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Old August 31st, 2007, 11:04 AM   #1
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Multitrack recording - with or without a PC?

Last night, while recording a live comedy event, my main audio recording system failed halfway through the show. I was using a Tascam FW-1082 FireWire mixer connected to my Dell laptop (the only Windows equipment left in my otherwise Apple-dominated computer gear) running Cubase LE. I don't know exactly what happened, but suddenly there was no more sound recorded (Cubase kept running, but the waveform indicated no sound) and the "FireWire" indicator on the Tascam mixer was no longer on. So one way or another, the FireWire link stopped working, and all I am left with is the stereo mix from the Tascam's monitor output recorded to my small MicroTrack 24/96 as a backup (as opposed to the six discrete channels I usually capture for a surround mix).

I think I'll get away with stereo this time, but I am taking this incident as a warning sign that my current multitrack recording solution is fragile - and I don't even know what the weak link is. At any rate, I am looking for advise from others as to how to improve the reliability of such a setup, and specifically whether it is a good idea to keep a PC (or Mac) involved or rely on self-contained recording systems, a solution that seems appealing to me at first glance (no computer, operating system, drivers, other software to worry about), but maybe this has its own set of problems that I just haven't experienced yet.

My typical setup for events like the one last night includes four of my own mics in the audience, plus two line-level inputs from the PA system (recorded at two different gain settings). Sometimes I use an additional line in or two for wireless mics. So I need a minimum of eight simultaneously recorded tracks. Having said that, I have been thinking about extending my portfolio to live music recording recently, so this may be a good time to invest in a solution with many more tracks. Other things that are important to me are quick and easy access to gain and level controls (can't have them hidden in complex on-screen menus or tiny, hard to reach knobs), being able to output at least a stereo mixdown (for the backup recorder, which saved me last night), and mobility. I do not anticipate a need to operate on batteries, but I will need to carry it to the venues and back home.

So I can think of three different types of solutions:

(1) Stick with the current setup of FireWire mixer and computer, but maybe improve some of the components.

(2) Get a completely self-contained multi-track recording station, such as the Korg D3200.

(3) Use an analog mixer combined with a good multi-track recorder, such as the Alesis HD24.

Solution (1) has been working great for me, so maybe I am overly cautious, and maybe this was just that one time when all stars align and something really unlikely happens - or maybe the type of low-cost equipment that I have been using just isn't made for the reliability that I am looking for. I really don't know.

I don't know much about solution (2), to be honest. From what I have seen, these devices are meant not purely for recording but also for editing and mixing what has been recorded, something I'd much rather do on my computer in the office. So I am worried that this may be all-in-one solution that can do a little bit of everything, but nothing really well...

Solution (3) would be interesting in that something like 24 channels would open the door for live music recording. Something tells me that this will give me the highest quality recording. It also seems to be the most expensive solution, and the one with the largest equipment size.

Am I leaving anything out?

As I said, I am very curious how others handle multi-track recordings, and how reliable your setup has worked for you.

Thanks in advance for your comments!

- Martin
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Old August 31st, 2007, 12:30 PM   #2
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Speaking on behalf of the HD24, it's a nice unit and pretty reliable.
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Old August 31st, 2007, 12:38 PM   #3
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I've been working with #3 above, an Alesis HD24 for several years. I rented for a few gigs, then finally purchased one. I never considered going direct into a computer for multitrack recording of live shows, too many possible points of failure for my taste.

My situation is perhaps a little different than yours, because I wanted to add multitrack recording to the sound reinforcement (PA) work that I was doing, sometimes with post video sync as well.

I've been extremely happy with the quality of the recordings at 24/48.

Here are a few scattered notes on this approach:
The HD24 has no channel gain adjustments at all. So, I'm using channel direct outs from the console. This console is also doing a house mix, so, the direct outs are pre-fader (this is switchable on many consoles). End result is that the recording gain adjustments can only be made at the channel input trims on the console.

