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general questions on mixers, interfaces, preamps

Discussion in 'Converters & Interfaces' started by nanok66, Jul 11, 2006.

  1. nanok66

    nanok66 Guest

    Hi all, I'm in the process of getting the big picture together of what I would need for a home studio. I'm sure you all get this type of question all the time so I tried to break it down and give you specifics of what I'm asking. I would like to have the ability to record live, and still edit afterward, none of that one-track-at-a-time crap. So my first question is why isn't it common to use an audio interface to simply plug all mics and instruments into? Most interfaces have a max of 8 inputs....and if I am miking a drumset that would be nearly the only thing possible using just the interface.

    So I guess the more common way (still using an interface) is to have a multi channel preamp to consolidate all the drums into one analog line, correct?

    Ok if thats correct doesn't that preamp consolidation business take away the ability to eq each drum mic post recording?

    And my next question was going to be why not just have a mixer (cause they can have the preamps built in) and screw the whole preamp/interface combo? Just plug the analog mixer into your soundcard and viola - live recording. My answer would be because you again lose the ability to edit each channel post recording.

    In a nutshell (im sure you techies could find a thousand errors) is this about right?

    Thanks to anyone who takes the time to read this and gimme some advice!!
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    A lot of confusion here.

    Firstly, you are presumably talking about multitrack recording, where each sound source (microphone, DI etc) has its own channel, and you record the raw channel signal and alter the amount of signal, equalisation, compression and pan position when mixing down the multitrack to a stereo pair. Each channel needs a preamp of some sort. Whether this is part of a mixer or audio interface, or is a boutique preamp, is up to the user. Note that microphone signals cannot be combined before the preamp.

    Multitrack recorders that are of any useful quality fall into three groups:

    1) Multitrack hard disk recorder

    2) Multichannel computer interface, usually connected via FireWire and using the computer's hard disk for storage

    3) Multitrack analog tape

    You would normally be looking at 24 channels with each of these. You mix down by replaying the recorded data either into an external mixer or "in the box", i.e. using software in a computer. This process can be purely analog, purely digital or a mixture of both.

    It is possible to perform partial mixing at record time, for example, the set of microphones capturing the drums might be mixed down to a stereo pair and then only those two tracks recorded. However, unless you are really stuck for channels, it's better to have the flexibility of the raw channels available at mixdown.

    So 24 channels of preamps, a 24-track hard disk recorder and a workstation capable of handling all that is going to set you back big money.

    To lower the cost, you could consider:

    a) multichannel preamps with built-in firewire interface, recording to the computer hard disk

    b) an external digital mixer (eg Yamaha 01V96) having its own microphone preamps and a digital (ADAT) output to either a computer or hard disk recorder. You could then replay through the mixer for mixdown.

    Note that I have only spoken about signal paths, and not much about quality. Which particular makes and types of equipment for each function is a function of budget and personal preference, but is the subject of a great deal of discussion in other threads.
  3. MadTiger3000

    MadTiger3000 Active Member

    Nov 16, 2004
    In your spirited mini-diatribe against multi-track recording (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Paul), you are continually making a strong case for it.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Sep 26, 2005
    You have basically 2 popular methods of recording and mixing these days.

    You can choose to keep everything close in, within the computer realm.

    Or, as you surmised, choose a mixer that you might intend to use for both recording and sound reinforcement purposes, simultaneously or individually. For your recording purposes, choose something like the Alesis HD24, that is a computerlike hard disk dedicated recorder that works much like an analog recorder. Use disk drive can be removed after you have completed your recording and then be transferred conveniently into a computer's hard drive for mixing if you want to keep it in the box? Otherwise, you can pass it through the mixer again and mixed in the analog realm today another type of 2 track digital recorder or CD burner?

    It's a real smorgasbord out there and you really have to know, specifically how you want to manipulate your equipment and how versatile you need it to be. Otherwise you will end up with a boatload of similar but redundant stuff and waste a lot of money in the process.

