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Simple solution needed

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Todzilla, Jan 27, 2004.

  1. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    I am a home studio guy and the CIO for my local county government. At work, our Board of Commissioners wants to upgrade their system for recording meetings for transcription at a later date.

    A vendor is offering some turnkey system with a handful of sm58s, some preamps with autocompressors and a digital recorder. I don't know the specifics yet, but they're looking at several thousand bucks.

    I have been pulled in recently and my inclination is to put together a system myself. Here are the requirements:

    1) Ability to digitally record for up to 8 hours without media change

    2) fidelity is not a big concern, enough for clarity.

    3) Digital format easily transferable to mp3 formats

    4) Playback device with foot controlled pausability.

    Any thoughts?
  2. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    To keep it very simple the fewer mics the better. My first thought is either a Hi-Fi VCR or a DAT recorder and a couple of PZM microphones. Adding a small mixer and more mics if necessary. You can get 8-hours out of the VCR, but not on the DAT recorder. Use pause with the remote for each one. If you go with a PC or laptop thing, I would think that your asking for more trouble than your prepared to have to deal with. I'd worry about getting the meeting recorded first than dumping into something that can convert to MP3.
  3. Bill Park

    Bill Park Guest

    The fact that they are recommending 58s for such a job indicates to me that they have no business bidding on this job. What is it, the local music store?

    Look for an A/V contractor/installer. These guys do that kind of work, and would at least have speced mics that are typical in that portion of the industry. Your local hotels and/or convention center can lead you to the right people, if the yellow pages don't.

    If I was specxing to meet your requirements, the equipment list would probably include an automatic mic mixer with priority and presidential over-rides. These days I would likely record to removable hard drives, and probably 2 drives at once, for redundancy. And I would likely be recording either in mono or 2 track mono, and probably using MP3.

    If you NEED a foot control (and I understand the paradigm...) you can have one, but it will cost you. Meanwhile, if the transcriptor is using a PC for input of the typed text, and it is the same PC that is playing back the sound file, then a couple of mouse clicks could stop the playback. (Yes, it will take them some time to get used to the new system.) You could even have a dedicated key mapped to start and stop the playback.

  4. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    It's an outfit that has more or less cornered the market in transcription technologies. I agree that they aren't exactly pushing the envelope.

    However, the one thing they are promising is an integrated solution that is simple to use.

    From that point of view, any thing I spec out has to be very simple to operate.

    The transcriber is used to an antiquated cassette based system, where one pushes play, then steps on a foot pedal to pause or rewind. Anything I spec out has to be that simple. Mouse clicks will be perceived to be a bigger hassle than familiar foot-pedalling.

    Stunning sound quality from Neuman U-47s through a Manley Voxbox into Lucid converters won't thrill these folks like straightforward implementation.
  5. Bill Park

    Bill Park Guest

    " one pushes play, then steps on a foot pedal to pause or rewind. Anything I spec out has to be that simple. Mouse clicks will be perceived to be a bigger hassle than familiar foot-pedalling."

    Like I said, I understand the paradigm. But at the same time, you want 8 hours of record time. You can very simply get 8 hours of record time on any MP3 shareware recorder software on a PC with a reasonably big hard drive at little expense, using a crappy sound card. Add to it removable drives (via hot swap drive bays, or via USB or firewire external drive holders.)and you can take the drives away very day, store them, and tranbscribe them at will from a different PC at a different location.

    But the transcriber is going to have to learn how to stop the playback of the waveform, and back up the cursor and restart.

    Yes, you can get fancier. Why?

    So it seems to me that you need a real front end as I described above with the correct mics and mixer, feeding the PC with MP3 recording software. The front end can cost you just about any amount of money, from cheap to expensive... you've given us no parameters. But the recording system and playback system are cheap.

  6. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    I appreciate your input and it certainly makes sense. Sorry if I haven't given more parameters.

    I believe the vendor is looking at high-end 4 figures ($8000+) for what I consider to be a brain dead system that offers little more than long record time and simple operation. I am trying to learn more about this kind-of lo-fi approach to recording, so I can be conversant when I meet with the vendor next week.

    I'm looking at the possibility of:

    • <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">A modest PC with modest soundcard
    • <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Six decent mics
    • <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">an automated mixer with priority override ducking and adjustable compression
    • <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">Transcription software, that supports downwards to 8KHz recording and pausing.
    • <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif">a USB compatible foot controller for pausing rewind
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Helvetica, sans-serif"> I'm hoping such a system could be configured for far less than $8K and be done with a fair amount of simplicity.

    Whaddya think?
  7. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    Hope you don't get in hot water as having a conflict of interest... also if something goes wrong you will be blamed- I would look around for alternatives from other contractors- you having audio experience would make you an ideal watchdog. Don't become an scapegoat~
  8. Kent L T

    Kent L T Active Member

    Just get them to swap the sm58s out for some crown PZMs (They are probably the best mic for that purpose. Just mount them on 4 x 4 plexiglass suspended from the ceiling above the table) It would probably ruffle the least amount of feathers. I would also be carefull about the conflict of interest thing. Many local leaders in my area are in very hot water because of things like that.
  9. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member

    Kent and Tiger,

    Your admonishments are well taken. I guess it's good to understand the lo-fi needs mostly to pressure the vendor or vendors, rather than to step in the flaming bag on my doorstep.

    The one great thing these vendors offer is blame-deflection.

