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Building a Mobile Rig

I'm looking into branching out into doing more mobile recordings, both to help w/ the overhead at the studio and because I have had more demand for it.

Here are a few criteria:

1. Primary use will be for recording school bands/choirs/orchestras. Mainly stereo pair, though I am willing to explore other methods.

2. I will need the ability to do multi-track up to 16 channels. It's a pain w/ all the mics, stands, and cables, but this is where the demand exists.

3. I will need a new interface or recording device. Due to recent problems w/ my RME's firewire card, it's not leaving the studio rack anymore. I'm also highly unlikely to unrack my better preamps, so the device must provide a minimum of 8 channels of pres.

4. My new laptop, to my chagrin, has no firewire port. It's a powerful audio machine, but only has USB and eSata connectivity. This plays heavily into #3.

5. Budget is undetermined. I already have all the mics and accessories I need, I am mainly interested in interface/preamps.

So, I am looking at three options, really:

A) A USB interface that provides 8 channels of preamps and the option for ADAT in
B) A firewire interface and some sort of Firewire/USB hub
C) HD recorder and multi-channel preamp

I'm not asking anyone to do my homework. I do want your opinions on devices that meet my criteria and (likely) fall under the three options above.
In the end, I'd like to go the route of (C), but the money spent on the new laptop (I needed one anyways, and thought I'd build it to handle multi-track recording/mixing) dictates I also examine other options.

I am asking you to help me get a better handle on the options out there, at which point I'm ready to run with that and do the grunt work to make the right decisions for me.


Boswell Fri, 06/10/2011 - 05:17
I worked up my live recording rig to be a pair of Alesis HD24XRs fed by various pre-amps chosen for the particular task in hand and also a simple monitoring mixer on the outputs. That combination been pretty stable and has given great results over the last 6-7 years. Twice in that time I have been tempted or pressurized into recording on to laptop computers, and both times have been unsatisfactory. However, things may be different these days, and when my HD24XRs start to become unreliable, I may well consider going that route.

I would avoid USB altogether, especially a FireWire-USB converter. In due course, it is likely that there will be high-quality interfaces using Thunderbolt technology for interfacing, but we are not there yet, and, sadly, it does not help you with your new laptop.

I still think the HD24XR is a option you should consider seriously. You would need something like Vipower USB cradles for transferring the recorded tracks to your laptop by using HDTools software. Unfortunately, HD24XRs, IDE (PATA) drives and the Vipower IDE caddies are either on their way out or no longer in production, but there is a thriving second-hand market due to people migrating to computer-based operation.

The alternative to look at is the JoeCo Black Box, which has the advantage that the (external) drives are formatted in a way that computers can read directly. You would still need the bank of pre-amps in front.

soapfloats Fri, 06/10/2011 - 22:05
Thanks Bos - I've looked into both of these units.

Let me add a little more info regarding the school recordings:

A fella I used to work for did a lot of these. His set up was an SP 828 (I think), fed into two HD recorders for redundancy. Stereo pair in the auditorium, as you would expect. And a pair of headphones and small monitors. The nice thing was both the HDs could burn to CD, so as the students/director were heading off stage to breakdown, he would burn a CD to hand to the director that night for purposes of critiquing the performance. As the parents filed out, he turned the monitors around to play back the best song or two from the night, and take orders for the CD (which he would polish up afterwards).

Being able to do something like this is my #1 priority.
I guess what I am actually looking for is an interface that has 8 channels of mic preamps, at least two pairs of analog outs (to feed the HDs and monitors) ADAT capability, and firewire/usb so I can take the simpler school setup and use it for multi-tracking rock bands by utilizing the extra pres / ADAT / computer connectivity.

I figure w/ the 8 preamps in the interface and the option to add 8 more via an ADAT unit I already own, I can minimize the amount of new units I need to buy.

I'd still utilize the HDs in the same manner in this case, to provide a preview stereo sample of the tracks for the bands.

So here is my revised list:

Interface as described above
2x HD recorders
Total budget hoping to be $2000 or under.

Hope that helps clarify things.

(FWIW - I haven't written off the Alesis HDs yet. I would like to do more multitrack/live mix at some point, and these in conjunction w/ something like an A&H firewire board would seem to do the trick on a much bigger scale. At this point though, I'm trying to get running quickly and cheaply for next school year whilst keeping the option to lug the same small, simple rig to smaller venues to record rock shows.)

dvdhawk Sat, 06/11/2011 - 07:52
I recently added a PreSonus StudioLive to the arsenal, it might be worth looking into -but it would require buying a laptop with firewire compatibility.

