Signal Path, Bus, Aux, Gates & Sends

Discussion in 'Affordable Recording Forum' started by itsNobi, Mar 13, 2012.

  1. itsNobi

    itsNobi

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    So, there are two major subjects thats I'm trying to wrap my brain around. In this case (as it very well may be in general) they are closely related:
    1. Signal path, especially related to FX's (pre-fade & post-fade)
    2. Using a noise-gate for optimum recording
    A little back story: we have a recording set-up. We will only be using it to record vocal via overdub. All of our instrumentation is digital, or synth; we make hip-hop & dancehall. We have a moderately quiet space in which to record, but there can sometimes be noise issues. We are ok with that. We arent trying to get a Grammy, but we do want music we can enjoy listening to; we likely wont sell anything, but we want the option.

    That being said, we have an MXL770 cardioid, a mic thing, an IO2 Express, and Adobe Audition. After trial and error with gain control (hardware & software), I've come up with a few ideas, but...well here we go:
    I want to use a noise gate to get less of the lower db ambiance recorded. I figured that this would go on an aux send pre-fade. But trying to figure out where in the signal path to place such an FX (or FX's & EQ's in general), I realized that I didnt understand enough about how a signal path works to use it correctly. I also wanted to set up a seperate mix for artist monitoring, so they have something nice to listen to as they record, but (again) where do I place the FX? on the bus? on the send? both? Pre- or Post-fade?

    For artist monitoring, Im thinking I should add a compressor to up the vocals initially, a little reverb, and add a noise gate for ambiance elimination. The real reason this becomes a bit confusing is because I figured that the major steps Im missing between setting up the studio equipment and hitting the record button is setting up levels, and organizing my DAW's workspace (by setting up some tracks, buses and sends; and creating a proper monitor mix for my artist—something I plan to make a template/preset for once i figure out everything I want/need).

    Lastly, I couldnt find a proper place for these questions:
    1. I read that any level monitoring in a DAW is effective post-fade, so if your interface lacks direct monitoring, the level is automatically set via the interface. In my case, the direct monito stopped working, so I assumed that I could just monitor everything via my DAW. Is my assumption wrong?
    2. I also want to be clear on how to set up the signal flow such that the monitoring will include FX/EQ that will not be included in the actual recording.
    I mean, Ive been an artist for a while. Im trying to take the artist hat off, and put on a brand new engineering hat. So, what I mean is, engineers arent typically starting with an empty daw, then adding each track one-at-a-time as you record. They have something they do to set up—some prep work—and get levels, and prepare something for the artist. I just dont know what all that is, yet.

    Any suggestions? Thnx in advance
  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    You are asking for an entire dissertation on how to make a recording with assorted pieces of equipment. You already have the right ideas in mind. What you don't have is any actual understanding of recording practices by way of the equipment you are using. Not everything in the software computer environment can always be handled as it is an old-fashioned old-school analog methods. Sometimes, depending upon the software utilized, you have an environment more similar to the analog workflow. In other pieces of software, you have a completely different concept, conceived by the software programmers. So that really has a lot to do with how you go about things.

    Regarding Pre & Post auxiliary/effects sends: Pre simply means that you are auxiliary/effects send is after your volume level mix fader. Where, pre means that the volume level mix fader can be completely down while that particular sound source is being fed to the auxiliary send even with the volume level mix fader down. Post simply means it is following the volume level mix fader so that if that is down, so is the auxiliary/effect send goes down if the volume level mix fader goes down and it goes up when the volume level mix fader goes up. And so that is not particularly useful when trying to feed a compressor/limiter. One can still do that however to create parallel processing with compression/limiting being mixed with the non-compressed/limited source. This is helpful when trying to maintain a more open dynamic sound. So compression and/or limiting get mixed without compression and/or limiting and instead are used together in parallel.

    So all of you what you want to do is not always 100% possible within just the software environment depending upon your software. Some allow for real-time effects monitoring without printing the real-time effects to the track. Other software simply adds it to the track you are recording which is not necessarily what you want to do. It's something we frequently had to do in the old days of analog tape recording. But then you are locked in to that. So sometimes that's where some outboard analog processing is necessary with your mixer for monitoring during overdubbing. Some computer audio interfaces now feature on board DSP chips that effectively create hardware devices within the DSP chip. Those will allow for real-time effects to be utilized for monitoring only without recording them to the track unless you want to. But most rudimentary audio computer interfaces don't provide for those features. This can become quite confusing for a lot of people which is where you are now.

    Set up and prep are done in a myriad of ways depending upon what your facility is stocked with from an equipment standpoint. It's different in each and every studio as each and every studio is designed around particular concepts. So there is no real standard one follows. Then there are also studios that feature certain pre-session setup protocols as a house standard. And that depends upon studio management and ownership. That coupled with the different recording/tracking concepts can become a patching and routing nightmare. So when one doesn't understand what their equipment can do or can't do, one reaches an impasse. So that's where home recording books and magazines can be really helpful. It's not rocket science but it is rocket science. I've designed multiple recording studios and broadcast facilities over my 40+ years in the business. I design things according to customer & Company requests. Otherwise, I design it for me and the thought of who else will be utilizing the facility. Just looking at advertisements and purchasing equipment does not make for a cohesive nor comprehensive studio design criteria. That's called willy-nilly concept design. Which is also doable but sometimes can have its limiting factors. So I can't exactly make many recommendations for you without knowing more about your total usage and equipment particulars along with software. Your assumptions are not completely wrong and they are not also completely accurate. You are both right and wrong and you are wrong and right. We cannot provide for you a full understanding of what you have until you have a full understanding of what you have. You've got stuff, that's obvious. How you go about what you do with your stuff will be incomprehensible if you don't understand your stuff. And we don't understand your stuff when you don't tell us what stuff you have. I think that covers just about everything? And now you know nothing more than what you've already asked about it except other than the possibility you think I am a smartass? And you would be correct in that assumption. Score one. So now that we've gotten beyond that, how about listing everything you have?

    Take two
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. itsNobi

    itsNobi

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    I have:
    1 Alesis IO2 express
    1 MXL770 Cardiod
    1 PC with Adobe Audition (and presumably any other DAW I'm willing to get. I will be switching to Mac in the coming months, too)
    1 Micthing
    & all the associated cables.

    We will only be using the set-up for overdubbing. No live instruments.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    OK then. Your Alesis I/O 2 express, is not capable of real-time effects monitoring. It's your basic USB audio interface with 2 XLR microphone preamps and it's perfectly 100% adequate. I love using my Adobe Audition since I go all the way back to David Johnston's Cool Edit 96 before he sold it to Adobe. It's a fabulous program and is my preferred program. But it also is not capable of real-time effects while recording/monitoring. So in your request/desires and application, you are going to need some extra outboard gear. As you've indicated, you are looking at numerous other enhancement devices. That's good. You're going to need a small mixer either analog or digital or a hybrid type which is an analog mixer that features a built-in digital computer audio interface already. But even some of those may not be capable of utilizing effects without printing those effects while you are recording. And their advertising hype can be quite deceptive and confusing. For instance, the low cost Beringer's that have built-in effects and a USB interface simply records the output of the mixer with the effects. Whereas a true digital mixer may be able to offer up the effects for monitoring while recording dry tracks and even some analog ones as well.

    So you may likely need to get yourself at least one outboard compressor/limiter and one outboard digital effects processor a.k.a. digital reverb unit. That along with a simple entry level mixer to be utilized as a monitoring device more than utilizing it as a tracking/input device. And it may be capable of doing that as well but not with any real versatility or built-in effects. So even the dirt cheap Alesis 3630 or, Beringer Auto-COM are actually quite usable. I personally prefer the dbx units I have such as the 166 which sounds damn close to my 160 XT & 165 A's. So even dbx's dirt cheap 266, which I have also used ain't bad.

