a few basic questions about sound recording and hardware..

  • mikef
Posted: Sat, 06/09/2007 - 14:28
Dear 64studio folks, I am a Debian Etch user.. I read about 64studio in Linux Format. I have some general questions about using a computer to make sound recordings. The LXF article suggests that you need a special soundcard to do recording work. Only certain ones were supported with drivers. THe one in their article was a Layla3G card... But I think it also functioned as a midi interface i.e. so I could hook up my guitar synthesiser tot it and drive a software synthesiser (yes??) and make files in Rosegarden (yes??)... How good is this Layla device? I rang up M-Audio and talked to them and they said that I needed a Delta 1010 device that would function (correct me if I am wrong here) as a midi interface and a 8 channel mixer.... Is that correct? The guy said it included microphone preamps... My notion of this at a dumb level is that I could mic up a drum kit and a guitar and bass through regular amps and some vocals and send each mic signal to its own recording channel (track) and vary the gain independently on it using this device... Is this correct? At a fairly dumb level, could I create a drum track with Hydrogen and us the guitar synthesiser in bass mode to drive the creation of a bass track in Hydrogen (or Rosegarden - please help me here) to accompany the drum track? Then I could make a CD out of it and use it as a backing track to play along to with my guitar for example..... I notice that most of the software used in 64 studio is present in synaptic in Debian Etch r0..... I thought about installing it on my machine here (I have an AMD 3200 64 bit box and am running the AMD64 version of Etch. But then I began reading the LXF article in more detail and I realised that the kernel had been optimised for real time applications and so the standard 2.6.18 kernel I have in Etch is probably not going to work properly with the music software.... The Debian illuminati thought it would be trivial to stick the patches in to the existing kernel bought I have seen emails with other people's attempts to this who failed so I think I will give that one a miss thanks but no thanks... What I plan to do is to get a SATA drive and put the 64studio on it..... I am used to having more than Linux distribution on my machine. I would appreciate recommendations of the best midi interface/preamp mixer/super soundcard beastie for my machine and activities........ Your comments are appreciated. regards Michael Fothergill

Subjectivity in audio

  • saghaulor
  • 08/06/07
  • Thu, 08/09/2007 - 21:57
For all of you who are interested in what good gear is, keep this in mind. Audio is very subjective. Some people like high-fi digital production, some people like one cheap mic in a garage type sound. What you buy depends on the sound you are striving for. One thing you could do is consider bands/songs that you like the sound of, and try to find gear that was used to produce that sound. As far as studio equipment goes, a lot depends on what features you desire out of your equipment. Some people don't use midi, so there is no sense in buying an audio card with midi capabilities. Not all gear is created equally either. Really the best thing to do is to try out a lot of different gear at your local music shop. In my area we have a store called Guitar Center and you can test out the gear right there in the store. They will let you use a quiet room to compare microphones. You should buy what you like, not what someone tells you to buy. Keep in mind, sometimes you get what you pay for. Now I am in no way endorsing you to go out and buy a 3,000 dollar microphone, but I've learned that with guitars and amps, you generally get what you pay for. I broke down and bought a Gibson Les Paul and a Mesa Boogie F-30. I love my sound. I finally have the sound I've always wanted. It cost me 2,000 dollars to get that sound. That is my taste though, you may have a very different palette. If you take anything away from this, remember this, buy something because you like the way it sounds and it fits your needs, don't buy it because people tell you it's what you need. Daniel, I personally would like to thank you on behalf of the inquisitor as you have been more than helpful.

a few questions about microphones...

