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Old June 15th, 2006, 01:19 PM   #1
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Audio; a little knowledge is a dangerous thing ...

And I'm pretty dangerous right now, having extremely limited information. I've set up a computer (onboard audio only right now), bought Production Studio 2, have my trusty mini dvd camcorder (old sony trv25), my canon digital camera, picked out a subject for a year-long documentary to start in August. I have always focused on the visual part of any video I've made, and my head is swimming with all the information on capturing and editing audio, mixing, dubbing, post production, microphones,etc. It is nothing professional that I'm doing now, but maybe someday... Anyway, my first question would be about audio - what hardware for my computer. I have been told that an external usb audio device instead of an audio pci card would be an excellent choice. What is this? And why? I'm trying to get the hardware set up decently so that it doesn't become the problem as I go through learning the NLE and taking advantage of all the great info on this forum.

Thanks!
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Old June 15th, 2006, 01:40 PM   #2
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One of the keys to getting good audio in your final production is to be able to actually hear what it sounds like. I know that sounds obvious but it is a vital first step and too often overlooked. Most built-in sound cards are marginal in terms of their audio reproduction - fine for games and "toonz" but not up to evaluating a mix. A high quality audio interface will drive a good set of monitor speakers and give you an accurate picture of what you're really getting. Coupled with a professional studio microphone it open the possiblity of recording high quality voice over and narration or if you have the musical chops or know performers that do, recording your own music tracks as well. If your camera doesn't provide direct firewire or USB connectivity to the computer a good quality interface will give a cleaner conversion from analog audio from your camera or VTR to the file you're editing in your NLE than you would get with a conventional soundcard.
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Old June 15th, 2006, 02:40 PM   #3
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If there's a limit to how much and how fast you can invest, I'd start with the mics--both for narration and for capturing the audio of the subject during taping--and worry about the sound card later. If you don't capture good audio to begin with, there isn't much you can do to produce good audio later.
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Old June 15th, 2006, 08:34 PM   #4
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audio beginner

QUOTE: "If there's a limit to how much and how fast you can invest, I'd start with the mics--both for narration and for capturing the audio of the subject during taping--and worry about the sound card later. If you don't capture good audio to begin with, there isn't much you can do to produce good audio later."

Fred -That makes sense, and I have looked at 'lav' microphones as good solutions for what I want to try to do. This whole project is only me,(so a boom mic wouldn't work well I think) and dialog will be important. Any recommendations for a beginner mic?

QUOTE: "A high quality audio interface will drive a good set of monitor speakers and give you an accurate picture of what you're really getting. Coupled with a professional studio microphone it open the possiblity of recording high quality voice over and narration or if you have the musical chops or know performers that do, recording your own music tracks as well."

Steve - My camcorder does have direct usb connection to the computer. But the motherboard I have used makes it a very tight fit to put a 32 bit pci audio card in besides the video card I have. I have some great speakers at home that I can steal from an older system, but the external audio device is still a mystery to me. I actually would like to use headphones as I review the audio, (less complaints about the repetition since I do not have a dedicated room) and voice overs will be done. Music will not be live, but added to support the flow and message of the video. Do you have an external audio device you suggest?

Thanks to both of you for your answers. Since I am just beginning the audio learning curve, equipment that is user friendly is paramount.

Leslie
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Old June 15th, 2006, 10:55 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leslie Dopkiss
Any recommendations for a beginner mic?
Have a search around the "Now Hear This" forum. There are heaps of recent posts on microphone recommendations, a lot of which fit your situation exactly. Do lots of research and get the best microphones you can. You won't regret it. Audio is really important.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Leslie Dopkiss
Do you have an external audio device you suggest?
For your situation I would recommend Protools LE & Mbox 2. I've got the original Mbox, and its fantastic. Read the information on the Digidesign site for reasons why to purchase Protools LE.

