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Multi-Track recording with a PC or Laptop
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Dan
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February 7, 2012 - 12:41 pm
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Hi All,

I`m a fiddlerman.com newbie who did my first post last night. http://fiddlerman.com/forum/in.....-stringer/ 

 

Pierre suggested I might share my recording technique, settings, etc, and as such, that would be my pleasure!

Historically I got my first taste of Multi-Track Recording (MTR) in 1978. My neighbor in the small town I lived in had a 4 track reel-to-reel. Very cutting edge for the day, and quite expensive. But, it was heap big magic to be able to be your own band, sort of the Me, Myself, and I Orchestra...:-)

Then the early 80s saw the advent of the cassette 4-track. I bought a Fostex 250 in 1984 ($950 yikes!) and for 10+ years had a great time with that machine. I really learned the finer points of MTR during that period, which I still rely to this day with digital MTR.

I did my first digital MTR stuff around 1998. The MTR software programs are known as DAW, Digital Audio Workstations. I used a program called N-Track Studio and bought the registered version for $40. It really was a good program, which I used up until I heard about a program called Reaper last year. I’ve used it for almost a year and have come to really like it, plus the registered version is only $60.

As for my pc I use my relic 2000-ish Compaq Deskpro 600 mghz Pentium III, running Win2000. This was a $95 pc in 2002!!! And I`ll tell you what; that old pc runs great. Plain and simple. Boots up in 20 seconds and will run 30+ tracks with Reaper no problem. A nice SoundBlaster soundcard, PCI slot, not integrated. Many of the newer pc/laptops with integrated soundcards are not very good, very sterile and lifeless, not so good.

But there is another big reason I use that oldie. Vista, Windows 7, and to some extent XP, have features disabled and/or disfunctional that prevent MTR. Both Vista and win7 have a 500 millisecond latency (delay) so that when you try and listen to a recorded track while recording there is that delay which makes it impossible. And, as far as I know, getting an external soundcard may not solve the problem as it is built into the motherboard.....arghhh!!! With XP system your soundcard may have functionality intentionally disabled, like my HP nc8430, as I learned via an alleged former MS engineer who posted a how-to fix, via the system registry, on an MS support forum.

And of great interest, besides the fact it worked, was this former MS guy said it’s done intentionally by MS, as the recording industry does not like people being able to do MTR on less than $500 worth of pc and software combined....argghhh again!!! One can draw their own conclusion as to if there is collusion there, but the bottom line for me was; to hell with the newer pcs. 

My advice is if you want give Digital MTR a go, get an older pc, do a clean install and keep it off the net if possible. Or if you have an old machine, and reinstall disc, dust it off, clean install and your in business. I don`t have experience with Mac but I do know they are reputed to be excellent for MTR, although with a lesser selection of DAW software available.

Next you need to be able to interface with your pc/laptop. Over the last 10 years of digital MTR I`ve used several mixer/preamp/amp configurations. Early attempts with going directly into the soundcard mic/aux input didn’t produce good signal to ratios and really kind of lousy sound, but there are some instances where that is acceptable.

So I had the idea to try my old Fostex as a preamp. The recording apparatus had crapped out around 2002, but the mixer remained useable. The results were excellent. The u-tube vid with my version of “Planxty Irwin” was one of the first MTR I did with that configuration around 2004. Great S/N ratio and lovely warm analog like sound. So I used that setup up until the mixer died about 3 years ago.  Which brings us, *FINALLY*, after that verbose, seemingly endless, rambling, and disjointed dissertation, to the present ……;-)

I now use my Peavey VYPR-15 modeling amp, with the signal going directly to the mic input of my Deskpro. That amp can be had for $99 online, and as far as bang-for-buck, it’s excellent. My only significant critique is the speaker, which is only adequate, the bass response is not very good, and although you can EQ it fairly well, you still can’t EQ in what isn’t there. You can get a slew of info online about it. 

So the MTR train goes like this; instrument, VYPR, soundcard, DAW.

Now onto “Morepeth Rant”. The disclaimer on the violin parts is that I only have 3+ weeks of experience with my Cecilio CEVN and will continue to tweek the sound. I haven’t yet tried running the CEVN directly into the pc without the VYPR, and its possible I will get good results with that setup, although minus the nice digital effects that come with the VYPR as preamp. However most DAW have a multitude of VST and DirectX effects which can be added post recording.

The first track with most of my material is a beat, or simple click track, to ensure that that song does not jump time. I have a Casio keyboard with all the bells and whistles and use it for that initial percussion track. With Morepeth Rant I used what is basically a double time Polka beat (125 BPM if I recall). On a side note I don`t use the VYPR with the Casio as it needs no preamp.