Much like Sgt. Redundancy (TheJackAttack) I like having a back-up (or two - or three). So I can record up to 24 tracks from the analog direct outs of the mixer to an Alesis HD24, while simultaneously capturing 24 tracks via firewire into a laptop.

Of course the redundant system is optional, so you could just do one method or the other.

As far as other options I've seen that are very appealing, the [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]JoeCo[/]="…"]JoeCo[/] concept looks interesting. They record straight to any external drive, which you can just plug into your DAW system when you get home. No importing or file jockeying required.

soapfloats Mon, 06/13/2011 - 22:47
I'm returning the Dell laptop, w/ much anger and words to say - it appears Dell does not make any laptop w/ firewire capabilities.
I'll have to find a suitable replacement - so ignore the USB issue.

Right now the JoeCo and Alesis units are out of my budget. Right now.

I figure an interface that allows for ADAT and analog out could be integrated into the studio setup to alleviate my analog out issues for headphone mix outputs.
And would also allow me to easily pull it out of the rack and get started w/ the mobile work - be it school sessions or rock sessions. All I really need for school sessions are the preamps. (And the HD units, which would be a nice addition regardless). The firewire and ADAT are more for the rock band setup.

TheJackAttack Mon, 06/13/2011 - 23:21
With all consumer manus, firewire is crap. I use three different Dell laptops but all with SiiG Express Card adapters for 1394b. I also do clean installs of Win7. I record with Reaper at 32bit 88.2k and HD24xr as redundant/primary backup. I don't feel the JoeCo meets my needs though I wish otherwise. Both my HD24XR's were purchased used at great prices. Both function flawlessly.

Boswell Tue, 06/14/2011 - 04:38
Have you considered the new RME FireFace UFX? It can record directly to a USB memory stick or USB drive. The UFX has 4 mic pre-amp channels, 8 line inputs and two ADAT ports (16 chans at 44.1/48K). There are a similar number of analog outs.

By setting up the TotalMix internal router/mixer you could get an additional real-time mix to stereo for burning to CD.

BTW, the RME UFX has both USB and FireWire host interfaces - might widen the choice for a replacement laptop.

Noddy Youtube [[url=http://[/URL]="…"]video[/]="…"]video[/] on UFX stand-alone operation.

MadMax Tue, 06/14/2011 - 13:52
Low channel counts to high channel counts... it don't matter. Gimme a standalone dumb box and decent monitoring over anything on a lappy or box based system for remote.

Been running the HD24's for several years w/o any glitches.

JoeCo's look good and might be my next upgrade.

Might want to look at the Tascam box as well...


soapfloats Fri, 06/24/2011 - 22:30

I decided to scrap the laptop approach. That arose from a desire to have something available for live multi-track ASAP.
Plus, it turns out nobody but Mac seems to make laptops w/ firewire connections anymore.

@ Bos: I currently have the FF800, and love it. Had some issues w/ the firewire card, so now neither the unit or the cable gets moved anymore. Ever.

With that, I think the Alesis HDs are the winner. I'll have to pick up an external CD recorder for the schools, but those are relatively cheap.
Maybe preamps as well. But if budget doesn't allow, I suppose I can pull the ones from the rack @ the studio.
Not keen on that (pulling out and reconnecting all those cables every time), but also not keen on purchasing preamps that aren't great and won't stay in the studio.

Thanks to everyone for the input - and for steering me in the right direction.
That Alesis box will also help solve the issue I have w/ lack of analog outs on the RME unit in studio.

dvdhawk Fri, 06/24/2011 - 23:15
Because today's session wasn't a live performance situation, I decided to forego the redundant recorder - and recorded 9 hours StudioLive > MacBook Pro via Firewire. Not the slightest hiccup all day. But having the HD24 is still a solid investment, I prefer it for tracking a live performance where there are no do-overs. I do need to upgrade to the XR version someday, but like the rest of the pack I've been really happy with mine.

anonymous Mon, 10/22/2012 - 09:42
Hello Soapfloats,

You might take a look at MOTU ([[url=http://[/URL]="…"] - 896mk3 Overview[/]="…"] - 896mk3 Overview[/]) for the 896MK3. It can connect to both firewire and USB and has 8 microphone preamps or line inputs (your selection). I have used the MOTU products on firewire on a laptop for years and have nad very few problems (that I didn't create myself). I have been recording local artists at our local library for the past four years with great results. Have fun!

Hal Swinhart
hp ZD7000 laptop
MOTU 896HD (x3)
MOTU Ultralite
many studio microphones
Having fun with 32 tracks in OKC


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