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 Post subject: Audio Tech Help Sought
PostPosted: Sat Nov 24, 2012 5:34 am 
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I am a non- "techy" looking for help from the technically gifted with regard to laptop, audio editing, and music production hardware and software. I am looking toward purchase of a new laptop, one that will give me the ability to process excellent quality audio clips, has the required power, memory, etc., for musical production applications, can play and burn CD's, and is compatible with operational system needs for online whistle instructional offerings such as those by OAIM and Blayne Chastayne. I am also seeking opinions on the most useful audio editing software for adding effects, isolating whistle tracks out of commercially produced CD's so that I can use accompanying music to practice along with, and to use suxh software to produce my own good quality whistle clips, produce, playback, and analyze my own recordings, slowdown recordings tempo, etc.

I have also been using WavePad to make some audio clips and add effects, but seem to notice a huge degradation in audio quality as recorded once I email them to other recipients. I do not understand what is causing the difference in audio quality in the original recording versus the emailed clip?

I would prefer to stay between $500 and $1000 for the system if this is realistic. I would also use the laptop for the usual applications of email communication, web surfing, etc. a huge monitor is not a major desire, 14" and less would be fine.

Any help would be deeply appreciated, my cyber skills are hovering somewhere near the "Bronze Age" so go easy with the technospeak. Thank you in advance for any help rendered.

Cayden

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 1:00 pm 
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Cayden wrote:
I am looking toward purchase of a new laptop, one that will give me the ability to process excellent quality audio clips, has the required power, memory, etc., for musical production applications,

Cayden wrote:
I would prefer to stay between $500 and $1000 for the system if this is realistic.
On one hand I would say that that is not realistic and too low a limit for what you are saying you would like to do. You can have excellent. You can have inexpensive but it's tough to get both for $1000.

You haven't said what you want to record or where you will do your recording. That could effect my suggestions for sure. There are so many ways to skin this cat.

So being a realistic kind of a person anyway here's my thoughts. Most any current laptop will make very good recordings. I would look for something with a minimum of a dual processor CPU, 2GB Ram and a 500GB 7200 rpm hard drive. More is better. It will have multiple USB ports and the usual other inputs and outputs. Any DVD writer in a current laptop should make single CD's. That's going to describe most of what is on sale these days. You should have no trouble doing that for under $400 (I bought a laptop Friday with a quad core CPU, 6GB Ram and a 640GB drive for that much) I have not seen any Windows 8 support in recording suites as of yet but it shouldn't be a problem.

You will want a decent recording interface. You want to stay away from using the line-in or mic-in on the laptop for a variety of reasons. USB connectivity works well (firewire too). You want an interface to be able to support lo-Z mic inputs, Hi-Z if you record guitars and line level inputs if you want to use any outboard sound sources or effects. Makers like Tascam, Focusrite, Mackie, Yamaha, M-Audio/Avid, Roland and Lexicon offer these for around $150-200. Some retailers have them on sale now too. These should all come with a "get-started" version of a good recording software package like Cubase, Cakewalk, etc. You could also buy a small audio mixer with a USB output as well. Behringer, Yamaha, Alesis and others offer those.

So if you buy an interface you will get decent software to start off. There are other software solutions. THese are usually referred to as Digital Audio Workstation packages or DAWs. I am a fan of Cakewalk products (part of Roland). I personally use Cakewalk's Sonar Producer. I also use Avid's Pro Tools (when I have to), Cubase, Tracktion, Reason and several other packages too. A couple other well used suites are Ableton Live and FL Studio. These are aimed more at loopers, re-mixers and DJ's so I don't recommend them for what you have stated so far. If you want to become a self-produced Afrocelt Sound System type of act you could try them. There is enough looping support in the others to satisfy most musicians. These packages are expensive ($100 for a starter version and $500 and up for the pro versions) and have to be upgraded periodically to keep them current. Periodic point release updates are usually free of charge. Don't under estimate the costs of keeping things current though. But these packages will all support the best range of professional plug-ins out there including VST, DirectX, RTAS plug-ins. A good plug-in suite can run you $500 easily. If you buy plug-ins a la cart you'll likely spend more than that. The pricier versions of the recording suites will come with a plethora of plug-ins good for most things you might want to do though. So don't buy the plug-ins until you see what came with your DAW suite. There are decent budget DAW packages out there with less professional bells and whistles but they work well. Cakewalk now offers Sonar Essentials for $99. PGMusic offers Power Tracks Pro for $49. Reaper sells for $100 (you can dowload a free demo version that seems to work forever). What you might use depends on what you need to do.