 So now with my percussion track recorded I moved onto the first fiddle. Prior to recording, had setup a preset “record violin” channel on the VYPR. My usual starting point with any amp/instrument setup is to first try it with flat tonal response settings (the 12:00 position on the  bass, middle, and treble knobs) but hearing it both through the amp speaker and my headphones I knew the EQ need to strongly favor mid and bass response. As for effects I used reverb (about 30% depth) and a short and shallow depth delay.

 Next was the harmony/unison violin track, same settings. One very nice effect I learned of is to record an instrument or vocal track then do the same lines in unison with the first track. Then on the mix pan one track strongly left, the other right. This technique adds a spatial quality, excellent stereo depth, and nice natural warmth, especially when combined with conservative use of effects.

 For most songs my MTR formula goes percussion, rhythm guitar, bass, add-on percussion, melody. With Morepeth Rant, and good deal of other traditional music I do the main violin (melody) lines first, then add bass, rhythm, add-on percussion. And that’s how approached Morepeth Rant. The guitar is my Fender Strat, in this instance capo-ed on the 7th fret and played in G major which open is D major. It tends to give the guitar very nice tonal qualities. There is also a drone synthesizer track, sort of suggest Bagpipes. I think the song ended up with 10 tracks total, with no more than 6-7 active at any one time.  

Then you have the mix down. My experience is that you can have a great set of tracks, great performances, everything good, but without the best possible mix, you won’t get all that is possible from a given recording. I have two basic rules I try and follow. First, let instruments and voices stay in the frequency domain they are natural to. For instance a violin is not going to reproduce low frequency very well and attempts to make it do so don’t usually sound too good. Now as mentioned above (regarding the CEVN) you can, and should, try and lend fullness to each track via individual EQ, but all things in moderation. Secondly, try mixes with different sound systems, speakers, headphones, car stereo, etc, etc. I’ve always found that in the end you just try and come up with a mix that sounds good with as many listening formats as possible.  

Then one final thought on MTR. The most interesting lesson I’ve learned about MTR is that most of the time less is more. And that being with effects, and musical content. With effects its easy, just dial them back, and with musical technique I have found that doing the most basic version of a rhythm guitar track, a more simplified bass line, etc, etc seems to work best and are easier to mix than songs with cluttered tracks. In the early days I can remember working on a song, doing a rhythm track, and thinking, wow, that sounded real nice only to find it didn’t work well with the rest of the song because it was too busy. Also I try and build songs on a dynamic level, start simple and build to a crescendo, then wind it down. 

Then on the final technical note to get the video part I just recorded the video while audio recording the primary violin track. I used Win Moviemaker to compile the song (as an MP3) with the video track. Because of the wave nature of sound you can zoom in on a .wav/mp3 file and see the peaks. Then do the same with Moviemaker and line them up on the timeline, and your in business.

 

So I hope that helps, and gives a little insight, as far as my experiences with Digital MTR and the production of Morepeth Rant!

 

Dan

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sdsalyer
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February 7, 2012 - 2:02 pm
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Wow.. great post!  It's going to take me a while to absorb all of that.  Which is fine, because it's going to take me a while to be able to play well enough to record anything. 🙂

I am a bit of a Linux fanboy, and I wonder if it suffers from any sort of artificial MTR barriers?  Being mostly "open" software, I'm wagering that it doesn't.  I'm pretty sure there's a nice array of audio software for Linux as well.  I've had trouble getting sound cards to work in the past, though right now I have a Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum which has lived through 3 computer builds and I just love it -- it has a front panel with various inputs and controls.  I think it's probably up to the task of handling MTR if I ever get around to it.  🙂

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

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Oliver
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Do you have some advise to avoid string noise (and "quack")?

I have a guitar amp with 4 channels, HI, MID HI, MID LOW, LOW and using a piezo bridge (violin).

I've seen remarks that I can kill a lot of noise if I turn down the MID ranges but then that hardly leaves much like music ?

coffee2

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

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Fiddlerman
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February 7, 2012 - 3:57 pm
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Thanks for taking your time to write all that down. We appreciate it Dan.
Happy to have you here and I look forward to more posts smile

"The richest person is not the one who has the most,
but the one who needs the least."