  10. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    :) Todd, I have built these. How big is the commission, and how many podiums and breakout inputs will you need? Will there be video played? Will there be monitors at each station? These can be handled with mic on/off switch that allows house on at that station, or mic on speaker mute to prevent feedback. I bet for the quote you get from the isultants, I could include video.

    If you use a digital format, don't rely on DVD, or even CDR. One glitch, and the disk is screwed. VHS tape based formats are best as suggested, and, in bulk, are not too bad for gvmnt. bids. There are many other conserations.

    Start first with a good house sound, speakers and amps, some hard wired micing at the dias, some wireless capability. Small condensor mics on thin goose necks work great. You may also need some speaker routing to other rooms.

    A few strategic cam locations with pan tilts, or lock downs can give video, also will allow powerpoint and overhead presentations to be archived along with the rest (maybe a TVator) type converter for direct video to switcher. Also with the channel 3/4 rf out of a good HI-FI VCR's will give you 2 channels of distribution within the chambers. Line mic mixers, and a line video (vertical input switcher) will handle your a/v control needs.

    Nothing wrong with a mackie 16 or 24/4 here, MX vidionics mixer for video, these have many routing features for feeds if you want to go that route. Something like this with video, could be done for less than 15k, with your own labor. That includes video monitors. The house can use standard TV's.

    As said before, if this archive is critical, analog VHS hi-fi/normal combined audio tracking is reliable. Given what I recieve in post, in regards to DVD, it's about 60/40 playable with respect to commercial made DVD's. That's why I shy away from that media...Tape based digital is more reliable, if you feel digital is a must, for audio only.

    I have never seen a vendor come in under a custom install. If you got the ability, you can do a better job, for far less, maximizing your resources.


    Edit Note: I am sorry Todd, for creating a monster, I re-read my response to you, and realized I got carried away. I didn't mean to confuse you. These things grow with need. Before you know it, an upgrade is in the works.


    [ January 30, 2004, 04:54 AM: Message edited by: Rick Hammang ]
  11. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    Thanks for your response!

    The initial requirements are modest, although I would be wise to consider the inevitable scope creep over time.

    5 commissioners
    1 podium mic

    This much will not change, barring a change in county constitutional law, which ain't likely to happen given the hegemony the Democrats have in power in this little piece of North Carolina (it's the county in which Chapel Hill sits, the college town of UNC)

    There will not be monitors (neither video or audio) at each station. I intend to keep any public address capabilities completely separate from the recording-for-transcription needs. That way I can optimize mics, auto mixer for recording. We do not want to have any audio engineer involved at each meeting (that would end up being me, and during hoops season, unthinkable!)

    I should also mention that, for now, portability is critical. The Commissioners meet in at least three different locations, on a regular basis, and sporadically in other locations.

    My priorities are:

    1) Reliability
    2) Simplicity of setup and operation

    I'm thinking of a laptop, a modest soundcard, digital audio recording software (I've even found some that's specifically for transcription and has a very spartan interface), an automixer, some PZM type mics and a snake.

    Am I oversimplifying?
  12. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    :) Go Tar Heals! I am just worried about the reliablity of what you record to. There is cassette w/bi directional recording getting you 90 min. a tape, VHS/HI-FI, or not HI-FI, getting you 6 hours at slp. Then there is MD getting you 140 min mono per disk. If the computer locks up, at least you have some form of back-up. Just need to have someone change media. If you do use vhs tapes, provide some kind of stable video to the input. Some will generate their own, most do not. We are a large organization, we still do not use, or trust, at this point, digital media in the form of CD-R, HD, or DVD audio for guaranteed results for long meetings where the board minutes person is soley dependent on recordings. We will always have other forms of back-up.

  13. Todzilla

    Todzilla Active Member


    We currently use bi-directional cassettes in a dual-well system that I'm told cuts over from one tape to the other after the first tape is full, front and back.

    Using 90 min. tapes, this gets us 3 hours before fumbling with new media.

    I'm hoping for a stable solution that won't require any kind of baby-sitting in the middle of a long socratic discussion. I know hard disk recording can do that at low-fi resolutions. However, we'd need to ensure the technology would not leave us in the lurch with a disc crash or power glitch. That's my only reservation with HD.

    What about writing to a memory card? Those things seem pretty bullet proof these days and are sporting 256 MB of storage, enough for 8 hours @ 8kHz?

    As for the tarheels, this Dukie will revel in their demise at the able hands of my sweet Blue Devils on Thursday night. ;)
  14. realdynamix

    realdynamix Well-Known Member

    :) hee hee, well I asked my wife, Duke 82 thru 86, "If you were in the county of Chapel Hill what would be your flavor?" She said "UNC?...Tar heels!", mmm..so now it's GO DUKE! For real Too, I didn't want to offend anyone :D . She saw Michael Jordan play Duke in her freshman year.

    What ever you decide to use, double up at first, if possible, just to get to the point where you feel confident. With the HD, make sure all screen saver, services like maintenance wizard, scheduled tasks and power management are shut down, or set NEVER for continued operation. Bare bones operation, so nothing stops an operation once started. Oh, and a decent UPS. Once it's on the HD, where will it go from there, direct transcription, or archived on disk? I never had any problems with the little sticks, the USB ones are cool! I call them keychain drives. A limiter is a must for 8 bit. Some kind of monitor (meter) for the Chair, or minutes person, just to tell if someone is not speaking into the mic etc. As long as everything is heard, should be fine.


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