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Help setting up for "broadcasting" type use

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Jumpmonkey, Jun 1, 2012.

  1. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member

    Hello all,

    Its my first post, I've learned a good bit lurking around here (and another more gear oriented site,) and decided I'd like to put my feet down here. There seem to be some real knowledgeable folks here.

    I've been accumulating a recording rig for several months now, due to time constraints I've been working with it intermittently and am starting to have more time to dedicate to the task. I'm learning as I go, but I could use some help sorting things out.

    Plans for the equipment:
    1) Recording lessons (classroom lecture type lessons, but recorded in my "vocal booth")
    2) Doing a weekday morning podcast
    3) Doing 1 on 1 (possibly 1 on 2) interviews in varied settings (hotel rooms are likely)

    1) Sound quality that will not distract from the matterial (not junk, but I'm not pandering to audiophiles)
    a) Clean signal
    b) Ability to minimalize environmental noise in untreated settings (hotel rooms and more)
    2) Ease of use, especially for the day to day recordings (I would rather process the signal while recording than spend time post production, I want post production/DAW work minimal to non-existant as possible)

    What I got:
    Mics: Shure Beta 58-A and SM7-b
    Mixer: Mackie 802-VLZ3
    Comp: ART Pro-VLA II
    Rec: Tascam DR-07MkII

    Chain (regular daily use):
    SM7-b --> Mackie 802 --> VLA --> DR-07

    My current queries and challenges:
    1) I'm looking to get a dedicated pre-amp, Now that I'm learning how to get decent levels through the chain I'm finding the pre's on the Mackie are quite noisy when bringing the gain to necessary levels. I am almost certain that the pre's are the problem. I do get increased noise in the monitors when increasing the line level, make up gain on the compressor, or changing input settings on the recorder. However, the noise increase from these settings is minimal and rather linear, the noise increase on the pre's is exponential.
    a) Is there something I'm doing wrong and these may work, but need a better engineer?
    b) Do I need to look for a proper pre-amp (Right now I am considering the ART MPAII, I hear its not a super-duper pre, but it sounds like its an acceptable quality pre which I could afford. (I'm only concerned with having two solid pre's right now, in the rare instance I need a 3rd mic, the Mackie pre's would be acceptable on that occasion [would probably be workable with some post production])

    2) For my proposed work, is it worth having an equalizer in the chain. I've been thinking of getting one, it'd be nice to have a 2 channel to tweak voices a little bit. That said, as I've lurked about here I believe I recall RemmyRAD saying it was unnecessary in a broadcasting type chain.

    3) I believe a gate would be good to own since I'll be using the setup in various venues. Even at home I have a lot of low frequency noise (I live between a busy street and a very busy highway.) I believe a gate would help me accurately scrub off some of that noise. I'm considering a DBX 1074 Quad (4 channels would let me run 2 mic's and scrub some high and low out of each signal if needed.)

    4) I'd kinda like to "edit" the Mackie out of the chain if possible. I'm thinking if I do get an appropriate pre that I might run pre--> comp --> recorder.

    Any thoughts or inputs would be greatly appreciated. I'm still new to all this and find it challenging, but quite enjoyable. I know this has been a long post, so I thank you for your time, your patience, and any advice you can share.

  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Hi and welcome!

    You haven't said whether using the Beta 58A gives the same problems as you are getting with the SM7. The SM7 is a relatively low output microphone, so it's not altogether surprising you are getting noise creeping in from the Mackie 802's pre-amps. Despite lower output compared with condensers, you are right to stick with dynamic mics if you have to perform these interviews in hotel rooms and other untreated spaces, as dyanamic mics help to reduce the problems of reflections off walls and the floor.

    How are you connecting the Mackie or ART output into the Tascam DR7? The DR7 has only a 1/8" stereo jack for unbalanced external line sources, but it has a pitifully low maximum level of -4dBV, and so you must be having to attenuate the signal if you are using that connection into the recorder.

    As for the other items you are thinking of including during recording, I'm one for not performing any processing in the chain apart from high-pass filtering to reduce traffic rumble and the like and maybe also a compressor set as a limiter simply to avoid overloading the recorder on loud coughs and other stentorian body noises.