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Dan
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February 7, 2012 - 8:38 pm
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sdsalyer said

Wow.. great post!  It's going to take me a while to absorb all of that.  Which is fine, because it's going to take me a while to be able to play well enough to record anything. 🙂

I am a bit of a Linux fanboy, and I wonder if it suffers from any sort of artificial MTR barriers?  Being mostly "open" software, I'm wagering that it doesn't.  I'm pretty sure there's a nice array of audio software for Linux as well.  I've had trouble getting sound cards to work in the past, though right now I have a Soundblaster Audigy 2 ZS Platinum which has lived through 3 computer builds and I just love it -- it has a front panel with various inputs and controls.  I think it's probably up to the task of handling MTR if I ever get around to it.  🙂

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience!

Thanks SD, really appreciate that!

 

I don`t have first hand experience with Linux but from what I do know, it should be very cooperative both hardware and software wise. Thats too bad you are having troubles with soundcards. Is it a driver issue? In general how is Linux in terms of finding drivers for devices?

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Dan
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February 7, 2012 - 8:56 pm
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Oliver said

Do you have some advise to avoid string noise (and "quack")?

I have a guitar amp with 4 channels, HI, MID HI, MID LOW, LOW and using a piezo bridge (violin).

I've seen remarks that I can kill a lot of noise if I turn down the MID ranges but then that hardly leaves much like music ?

coffee2

You are correct about mid reduction being music reduction. It`s real hard to filter out stuff like that. If they are only sporadic you can zoom in on the track and find the actual waveform peak and apply a volume envelope. But that technique is only effective for short duration sound, or the effect is like having the track dropout then come back. Did you try reducing both the Hi and LOW on the amp? Or maybe even just the LOW?

And actually as I consider it, you might best try and EQ out the noises on your recorded .wav file. There are some VST plugins that should give you much more focused EQ ability.

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Dan
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February 7, 2012 - 9:11 pm
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Fiddlerman said

Thanks for taking your time to write all that down. We appreciate it Dan.
Happy to have you here and I look forward to more posts smile

Thanks so much Pierre! Didn`t realize how long it was til I went post and went WOW! Anyway it was fun. I`ve never tried to put my MTR experiences in writing, and it was a bit of a challenge. 

I hope folks can wade through it and find it useful should they want pursue recording....:-) 

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sdsalyer
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Dan said

Is it a driver issue? In general how is Linux in terms of finding drivers for devices?

Linux has come a long way, but it's still not as "plug and play" as Windows.  Ubuntu or Linux Mint are about as close as it gets.  If you have common hardware that isn't really cutting edge, there's probably no problems, but if you've got the latest gadget, it may be a while before Linux catches up (as I found with my laptop's mouse pad -- it functions, but there's no advanced support since it is a newer, less common company).  Sound cards should be pretty universally supported, but configuring them can be tricky (I had to set mine up using a command line program).

MacOS is based on Linux, but they have the benefit of knowing exactly what hardware is going into their machines, unlike on Windows or Linux where people can build any computer they want from various component manufacturers (thus, it's much harder to get drivers for everything).

Now that I think of it, there is an official "flavor" of Ubuntu Linux that is specifically geared towards multimedia creation called Ubuntu Studio.  Might be worth checking into. 🙂

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Dan
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sdsalyer said

Dan said

Is it a driver issue? In general how is Linux in terms of finding drivers for devices?

Linux has come a long way, but it's still not as "plug and play" as Windows.  Ubuntu or Linux Mint are about as close as it gets.  If you have common hardware that isn't really cutting edge, there's probably no problems, but if you've got the latest gadget, it may be a while before Linux catches up (as I found with my laptop's mouse pad -- it functions, but there's no advanced support since it is a newer, less common company).  Sound cards should be pretty universally supported, but configuring them can be tricky (I had to set mine up using a command line program).

MacOS is based on Linux, but they have the benefit of knowing exactly what hardware is going into their machines, unlike on Windows or Linux where people can build any computer they want from various component manufacturers (thus, it's much harder to get drivers for everything).

Now that I think of it, there is an official "flavor" of Ubuntu Linux that is specifically geared towards multimedia creation called Ubuntu Studio.  Might be worth checking into. 🙂

very interesting .... so the soundcard is working at this point?

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sdsalyer
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Yes, it worked by default, but only the front speakers.  I had to configure it to support 5.1 surround with a program called alsamixer.  Wasn't terribly difficult, just had to do some Googling.

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Aleive
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I' just like to mention that background noise is drastically reduced with a great microphone, a good preamp, and a decent sound card. I will go and look for what I would reccomend 🙂 I cannot remember the name as of right now^^

"Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild."

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Aleive
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Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a very decent sound card. It is not my weapon of choice. But fairly inexpensive in comparison to the others. It does the job, and has satisfying preamps. It is very convenient that the USB- interface makes it easy to deal with.

