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Assistance with basic set up

Discussion in 'Microphones (live or studio)' started by ILOVESOUND, Dec 12, 2003.



    I'm looking to purchase a sound card but don't really know much about how they work in terms of I/O, midi, # of tracks, and AD DA.

    I have yet to record more than 2 trks at a time but would like a soundcard that could record at least 4 if/when necessary (I would not need more than 4).

    My thinking is to get a high end 2 channel ADC, DAC, and Mic pre (all separate). I'll be using Cubase, or Motu, or whatever I decide on, so for now, the software effects will suffice for eq, compression, etc. Also in terms of midi, I'd like for example to have the ability to use sample tank controlled by my midi keyboard.

    So...what kind (not brand) of soundcard to I need? And, more importantly, how do I configure it so I can track and monitor? I've worked with the all-in-ones (Motu hardware) where you can just hook up the monitors and plug in and play. I'm not as clear on how monitoring works with separate sound cards and DAC. Maybe I'm thinking it's more complex than it is.

    Thanks ~


    (p.s. I'm not really looking for product names at this time - more of an understanding to how these components work together with a computer DAW)


    Oh come on...someone help out an old fuddy duddy step into the new age of digital recording:) You'll feel good about your self, really :)

  3. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

    There are a whole range of sound cards that can do what you want. I like my RME HDSP Digiface.

    I suggest you go to the RME website at

    But there are manufactures that are much more "high end" than RME, so it depends what you're looking to buy.

    If you're going to go Mac or PC may make a difference. What I would do is look around for people doing the kind of recordings that you want and see what they use. I ended up going with a custom built computer from one of the companies that advertise here (ADK) and everything worked like a charm.

    I'm also not sure what you're looking to record, at one point you mention wanting to record up to four tracks at a time, but then why get a 2 channel AD/DA? Also, you should always prepare for "expansion" and if you're recording four tracks at once you could easily go to 8 with out batting an eye. Look around the RME site or at ADK and see what other sound cards there do. Then check the various discussion groups for people that are actually getting stuff done with the gear.
  4. mjones4th

    mjones4th Active Member

    Aug 15, 2003
    Its simple. a soundcard must have digital I/O to accomplish what you want.

    If you get a high quality 2 channel ADC to do the bulk of your recording, then you will run your mic into your high quality mic pre, into the ADC. The ADC then goes into the digital input of your soundcard. The soundcard will then send this signal to any of a number of places, namely the computer recording application you choose or directly to the soundcard's output for direct monitoring (or even both)

    Depending on your setup, you should be able to record while monitoring, with software effects, etc.

    This will be your gold channel.

    Now, you state a desire to record at least 4 channels simultaneously. That means that your same soundcard must also have a second set of analog inputs, which feed its on-board ADC. So now you're no longer talking a simple two channel card, but four or more channels.

    You will them hook your synth, guitar, etc. into this stereo input. And you will be able to record both sources simultaneously. However, you may notice a delay on the gold channel signal when compared with this second recording channel, just because of the simple fact that it has a longer path to go through to get to the soundcard.

    But the issue I have is, if you spend all this money on a gold channel, why would you want to bypass it and go directly into the soundcard? Unless there is a need to capture a 'live' four track performance, such as a singer playing stereo-miked piano simultaneously, then you can record your tracks one (mono or stereo) track at a time, to get the highest fidelity. So you would want your high quality mic pre to also be a reputable DI (direct input - this will get the best results when you hook a synth or guitar directly into it, as opposed to running it directly into your soundcard).

    Lastly, the DAC will be hooked into the digital out of your soundcard. You will then hook your high quality monitors into your DAC and select this channel as the main output for your recording app to use.

    That's it, in theory, the application of this is much more involved.

    The MIDI is another concern. You will need a MIDI interface. Some soundcards have one built in. The higher quality soundcards don't. The flavor of the month is USB MIDI interfaces. Hook this up to your computer, hook your controller's MIDI ports (input and output) to the soundcard, configure the drivers, and configure your recording app to send this MIDI data to SampleTank.

    Any questions?