In regards to audio monitoring: for your situation I would do a rough mix with your headphones (make sure they are of good quality; there are posts on this site about which headphones to use). Then burn your movie to DVD and watch it on a TV a few times. Take notes. Then make adjustments again on your PC. Repeat the process until perfect! As your viewers are going to be watching it on DVD (I presume), using really expensive reference monitors seems a waste of money (in my opinion). I wouldn't bother bringing the TV into your "studio" and hooking it up to the PC either. It's much better to watch your film from the couch as a viewer.
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Old June 16th, 2006, 12:02 AM   #6
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There are some good responses in hear.I believe if your going to do a project like this ,a saying holds true.That is ..... if it's worth doing,do it right.I agree with both Fred and Steve,acquire the best mic for your situation you can.However, I personally can't mix audio with headphones and don't anyone who does a good job of it either.I'm sure someone there is somebody out there,but I don't suggest you try.Get at least decent monitor speakers to do your mix.Regardless of your delivery media,quality is quality, don't dumb the thing down.
As far as your original question Steve is right a good quality unit will make a difference.There are PCI cards and outboard units that will work fine.One reason outboard devices are commonly recommended is ethe elimination or reduction of noise from close proximity to other components inside the computer.
Just my opinion.
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Old June 16th, 2006, 12:32 AM   #7
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I hear what your saying Jack, but do you honestly think its worth spending a large sum of money on studio monitors for a situation like Leslie's? As the footage is coming from a Sony TRV25, it's safe to assume that it's not going to be blown up for the big screen, so all the viewings are going to be in front of a television. The reason I am against allocating a large portion of the budget to studio reference monitors is that to make them effective, they need to be used in a suitable room - not a room in a house filled with computer fan noise, people walking around in other rooms, etc. It just doesn't seem logical to purchase a great product and use it in an inadequate location. But, hey, that's just my opinion; I'm no audio expert by any stretch of the imagination.

I completely agree that if it's worth doing, do it right, but you have to make do with what you've got, especially in terms of funds. If you've only got a limited budget, using that money towards reference monitors seems most inappropriate. Better to use your money towards acquiring the best footage and sound you can, make the film with what post-production gear you have, and then if the films any good, you can always spend some more money and re-edit and master it.
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Old June 16th, 2006, 01:21 AM   #8
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Leslie,

What's your budget? Given that and the scope of what you need, we can probably come up with a pretty balanced package. It makes little sense to have a great interface and crummy monitors, or vice versa.

That said, the most popular budget pro card these days is the M-Audio Audiophile 2496. I use the Audiophile 192, since it comes with balanced I/O. (Balanced lets you run longer cables and avoid hum and interference.) There's also the Echo MIA MIDI with similar performance and cost as the AP192.

From there, take a look at some of the Firewire cards, like Echo's AudioFire line.

I prefer Firewire to USB for audio. Firewire lets an application request guaranteed bandwidth. That's why it's so good for video and audio.

At the high-end many composers go for RME products, but that's beyond what you need.

And don't forget good monitors. They may be overkill for your camera and mic, but iTunes will rock through your new system. :)
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Old June 16th, 2006, 06:29 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leslie Dopkiss
QUOTE: "If there's a limit to how much and how fast you can invest, I'd start with the mics--both for narration and for capturing the audio of the subject during taping--and worry about the sound card later. If you don't capture good audio to begin with, there isn't much you can do to produce good audio later."

Fred -That makes sense, and I have looked at 'lav' microphones as good solutions for what I want to try to do. This whole project is only me,(so a boom mic wouldn't work well I think) and dialog will be important. Any recommendations for a beginner mic?

QUOTE: "A high quality audio interface will drive a good set of monitor speakers and give you an accurate picture of what you're really getting. Coupled with a professional studio microphone it open the possiblity of recording high quality voice over and narration or if you have the musical chops or know performers that do, recording your own music tracks as well."