Alternatively, if the same console wasn't doing double duty for house and recording (say, with a splitter snake), you could use direct outs post-fader, giving you all the gain control you might wish.

End result of pre-fade direct outs has been that setup is a little finicky during sound check, but results have been good.

Always worthwhile to set up the HD24 with a few blank songs, so that you can access them quickly during a show. Be *very* careful, as if you leave the playback head parked in the middle of a recording, that's where record will start.

I have a 28ch. console and a 16... the 16 is much more compact, and rack mountable. Currently, the 16ch. and the HD24 are parked in a "gig-rig" style case, which is very fast to set up because everything is pre-wired.

One engineer who I work with frequently really likes to monitor the outputs of the HD24 during recording. There are a few recording consoles that can do this, but, occasionally I've set up the 28ch. console for house mix and recording, then used the 16ch. as a monitor mixer for the HD24 outputs.

Any way you work with it, 16 or 24 channels of recording is a lot of cabling, double it if you are monitoring the recorder outputs. It's well worth investing in TRS-TRS snakes for this.

Finally, the firewire interface for the HD24 hard drives is well worth the money, and frequently comes bundled with the HD24. What would take you hours (days?) of transfer via ftp (the HD24 has an ftp server) will take minutes using the firewire interface.

All in all the results have been very good, I'm pretty happy with the HD24.
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Old August 31st, 2007, 02:58 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Pauly View Post
Am I leaving anything out?

As I said, I am very curious how others handle multi-track recordings, and how reliable your setup has worked for you.
There is always the multichannel recorders such as the SD 744T, Aaton Cantar, and Zaxcom Deva. For the past three (almost four) years now I've been using the Deva IV for multichannel recordings. I have done commercial gigs ranging from Echo & The Bunnymen to Rodney Crowell, and local steel drum bands and orchestras. All with 8 channels. The thing is all of these devices allow you to mix on-location, but more importantly they allow you mix in your studio. I import all my broadcast wav files into Digital Performer and mix all my recordings down to two channels this way. Yet, you can still provide the clients with the multi-track files too.

The downside to these devices is price. The upside is they are bulletproof. I have NEVER lost a recording. They might be worth looking at depending on how serious you are about this.

Wayne
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Old August 31st, 2007, 03:51 PM   #5
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Thanks a lot for the feedback so far!

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Originally Posted by Wayne Brissette View Post
There is always the multichannel recorders such as the SD 744T, Aaton Cantar, and Zaxcom Deva. [...] The downside to these devices is price.
I think some day one of the recorders from Sound Devices is going to replace my small but reliable MicroTrack recorder, for those jobs where I can't carry a lot of equipment with me or when only a couple of channels are needed - then I'll just hook it up to my SD302.

The Zaxcom Deva looks nice, but holy cow is it expensive. Believe my, I love good audio, but $13K for a recorder is way beyond my budget. (I wasn't even able to check a price online for the Aaton Cantar, saw a rental though for $250 a day, so my guess is it's not cheap.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum View Post
I've been working with #3 above, an Alesis HD24 for several years. [...] I've been extremely happy with the quality of the recordings at 24/48.
The more I think about it, the more I am zeroing in on this type of setup. The only downsides I can see are that, from what I read in the manual, the HD24 records only to one of the two drives that can be installed, so if that drive has a problem, the audio is lost (no redundancy). The other thing is that I didn't find any reference to generating or synching to timecode for video or film applications, but I am not sure if I am interpreting the information there correctly.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum View Post
I have a 28ch. console and a 16... the 16 is much more compact, and rack mountable. Currently, the 16ch. and the HD24 are parked in a "gig-rig" style case, which is very fast to set up because everything is pre-wired.
I like your idea of the "portable" version! That actually makes it fairly easy for me, since a smaller console (8-16 channels) is all I would need at this time; upgrading to the full 24 channels in the future then merely requires a second, larger console, while keeping the recorder.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Seth Bloombaum View Post
Finally, the firewire interface for the HD24 hard drives is well worth the money, and frequently comes bundled with the HD24. What would take you hours (days?) of transfer via ftp (the HD24 has an ftp server) will take minutes using the firewire interface.
Interesting. I would have thought that Ethernet shouldn't be too far behind FireWire. Well, as it happens, Alesis has a promotion going on right now where they give you a free FireWire interface with any new HD24 purchase.