  6. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

  7. mjones4th

    mjones4th Active Member

    Aug 15, 2003
    Almost. But its the other way around. If your card has 4 analog inputs then you don't need an ADC, you just plug your source directly into the soundcard. (Of course this may not always get optimal results in terms of sound quality, but that's secondary at the moment.)

    If you are recording synths on those inputs, you won't need a mic pre, but you may want to use a DI (direct input - you can think of that in the same light as a mic pre for instruments, sort of.) But the concept is the same, plug it directly into the soundcard.

    If you are recording condenser mics, then you will need one mic pre for each mic, which will correspond to one soundcard channel, each.

    However, as stated, you may want a better quality of sound. The converters you use will have a big effect on the quality of your digitally recorded tracks (as will the mics and mic pres and cables and DI, etc... and most importantly, the room). the converters built into most affordable soundcards are of a lower level. And hence you may choose to buy a soundcard with, say, 8 digital inputs and an external 8 channel analog to digital converter and 8 channel mic pre/DI. Of course, some soundcards, like the M-Audio Omni Studio, have all of these elements built into one package, but you lose sound quality to convenience.

    When I was speaking of gold channel, what I was referring to is the common practice whereby small home/project studio owners will invest their meager funds into one high quality stereo recording path. They may have 8 or more inputs on their soundcard, but they have one stereo pair (consisting of a mic pre/DI and an ADC) that will give them the best results when recording a signal. Of course this only works when you record one track at a time, such as if you track the bass guitar, then the lead guitar, then the lead synth then the..... one at a time.

    Yes and yes. Its especially difficult to set up if you're a first-timer.

    If your soundcard has analog outs, then you simply hook your speakers to those directly. If your soundcard has digital outs, then you must use a DAC, hook that up to the soundcard digital out and then to the speakers. The quality concern is applicable here also, better converters will give you a better monitoring signal, etc.

    Now for live monitoring, that's a function of the software recording application you use. Virtually all recent soundcards allow this possibility, but you need to check the software specs to see whether it allows live monitoring.

    The MIDI goes from your keyboard into the MIDI interface into the computer via USB. The software application will route this MIDI where it needs to go. In your case, it will be sampletank. Sampletank will receive the MIDI and output sound. This sound will be routed out to your monitors in the same fashion that recorded audio tracks are. If your keyboard has a sound generator inside, which all do except dedicated controllers, or if you have other sound generators (read synths), and you want to use those sounds in your compositions, you have a two pronged process.

    Prong one is to monitor while composing. Prong two is to record the keyboard into the soundcard, into the computer.

    For the first step, you will need some sort of mixer. Your soundcard may have one built in, if not you will need to pick one up.

    Step two requires you to hook the keyboard directly to the soundcard, arm an audio track to record, route the MIDI to the synth, and press record. If your soundcard has a built in mixer, you may not need to do any re-wiring of your system to achieve this.

    I hope this helps. Also as a word of advice, check the archives here, there's a wealth of info.

  8. bgavin

    bgavin Guest

    I'm the recording newbie here, so I'll give you what I've learned from a lot of research here and elsewhere:

    1) You need mic preamps
    2) A control console
    3) Digital conversion
    4) Recording software
    5) Recording device
    6) Editing/mixing capability

    I went Aardvark Q10, which has 8 mic inputs, high quality digital converters, and a direct interface to a computer using a custom PCI card. The control surface is the Q10 software package, and the recording package is Sonar. The recording device is a computer that holds the Aardvark PCI card. I can use up to four Q10 in a single computer, for 40 tracks. Dunno if the computer has the moxy to handle that many simultanous tracks, but the hardware is there.

    For me, the Q10 solution is ideal. I don't like maintaining finicky mechanical devices, so tape is not an option. Computer hard drives are cheap and reliable. I'm in the computer business, so a hot rod computer is a no-brainer to build.

    An alternative is, separate mic preamps feeding into a mixing console. The console direct outs feed into something like an Alesis ADAT device that provides multi-track recording. No computer, no software, monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. No editing, either. I don't use this method, but assume a computer is required for editing?


    . [/QB][/QUOTE]

    This is only complicated because we're sort of talking in abstracts here. If you have specific gear you're using now, and you look at potential gear you're going consider buying, the questions will answer themselves pretty quickly in terms of wheather or not the gear will do what you want it to do.

    What gear are you using now that you intend to record? What exactly do you think you'll be recording? What is you're budget? What is the purpose of the recordings (the most overlooked question)?

    I'll have more questions, but these are starters. [/QB][/QUOTE]

    Thanks very much to all of you taking the time to explain. I'm starting to get a much clearer picture. Now that i'm understanding things better and since musicalhair brought it up I can talk about specific gear. I just didn't want to originally get side tracked with brand recommendations before understanding the basic concepts.

    First of all for midi stuff, I have a keyboard controller (no sounds) and currently use that to control Battery and Sample Tank in PTLE (001 hardware). My midi use is minimal - mostly to try out drum parts and other instrumentation. So, my primary concern is for the quality of audio.

    As for brands I was looking at a soundcard from Lynx. Since the converters on cards tend to be of less quality than external converters I guess I would be looking for a card with at least 4 digital ins and outs. Then I could hook up the two channel Mytek AD and DA for my gold signal and have the other two for optional expansion in the future. I'm looking at something from API, Focusrite, or Great River for a 2 channel pre. I'm working on high quality mics as well. For now, I'll do any eq, verb, compression etc, within Cubase or DP with the plugins that come with it. For midi, it would be nice to have a sound card that I can plug my controller into - at least that sounds like the easiest solution.

    So...does this sound like a workable set up? mitzelplik, you mention that this can be difficult to set up for a first timer. That scares me a little, but are you talking a matter of just hooking everything together that's difficult or setting the levels for the signal path etc. ?


  10. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

    Well, you didn't have to wait for me before talking about specific hardware ;)

    It sounds to me like you have a set up already.
    The digi 001 takes 8 analog ins and 8 digital ins via adat light pipe and 2 s/pdif, and the same going out? If that is the case, I would think that even if you don't like the analog inputs on it, you will get around this by using the digital ins. In that case you should persue the preamps you're considering and the converters, but the lynx card would be just added expense without any real benefit-- am I making sense or do I misunderstand your needs or your current capabilities? It also has one midi in and out. It looks to me like you're good to go.

    Besides the midi controler and the digi001, you currently have battery and sample tank, and pro-tools LE-- right? So you can record you're music from battery and sample tank into pro tools LE and burn a disk. Is the quality of these sounds good enough or do you need to upgrade here? (The thing is, we could be talking about making midi performances more realistic or more "musical", or changing the quality of sounds or something else.)

    I didn't get what kind of audio you're recording, out board synths or keyboards, guitars, vocals. And you don't have any microphones, right? Also I didn't get a feel for how much recording you're doing or how will be hearing the recording-- CD's for sale, mp3's for a web presence, etc.

    I think you should stick with digi 001, ptLE, battery, sample tank, and you midi controller-- unless you don't think you should, but then say why.

    I know that some people don't like the preamps or the converters in the 001- I've never used it and have no opinion except that it is really easy to hate any gear and blame it for bad sound :roll: but still I think it is safe to say that if you got one of the preamp's you're considering and any reasonable quality A/D converter you'd improve your sound. The only thing I'd advise against is getting only two channels of conversion if you going to end up needing 8 later. If budget is an issue then you should stick with the analog outs on the digi 001 to go to you're monitors until conclude they're holding you back. The problem with having a bunch of different converters is syncing them together in a reliable fasion-- especially since I'm not sure your digi 001 does word clock. If you get a single box that does 8in and 8out then you are either in sync or not and once you get in sync you should always be able to achieve sync. Buy going with 8 you've matched you're capabilities on the 001 and to expand past this will probably coincide with a major expansion in your set up.

    I think I'm starting to repeat myself and I want to see what you're thinking after reading this.


    Thanks again Musicalhair. I did forget to answer some of your questions.

    1 - I do have a SP C1 and a SM58. I record mainly acoustic guitar and vocals. I originally got into recording for my own stuff, but have stumbled upon a couple of side projects since having the equiptment. My primary focus is still my own songs.

    2 - I use sample tank and battery for raw ideas for instrumentation. I don't plan to use any of the sounds for a final product. I want to be able to take my vocal and guitar tracks to a pro studio for mixing and overdubs. I guess that's why I originally got PTLE in the first place since it's the "industry standard." But to answer your question, I plan to do CDs to sell at my own gigs as well as help other musicians produce demos and such. But I want pro quality capability for my stuff.