    A good dual-channel external pre-amp that would replace the Mackie in the chain should go a long way to solving the noise problem. You'll probably get lots of different recommendations from contributers here for suitable units to fill that function, so it would help us to know what sort of budget you have for it. However, I would also look at the whole signal chain to make sure that you connect together compatible items.
  3. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    Thanks so much for your reply. I did a quick check between the 7b and 58a. I can run the 58a with the gain lower because it's more sensitive, and correspondingly lower feedback. That said, it doesn't actually change how much noise I get from the pre-amp. My ears aren't well-tuned machines (let alone in terribly good shape) but with either mic I have to dial the gain back to about -10db (straight up and down on the 802) in order to make it so I can't hear the buzz off the pre's anymore. It's a bit harder to tell at the top end because of the 58a's sensitivity, its picking up so much ambient noise at that point its hard for me to distinguish which source is causing which annoying noise.

    The Mackie is outputting to the ART then into the DR7. I'm using a 1/4" out with a 1/8" adapter on it. As far as levels. I actually had more trouble initially getting it to level low enough. I'd be getting maybe 1 or 2 LEDs on the mixer/condenser at the very loudest and the recorder would be nearly clipping out on me.

    I certainly appreciate your comments on in-chain processing, but that is what suits my usage. What do you recommend for the high-pass filtering? Would gating be appropriate for this? Or do I misunderstand the function of noise gates (entirely possible?)

    As stated I'm considering an ART Pro-MPA II dual-channel pre. I'd really like to keep the pre under $300. This is mainly because that will allow me to get it next week. (I wish to sort it quickly so that I can get my initial output up to par and start production. It has taken long enough as it is.)

    Thanks for your help,
  4. matthewfreedaudio

    matthewfreedaudio Active Member

    Good, cheap mic preamps don't exist. GOOD preamps aren't cheap. I highly doubt yhe ART preamp will be markedly better than the Mackie. In the grand scheme of mic pres neither are Good.

    Production Sound Mixing for TV, Film, and Commercials.
  5. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    I appreciate your input. I am needing at least 50db or so of clean gain. I'm getting nowhere near that right now. What if I start with a single channel pre instead of dual. Another pre can be obtained down the road. What price range/models might I be looking at? Any chance that I could get in the $500 range? I'd also like to be able to put the pre in a travel rack (it looks like a lot of the single channel pre's weren't designed to fit in a rack in the usual manner, sorry if this is a newbish statement.)

    Thank you for your time,
  6. matthewfreedaudio

    matthewfreedaudio Active Member

    Look at the Great River mic pre. I believe there is a single rack space, single channel mic pre. It's a mic pre that you'll keep forever.

    One thing I learned early on was to buy gear that I would keep forever rather than buying something I would outgrow in the near future.

    You could buy a 500 series rack and fill it up as needed and money affords.

    Production Sound Mixing for TV, Film, and Commercials.
  7. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    Thanks for the pointer, but that unit is substantially out of my price range.

    Thanks and God bless,

    EDIT: After looking at the details of 500 series equipment I'm going to give 500 as a whole a pass. It offers me more complication than benefit.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    You don't need any of that other crap. The Mackie is just fine for your purposes. Here is where the issues begin: I've always utilized downward expanders. Downward expanders as opposed to gates. Although gates are also OK, they can be problematic. Microphones popping on and off doesn't sound great. But when combined with other microphones, the popping on and off can be less noticeable. A downward expander you can set to only " gate " down 10 DB or so. A gate is like opening and then slamming a door closed. Some compressor/limiters feature a gate at the input of the compressor/limiter. Those can be used and be effective though, I like having my downward expander after my compression. And threshold levels on the downward expander are quite critical to set. But when set correctly, they not only control noise, they can reduce the sound of gasping breath noise and tighten up the overall sound. They are also effective in eliminating phase issues when two directional microphones are quite close together. I've cut thousands of commercials utilizing just that technique. It eliminates a boatload of editing and postproduction when done well. One can do this quite deftly in software after the initial recording. A downward expander combined with compression can be drawn in most average software from a GUI of a compression curve. And it frequently only requires an additional two points to create that. But what I wanted to be real-time, only hardware devices will do. So I'll utilize just about anybody's compressor/limiter and a dedicated separate downward expander. But when I don't have that luxury, I've gotten quite adequate results with DBX 166's with its built-in input gate and the single release control button set to slow. Compression of approximately 4:1 and if necessary, some peak limiting on certain voices, when required. And you don't want them set to stereo but split as independent Mono processors. And they would go on the inserts of the Mackie and then you'll have no problem with noise and other artifacts. So consider taking the advice of an old CROW like me.

