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Ultra-Portable Recording Gear Suggestions

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Gooddoogles, Jun 6, 2004.

  1. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    Greetings, all.

    What would you recommend? I would like to make professional quality demos of myself singing and playing either guitar or piano. I might want to overdub a few harmonies or other instruments, but 4 tracks would probably be enough with bouncing (8 tracks would certainly be enough). I'm looking for an ultra-portable solution. My ideal setup would be something I could easily carry places on the subway: a portable recording device (probably hard-drive based), a pair of headphones, a pair of condensor mics, and mic stands and cables.

    I need suggestions for the recording device: Does anyone have any experience with the following, or any other devices:
    -Roland VS-880EX
    -Roland VS-890
    -Boss BR-1600CD
    -Boss BR-1180
    -Tascam 788 Digital PortaStudio
    -Fostex MR-8
    -Fostex VF80

    I'd rather not, but I could use my laptop computer as part of the recording rig (I have a fast computer with a large HD; I teach computer science so I'm tech savvy). If I did this, what would be my options? I heard somewhere that I could get some kind of firewire device to record to my laptop, but I'm sceptical that even firewire could meet the throughput requirements.

    Finally, I'd love some microphone suggestions. I'm a lyric baritone. Lately, I've been singing from the "Great American Songbook" (Gershwin, Porter, etc.). Sometimes, when I'm in the mood I cover rock artists such as Elvis Costello or Randy Newman. I primarily accompany myself on a 1930 Baldwin 6' grand piano. Sometimes I play a Martin acoustic or a stratocaster through a Mesa/Boogie amp. Currently, I own a SM-57, which I suppose I'll contine to use to mic the Mesa/Boogie. I'd like two quality condensor mics for my voice (#1) and my acoustic instrument, either piano or guitar (#2). The mics should be similar enough that I could use them as a stereo rig for capturing a live performance.

    Sorry for the long post. I hope some of you might give me some suggestions.


    P.S. You can hear some of my stuff here:
  2. djui5

    djui5 Guest

    get the lexicon firewire device and track to your lap-top...
  3. stark

    stark Guest

    You'll need to get someone else's advice on the mics, but I can really recommend the Akai DPS range (if it's not still available, they go frequently on eBay). I bought the DPS 16 for mobile recording: it's built like a tank and so simple my grandmother would have no problems using it. The interface is great, you get a fader for each channel (not actually that common in the machines you mention) and it has decent on-board FX (esp Akai timestretchers!). The only downside is that the pre-amps can be quite noisy for low-level signals, but this hasn't actually proved a problem for me so far...
  4. lorenzo gerace

    lorenzo gerace Active Member


    IMO you are better off getting a firewire box like the Digidesign Mbox and hook it up to your laptop (provided it's compatible, check http://www.Digidesign.com for specs, at the DUC page).
    That way you'll get a self contained portable system with integrated software for recording editing and Mixing (Pro Tools LE), monitoring section with 0 latency, 2 built in decent quality preamps to hook microphones to.
    That box is specifically designed to be used in portable, musician friendly situations, you don't have a lot to set up, just a pair of cables and a headphone.
    The power and configuration of your laptop (Mac or PC) are important though to get a good performance; firewire is not an issue, as it's more than adequate for today's needs in HD recording.
    If you are computer savvy you shouldn't have any troubles in setting up the software and the laptop configuartion; the possibilities offered by such a small portable system sre IMO far better and more than one of those workstation that are close architecture and apart for a few models really don't sound that good (at least those I stumbled upon), and in the end are PCs too inside...

    Microphones: for your guitar/amp the 57 is fine, though you may want to get a condenser and try some double miking on the amp.
    I like my Blue Baby Bottle, crips and detailed on guitars.
    On vocals you may want to get a Large Dia condenser (the Blue is fine too) maybe a tube one, the classics are Neumanns, AKG, etc..if you want to stay within a budget check out some mics by Audio Technica, Rode (NTK or K2 for the tube, NT1000 or 2000 for solid state), ADK (getting great reviews), some great infos on this very site (do a search) about this new CAD tube mic.
    For ac guitar I like small dia condensers (again AT are among my favorites, like the 3031, or Rode NT5) on piano I found my pair of AT4040 to be killer.
    Don't forget to try any mic you choose for your voice, don't buy without trying it first.

    Hope this helps

  5. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    Thanks for all the advice!

    How about the MOTU 828mkII?

    Also, I checked out the Lexicon Omega and the Digidesign MBox. Both seem to be USB devices. I only have USB 1.1 on my laptop, so I'm worried that I might not have enough throughput for digital audio recording. A quick back-of the envelope calculation would be --

    44100 samples per second
    24 bits per sample
    1058400 bps
    about 1 Mbps for one track of uncompressed 24-bit audio. This does not include error-checking and other USB overhead that might add to the figure.