You can go with freeware software to get started. Audacity is a good recording and editing package that is free. It's not a great multi-tracking package. It is not anywhere near as flexible or as easy to use as a good DAW recording suite from a commercial provider. But Audacity also allows you to use freeware plug-ins which are available to provide the usual effects. That is a good plan to start with and to see what you will need in the longer run. And most freeware plug-ins will run with the commercial DAW's too. There have been very good freeware multi-track software offerings in the past. N-Tracks was one. I'm just not current with what works on current operating systems. Here's a couple to look at. http://audio.tutsplus.com/articles/buyers-guides/21-windows-daws-worth-using/

You will want a decent microphone. This is where I would spend good money but not crazy money. I do not recommend buying a USB mic. I like large diaphragm side address condenser mics. You should be able to find a decent large diaphragm side address condenser for $200 and maybe a bargain for closer to $100. The Audio Technica AT2020 is a decent starting mic (not the USB version), the AT2035 is better ($107 at Amazon). You could also go with a Shure SM58 or SM57 dynamic mic which are always on sale this time of year for around $100 each. There are more mics out there than you can imagine and some are just plain crap so watch your step. You'll need cables, mic holders and a stand too.

That's one way I would suggest that would get you the best editiing and production capabilities.

You can get good recordings from hand held recorders like those offered by Zoom, Roland/Edirol, Tascam. Alesis, Sony, Olympus, etc. I use a Zoom for workshops, concerts and sessions. Desktop multi-track recorders are also useful and more capable than the hand held units. I use a Fostex myself. They generally require you to buy your own mics. But neither of these will be much use for easy production and editing. That's why I recommend PC based recording.

That's my how to get started spiel for now.

To remove the whistle from pre-recorded material you can look at several software packages. Personally, I think this is borderline un-ethical though. But there is a lot of sampling and manipulating and unlicensed re-mixing and re-using of recorded material being done in certain corners of the music business these days. Packages that are used to create loops and beats get used a lot for that. Roland recently offered a product called R-Mix which is good for that kind of work. R-Mix sells for $200 a copy.

You could also consider manufacturing your own backing tracks instead of ripping off other peoples recordings. Band In A Box with Real Band is the best package on the market for doing that. You pick a style, set the key and tempo, type in the chords and voila you have an actual live band performance generated for you to play along with. The current version has some decent although modern jig and reel styles. Band In A Box sells for $469 with all the available Real Band styles included.

Sorry, I have no experience with WavePad.

Good luck.

Feadoggie

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 5:42 pm 
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Cayden, it's hard to top Feadoggie's comprehensive and informative post. :-)

I'd just say that, IMO, it's not so much the equipment as what you do with it. All the tasks you mention should be doable on just about any modern computing platform using basic gear and free or inexpensive software.

I've done a fair amount of home recording and processing for clips, etc. with near-studio quality on an antiquated machine using a very basic analog audio hardware chain: SM57, Behringer mini-mixer, and SoundBlaster. A USB interface should be even cleaner. I'd rather have an easy and reliable front-end than worry too much about the back-end. And the mike and board do double-duty for live sound as well.

Cayden wrote:
I have also been using WavePad to make some audio clips and add effects, but seem to notice a huge degradation in audio quality as recorded once I email them to other recipients. I do not understand what is causing the difference in audio quality in the original recording versus the emailed clip?

Hmm, not sure. If you're e.g. recording to a raw format like WAV and rendering to MP3, there should be little degradation for a simple whistle clip.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 6:50 pm 
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Feadoggie and MTGuru,
Thank you both for the very solid and much appreciated information. I am really looking to be able to make some really nice sounding whistle clips and to be able to add minimal effects such as reverb or echo to certain tunes. I want to be able to use the clips for my own self critique of my playing, slow down technology for learning faster reels, jigs, and hornpipes, to be able to send MP3 clips via email to friends and relatives, and to upload my clips to the Clips and Snips forum in hopes of getting some objective critique via email.

As for my questions specific to laptops, I just want to be able to meet the operational requirements for instructional programs such as OAIM or Chastayne's so I can subscribe to one for online instruction in the quest to improve my playing technique.

With regard to my question about available technology to remove "whistle" tracks from commercially produced CD's, I strictly wish to do so for my own practice along with the accompanyment of good musicians that I would otherwise not have access to. I DO NOT intend to use such materials for distribution or misrepresentation as my own recordings, they would be strictly for my own use.

As for my equipment concerns, they would largely be for recording my own whistle clips and perhaps infrequent play with others, and sending recordings of my playing to others for critique.

I am strongly considering getting a Zoom H4N and will initially be using the microphones on that unit for recording directly to the digital recorder. I plan to use the H4N on a camera tripod with the inclusive mount. Perhaps eventually I may get one of the microphones suggested by Feadoggie if I am not satisfied with recording with the H4N mic's. I have been advised that using freeware such as Audacity should meet most of my needs. I am not looking to make fancy multi-tracked recordings of multiple instruments, nor toroduce any recordings for anything other than my own direct use.

I hope that clarifies my intent and makes any advice or changes relevent to the information provided by both Feadoggie and MTGuru easier to address my requirements. I also hope that puts to rest any misunderstanding with regard to ethical transgressions or misuse of recorded materials.