    It may be interesting to note, I also utilize similar techniques with faster gating on snare drum, tom-toms, bass drums. Downward expanders on guitar amplifiers, bass guitars, keyboards. Sometimes I'll gate a room microphone on a drum set in an ambient room for further effects. It's all good. It's all fun. It's real audio engineering. And frequently, downward expanders & gates feature keying and/or sidechain capabilities where one can insert bandwidth limiting equalization that is centered on the frequencies you want most affected. This too can be accomplished in both software and hardware. Either and postproduction or in real time. And that's the way to go baby!

    You don't need expensive gear to accomplish this. What you've got is just fine with a few additional extras.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    Thank you very much for your reply. So, if I'm understanding all correctly:
    1) I still need a pre amp (the XDR2 pre's are too noisy with my SM7b.) This is muddling my brain something awful right now. Suggestions on this in the Sub $500 range would be awesome, guess I'll be getting pre's one channel at a time. Is there any chance that getting a ART Pro-MPA II and swapping tubes could get me clean gain up to 50-60db? (I have been considering a Warm Audio WA12 as well.)
    2) I need a downward expander (rather than a gate)
    3) Equalizer is a waste of money.
    4) Pre -> Comp -> Downward Expander -> Mackie -> Recorder = Yay!?

    Thanks alot!
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    You're not understanding anything I've said. The Mackie is just fine. How far away from the microphones are these folks?

    Your current limiters are just fine. You only need a couple of downward expanders. Your limiter followed by your expander will be plugged into the Mackie insert, for each microphone. The Mackie master output bus should be set at the unity gain level which is almost nearly to the top of the fader. The microphone fader channels should be set in a similar position indicated as unity gain. Before you plug in your limiters to the inserts, you'll adjust your microphone trim gain control for a nearly appropriate output level. Then and only then would you insert your compressor/limiter followed by your downward expander and returned back to the insert of the microphone channel. And then you'll have no problems with noise. I've done this for numerous clients so your gain staging may be more of an issue when not done correctly. Getting all sorts of other preamps and/or limiters is highly unnecessary. If you want a convenient microphone processor, look into some used DBX 286's. I've also equipped other clients with those. Those were quite well. PreSonus has similar items to that designed as individual microphone processors. That way all can be accomplished in real time.

    You can also utilize software and accomplish all of the above, quickly and after-the-fact. But if real time is required, you'll likely need to go the hardware route I suggested. Remember to KISS. That's the rule of thumb. For instance, guys like Howard Stern and Robin Quivers are on individual microphone processors which are patched into the line level inputs of their broadcast console. The downward expanders within these processors and the standalone devices takes care of any noise problems. That is if you've done your gain trim adjustments appropriately. It's actually a simple process.

    Equalizers are NOT a waste of money because they are already built into your mixer. You don't necessarily need the outboard equalizers unless you happen to want them for specific purposes. But then gain staging becomes even more confusing. Remember to KISS. Which has nothing to do with Gene Simmons. This process works with both talking heads/speaking and singing. If you go the route of the DBX 286's nose would get plugged into the Mackie line inputs and not the microphone inputs. But then again, you could go into the Mackie XLR microphone inputs and utilize the DBX 286 as a line level input on the insert of each microphone channel.