Thanks again, guys, your verbose feedback is extremely valuable to me!

- Martin
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Old August 31st, 2007, 04:17 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martin Pauly View Post
...The only downsides I can see are that, from what I read in the manual, the HD24 records only to one of the two drives that can be installed, so if that drive has a problem, the audio is lost (no redundancy). The other thing is that I didn't find any reference to generating or synching to timecode for video or film applications, but I am not sure if I am interpreting the information there correctly....
Right, no built-in redundancy. Although, as soon as you are done recording, you can copy to the 2nd drive (if memory serves).

The HD24 will lock to a wordclock signal, with sample-level sync. I've done this for a 48ch. recording session, locking two HD24 together. I'd guess that there's a way to derive wordclock from video sync, but I've never looked for such a box. Note that this wouldn't be timecode, but would be fine, sample-level sync.

The Alesis BRC aka. Big Remote Control is supposed to be capable of timecode chase with an HD24, but... IMHO this is not real important in modern NLE workflows.

If you search this forum for posts from me that include "timecode" you'll find lots of verbose posts regarding syncing recordings from unlocked devices in post, as well as some contrary opinions. In short, I've had good experiences with multitrack from the HD24 (and other recorders) on the Vegas timeline with multiple cameras, especially with musical events. Recording reference audio on the camcorders is pretty important to the workflow I've been using.

***edit***
Just got curious about sync with the BRC and went to the Alesis HD24 FAQ - well worth visiting:
http://www.alesis.com/support/faqs/adat.html#58
I think if you sent reference video to the wordclock connector the HD24 would lock to it (sync, not timecode), but I've not done it. Apparently what I did before to lock 2 HD24s was ADAT Sync.
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Old September 1st, 2007, 07:13 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Martin Pauly View Post
Thanks a lot for the feedback so far!
The Zaxcom Deva looks nice, but holy cow is it expensive. Believe my, I love good audio, but $13K for a recorder is way beyond my budget. (I wasn't even able to check a price online for the Aaton Cantar, saw a rental though for $250 a day, so my guess is it's not cheap.)
The Cantar is around $14-15K USD. Might actually be a bit more because of the Euro vs. Dollar.

The Deva is a great machine, but you're right it isn't for the casual user. The price recently went up a bit but they no longer offer the lower end Deva IV, so their entry point is now the Deva 5.8, which is more like the Deva V plus a few things. They do have a 16 channel version in the works, but that will be even more money.

Wayne
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Old September 1st, 2007, 10:59 AM   #8
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HD24 is $1500. I've never used one, but others at different forum say it's good sound and reliable. I concure, never use a laptop for production recording, too many things can happen. And I don't care about success stories with a laptop, one failure is 100% failure in my book.
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Old September 2nd, 2007, 10:25 AM   #9
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Alright, it'll be the HD24 - it sounds like a very solid yet affordable solution. Which leaves the question which console to choose. Seth, I think I'll follow your example and get a smaller one (12-16 channels) for portability, then add a larger one when I really need it.

The requirements, it seems, would be high-quality pre-amps and direct-outs for each channel, apart from the already-mentioned accessible gain/fader controls (but I think that's a given for almost all consoles). The Mackie Onyx 1620 16-Channel Mixer seems to fit the bill, but this is an area that I really know very little about, and it might be overkill for just feeding the direct outs into a recorder. Any suggestions?

