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Audio Interfaces, Preamps, and Mixers. I NEED ANSWERS!

Discussion in 'Converters / Interfaces' started by JohnCellar, Nov 17, 2011.

  1. JohnCellar

    JohnCellar Active Member

    Okay, so I'm sort of a newbie to recording. I have a background in live sound, and understand the basics and more. But as I begin to slowly assemble a "studio" of sorts, I've come across a question that I, regardless of hours worth of research, still cannot draw a clear answer to.

    I'd like to know the best setup using a mixer, rack preamp, and audio interface. Do the mics run to the preamp, then mixer, then interface, then computer? Or does the mixer output to the preamp, then the interface, then the computer? Or does it matter? How are full-scale studios setup?

    It might be a stupid question, but I'm just lost.
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    "Best" is a loaded question. What the general population is doing now:

    Mic(s) > micpre(s)> converter(s)> interface (ADC = analog-to-digital-converter)> DAW (digital audio workstation) and anything beyond this is specialized. see hybrid and OTB (out-of-the-box) summing and mixing

    Depending if you need or are using a mixer, you may or may not bypass the need for outboard preamps because the mixer would have mic-pres in it.

    Most people are not using hardware mixers anymore. The mixing is done (ITB = in-the-box) inside your computer as part of the DAW software. There are many different DAW programs available. Some are simple and some are very complex. Some are for looping music and some are more like a traditional console. Some are a bit of both.
    If you use a hardware mixer these days, it better be exceptional to out perform a DAW. Using an external mixer is costly and may or may not improve your sound. This is also called hybrid. Hybrid DAW system fall into the "specialized" category.

    Welcome to the world of Pro Audio.
  3. JohnCellar

    JohnCellar Active Member

    Okay, that makes sense. Thanks a lot!
  4. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Before wondering what sort of gear to buy, go back a step and ask: what sort of recording? Recording can take several forms, from capturing the individual tracks of what is otherwise a live performance or a gig with an audience, through a recording session with all the performers playing and interacting, to individual players laying down one track at a time under studio acoustic conditions. Your familiarity with live sound will probably mean that you know the first of these well, but it may not be apparent that for studio recordings, a completely different set of equipment is used from that on a stage. OK, there is some overlap when it comes to mic stands, cables and maybe microphones such as Shure SM57s and SM58s, but surprisingly little else. audiokid has pointed out that live sound mixers are not usually employed in studios at this level, except maybe for generating headphone mixes.

    You need to address the question of whether you are aiming to be computer-based or not in your studio. If the anser is yes, you will need an audio interface for the computer with enough channels (or expansion capability for enough) for your anticipated usage. You will also need a collection of studio microphones, headphones (with headphone amplifiers) and good monitoring loudspeakers. Above all, you will need good acoustic environments in which to record and monitor, and this generally means at least applying acoustic treatment to existing rooms.

    The most common signal routing, as audiokid has suggested, is microphone(s) -> pre-amplifier -> computer interface -> software package (DAW). Often, the pre-amps and computer interface are combined in one unit. For monitoring and replay, the computer interface will also have outputs that you take to either powered monitors or to power amplifiers driving un-powered monitors.

    For non-computer based setups, you need a method of capturing the multiple tracks while replaying others. This could be a dedicated hard-disk recorder or even a multitrack tape machine. After the tracking phase, you would use a mixdown mixer (analog or digital) to a 2-track recording device (which could be a computer) for capturing the mix.
  5. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Hey, a lot of the successful groups & Rich guys are still producing their latest releases on virtually all analog equipment. The Foo Fighters made it a big publicity deal to emphasize that their latest release WAS ALL ANALOG. And it wasn't even new analog equipment but crummy +30-year-old stuff. And who would want that? I'm not saying that you should consider this yourself because it is certainly not sensibly budgeted. So we get to play with computers, have fun, make some awesome recordings with them. When it comes to recording, generally, the closer we can get to a straight wire, the better. In my studio, beautiful Neve console, out of the 3115's (Mic preamp/EQ module) directly into the multitrack recorder. Sometimes, I'll send it to the additional I/O module and then into the multitrack. Doing it that way, gives me a little more color from the 2 additional transformers and being able to play around with gain staging with some built-in saturation. So there is no regular way of doing anything like this. It also depends if I walk my live 2 track stereo mix to be derived from looping out from the multitrack recorder or directly through the console. It's whatever the job calls for. Just like PA but no feedback! Happy day! So in most of my recording situations, I'm not only tracking to 24/48 track digital recorders, I'm also simultaneously creating what basically sounds like a full mix down, with all of the junk patched into everything in the control room for the live broadcast and/or video truck reference mix feed. All in real time. Sometimes no rehearsals and certainly no retakes. So you really haven't left the PA business but you certainly have spared your back. Tally ho!

