60) who get together once a week (like a bowling night) to play together. Although we've been playing every week over the past two years we have no serious aspirations except to have a lot of fun and play the music we all love. I record us for the simple pleasure of hearing how we sound, if we're getting any better with time, and for instructional purposes to provide evidence of where we succeed and fail and where to concentrate our efforts. Miking the room with a Blue Snowball satisfies this requirement in a very crude way but after doing it for awhile I feel the need to improve my control over the entire process. Hence the investigation into audio recording interfaces and recording software. But given our modest aspirations you can understand why the budget is especially low (especially since I'm the only one investing in the upgrade). My problem has been finding the right equipment (read "one that actually works") for not too much money. I mentioned five units that I'd been checking out. These are the units most often mentioned, but you don't have to look very far into the different forums to find people that have had nightmarish experiences with all of these units. When I read up on these units, the technical specs are all mumbo jumbo to me -- and plenty people out there who know a lot more than me about digital audio seem to have gotten burned by misleading specs, poor workmanship, or hardware that doesn't seem to perform as promised. So the problem I have is that I don't mind spending a little more money than planned if I know what I'm investing in will actually do what I need (record eight analog inputs simultaneously and allow a post-production mix prior to final output -- that's it -- nothing fancy!!!). So if you're telling me that the Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 in conjunction with Ardour will do this (and it sounds like you are very happy with this arrangement) then I think I will try to move in that direction. Also, if I knew you were there as a prior user that could provide some guidance if I stumble, I would feel much more comfortable about moving in this direction. Let me know if I've got it right or if you think I should seek a simpler solution. And thanks again, sincerely, for all of your help.

seablade
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Well lets start with simple questions first then, do you have microphones to record everything if you do get an interface? What exactly does your group consist of in as far as instruments/vocals?

Seablade

hierogfx
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The basic band consists of 3 guitars, a bass player, and a drummer -- occasionally a sixth guy sits in who plays guitar/bass. We play in one of the guys basement -- its a large basement, but still not overly spacious (low ceiling) which creates issues when miking the room (another reason for going direct). The main bass player is pretty well versed in the technical analog side of audio recording (but bails on me when I start talking about hardware/software for recording digitally to my laptop). The bass player and one of the guitarists are brothers and work as electrical contractors for a living so issues and principles involving electronics are not strange to them. The bass player owns most of the equipment we currently use (barring guitar amps, effects, etc.). I don't know (but can find out) the exact brands/model #s of mikes we are using but have gathered that while they are not top of the line studio mikes, they are very good mikes (hundreds of dollars each). Most of his equipment is very good, but getting old now. He's pretty good with cables, wiring, amps, pre-amps, etc. -- he's just not up to speed with the digital/computer side of the equation in terms of the equipment and interfaces (USB, firewire, etc). I've been a self-employed computer graphics designer/web developer for the past 15+ years, so I'm no stranger to the computer side of things (just not well versed in audio issues). The bass player has a mixer that we use to mix everything into two large monitors (haven't looked at it in awhile so I'm not sure how many channels the mixer has). Most of the amps go direct into the mixer. A couple of amps that don't have the appropriate connections are miked. There are four vocal microphones. Since we've been miking the room (with monitors playing) up til now, the drums aren't miked at all. The bass player said that if we were limited to eight inputs he would find a way to mike the drums, mix and output the drums out as one signal. As you can see, our recordings up til now have been pretty crude. Originally I was looking for an audio recording interface that would allow me to record eight tracks to Garageband (which as I understand is Garageband's simultaneous recording limit). But it sounds like Ardour with the right hardware could go well beyond the eight tracks we were aiming for. Ideally, if we mix the drums into one signal, I'm guessing we would need 10 inputs (drummer and one guitar player don't sing). We're basically a jamming band -- we have an eclectic mix of songs but we do a lot of Neil Young and Rolling Stones (just to give you an idea of the sound we aspire to). The problem with the Snowball is that we have to work out the mix in the room at the beginning of the night, but after awhile with elevated volumes for solo leads and the energy in the room, it all goes to hell after awhile. What else do you need to know . . . I can't tell you how much I appreciate all this help and interest. I was planning on buying an Alesis iO 26 on an auction that was ending on EBay late last night (mostly based upon the supposed feature set and price, but with crossed fingers), but after reading some of your comments decided to wait and get some better informed advice from someone who knows before I make the plunge . . . I'll email the bass player and see if he can give me a better list and range of the equipment (mikes, mixers, pre-amps,etc) we have at our disposal.

seablade
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Well...