Steve - My camcorder does have direct usb connection to the computer. But the motherboard I have used makes it a very tight fit to put a 32 bit pci audio card in besides the video card I have. I have some great speakers at home that I can steal from an older system, but the external audio device is still a mystery to me. I actually would like to use headphones as I review the audio, (less complaints about the repetition since I do not have a dedicated room) and voice overs will be done. Music will not be live, but added to support the flow and message of the video. Do you have an external audio device you suggest?

Thanks to both of you for your answers. Since I am just beginning the audio learning curve, equipment that is user friendly is paramount.

Leslie
I'll concur with Fred's advice. Mics and a mixer for the set or additions to your computer to upgrade it into an audio/video workstation I'd rate at just about the same level of priority.

There are a number of external audio interfaces that are very good. I agree with John that Firewire is a better way to go than is USB. I have an Echo Audiofire8 that I'm very happy with. Some other good choices are Mackie's new Onyx, and firewire interfaces from Presonus, m-Audio, Edirol, and Mark of the Unicorn. Depends on your budget and the features you need. If you anticipate mixing for surround sound look for one that offers at least 6 and preferably 8 channels output. If you anticipate connecting a keyboard or if you hope to get a control surface for editing, a MIDI I/O port is another feature to look for. For recording voiceover and narration having a couple of mic inputs with preamps that can provide phantom power for studio mics is also a good thing. Headphone outs are good as well.

Reference monitors can go way way up into the budget stratosphere and I'd agree with Chris that you shouldn't go overboard. But I'll also disagree with him that a rough mix on headphones and then listening on a TV is the way to go either. The problem with burning to DVD and taking it your TV for previewing is you can't make adjustments in real time; plus your mix might sound good on your TV but no one elses. I suggest some middle ground. Headphones (and expect to spend a few bucks on a good pair of professional cans like Sony 7506s) are good for reviewing and evaluating your footage and looking for problems so by all means use them for that. But they're not so good for mixing. You don't need to spend thousands on studio monitors but you do need something better than run of the mill or even what would be otherwise be considered good consumer-level "multimedia" computer speakers to be able to really hear the blend of music, FX, dialog, etc that you'll be trying to achieve. But you don't have to spend a fortune - there are a lot of monitors in the sub-kilobuck range from a couple hundred a pair up that will do a better job than either computer speakers or headphones. And FYI, "great speakers" from a stereo system may or may not make a good choice for monitoring a mix - you'll have to try it and see. You're not looking for "kick-a** sound" here, you're looking for accuracy. Audiophile speakers, iPod headphones, etc are intended to make a range of program material sound pleasing and there's so many varieties in part because there are so many different preferences that people have - speakers that make hip-hop sound good (if that's possible LOL) will be quite different from speakers chosen by a classical music buff. Monitors have a different purpose altogether. Their purpose is to give you accurate information to help you make artistic decisions - if your mix is good it should sound good but if it's cr*p than it should sound like cr*p so you can fix it.
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Old June 16th, 2006, 09:41 AM   #10
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Wow.

Uh....

What a great amount of information! This will take some digesting and reading, but don't worry ;0 I'll be back with more questions.

Thank you all so much - what a great forum.

Leslie
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Old June 16th, 2006, 12:09 PM   #11
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For people on a budget, I strongly recommend getting a nice set of headphones, rather than so-so monitors. A hundred bucks or so gets you some Sony MDR-7506s or Sennheiser HD280-Pros. Either pair will last for at least a decade with no upgrade needed. A pair of $300 monitors would be just until you can afford something better. Might as well get headphones and some reasonable computer speakers, until you can save for monitors that you will really appreciate.

Personally, I find the Senns to be very flat and accurate. The Sony's are a bit more scooped and sweet. The Senns are better for double-checking your mix. The Sony's might be better for studio tracking and field recording.

Here's the deal: Headphones don't suffer from bad room acoustics. They sound the same no matter where you're sitting. You can learn their signature and use them as a sanity check. