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Audio Interface + Mic Pres

Discussion in 'Recording' started by lucasaudio, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. lucasaudio

    lucasaudio Active Member

    Hi all,

    Firstly, please excuse me if I do voice seemingly stupid questions. I really am starting out.

    I have already purchased a saffire pro 14 as my audio interface. If I want to increase the number of mic pres I have, I would need to buy an external mic pre unit or a small mixer. However, my saffire pro 14 only has 2 line inputs. Thus, does that mean that I can only add 2 more external mic pres to my audio interface? Also, I have a spdif input. What are the common uses of this input/output? Can I use it to connect more mic pres?

    Thanks guys for looking through my questions.

  2. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Actually have the capability of an additional 4 inputs in addition to its 2 XLR microphone inputs. Additional preamps for microphones can be plugged into the 3 & 4 line level inputs as you surmised. The SPDIF Digital Inputs are routed to inputs 5 & 6. This digital input however would require preamps that include the Sony Philips Digital Inter-Face. I'm sure there are some preamps available with that but I've not seen any? However all is not lost. Depending upon how you are recording, you could acquire an old DAT 16 bit 44.1 kHz digital audio tape recorder such as a Panasonic SV 3500/3700. You could plug an additional two microphone preamps into a deck like that. The deck would have to be placed into record mode to pass the input signal through to the SPDIF coaxial digital output and into your Sapphire. Of course he would be restricted to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz recording, which I personally find still to be quite adequate. And I've actually done just that myself. I don't mind recording a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz because that was all that was available starting back in 1983. Let's face it, higher bit depth of 24 bits and higher sample rates of 88.2/96 kHz is what a lot of people are using today. But when you really think about it, what are people still listening to in the majority of players? Well, it's 16-bit, 44.1 kHz just like a CD. While you can hear a difference between the higher bit depth and higher sample rates, it's still all mostly has to be downconverted to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. I think iTunes now offers 24-bit downloads but hey, most of that is marketing hype. If you make good recordings they will sound good even at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. And old DAT machines can be had quite inexpensively.

    Conversely, you could purchase a secondary USB audio interface such as a M-Audio, Digi Design M-Box 2 or any other similar equivalent. Those devices feature that coaxial interface. But why bother? If you have one of those devices, you could just simply print those microphone inputs to other selected tracks in your software. So it's kind of redundant to feed one of those into the Sapphire. There isn't anything extra to gain. In fact it might be more counterproductive if you want to stay within the 24-bit depth realm. Those devices can deliver 24 bits at 44.1 kHz/48 kHz sample rates. Most of the time those coaxial digital inputs are so that you can take in output from one of those old DAT recorders so that you can archive old DAT tapes into your computer through the Sapphire since most computers that have one of those coaxial digital interfaces are generally just outputs. And to archive old DAT tapes, you need something like your Sapphire in order to digitally capture those old DAT tapes into your computer. I literally have hundreds of those that I'm currently archiving myself. So my MOTU 2408 interface also features that coaxial digital input so that I can archive those to the computer.

    Hope this helps?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Hi Lucas, and welcome to the RO forums!

    You are correct that the Saffire Pro14 has two mic/line/DI inputs, two additional line inputs and a 2-channel S/PDIF input. The spec is 8 input channels, but the remaining two are loopback channels within the box, and you can't connect external hardware directly to them.

    To use microphones into the line inputs, you would need a 2-channel external pre-amp. To use the S/PDIF inputs for microphones, you would need a 2-channel external pre-amp that has an ADC (analog-to-digital converter) and an S/PDIF interface. An example of a medium-price good-quality 2-channel box that could be used for either the line inputs or the S/PDIF input is the Audient Mico, as this has both analog outputs and an S/PDIF digital output.

    Before I or any of the other regulars here regurgitate a list of possible pre-amps for you to consider, it would help to know what your budget is.

    I would strongly advise against using a mixer as a substitute for proper pre-amps in multi-track recording, although mixers do have their place in studios for things such as generating monitor mixes for the performers.
  4. lucasaudio

    lucasaudio Active Member

    Thanks to everyone for taking the time to reply.

    Ok actually I would hope to have 4 external preamps to complement my 2 built in preamps of saffire pro 14. I'm on a tight budget (student), and electronics at my country (Singapore) costs a lot more than the U.S. My budget would be, I know it's unrealistic, $200.

    Yea, I saw on another forum that people used small mixers for their preamps, like the Yamaha MG82cx, or the MW12CX. Ok, say that I use the mixers for the mic preamps, I would connect the main outs of the mixers into both of my saffire's line inputs right. Does that mean that the 4 mic pres on the mixer would only be recorded together into 2 tracks?

    p.s. I'm using it for a typical band setup.

    Thanks again.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Yes, you would have that option. For instance let's say you are recording a drum set. You take a microphone and plugged in to Channel 1 XLR of your Sapphire. Take another microphone place it on the snare drum into channel 2 XLR on your Sapphire. Take a small mixer with, say, 4-6 Inputs and place microphones on the tom-toms pan those left & right. Take another pair of microphones and place them over top of the entire drum set. Plug those into inputs 3 & 4 on your sub mixer. Take the output of that sub mixer and plug it into your line input 3 & 4 on your Sapphire.