    I think the USB 1.1 spec is 12 Mbps, so it would seem your could record/play as many as 4 audio tracks at a time, but I'm not sure. When dealing with hardware rates, there are a lot of factors. The actual capacity under working conditions usually is lower than the theoretical rated capacity.

    Firewire is rated at 100-400 Mbps, so it would seem that you could easily record and play a dozen tracks or so at a time.

    Anyone have practical experience with these throughput issues?

    Thanks again,
  6. Ellegaard

    Ellegaard Active Member

    Yep, MBox isn't a firewire unit, but it's still fast enough with only two inputs. The thing is just that USB isn't really capable of providing more than four inputs or so - for that, faster connections like firewire or USB2 is needed.

    I myself use an M-Audio FireWire 410, and I'm completely satisfied with that. It gives me a perfect portable studio when used in conjunction with my Dell laptop, and I rarely need more than two inputs at a time.

    I suggest you pick the soundcard that has the inputs and features you need. If you need more than two at a time, then DigiDesign 002 or the MOTU might be a good option - otherwise I can recommend FireWire 410, and the MBox also looks really cool.
  7. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    I would recommend the Digidesign 002rack (can support up to 16 simultaneous inputs via firewire) with your laptop- it will give you 4 decent preamps, as well as 4 additional analog ins if you want to hook up keys, or line level inputs...whatever you want. It also has ADAT in, which gives it more expansion capabilites than the mbox. I have one and it suits me very well. Pro Tools is also my primary DAW choice for recording audio: easy to use and the learning curve is very light.

    mic wise...if you want to stay cheap I would suggest the Studio Projects line. You could get a pair of c1 (or c3 with multiple patterns) condensers for 400 bucks, which would tackle guitar and piano quite well...not to mention vocals. In my opinion (I demo'd two c3's and have a pair of c4 condensers on the way) the studio projects mics are way better than anything else on the low end (MXL, even low-end Rode mics). Just ask Kurt Foster...he'll tell you.

    My experience with little portable multi-track studios (the list you mentioned in the original post) has been terrible. I would strongly suiggest against one- they are usually poor quality as well as fairly unexpandable.
  8. mcguin

    mcguin Guest

    Once again - i have to kick this into the ring - KORG D16 - used will cost less than $600 - records 8 tracks simultaneous @16 bit and 4 tracks at 24 bit, plays back 16 tracks at a time, ok effects for what it is, saves files to cdr as wav files, is lightweight and actually sounds not bad - also can do 2 tracks digital via spdif trereby bypassing the converters and pres

  9. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    I don't know about the other boxes but I had a roland vs880 at one time and I thought it sounded squashed- My friend also had a vs1680 and it was the same-

    As to mics, I am currently very happy with a rode K2- (bout $700) an NT1 for about $200 is also a good buy per personal experience- Of course i like a Neumann U87 as well but that's a lot more money...

    i use the motu 828mkii with Digital performer and it works good for me. I don't know how it is on PC, though.
  10. pmolsonmus

    pmolsonmus Well-Known Member

    You haven't specified your budget, but this is the set up I'm using for recording live concerts off premises- classical/jazz/ choral/vocal, etc.. and it kicks!

    DIGI002r - firewire to your laptop w/ external firewire hard drive OR
    Rack mount dual processor G4/G5 or a Rack Mount PC - build it yourself or have someone who knows what they're doing build it to Digi's specs per the DUC. - get a flat screen that will collapse into a padded rack drawer.
    Designated audio hard drive.
    A nice clean single space rack pre. I'm using a 4 channel Sytek for classical but there are others that work great. The Seb 4000 is more than single space but you'd love the results.
    Put it all in a rolling rack (luggage type) and it will hold your cables and a power strip, and maybe even your mics.
    Speaking of mics, I'd second the notion on the AKGs, the Studio Projects and the Rodes. All great options, but because you'd likely record vocals and piano at the same time, you may want to consider some Crown PZM's to tape to the lid of your grand. They work great and minimize bleed w/ the vocal mic because the lid is down.
    Wheel it home, plug in a set of Yamaha MP5s to the back of the OO2r and you're ready to mix.

    I just finished an 18 piece big band w/ this set up and a mackie mixer for rhythm section and I'm really pleased w/ the results - so is the band director!

  11. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    Thanks again to everyone who has replied so far!

    As for budget, I guess I'd like to get the recorder and 2 mics for $1000 more or less.

  12. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    Let me sharpen and divide the earlier question. Let's say I have $600-800 to spend on a recording device (including any necessary software).