Given your setup, and assuming a limit of 8 channels, here is a couple of options for you...

The first one would be to track the vocal separately. This would allow you to use three mics on the drums(Kick, one between snare and hat, and an overhead) which you can mix down to a usable mix if you need to. How good of a sound will obviously vary depending not only on position and quality of mics, but also on musical style and drummer playing. Track all the instruments at once, individually micing each amp(DI the Bass if they prefer, it depends on whether you want the sound of the bass amp or not and whether you have a decent DI) and the three mics on the drum kits. Then after you have recorded the instruments, you come back with the vocal mics and record them while playing back what you already have recorded.

The second option, is to bus down as much as you can. This would mean mixing the drums down to two channels, possibly putting the guitar amps in a circle around a figure-8 or omni directional mic and balancing them acoustically, or individually micing them and bussing them down, etc. to make as much room as possible for your vocal channels. I would reccomend at least a stereo drum recording, and ideally a stereo recording of the guitar amps as a group, with the bass that would be 5 channels, leaving three channels open for vocals.

If you have a mixer with preamps and direct outs, and can stretch to an Echo AudioFire 12 (If you look carefully it will be a little over $500, example... http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/373370-REG/Echo_AUDIOFIRE12_AudioFire_12_Interface.html but Sweetwater and FullCompass will likely be in this range as well if you call them instead of ordering through the web), then it frees things up to do option 1 above with 4 channels for vocals. But this depends on your mixer and depends on your finances still.

Of course you always have the option should you desire of tracking everything individually, doing a full drum kit micing and tracking it, etc. But it doesn't sound like you want to do this and it sounds like even doing two separate takes for tracking the vocals separately is probably beyond what you want to do.

Seablade

hierogfx
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Wow. I have to go over your response a couple of times just to get my head around what you are suggesting. I never envisioned more than one way of doing it, namely miking every voice and every instrument separately. I'm also going to run all of this by the bass player as I know he'll understand the aural logic behind each of the options. I can tell you right now that no one in the band is patient enough to record the vocals separately . . . maybe if we ever got good enough that we decided we wanted to record "perfect" versions of our repertoire I might be able to convince the band to dub clean vocals, but right now I have trouble just getting them to focus on perfecting the beginning and endings of songs. I personally think I would prefer to mike everything individually and just do a rough mix on the back end to improve the final output but that's just how my mind works . . . and it appears that this solution would require a higher level of hardware than the eight inputs I was originally targeting. I'll have to give all of the above some mulling over, reassess my original goals, and revisit the budget. Maybe I'll just have to wait a little longer til I can afford to buy the hardware I need to do it right. Thanks for all of your advice, and more importantly, your time. If anything new pops into the mix I'll be sure to run it by you in this thread. Thanks again.

hierogfx
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I don't know if this changes anything but the bass player came back to me with the following information to my request for what available equipment we have to work with in moving to an audio recording interface/software on my MAC to replace the Blue Snowball:

"Wow. I thought you were going to ask something tough. Well if I understand what you're looking to do, control with mix down capabilities on eight separate tracks, the answer is eight direct outs from a Mackie 1604 VLZ PRO. Any needed preamps w/ phantom power are in line, pre-mixer and we are currently utilizing 2. Two mic channels have effects in individual insert loops but can be changed over to Sub group outs if plug in effects are not available. With the addition of Chuck (sixth member/guitarist/vocalist), we'll be adding two more tracks/channels or actually one more sub group out. Then when you mike the drums it will be another sub group out."

I'm not sure that's everything (at least one amp is miked and rest are direct), but it's what he sent me . . .

seablade
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Ok pulled up the manual on that board just to confirm my memory. I didn't remember it actually had ports labeled direct outs on inputs 1-8, but in actuality those ports are post-fader, post-eq, pretty much post everything and typically not what you want for recording(Despite what Mackie says in their manual).

What you CAN do however, on any mackie board, is use one of two solutions. The first is to just insert a TS jack 1 click into the insert point, this will pull a feed that is post-trim, which you want, but pre everything else, which you also want.

Another way to do this that would be a little more flexible and sturdy, as you would be able to use it on just about any console with 1/4' unbalanced insert points(Which is most consoles in the low to mid range), is to wire up cables with TRS connectors on one end where the tip and ring are bridged together, and the Tip and Sleeve go to a TS connector on the other end. This will give you an unbalanced signal exactly as above that is pre fader, pre-eq. etc. on just about any low to mid range console, by plugging it all the way into the insert point. It won't interrupt the signal flow through the board because you are bridging the Tip and Sleeve of the connector so that it acts much like a passive split, one split going to your recorder, and one going right back into the console for no interruption of signal.

And yes with the Mackie, you already have preamps of OK quality at least, with phantom power, etc. So all you really would need would be an AudioFire12 ideally, and run one of the two solutions I mentioned above directly into it. For the channels that have processing inline for your rehearsals, this gets a bit tricker but is still possible by utilizing the DSP mixer on the AudioFire. You would run an insert cable, with the tip going into the AudioFire. Then you would route in the DSP mixer for the AudioFire so that that channel, and only that channel is going direct to one of the outputs. You would then patch from the output into your processing chain as normal, with the ring of that original insert cable being patched into the last output of the processing chain.

Yes this may be confusing to read, it is much easier to guide someone through it in person, so check with your bass player and see if he can follow it. Otherwise I have to type up a much longer post explaining signal flow and insert cables, etc. and I prefer to save my fingers if I can:)

Seablade

hierogfx
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OK . . . I have no idea what you just described (not even remotely) but my bass player might, so I'll pass the information in the thread to him and see what he says . . . i'm assuming the the end product of the solution you propose using the equipment we have will result in my having individual voice and instrument tracks in Ardour on my laptop that I can mix and modify prior to final output . . . right??? Once again, mucho appreciation for all of your time and effort in helping me out . . . the information you are providing goes way beyond my skillset and explains why a great deal of the research I did on the web left me more confused than enlightened and why I couldn't decide which piece of hardware to try . . .

Fightclub2
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Thanks for putting up with all of the guitarists questions, I'm the bass player.
I'll have to do some homework on the AudioFire12 but basically your saying I can mult a patchbay and give him pre everything (Excluding Cardiod mic's that need phantom power from preamps) and he'll have everything he needs.

seablade
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Well that is an option, but wasn't exactly what I was referring to no.

The AF12 is a 12 line level input and output device. What I was suggesting was pulling direct feeds out of your Mackie console, via the insert points, of 12 channels, and gave some possible breakdowns that would give decent results...

3 Drum Mics (Kick, Snare/Hat, Overhead is a minimal micing I use)
3 Guitar Mics
1 Bass Feed
4 Vocals
And one 'float' mic to be used as a second overhead for the drums when your sixth guy isn't there, or as a seperate HiHat Mic depending. Alternatively you could bus down the toms and send them over this.

How you would pull these direct feeds would actually be through the insert points on that console, since it really doesn't have true 'direct outs' (Despite the labeling of some of those ports). The Mackies are designed so that if you push a TS jack in part way(To the first 'click') on the insert point, you will get a direct feed without interrupting the signal to the mixer. If you push it all the way in, it will interrupt the signal to the mixer and act as a normal insert at that point. The alternative would be to use TRS jacks, with the tip and ring bridged so that when you push the cable all the way in, it just acts as a passive split on the signal and passes it back through to the mixer so that nothing really changes.

You could utilize a passive split before you even get to the mixer, but you would still need preamps, which the AF12 doesn't have, so I would lean away from this method for the sake of using what you already have to keep things as cheap as possible. If you did go this route you would need another set of preamps from somewhere(A different interface or another mixer), and you would want to only give phantom power from one of the mixers obviously.

Does that help?

Seablade

sabetorque
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does it requires special cable or wire, as well, connector type for the said audio recording interface? or is their special cable that is intended for this purpose? how about on the software side, does it have any proprietary or any 3rd party software?