 

As for microphones. A great multi-purpose microphone for acoustical instruments is truly hard to find. But MXL USB 008 should do the trick. If you are using multiple instruments and maybe a little vocal. 

 

I'll update with more detailed hardware.

"Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild."

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Aleive
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It should also be noted that the cecilio is by default not particularly suited for recording. It is extremely predisposed to interference. 

To avoid static interference rule no.1 is to avoid having the wires from microphones and instruments lay anywhere near power supplies. As the magnetic field running through there easily disturbs the signals. 

"Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild."

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Dan
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Aleive said

It should also be noted that the cecilio is by default not particularly suited for recording. It is extremely predisposed to interference. 

To avoid static interference rule no.1 is to avoid having the wires from microphones and instruments lay anywhere near power supplies. As the magnetic field running through there easily disturbs the signals. 

Hmmm......... I didn`t find my CEVN to too bad as far as line/pickup noise, my Strat is worse.........oh, and don`t forget florescent lights, another potential noise source..

 

I went looking for my old beast and found;

http://www.ebay.com/itm/ws/eBa.....rid=229466

http://h18000.www1.hp.com/prod.....1_div.HTML

Pretty much my machine, but with a 200GB Seagate HD.....really like that. They are dual HDs but mine just has a 10 and 20.

Also it seems that my machine is appreciating in value........$5 in 10 years......laugh

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Aleive
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The Seinberg's CI-1 USB soundcard comes with a decent preamp, and a sound editing software that is very newbie-friendly, but powerful still. The Sequel LE (Lite edition I presume). You can hit the bongo here and add another $60 to it (totally worth it) and get Sequel 3. Which is REALLY good. It has everything you'll need as a home-based music enthusiast:)

It is all very straightforward. But I know that these products are the best you get at this price range. Any steps down makes the quality drop exponentially. (At least my limited experience is that this is the case)

 

Also, Dan... Awesome computer 😀

"Art, as far as it is able, follows nature, as a pupil imitates his master; thus your art must be, as it were, God's grandchild."

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Dan
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Aleive said

The Seinberg's CI-1 USB soundcard comes with a decent preamp, and a sound editing software that is very newbie-friendly, but powerful still. The Sequel LE (Lite edition I presume). You can hit the bongo here and add another $60 to it (totally worth it) and get Sequel 3. Which is REALLY good. It has everything you'll need as a home-based music enthusiast:)

It is all very straightforward. But I know that these products are the best you get at this price range. Any steps down makes the quality drop exponentially. (At least my limited experience is that this is the case)

 

Also, Dan... Awesome computer 😀

Hi Aleive, sorry about the delay in posts, way busy last 24 hrs.

You`re really quite knowledgeable on digital audio equipment, more so than myself. I guess my unspoken mission has also been to do the whole DTR thing on the cheap........sort of seeing how good cheap can be.....;-) 

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Dan: One problem that Linux does not seem to have is to lose compatibility with old hardware when upgrading the OS.  Many a printer and scanner have been discarded by people when they upgrade Windows.  For example I have an old scanner from the Windows 98SE era that was thrown away because it did not work with XP.  But it works fine with Linux. 

 

sdsalyer: MacOS did not come from Linux. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.....ry_of_OS_X

"NeXTSTEP was based on the Mach kernel and BSD, an implementation of Unix dating back to the 1970s."  

"NeXTSTEP underwent an evolution into OPENSTEP ... " 

"Apple Computer acquired NeXT for $427 million, and used OPENSTEP as the basis for OS X."

 

Linux was first announced in 1991:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H.....n_of_Linux

 

But I believe that OS X has a lot of similarity with Linux.  Certainly they are more like each other than either is like Windows.

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cdennyb
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WOW... this whole thread needs to be in the LIBRARY folder...thumbs-up

 

oh wait... we don't have a library folder to save these great things in...

facepalm

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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Pierre... he just never gives up does he??  giggle.

Vibrato Desperato.... Desperately seeking vibrato

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cdennyb
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coolpinkone said
Pierre... he just never gives up does he??  giggle.

If you're referring to "me" and my comment about making a LIBRARY folder to store all this really valuable info in, then yes... I'm not giving up... I really strongly feel it should be a top priority to get one started. It can't be that hard to get into the software for the forum.

There's so much information being presented by the members here it'd be a real tragidy to see it lost among all the posts and threads long gone. Tech articles, tuning and info like this about electric V's and the such...

 

Yes, I won't give up.blink

"If you practice with your hands you must practice all day. Practice with your mind and you can accomplish the same amount in minutes." Nathan Milstein

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