  • mikef
  • 06/09/07
  • Tue, 07/10/2007 - 12:16
Dear folks and Daniel, I have been reading about microphones on the internet a bit and looking at prices. I do have some microphones but they rather old now I guess. What is odd is that there seem to be fairly cheap microphones like the Shure SM57 that are regarded as being excellent and others like the Neumann U87 or whatever it is that are unbelievably expensive that are also regarded as being very good. E.g. for recording a snare drum it seems that an SM57 is first rate. Recording vocals with an SM58 is also pretty good it would seem too. But better for vocals seems to be to get a microphone with a condenser and a dynamic function in it i.e. two microphones in one and blend them together in a mix and match fasion that I think you can control to some extent if it's a fancy enough microphone. If you are recording drums you are supposed to also have overhead microphones as well to get a stereo image and I guess some surround sound or whatever it's called. These ones I think are supposed to be condenser microphones. I occured to me that if combining the sound of a dynamic microphone with a condenser one is good for vocals why not buy an SM58 and a relatively cheap condenser microphone and then use both in parallel through separate channels or even tracks and then blend the sound yourself to get the apparently better result that is claimed for the combination..... There are some of these fancy double barrelled microphones that are sold by e.g. AKG and Audio Technica that seem to be cheaper alternatives to the Neumann U87. Do you have a favourite one here. Also which microphones do you think are good for the following: Vocal Acoustic guitar Bass Drum Tom Tom Crash/Ride Cymbal Hi Hat Piano Flute Saxophone Guitar Amp Bass Guitar Amop Trumpet Harp. I have a list of suggested mics for these applications but opinion varies on different web sites. I am not going to prejudice people's responses with these recommendations. I am interested in your opinions on reasonably economic choices. Another comment about recording drums in a home studio. I have been reading web pages on this. People recommend funny things like putting mics in an adjacent room to get ambience etc. When I was a kid my pals and I recorded the drums in a glass conservatory attached to the house. This got plenty of ambience and did not sound like it had been recorded in someone's living room. We used to put a towel over the snare to get a less rattly sound out of it. We also used to stick cushions and so on i the bass drum to fix that as well. We found that with various tricks and farting around we could get a cheap drum kit to sound quite alot better. The snare always took a good 40 minutes of messing with to get it sound OK. In those days I used to think that adding electronic reverb, echos and delay type effects seemed to be a good way of altering the drum sound so that you couldn't really tell that it had been recorded e.g. in a living room. Maybe that was a dumb idea. We used to make jokes about "mineshaft recordings", with too much reverb/delays, not enough close mics and general incompetence. Hints on ways to avoid the mineshaft recording problems especially recording drums at home with not too many microphones would be appreciated. There was also a tendency to get carried away with the vocals..... Comments appreciated. Regards Michael Fothergill

Choice of audio and MIDI interface

  • Daniel
  • 05/22/07
  • Sun, 06/10/2007 - 17:21
Hi Michael, It's not strictly neccessary to have a 'studio' soundcard in order to make music, any interface supported by the ALSA (PCI, USB) or ffado (FireWire) drivers will work. Having said that, many of the 'consumer' grade soundcards are poor quality, and lack features. Many of them have hardware which can only operate at 48KHz sample rates, which is a pain if you're trying to use the Jack sound server at 44.1KHz sample rate for CD production. Also, the A/D conversion tends to be poor and the analogue noise floor is high. The Delta 1010 is a good interface, but it doesn't have mic pre-amps - you'll also need an 8-buss mixer or an 8-channel pre-amp to make the most of it. It also has MIDI I/O, which you can use with your standard MIDI gear and apps like Hydrogen and Rosegarden. You can create a system like this yourself from Debian package repositories and a little source code building, but it's a great deal easier to use 64 Studio as a starting point. I'd suggest you try our distro first, then research the various audio/MIDI interfaces available and see what meets your needs.

mixers, preamps, linux audio user list....