    I realize I could improve the sound of the 001 with external converters and pres. Here are the reasons I'm hesitant about going that route - keep in mind I'd rather have the best quality I can get even if it means fewer channels and/or bells and whistles:

    1 - I would assume the soundcard that comes with the 001 can easily be beat.

    2 - 48k limit with the 001. If I'm going to invest in mytek converters that have 96k capability, I'd rather switch to a new platform/sound card now that has those capabilities. True, the 002 and 002r has 96k capability. However, that means spending $2,100 or $1,000 respectively on more hardware that I could instead put toward a top of the line sound card and still have some leftover to go towards a better converter. Though I hear the 002's converters and pres are better than the 001, I still can't imagine they'd be anything close to the mytek's and great river pres for example. So, I'd probably still want to add those.

    3 - I'm not sure the 001 has word clock. I'd then have to buy an external clocking device

    4 - Latency. I know that DP is configurable to have zero latency. PT, unless I'm using the 002 for mixing, does not.

    That's all I can think of off the top of my head. I gotta run, but thanks for the help so far from everyone. I'm learning a great deal.

  12. Kent L T

    Kent L T Active Member

    Oct 28, 2003
    Home Page:
    What in your setup needs word clock? It looks like everything you have can sync to midi. If you bought a new converter most converters can lock to spdif or adat which the 001 has.

    Since CD Playback is limited to 44.1 16 bit your system is already capable of exceeding the quality of CDs. You should focus on the front end of your system ie. good mics variety of good preamps. This has more of an effect on your sound than your A/Ds will. Plus if you go to 96k you will then have to deal with sample rate conversion which takes it back down to 44.1k(it seems kind of ironic).

    Get the good mics, pres, compressors and effects then upgrade your converters. Of course if your cash flush go ahead and get the High quality converters and new audio card to boot.

    Have fun! Merry christmas!
  13. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

    I agree with Kent LT, the change in "quality" at 96 is not going to be as significant as the change you'll get with good mics (and yes SM58 that was directed at you) and preamps. I don't know about the sound card that came with your digi 001, but if you're sending a digital signal into it from a "better" converter then I don't see how it would matter. When you say you're looking at a better sound card and AD converters, then at the very least I'd have to say get the converters and see if that gets the result you want.

    You won't need word clock if you keep to a simple set up. Either your gear has the word clock BNC connectors or it don't, just keep to a simple set up and you're gear will acheive sync. You can acheive your goals with a simple set up, and I really really believe you can achive your goals with just a few peices of gear. Besides as soon as you get these few peices you'll jonesing for a distressor and la-2a and an el-op and a little lab's phase aligment tool and an 1176 and a ribbon mic and and that really 1950's space age looking mic from Micro-tech gefell just like everyone else-- so don't waste you're money on a sound card when you can save it and waste on other stuff :D .

    I've heard enough people complain about the digi 001 to think that you'll want to send it a digital signal. Consider an 8 channel AD box or even an 8 channel ad/da box like the rme (unless that isn't good enough quality for you) good preamps for the stuff you're doing, and find the right mics-- especially your voice. That should get good sound into your computer. Don't discount you're monitors and your listening and for that matter your recording spaces acoustics.

    Anyway, it is 3 in the morning and I'm going to sleep. I think everyone will agree with this: change only the stuff that obviously should change, hold off on changing that which may not be part of the problem, and that way you'll not waste any effort or money or gear.


    Great advice! Thank you. It definitley makes sense to start from the front and work back. I can see if good pres and mics make a difference first and then always change the card or converter if I'm still wanting better quality. Thanks!

  15. musicalhair

    musicalhair Guest

    Also, you need to consider the fact that you're ability to hear the differences will have something to do with you're monitoring and you're monitoring evironment. There are just so many factors involved in all of this that it is wise to bounce every idea off these discussion boards and see what people say.
  16. Kent L T

    Kent L T Active Member

    Oct 28, 2003
    Home Page:
    One other thing, you need to visit the Studio and control room acoustics forum and read the FAQ it contains some other important things you will want to check out.
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