    Then with one of those microphone preamplifiers with the coaxial digital output, put a microphone on the guitar and if that preamp has more than one input, put an additional microphone on the bass guitar or plug the bass guitar directly into the second input of that external microphone preamp. The coaxial digital output is only capable of carrying 2 channels of audio. This coaxial digital output would then be connected to the coaxial digital input on your Sapphire. Those would then show up on channels 5 & 6 with a guitar on Channel 5 and the bass guitar on Channel 6. And voilĂ ! You are ready to cut basic tracks. So that sub mixer gives you lots of extra versatility of numerous microphones that would be assigned to 2 tracks. For instance on that sub mixer for overdubs, you might have a pair or three keyboards with stereo outputs. Now while that would normally go to channels 5 & channels 6 of the Sapphire you would be able to direct those who your software to say channels 7 & 8 in the software. Of course you would have to balance those keyboards on the sub mixer. When it's time to cut a vocal, he would simply go into one of the analog preamps which is assigned to Channel 3 of the Sapphire. He would be able to direct the software to record that Channel 3 to say, Channel 9 in the software. And then you would be cooking with gas. And you would have a variety of tonal differences from the different microphone preamps on the different devices. They will not all sound exactly alike. So this truly expands your capabilities and you would be utilizing what we call a hybrid style of recording, utilizing both analog and digital equipment together. And this is the way most professionals work today. Of coarse you would have certain limitations but not many. Let's say for example those 3 stereo keyboards, you might want to lay down as 3 pairs of tracks. So you would simply plug one keyboard into the Sapphire XLR microphone combo input which will accept 1/4 inch connectors. Then the other stereo output would go into the 2 external preamps assigned to the next open track in your software timeline.

    So yeah, having 2 sub mixers running into the line inputs will certainly give you much greater capabilities and flexibility. Almost like having a larger console. And you can never have too big a console. I've even run short with the 36 inputs on my Neve. So I have a Yamaha PM 700 and a couple of the API 3124m's running into a couple of faders on the last few inputs of my Neve. Which was necessary for some of the bigger tracking jobs and live mixes for FM and TV broadcasts.

    I'm actually selling my Yamaha PM 700 and it shouldn't cost much to ship this over 100 pound console. Yeah, right...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You are not going to get much worth having for $200, especially if you have to pay significantly higher than Europe/USA prices. If you went the pre-amp route to plug into the line inputs or the S/PDIF input of the Saffire Pro 14, then for a two-channel device you have to be looking at something like the M-Audio Buddy (line outputs), Presonus Blue Tube (line outputs) or the ART USB Dual Tube (line and S/PDIF outputs), although it's unfortunate that the last two of these units have some sort of valve (tube) sonic mangler built-in. As you would expect at this price level, all of the three are not very high quality, and would be particularly troubled by the high-transient nature of drum kit miking.

    You may well do better to adopt Remy's scheme of a low-cost mixer to get the drum channels down to two tracks at time of recording, but it does mean getting the panning and level balance correct in real time rather than at mixdown.
  7. lucasaudio

    lucasaudio Active Member

    Thank you so much guys, i didn't expect such welcoming and elaborate help from others here.

    I actually have another Maudio Fast track pro shipping in. I guess when it's time to upgrade, I'll sell both my fast track pro and saffire 14 to get a saffire pro 40. That unit looks like a tank for inputs.

    Meanwhile I better discuss with my bandmates whether to get a small mixer or just make do with 2 mic pres. Thanks so much guys. This forum is such a good learning platform for an aspiring musician/engineer.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Just remember that having nice preamps is a lovely thing to experience. However, it really comes down to technique and knowledge more than anything else because it's not what you have but what you do with it that counts. A fast-track Pro has the same preamps as the M-Box. While I personally don't care much for their preamps they are in fact usable and plenty of guys have been very successful utilizing Avid's equipment. It's difficult to know what to choose before one experiences and gleans all that they can get from what they have. There is a reason why so many top engineers who made so many hits utilize API & Neve consoles and preamps. So shoot for some of those even with your existing setup. You may never look back? They are an old-school design of a transformer based device. All of the transformer less devices, regardless of who and what company they came from and regardless of who, like Rupert Neve who may have been associated with the company does not necessarily represent the same quality of sound as those earlier designs made by guys like Rupert Neve. And that's what advertising and marketing is all about, hype.

    So if you are Macintosh-based guy, you might want to consider getting something like four API's & four Neve's and an Apogee converter that has no mic preamps. That will cost you a pretty penny but you'll be making quite pretty recordings and that's a guarantee. Because of you want the best sound you have to go with the best stuff not advertising and marketing hype. If you want that sound of your favorite rock 'n roll hits, chances are, it was made on just that stuff. If you want thin, crispy, metallic like sound go for something, anything that is transformer less. Some people like to use the word " neutral " in their description of their preamps. While neutral is akin to neutered, just like your pet dog or cat. But even with those there are a lot of talented engineers have come up with beautiful products/recordings. And that only comes with knowledge and technique. So stop fighting windmills or, Don a hat of a real engineer and what they use. You really do get what you pay for in our business. If it's a bargain, it will sound like a bargain, from Taiwan. And that's where much of this stuff comes from today. The rest is marketing hype.

    I only utilize API & Neve.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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