  • mikef
  • 06/09/07
  • Tue, 06/12/2007 - 08:26
Dear Daniel, Thank you for your response. You mentioned that I would need either an 8 buss mixer or an 8 channel preamp. I looked into this a little. It seems that there are a wide variety of different kinds of mixers. Some are analogue, some digital, some are a kind of hybrid. It seems that if you use a preamp there is some way you can do mixing in the software at the PC terminal... But people seem to prefer a physical mixer apparently. I thought an 8 way preamp might be cheaper than an 8 way mixer but the 8 way preamp made by M-Audio seems to cost about the same amount of money as the Firewire Digital Audio Interface they sell (looks like a mixer to me) called the NRV10 at £449. This seems a bit expensive to me. I found a web site on mixers written by a person called tweaky or something. Good grief... I had no idea the mixing business has become so complex. What about a cheaper mixer? I searched the web and found an Alto L-8 live mixer that costs only £114.99. It says it is 8 channel 4 mono + 2 stereo and it has a digital effects processor in it.... Would this be OK? What mixer or preamp would you recommend to go with the Delta 1010? I tried to register with the linux audio user list but it seems to have produced no reply. I used my hotmail account as my email address. I am trying to avoid clogging up this forum with dumb questions..... I will download the 64 studio iso and burn a CD or DVD for it. I think I will buy a SATA drive for it to ensure fast data transfer. On my AMD 64 machine (AMD 3200 Sempron; AM2 board)I have an integrated 5.1 channel AC97 sound card made by ADI whoever they are as far as I know. How bad is this soundcard? Can I run 64studio a little bit with it to learn about it? At the moment I only have 500 MB of RAM. Should I buy another 1GB? Your comments are appreciated. Michael Fothergill

Analogue versus digital mixers

  • Daniel
  • 05/22/07
  • Tue, 06/12/2007 - 09:09
Hello Michael, Digital mixers have their own A/D convertors, so you wouldn't need a Delta 1010 to use one. Most digital mixer users go for something like an RME card with an ADAT interface, but that's an expensive option. There's no straight answer to the digital/analogue mixer question, it's just a personal preference. It's not about the budget; many high-end setups are still based on analogue mixing. I wouldn't recommend buying a really cheap analogue mixer, they are a false economy. A good mixer to go with the Delta 1010 would be something like an 8-buss analogue mixer from Mackie or Allen & Heath. You can buy these secondhand, but watch out for reliability problems caused by a lack of maintenance - crackly pots and noisy faders, for instance. John Rigg rates the DDA D series mixers, and Ron Parker still has his Soundtracs console, but these could be harder to find parts for. A lower cost option is a Seck 1282 desk, which were popular with small studio owners in the 1980s. I've made good recordings with one of these, but as with all discontinued and obsolete mixers, condition is everything because repairs would be expensive. A replacement Seck power supply costs more than the desk is worth! There are FireWire products that combine a multichannel pre-amp and A/D conversion, such as the Presonus Firepod. The main drawback to these is that they don't offer the hands-on control of an analogue mixer, so people often combine these with a 'control surface' to provide mixer-like knobs and faders. This combination effectively turns your PC into a digital mixer, with the benefit over an analogue mixer of fader automation. (You can recall the position of motorised faders using a saved setting, rather than having to remember where you put them). I would recommend trying 64 Studio with your AC97 card and existing hard disc first. PATA drives are plenty fast enough for some tests, and 512MB RAM is enough to get started with.

I installed 64 studio...

  • mikef
  • 06/09/07
  • Wed, 06/13/2007 - 21:01
Dear Daniel, I bought myself a 250 GB SATA drive. It is fast. I have installed 64 studio on my AMD 64 box. The software titles are all there. I have a good drive and a not great sound card. I guess its a start. The software is there but I don't know what to do with it... Is there a general how to somewhere or do I read the docs on each application? By the way I found someone selling a Seck 1282 in London for £150. It had been in studio where people didn't smoke according to the guy selling it and it was in OK shape. Why do companies only sell 24 8 or 32 8 true 8 bus mixers and not e.g. a 12 8 device? Are they desperate to have a big price tag on them or is there no market for something like a 12 8 true 8 buss mixer? There are lots of much cheaper mixers that say they 8 channel in some way but not 8 buss i.e. I assume they ar not true 8 buss mixers. What do I know... I have only ever used simple mixers in my time. What can I do with what I have now? An AC 97 soundcard some relatively old but OK speakers, a sound head set I got for doing Skype with that I think might only be mono and ...... that's it I think. Suggestions welcome. I would like to create a drum backing track for the song Money by Pink Floyd. Drummers I have used in the past just can't play it to save themselves. It's in 7/8. I bought a Roland Guitar synth in the 1990s and tried to program the drum track into that but it was lousy. Real drummers are very spontaneous and can drive the band along. Computer drum tracks seem to follow rather than lead in my opinion and are somewhat hypnotic. But maybe there is a way to fight these problems with this software..... P.S. If you buy some music score can you scan it and OCR it in some exotic way and then stick the score into the software here and get it to play it? It would be fun to try it with a symphony or something to see how good it is. Regards Michael Fothergill