    If you need to utilize more microphones, you could even stick a DBX 286 into the stereo bus output, inserts. You could even get away with a single DBX 286 that way with multiple microphones. It will do exactly what you need to have done. But all you really need is just a couple of downward expanders. And those downward expanders along with your limiters could also be utilized on the stereo output bus, inserts. And then problem solved. Noise won't be an issue. But you need to tweak your gain staging before you plug any of that stuff in to begin with. That's where you're having the problems. It's not with the lower output level of the SM 7 versus the Beta 58's. This is not a factor. Not in this instance. I frequently utilize just SM58's which has similar output levels to the SM 7's. And no problems. So this is just one of a beginners error. It's OK, you're learning.

    I still utilize UA 1176's followed by KEPEX 1's.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  11. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Hi Adam,

    I've been watching this thread for a couple days without a few spare minutes to toss in my two cents. I've got a few minutes now and would like to circle back to the beginning.

    When I read the first post, the thing that jumped out at me was the Tascam is the weak link. It's perfectly good as a field recorder. But as Sir Boswell alluded to, I think the unbalanced stereo 1/8" input of the Tascam (and the mismatch of input level) might be what's taking you out at the knees. You don't specifiy whether the 1/4" cable(s) and 1/8" adapter(s) are TRS or unbalanced TS - or some combination of the two.

    You say you've had more trouble "getting it to level low enough. I'd be getting maybe 1 or 2 LEDs on the mixer/condenser at the very loudest and the recorder would be nearly clipping out on me." - And now you want a pre-amp with even more gain. I think that's only going to exacerbate the situation.

    I have an SM7B, and a half-dozen SM58 & 57s and none need any more gain than can be achieved with the stock pre-amps in my PreSonus or Soundcraft mixers. If you want the SM7B to really open up then adding an additional clean pre would make sense, but there is little point to 'opening up' a mic in a vocal booth, or a mic in a noisy environment.

    Are you monitoring the mic(s) with headphones (or good monitors) as you're setting levels, or noticing the noise in the resulting recordings?
    Are monitoring through the Mackie at the front of the chain, or the Tascam at the end of the line?
    If so, when you plug the mic(s) directly into the Mackie and solo the channel through headphones, is the noise floor already wrecked?

    The Mackie is not the quietest mixer in the world, the SM7B is a notoriously low output mic, and Tascam uses an unusual -4dB max. input level. If I were in your shoes, I'd plug the mic into the Mackie. Get a proper insert cable (a 1/4" TRS male that splits out to 2 x 1/4" TS males with a common shield) and insert the Pro VLA compressor into the mic channel. And then I'd use a Y-cable that is stereo 1/8" on one end (connected to the Tascam input) that splits out to 2 x unbalanced left/right RCA males and plug them into the "Tape Out" jacks on the Mackie. I think it would give you a lot better shot at getting your gain structure worked out. To me, the way you're doing it now is like trying to connect a garden hose to a fire hydrant and the Tascam is the bottleneck.

    Call me crazy, but still I think for spoken word you should be able to get more than adequate results with what you have. But if you're still hellbent on buying a mic pre - the PreSonus Eureka and Studio Channel (at $500 and $300 respectively) are both very decent single-channel pres with compression and 3-band EQ. As a straight-up pre-amp - the Warm Audio WA-12 (you may have seen advertised here) has piqued my interest.

    If you don't already have an insert cable, or the stereo 1/8" Y-cable - buy/beg/borrow them and see if it doesn't help before you throw down any more money on pre-amps.

    I hope that helps from the Keystone State.
  12. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    UGH! DVDhawk makes a good point. That type of recorder can be fraught with huge level mismatching. Yes, taking those RCA red and white outputs from your Mackie would be a much closer match in level than the Mackie's line level outputs. Still, the Mackie's gain structure has to be set appropriately and correctly. So you would punch the solo button for each individual microphone input. You would then trim your gain control for an appropriate level on the Mackie meter. Not too hot, not too low. The output bus level control would be set to its nominal unity gain position, still. And then you would take those RCA outputs.

    If you want a tight vocal sound without much ambient noise, you'd still want some downward expansion. It's amazing what that will do for you. Again you shouldn't need anything more than what you currently have except for a couple of downward expanders. Some gates are capable of operating in that manner. Not all however. And the sound of gates slamming microphones off is truly horrid sounding. That's why you'll want to expand down 10-15-20 DB max and not all the way down to a slamming door shut.