    1) What would be the ideal device if my minimum requirements are
    -at least 2 xlr inputs
    -at least 4 tracks
    -ability to overdub/bounce
    -headphone jack
    and my goal is to maximize sound quality.

    2) What would be the ideal device if my minimum requirements are
    -at least 4 xlr inputs
    -at least 8 tracks
    -ability to overdub/bounce
    -headphone jack
    -built-in compressor and reverb (for monitoring)
    and, again, my goal is to maximize sound quality.

    I guess I should also mention that I have a Dell laptop with an 80GB hard drive, so recording to it would not be a problem. I would prefer not to have to carry it along with the digital recording device, but I will do so if it will allow me to make significantly better recordings.

    I do not have an outboard preamp. At this point I have a Shure SM57 and an E/V dynamic mic.

  13. Bhennies

    Bhennies Guest

    mbox and 2 studio projects c1's and OWC external firewire HD. 800 bucks.

    That will give you 2 focusrite pres, SPDIF in, and 32 track sessions.
  14. lorenzo gerace

    lorenzo gerace Active Member

    Originally posted by Gooddoogles:

    1) Mbox

    2) 002Rack or Motu 828

    I hate to sound boring but as I said above and as others have stressed I'd stay away from those all in one workstations; you are way better off with one of these portable devices; if you need no more than 4 tracks at a time the Mbox with the USB of your Laptop will be more than enough. For the 002Rack or Motu 828 you'll have to upgrade to a firewire connection though.
    Those are devices designed and engineered to be portable and simple to hook up, ready to record sketch demos and basics for songs when you're out of the studio, but still need to have something clean and usable from your recorded tracks.

    I think you'll be happy with those and don't need anything else apart a pair of decent mics; the Mbox goes for $450, that leaves you half your budget available for mics.

    A few other great solutions have been pointed out above, but I think they are beyond your needs as far as portability and simplicity is concerned (I have a mobile rig too with preamps, rackmount mixer and dedicated HD recorder in a shock rack, but it's not the think you are looking for), if you just want to keep it simple I think devices like the Mbox or similar are the way to go. If you think you need something more and you want to leave an open door for future expansion then the 002Rack or 828 are what I'll suggest.

    Hope this helps.

  15. maintiger

    maintiger Well-Known Member

    The advantage of the motu 828 mkii is that you can have up to 20 inputs so there is room for expansion- the inputs break down this way:
    2 with built in preamps (decent but not great)
    8 1/4"- (you'll need 8 ch of preamps)
    2 with the spdif option (you'll need 2 preamps and a external AD like a rosetta 2 ch)
    8 more ch via adat sync- you'll need an 8 ch AD converter plus 8 more ch of preamps - this can be very expensive, though- the cheapest I've seen is a behringer 8 ch preamps with AD converters for about $200+ My friend brought it over and its certainly ok sounding but not great. Cheap enough if you need 8 more ch of inputs on a pinch-
  16. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    For those who might be following my quest, I made my first purchase, an AT4033/CL mic for $399. I tried it at the local Guitar Center against a $499 Rode mic and a $599 Groove Tubes mic. The salesman tracked me on all three mics singing a loud passage followed by a very quiet passage. I had him flip between them without telling me which mic was which. The Rode was clearly inferior. The Groove Tubes had a little more low end, but the AT sounded more even with my baritone voice.

    The salesman said that, for micing a grand piano, I might want to use the mic I just bought for the low end and buy a small-diaphragm condensor mic for the high end. I used to have two PZMs (Radio Shack elements that I rewired). I sold them at a yard sale, but now I wish I still had them. Perhaps I'll make up two more.

    I'm leaning toward picking up the MBox, but I'm going to think a little more about it and see if anyone else something to add.

    Thanks again for everyone's input. This is a great forum!

  17. Gooddoogles

    Gooddoogles Active Member

    Just to let you guys know, based upon your advice and additional research, I finally decided to get the Digidesign Mbox. I'm very impressed with the sound quality and the software that came with it (Pro Tools LE). I'm concerned, however, that I might not have enough inputs. I would like to record myself singing and playing piano and it's been suggested that I use more than one mic on the piano.

    On the other hand, I was looking for something simple and very portable, and the Mbox certainly meets those criteria. I'm primarily going to use it to record song demos, and perhaps performance demos to get gigs. For those purposes I suppose I can live with one mic on the piano.

    After having an analog home studio with a medium-sized mixing board, multitrack reel-to-reel, and a few outboard effects, I love the portability of the Mbox. It's easy to carry around in a backpack with my notebook computer and microphones. The hardest thing to carry are mic stands.

    Thanks for all your tips!


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