Thanks,
Martin
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Old September 3rd, 2007, 05:21 PM   #10
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I've not used the newer Onyx series from Mackie. I'd expect they're good boards. The 1620 has 8 mic preamps, the 1640 has 16 preamps.

Direct outs are output on DB-25 connectors, which would be super handy if you were using the Mackie or other hd recorder that has DB-25 inputs.

Instead, you'd need DB-25 => TRS snakes to get into the HD24, which are available but usually spendy.

More importantly, it looks like the direct outs are permanently pre-fader, which is good for a console also mixing for the house, but not so good for a dedicated recording console.

My 16ch. mixer is a Soundcraft FX16, the preamps are good, the direct outs are switchable pre/post fader, it's rack-mountable, I think it's about $1000 US street price. It competed directly with the older Mackie 1604-VLZ Pro. I'd suggest you consider this mixer for your compact rig.

I *love* my 28ch. mixer, it is a Soundcraft GB4-24. Very versatile, in a different league then the mackie or other compact mixers, sounds great, better IMHO than the competing Allen & Heath, waay better than the Mackie SR series. Lots more than I can describe in this space, a very versatile mixer. Big, needs a truck when its in the anvil case, and a two-person lift. I selected it specifically as a mixer that could do dual duty in recording and sound reinforcement, and it hasn't dissapointed.
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Old September 3rd, 2007, 10:14 PM   #11
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My 16ch. mixer is a Soundcraft FX16, the preamps are good, the direct outs are switchable pre/post fader, it's rack-mountable, I think it's about $1000 US street price. It competed directly with the older Mackie 1604-VLZ Pro. I'd suggest you consider this mixer for your compact rig.
Seth,

it looks like a newer FX16ii is available, with a new/different effects processor, from what I can see. Would this still be your recommendation for a recording console, or would you rather suggest to try to get one of the original ones?

- Martin
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Old September 4th, 2007, 12:35 PM   #12
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The update appears to be focused on the latest manufacturing methods, which is OK by me, and the new Lexicon efx chip with tap functions, don't know how much you'd use that. Usually, for multitrack recording, you'll pull in all channels clean, then consider efx in post. The internal power supply is good... no more wall wart.

I'd expect that either the new or the original FX16 would be just fine for your application.
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Old September 4th, 2007, 02:22 PM   #13
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Orders placed

Alright, orders have been placed. FYI, if anyone is in the market for an HD24, a well-known New York store (and former sponsor of this board) currently has a VERY attractive price on the HD24 - but you have to call to get it. Add to that the free FireWire promotion that Alesis has through the end of the month, and this seems like a great deal.

I'll get a larger harddrive for it, too. And Seth, I did go with the FX16ii - it was a bit difficult since not too many US dealers seem to carry it. I'll make sure to take a look at the GB4-24 once I need more than 16 channels at one time.

Once again, thanks a lot for all your help and suggestions!

- Martin
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Old September 4th, 2007, 03:47 PM   #14
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I hope you'll be as happy with yours as I am with mine.

PM me if you need a source for TRS-TRS snakes.

What will you be doing for post?
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Old September 4th, 2007, 04:29 PM   #15
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What will you be doing for post?
So far, I've been using Apple's Soundtrack Pro. Keep in mind that I am a video guy, and the Tascam FW-1082 that this new equipment is replacing has been used to capture surround sound at live events for a 5.1 audio mix - something that SoundTrack Pro has supported pretty well.

I have not done any real music recording or mixing so far, but I am looking for opportunities to experiment with it. The most likely starting point for this will probably be live music events or music videos, since I don't see myself being able to compete with professionals that really focus on audio only at this time. As I do that, I'll have to see if Soundtrack Pro is still the tool to use. I also use Logic Express today (for music creation, not mixing) and would have upgraded to Logic Pro already if it wasn't for the never ending rumors about an all new Logic version that's around the corner. I hear Logic Pro can be a decent tool for mixing, along with Pro Tools, of course, which I may take a look at.

- Martin
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