    Then onward and upward to an inexpensive Alesis style Micro-verb which actually sound quite good. I started with an original Alesis MIDI-verb 1 which was great in its day and still usable today. Certainly not the best by today's standards but still 100% adequate and usable. And this would be all taken at the output of your Alesis USB computer audio interface into your micro-mixer so that you could add the compression/limiting and reverb for proper headphone monitoring. Unfortunately with that Alesis USB audio interface, if you are utilizing its microphone preamps, you will not be able to insert nor use any compressor with that Alesis USB device for recording purposes. You would need an outboard microphone preamp to feed the compressor/limiter with in order to record that. And then you would be going to the unbalanced line level/instrument input on your Alesis USB computer audio device. And you would be bypassing those microphone input/inputs. Because that Alesis USB audio interface has no insert patch to patch in anything after the microphone preamp, before the analog to digital converter.

    Not sure why you indicated your direct monitoring stopped working? This may indicate that your device has partially failed? Direct monitoring is usually a tightly incorporated design function of the computer audio interface device. So your device may have actually crapped out? Otherwise, it does not have direct pass through monitoring and your loss of function is due to operator error. The computer offers its own pass through monitoring with latency. The latency can be reduced by reducing the buffers and then the buffers need to be increased again for mixing purposes. That's a hassle and the reason why so many companies have incorporated direct pass through monitoring capabilities. If you don't have proper monitoring capabilities with your Alesis USB audio device, you are going to have to replace it as you cannot function without proper monitoring and playback functions. It's like when the power supply blows up on your mixer, all the volume controls and switches still look pretty and still work but nothing works without the power supply.

    Then once you get everything (mostly all unbalanced gear) you'll discover something completely new in your life called ground loops. Then you'll have to learn how to ground everything accordingly and correctly. And that sometimes means disconnecting grounds on audio cables since the electrical grounds are already connected at the AC power plug. But sometimes it will have to lift that ground and keep the audio grounds intact. Then comes the risk of electrocution. So you also want to have a simple voltmeter always at the ready. It's an insurance against death.

    So you are most of the way there. Wasn't that simple?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. itsNobi

    itsNobi

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    Yes. You've given me some of the simplest, most in depth info. Thank you, and I mean it. I figure I'd pose one last question, before I make make a new thread, if you wouldnt mind: If my room ambiance peaks at around -50dbs- -40dbs, and the valley of my overdub starts at around -20dbs, is that going to pose a recording issue?
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2012
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    That is basically a nearly standard background level of noise. It's really not that much different from other fine studio builds. And it shouldn't be a problem for your recordings. Stuff that is 20 DB below what you are doing will generally be inaudible. You can help it along further by utilizing some downward expansion. That too is easily done by redrawing a compressor for some downward expansion with the threshold level set just below your nominal signal source. I frequently utilize downward expansion to both clean and tighten up vocals and other instruments. Once you get the hang of it, you'll never want to go without it. It also can effectively modify the acoustics of your recording environment, electronically. Any compressor program that indicates a GUI of the compressor/limiter curve can simply have an additional marker near the bottom of that curve that has dragged slightly to the right. Then the uppermost threshold marker has to be carefully set below your normal vocal levels. Fast attack and a modest delay between 50-150 ms should be set for the release. It's quick, it's clean and does wonders.

    Try it. You'll like it.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. itsNobi

    itsNobi

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    I probably should have researched before asking, but it's late. Wouldn't a compressor with 2 thresholds markers effectively do the same thing as a noise gate? I read that using a gate would be good to clean up audio, which is why I figured (earlier) that recording with one set on the track would suite my needs
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    In essence, that's what I'm talking about. You either have to know how to draw your noise gate/downward expander down properly set the proper critical threshold levels, you'll be good to go. So with a software compressor/limiter, you can have it compress and/or limit and then downward expand or even gate. Beware though, most presets are just jumping off ties. To do it correctly, you're going to need to learn how to carefully manipulate your compression with downward expansion. Personally, I sometimes frequency weight my compression/limiting differently from my downward expansion. You can't get a single piece of software to do that however. That requires double passes. So try it out.

    Software is great ain't it?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. itsNobi

    itsNobi

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    thank you. youre a godsend
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD

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    Now this is going to get fun for you. If you have any further questions, don't hesitate to post examples and questions.

    I am expanding downwardly...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
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