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Best way to create a AIFF file from an analog mix?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by joez, Feb 1, 2011.

  1. joez

    joez Active Member

    I have a home studio where I record our rock group onto 8-track 1/2" tape. We intend to have a vinyl single pressed of some of our songs. It seems that most mastering companies will want AIFF files to start with. So my question is how to produce the best AIFF from my analog mix.

    I have an Apple iMac with garageband. In the past I've plugged the RCA outputs from my Mackey mixer through an adapter into the iMac's 1/8" audio input, sending my 2-channel mix into Garageband. Then I tell Garageband to "share" the now digital 2-channel mix with iTunes, thus creating an MP3 or AIFF file. However, I'm wondering if there's a better way to create the AIFF file resulting in the least amount of audio degradation / compression...etc.

    For example, is it better to use any of the following: 1/4" outputs from the mixer, a standalone analog-to-digital converter, ProTools or some other audio software?

    thanks for any help!
  2. bicasaur

    bicasaur Active Member

    The ticket here is the stand-alone analog to digital converter. Most purpose built converters are pretty good nowadays, but the converters in your computers soundcard are to be avoided at all costs if your file is to be sent to mastering. The software you use to capture the file makes no difference; unless you tweak the audio once it's captured, the software won't alter the data the converter passes in. On really high end pieces of equipment it will usually be better to use the balanced 1/4" jacks than the unbalanced outputs, though on a Mackie mixer you might not notice any real quality difference. A nice converter will almost certainly like the balanced signal better though.

    Mastering places will be able to use a WAV or AIFF file equally well; as I understand it, both are raw uncompressed audio data, WAV as the windows standard and AIFF as the mac standard but pretty much the same thing. Mastering places also generally prefer the sample rate and bit depth to be encoded as high as possible.
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    If your intention is a decent vinyl single and not just rubbish audio on YouTube, I don't think the route of mixing on a Mackie then capturing using Garageband is going to do you any favours.

    I would seriously consider finding a mixing/mastering studio that has a 1/2" tape machine and sit down and mix it there using pro-quality mixing gear. This would be followed by either leaving the 2-track mix for them to master or sending it off to a separate mastering house experienced in mastering for vinyl.

    After the success of the single, you and the others in the band can evaluate the options for acquiring the equipment and environment needed to make good recordings and mixes of your playing.
  4. joez

    joez Active Member

    Thanks bicasaur and Boswell for the info, very useful. Sounds like I definitely need to use a stand-alone analog to digital converter. I do have access to an MBox 2. Would that be good enough? If yes, I'm assuming that we would take balanced 1/4" outputs from the Mackie into the 1/4" Line (TRS) jacks on the MBox2.

    Re: Boswell's suggestion to mix down in a pro studio, money is our obstacle here. We're a live sounding band w/ electric guitar, keys, drums, bass and don't mind a little grit (for lack of a better term) in our final product. What I'm most concerned about is having things not sound too digitally compressed and also not losing any EQ range. My 1/2" tape machine has already limited me in the latter category, so I want to retain what EQ range there is.
  5. bicasaur

    bicasaur Active Member

    I'm a little wary of the Mbox for this purpose. I'm sure the converters are fine if not stellar, but to my knowledge there's no way to bypass the preamps and go straight to the converters. Those preamps will get no love from the folks around here, mostly because they don't bring anything to the sound, but then they probably won't do much to your signal for that same reason. Regardless, the Mbox will be MUCH better than your soundcards converters.

    I agree with Boswell here; I almost mentioned the Mackie board in my first post. I would recommend getting a really nice converter for this, or taking your project to a studio that has one... and since you've already gone to someone with nice converters you can use, you could also mix through their board...
  6. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    I'm going to second Boswell's suggestion of finding a studio. SF has about 1.2 bazillion studios in and around the bay area. Not all of them charge George Massenburg rates. First off, digital doesn't compress at all unless you have compressed it via a plugin or you compressed too much on the way into the mix. EQ "range" is going to be a function again of what you have dialed in as it goes to the converters.

    As to your personal tape machine, back when they were used every day in studios, they went through a daily maintenance and alignment routine. And those were the professional models. Consumer models needed every bit if not more maintenance and were just not as consistent even so. It's small wonder it's not doing it for you.
  7. joez

    joez Active Member

    Thanks again. I'm learning a lot here. If I were to go into another studio and use their 1/2" tape machine, wouldn't I have tape-head alignment issues? I have to say the reels on my Tascam haven't been calibrated in forever and who knows if the tape is laying over the heads the way it should. Maybe I'm way off here, but couldn't my tape sound worse on another machine if there are misalignment issues? For example, I've noticed with cassette tape players that a cassette always sounds best when played on the machine that it was recorded on.
  8. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    You would go to a studio and record it over again. If your tapes are exhibiting eq, brittle sound, bleed through, issues et alia; then they aren't good enough right off the bat. Most studios don't own tape machines anymore because they don't want to maintain them. There are tape simulators if you really have to have "tape" which I'm not all that convinced of. UAD seems to have some quite nice ones.

    For future info, you should align and clean and bias your heads every time you record and every time you mix. Also, many times a studio might only use every other track and then bounce tracks down before adding additional. This was partially to prevent bleed. Of course back in the day, there wasn't the luxury of endless track count.
  9. joez

    joez Active Member

    I do demagnetize and clean the heads fairly often, but I'll start aligning and biasing as well. thanks, sounds like I need to do some maintenance research!

    Regarding what Bicasur wrote re: the Mbox preamps not bringing anything to the sound, couldn't that be a good thing since I'm just using the Mbox to perform the analog to digital conversion as sonically accurate as possible? Or do you think the Mbox preamps might actually alter (in a bad way) the sound of the mixes?
  10. bicasaur

    bicasaur Active Member

    You hit it right on, I think. Hopefully the flavorless, lifeless, stale preamps of the Mbox will just pass the sound to the converters with a minimum of alteration. Some really colorful Neve/API or tube pres would almost certainly alter the sound more than the Mbox, though most of us think that's a good thing with those pres.

    So yes, Mbox should be pretty neutral. Hopefully.
  11. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    That's not my experience, although I remember the original Mbox 1 (with Focusrite-designed pre-amps) gave acceptable results at moderate gains. The Mbox line inputs are better, so the OP should be able to get satisfactory audio quality when connected to his Mackie main L/R outputs.

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