Given the intended use mentioned, can I still get a real decent laptop for recording purposes for under $1000 if I already have a H4H outside of that budget?

Any clips that I have made previously have been by laying my wife's Ipad on a countertop, hitting the record button and playing through a WavePad free app. I know it is not anywhere near what should be done for good sound quality. It actually does not sound too bad when played back on the Ipad using WavePad. The sound degredation seems to occur when I email the clips in MP3 format. Distortion of the original recording being the problem noted.

Any other suggestions will be highly appreciated.

Cayden

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 7:39 pm 
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Ok! That helps skinny things down a lot. What MTGuru says is the fact. The front end (mic, preamp, converters, etc) is more important than the PC or the DAW to a great extent. What MTGuru describes is a good setup - Shure mic, Behringer mixer, SoundBlaster. I used a similar setup in the 90's with good success.

But since you are talking about using a laptop I would observe that laptop sound chips tend to be noisy. They can pickup noise from the other components in the PC. For a small additional cost you could run a setup like a Shure SM58 ($100), via XLR cable ($20) into a Behringer (or other brand) mixer($50-$100) via RCA cables +($10) into a USB audio interface (Behringer UCA-202, UFO-202 or UCA-222 (~$30) or similar from another maker like Roland, Yamaha, etc.) into Audacity. Make sure you download the LADSP plug-ins and you should be good to go. That's like $210-260 plus the cost of your laptop. In fact if you can find a Behringer Xenyx 302USB ($50 at Musicians Friend and Amazon) it has the USB interface built in so that's only $180-ish for the whole setup.

Behringer used to package pod casting solution very much similar to what I described above. http://www.musiciansfriend.com/pro-audio/behringer-podcastudio-usb. They seem to have disappeared lately. The mic isn't very nice but everything else is workable in my opinion. They may still be out there if you look around a bit. And the Behringer interfaces come with Audacity and a bargain basement multi-track suite called something like Energy (?) with lots of plug-ins.

Really, any newish laptop will work fine. If you were going to use a good DAW package you would need a lot of memory and a fast hard drive to support lots of tracks and a bunch of plug-ins on each of those tracks. Since you would be using Audacity for simple clips, not so much is needed.

You know the iPad is being used in an increasing number of audio recording setups these days. I don't do Apple but I do see that Mackie and others have introduced iPad based mixers and recording interfaces. The iPad slips into a frame and the screen becomes a visual user interface. The frame has the preamps converters and USB interface. An app comes with the device as well. You might look into that if you like using the iPad. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/DL1608/ Of course the cost vs. brains...er...I mean...benefits may not fit your wallet. There are other similar devices out there. As another example http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/iODock.

Oh and I think you can use an H4n as a front end to a laptop too. At least the H2 I have acts as a USB mic. And the Zoom devices allow you to set the gain on the mics to a certain extent which many other USB mics do not. So it solves the only real issue I have with USB mics in general. The latest USB mics seem to be showing up with gain controls and a phones output for monitoring too. And remember you can always use the Zoom standalone as a portable recorder. I do use my Zoom on either a mic stand or a camera tripod depending on the scenario. So that does work just fine.

Like I said, there are many ways to skin this cat.

Have fun.

Feadoggie

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:40 pm 
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One more way to skin the cat: A Zoom R16 or R24. They have two decent built in mikes, capability of recording up to 8 tracks at a time, phantom power for condenser mikes, some built in effects (though I'm told they are not very good...I don't use them), and can double as a mixer/front end to a DAW or something like Audacity. Built in metronome and tuner too. I picked up an R24 for under $300.00. It is not as "go anywhere as the H2 and the Roland R-1 I have, but has lots of possibilities for good multi tracking.


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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 8:59 pm 
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Feadoggie,
I like the idea of the versatility amd portability of the Zoom H4N and a laptop. I will probably head in that direction. I appreciate all of your help.

Cayden

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 9:04 pm 
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FWIW, I saw this advertised this weekend in the Black Friday mailer from Guitar Center:

Mac Mini Recording Studio Complete:
http://appleheadlines.com/2011/11/01/gu ... ng-studio/

The 2012 edition is apparently the same $999 price (and not what's listed on the GC website). As an all-in-one plug-and-go bundle, you could certainly do a lot worse than this nice little setup.

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PostPosted: Sun Nov 25, 2012 10:56 pm 
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MTGuru wrote:
FWIW, I saw this advertised this weekend in the Black Friday mailer from Guitar Center:

Mac Mini Recording Studio Complete:
http://appleheadlines.com/2011/11/01/gu ... ng-studio/

The 2012 edition is apparently the same $999 price (and not what's listed on the GC website). As an all-in-one plug-and-go bundle, you could certainly do a lot worse than this nice little setup.


MTGuru,
Thank you. I took a look at this but I do not like the lack of portability and there are wayntoo many features that I know I would not use. It would seemingly be a great entry level system for someone just getting into recordingmand wishing to do a lot more withnit than I do. I appreciate the link.

Cayden

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