    It's Sunday and I want to get slammed. The Scotch is in the refrigerator. With the door closed.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  13. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member

    Remy, DVD,

    Thank you so much for your continued assistance and clarification. Sorry for my initial misunderstandings Remy! I cant respond to everything right now but, let me get a little out.

    1) I need to "webernet" search me some info on proper gain staging (right now I ain't no engineer, just a guy with a couple of pieces of equipment. This clearly needs to change.) I also need to re-find the info on inserts I had when I decided to purchase the 802, that was one of the reasons I got it, but now I can't remember how to properly work the inserts (Web should clear that up in a few minutes.)

    2) Monitoring: $70 Sennheiser Closed back's (sorry can't find and don't remember model) My "studio" is a very small space, I cant think of how I'd set up a proper monitor so that the 7b wouldn't pick it up. It was formerly jacked into the Mackie, switched it into the DR-07, I thought it made sense to monitor the final stage rather than 2nd last.

    3) Sounds like (much as I hate to admit) a lot of trouble is coming from my recorder. In the (VERY) short I only need a single good channel, but I want (in a month or so) to be able to record 2 channels synced, and would like the abillity to record 3 at once (this is more in the realm of just in case.) My desktop isn't candidate for DAW recording. My laptop is a $300 linux OS netbook that is KO'd right now...

    4) Bent on purchasing a mic pre... nope. I was simply under the impression it was necessary for a clean signal. Right now it feels like I'm getting richer just not buying a needless pre. Thanks! :D

    That's all I have time for right now. Thanks again for all your time and input, I cannot tell you how valuable it is.

  14. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member

    Good News Everybody!

    Let me say, I've torn apart firearms of all types, built a bike, and diddled with all manner of things and have been just fine without technical manuals. Sound engineering however, not so much. I had thought this would be a plug it in, turn it up, diddle with some nobs and off I go. My respect for you proper engineers has grown greatly. I apologize because some of my questions would have probably been needless if I'd realized I needed to just read the manual sooner.

    ... I downloaded and started reading the manual for the Mackie. I never read manuals, but I was surprised my the 802 didn't have one in-box when I got it. Printed out the PDF, set the gain/level according to instructions. I monitored it with headphones on the board. The levels are good and the signal is clean. The mic pre's are maxed and not blinking an eye.

    I learned how to properly use an insert. I swear I thought I had a vague clue while I was working on this. After 2 pages of simple reading in the manual, I realize I was operating the board like a chimpanzee that'd been hit in the head with a brick. I'll be buying a proper 1/4 / XLR insert cable Monday.

    I'm going to wait and see what a re-educated me can do with the setup tomorrow before quashing the DR-07 from the lineup (at least for now.)

    Lastly I'm having zero luck actually finding a physical downward expander unit.

    Thanks again for all your time and assistance. And sorry that I am just now figuring out how stupid I actually am. facepalm

    God bless,
  15. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Thank you Adam, you are doing perfectly fine.

    Here is a low-cost budget oriented device that will fit your needs quite nicely.

    Behringer MULTIGATE PRO XR4400 Quad Expander/Gate | GuitarCenter

    It's good for up to 4 sources. It's an actual downward expander that can also be utilized as a gate. This in combination with your compressor/limiter will give you that New York style, Howard Stern like audio.

    You will daisy chain this to your compressor/limiter either before or after it. I like mine after. Others like them before it. It will require a little experimentation in combination with your compressor. A compressor/limiter is easier to set than a downward expander. You don't want release times to be too fast or too slow. The setting of the threshold at which point it will operate at is the critical adjustment. You'll hear how far you want it to lower the level. As I've said, you really won't need much more than 10-15 DB of downward expansion. The compressor will smooth the levels while the expander will tighten everything up, remove lousy acoustics, prevent phase cancellation between closely spaced directional microphones. In short, it will make things sound a lot more professional and in real time. This device even relieves you of having to stick up a acoustic foam thingies and removes hollow boxy sounding room acoustics.