    Goody another one of us
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  6. tintala

    tintala Active Member

    I have been wondering if I should add a mic preamp if I already use a digital audio interface, which uses mic preamps as well. Should someone use an analog micpreamp with a digital interface?
  7. GZsound

    GZsound Active Member

    Nearly every microphone preamp available today is "analog". Those preamps with digital interfaces simply have converters after the preamp.

    So the answer to your question is yes and no.. "Should" someone use an analog preamp with a digital interface? Only if they want the mic signal to go to the digital interface. The correct answer is that you "must" use a mic preamp if you want the mic signal to go to the interface. And as I said, I don't know of any digital microphone preamps.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Digital Equipment today is still a bit of a misnomer. That's because, the only thing that truly is a digital is the Digital recorder/computer. (Except for my true digital microphone that I've been trying to develop for 10 years and whose patent was just issued to someone else, with my conceptual design) CDs are another case in point. Those are just digital storage devices. Even digital microphones available today with USB & professional digital outputs are still analog microphones going into an analog to digital converter so that it can talk to the computer. The audio in the computer is handled in the digital realm but again it is converted back to analog before it is output. For instance, all speakers are also still analog even if they are fed by digital amplifiers or class D. Speakers do not spew forth numbers but vibrations which is analog. We don't hear numbers but rather numbers that resemble sound. So the definition of digital can be a squiggly one. But I guess I digress on your actual question.

    Taking your microphone into your preamp and then into your computer digital audio interface is the most straight wire approach to recording. And, whereas some computer audio interfaces have built in microphone preamps, it is sometimes still okay to feed that microphone preamp from a better boutique style microphone preamp if you happen to like the sound of that said preamp. However in those situations, you must pad down your preamp's output or pad down your computer audio interfaces microphone input. Many of these inexpensive microphone preamps which are transformer less on computer audio interfaces are merely nothing more then a high gain, balanced input mostly line level circuitry device input operating at higher gain. Many of these XLR combo inputs which also accept 1/4 inch male connectors for DI purposes would be the most likely candidate to plug an external boutique microphone preamp into even if they are unbalanced. That's because a guitar output, generally outputs a higher output level than a typical dynamic microphone would. So the DI input usually doesn't operate at as high a gain as the XLR connector does. But even still, I have run the line level inputs with pads into my Neve microphone inputs without any problems since my gain trim has the pads built in. Most of my work is of a live recording/broadcast nature and there is no problem feeding line level sources into properly designed microphone inputs. If the microphone input is not properly designed an external pad may be required. These can be easily obtained from suppliers already built such as SHURE, of which I have numerous versions of. Some pad down 50 DB others pad down 30-20 DB with selector switches on the XLR barrel and voilĂ . You're only going to feed your computer audio interface from your console when you need to have multiple input sources going to a single track to record. Coming out of the mix bus of your console, again, if you are feeding a computer audio interface that only is equipped with XLR microphone inputs you'll need that in-line pad & you'll be golden. That's really the long and short of it. You're already there.

    I'm the make it happen guy/girl
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. spiritgear

    spiritgear Active Member


    I know very little about recording.

    I'm trying to set up a system to record vocals and do podcasting.

    Currently I'm looking at using an Audiotechnica AT2020.
    I would prefer to use the XLR version.

    What would be a good preamp/usb interface for around 50~?

  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I just received A RODE Podcaster and its better than I expected. I'm actually blown away on how cool USB mics are, at least this one. I underestimated them. Plugs directly into the Mac ( haven't tried it on my PC yet but I'm sure its just as impressive) and you start recording. So simple. Definitely well made, sounds great and ideal for what its designed for, Podcasting. If you have the budget, 2 thumbs up on this one.

    If you only have $50 for an interface, I have know idea what to recommend, that is a skinny budget.
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    BLUE along with MXL & I believe some others, offer a XLR microphone input to USB output barrel for around $50 US. This allows you to utilize any analog XLR output microphone you want without the need for a fully integrated USB or FireWire interface. These gizmos will save you two thirds the price of a cheap interface. Of course they also come with their own limitations such as not being particularly high in definition i.e. 16 bit 44.1 kHz may be all that you can expect from one of these. No matter, I still record tracks at 16 bit 44.1 kHz. And you really don't need more than that unless somebody is handing you a 30-$50,000 contract. Sure, everybody talks about higher definition but if you're mixing chops are not up to the task, you're only highly defining inaccuracies which doesn't equate to better recordings at all. Unfortunately with these types of barrel USB pod cast style interfaces, there may be no monitoring that doesn't include a tiny bit of latency (time delay in monitoring). For most spoken word use, that tiny latency creates a tiny echo in your headphones. For talking heads, this generally isn't too much of a problem but for music, synchronicity would not be tight. Although I think it would be interesting to see if one could plug-in up to 8 podcast style USB microphones into a USB hub for 16 bit/44.1 kHz capture? Generally, most of these items do not want to see or work through a hub. Perhaps some may but I'm not sure what the synchronization would be like? I'm certainly not going to bother to try this.

    I had a podcast when I broke my left wrist as a kid. So I'm not particularly fond of podcasts.
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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