Caveat emptor :-)

  • Daniel
  • 05/22/07
  • Wed, 06/20/2007 - 09:47
Hello Michael, Regarding the Seck desk, unfortunately it's impossible to know if that particular one is a good choice until you've used it for a while, as I doubt you'd get any kind of warranty. Instead of the analogue desk and Delta 1010 combination, since you don't have a mixer already you might like to look at something like a Presonus Firepod, a FireWire interface with eight mic pre-amps on board. The Hydrogen drum sequencer/sampler has a Humanize control (on the right hand side of the mixer) which will insert some randomness into the playback, that might be what you're looking for. I've never tried to OCR a musical score, but you certainly can import MIDI files into Rosegarden. There are some music OCR programs for Windows, but I'm not aware of any free software or Linux-based direct equivalents. Gamera has been used for music OCR, but it's not really aimed at end users: http://ldp.library.jhu.edu/projects/gamera/ Cheers! Daniel

I got a different Seck desk......

  • mikef
  • 06/09/07
  • Fri, 07/06/2007 - 13:57
Dear Daniel, I got a Seck 1282 desk for £114 including the courier charge. It needed some repair work that they did on it and then increased the price to £149. But they forgot to change the price advertised on the web from £99 to £149. So when I rang up they agreed to sell it at the advertised price on the web. I think they have to do this under the law. I need to figure out if it is working properly. They didn't seem to send a manual. I will root around in the packaging again but I don't think there is one in there. I guess one thing I can do is to connect the power supply and turn it on and check that at least the power is working OK. I am not sure if the machine is supposed to light up in some way when you turn it on. I guess I will find out. Any checks you can think of would be appreciated. It comes with 3 months warranty apparently but if something is wrong with it I have to detect it within 7 days and I have to get it back to the shop myself (it came from Bristol and I am in Lancashire). What is phantom power? People who have used the desk say it struggles a bit with quiet vocals because of noise. Some people say that they think the equalisation is odd in some way or other. They also thought that modern mic preamps would be superior for vocals. It has loads of buttons and switches on it and it will take me a while to figure out what they all do. I guess I need to find a mic with an XLR connector on it or whatever it is to test it. I don't have a mic to hand right now but I will have in week or two. Regards Michael Fothergill

Seck manual and phantom power

  • Daniel
  • 05/22/07
  • Sat, 07/07/2007 - 01:51
Hello Michael, Reprints of the Seck 1282 manual are available from GB Audio in Edinburgh: http://www.gbaudio.co.uk/data/seck.htm I'd strongly recommend ordering one if a manual wasn't supplied with your mixer. You should be able to test the channels using a line input on a 1/4" jack, and a pair of headphones. Quiet vocals are no problem with a good mic; the input channels shouldn't be noisy if the mixer is working correctly. There's nothing wrong with the design of the EQ, it's a standard British type three-band EQ with a swept midrange. And yes, there are better mic pre-amps available (for much more money), but the ones on the 1282 are plenty good enough to get started with. Phantom power is a way of powering a condenser microphone using the microphone cable itself (i.e. no batteries). Unless you have this kind of microphone, you should leave this switch off (it's on the front of the power supply). Cheers! Daniel