    The insert cable you will need is a 1/4 inch what they call " TRS ", which means, tip, ring, sleeve a.k.a. ground to 2 1/4 inch TS plugs. One being white indicating left channel the other being read indicating right channel. Now this will be a stereo cable thingy (patch cord) where the red right channel is the feeder to the compressor limiter input. The 1/4 inch TRS primary end will go into your Mackie insert Jack. The double red and white 1/4 inch TS (that means a Mono tip and sleeve or tip and ground connection) will feed the input to the compressor limiter. Then you will need another 1/4 inch TS to 1/4 inch TS cable to go from the compressor limiter to the input of the downward expander. Then that white 1/4 inch TS plug from the insert cable, will go into the output from one of the channels of the downward expander. So you will need at least two of each of those cables. 3, for three microphones, 4, for 4 microphones. And voilĂ , you'll be cooking with gas and sound like a real professional show. It won't sound like amateur hour.

    The release times will depend upon how fast your compressor/limiter's release times are set. Medium fast will generally work quite good for both your compressor limiter & downward expander. You can speed up or slow down the release times on your downward expander and listen to what it does. It will amaze you. It will sound like real audio and you will be fooling everybody into thinking you're some kind of really hip engineer. Then all of your friends will want to get one also.

    I know this is a lot to take in being relatively new at this. But having indicated all that you have accomplished before, you'll feel like a duck in the water. Quack!

    Lots of people think I'm a quack pot. Want to buy a duck? Sure you do. They are a.k.a. "ducker's". If you have any other questions just post them here or feel free to PM me.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  16. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    Thanks for the continued assistance. I now have the Mackie pretty well properly leveled (at least well enough to make it work.) The compressor is properly inserted into the chain using 1/4 TRS inserts. The Mackie is sending to the recorder via an RCA to 1/8" from the tape outs. Things are sounding (literally) better all the time. Now I just need to get the downward expander into the chain to tame some of the extraneous noise the compressor amplifies. (Just hearing it now, I imagine you are quite right Remy, it will be an impressive sounding [yet inexpensive] rig.)

    Remy, I have been thinking about the Behringer expander/gate you mentioned. I hesitate only for one reason, and that is the build quality of Behringer's equipment. I don't doubt it has sufficient function or clarity, but, I'd honestly pay another hundred or so up front for the same sound quality out of a sturdier piece. Are there any such offerings. (I really hate asking this, but I'm still having a great deal of difficulty finding downward expanders and properly differentiating them from plain-ol' gates.) I've been looking at DBX but I think their gate is just a gate, no expander.

    Thanks again!
  17. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Adam, Glad to hear that you are having more success in closer gain matching and your overall improved performance. That a boy!

    I wouldn't hesitate on the Behringer. Those particular units are actually quite robust. Their mixers, which are built similarly to your Mackie were a little more problematic when it came to repair issues. That was because, like Mackie, they were built up as groups of 8 input blocks. A friend of mine has one of their 6 input combination mixer/amplifier for quite a few years now, which I've utilized for her amplification and recording purposes which has done her quite well. I was also impressed by its versatility & sound. The issues most people had problems with were there larger mixers. So if something went wrong, i.e. broken switch, broken volume control, you would have to take out the entire block of 8 inputs in order to fix a single channel. I used some of their multiple compressor units and was quite impressed with how well they worked and lasted.The ones we utilized at Commonwealth Public Broadcasting in Virginia were tossed around quite a bit and survived quite well without problems. I also used their feedback controllers and was equally impressed with how well they function and lasted. They make a great bang for the buck. So if you're not tossing them around a lot and things are not hitting controls to break them off, you should have much success and joy in using them. So, go get one of them thar things and find out how much better your real-time productions will sound. I think you will be equally impressed and even more thrilled. Wait till you hear what it can do for you. You'll be like " OMG! This is fabulous! ".

    Expanding your future as a real audio engineer.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  18. Jumpmonkey

    Jumpmonkey Active Member


    Thanks for the further input on the XR4400. It'll travel, but not more than 3 times a year is my guess. I try not to be hard on my gear while I travel. Guess the order for the Behringer will go in today.

    Again, many thanks,

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