    So if I were you, I would purchase something like the Mackie Onyx series of mixers that would provide you with more than enough inputs along with more than enough direct outputs and throw in some FireWire connectivity for good measure. Then I would purchase an Alesis HD 24 to plug into the direct outputs of the Mackie mixer. Why would you want to do that when it has FireWire connectivity where all you need is a laptop computer as the multi-track record or? Because I still don't trust computers for live tracking. The HD 24 is a dedicated unit that rarely crashes or stumbles. Then a decent laptop with a large external hard drive could also be used instead of the HD 24 if you like the added excitement of the additional risk? Otherwise, why would you want to record anything if you don't know what you're doing?

    Hopefully you won't have as much trouble making up your mind when it comes time to elect a new president? Or am I talking too much Bushit here?
    Ms. Remy Ann David
  5. nanok66

    nanok66 Guest

    Hey guys thanks for understanding here, the fact that there are a million ways to setup a studio is exactly what overwhelms and confuses me. Your advice is clearing things up tho. So the line of how things would go might look like:

    instruments/mics --> Mixer --> HD24-esque device --> computer w/Cubase

    I think I was missing something big that I didn't even know - I was thinking that the signal coming out of a mixer would have all the channels merged into one signal - which would result in not being able to mess with eq of individual channels after the live recording is done.....but is that what the recording outs are for?

    I am specifically referring to this image of the mackie onyx 1620 mixer :


    where in the back view in the bottom righthand corner there is a 20something pin "recording outs" output....is that where the individual channels could be preserved?

    Also where are these direct outs?

    With my lack of experience, when you say direct outs I think each channel has a direct out.....but looking again at the mackie1620 picture where are the outs that go into the HD24?

    Thanks again for clearing things up.
  6. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    On the Onyx 1620 range of mixers, Mackie have called them "recording outs", but they're the ones you need. Unfortunately, you will need a special loom to go off to the HD24, but they are available.

    An alternative is to use the "channel inserts" as outputs, again using specially-wired cables to avoid muting the channels.
  7. nanok66

    nanok66 Guest

    Ok so a mixer doesn't have to mix down the channels to one track/analog signal if you dont want it to? It can keep them separated?
  8. Boswell

    Boswell Distinguished Moderator Resource Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    It does both. By taking the "recording outs" you are tapping the signals out of each channel after the preamps and before they are equalised and mixed.

    When you play back, the signals from the recorder go in through the line ins, and then you can equalise, compress, mix, add effects as often as you like, but the raw signals will be the same as if you were doing it live. That's the beauty of multitrack recording. Additionally, you can lay down extra tracks, but then it's not a record of what happened at the live event.
  9. nanok66

    nanok66 Guest

    Ok with some further research into the mixer could I really just skip the harddisk recorder as long as I trust my computer to do the rest? Cause basically I do like the idea of being able to rely on my gear, but 1200 into a recorder that I dont entirely need is a bit much to start out with.
  10. hueseph

    hueseph Distinguished Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    If you want to skip the hard disk recorder altogether, you will need the firewire option which is another $400.00 I think. This is of course, strictly for Mackie Onyx mixers. Alesis and Yamaha also have Mixer/Interface in one units.

    In regards to whether or not a mixer mixes the signals or not is up to you. Whether or not it mixes to two tracks in your daw depends on whether or not the mixer is capable of acting as a multichannel interface or not. Most standard mixers will only allow you to send two channels to your standard SB or AC97 sound card.

    If you wanted to use a standard mixer with channel inserts, you would need an interface/soundcard with multiple ins and outs. That is more than two (ie: Left and right) ins and outs. How you hooked it up would be another issue. If you had inserts you could wire it so that the mixer would work "in line". That isyou could both use the preamps to send the signal to the interface as well as receive signal back from the interface on the same channel to monitor through the mixer. On the other hand you could also send through any auxilliary outs on the mixer and set up your monitoring directly from your line 1 and 2 out to an amp or active monitors.

    The cool thing about wiring a mixer "in line" would be that you could record and monitor through as many channels as your mixer has, so long as your interface also supports that many i/o.

    I could be totally "mixing" things up here. Pardon the pun. So, make sure you add a good heaping teaspoonful of salt to what I say. If I'm way off base, I'm sure someone will be along to correct me.

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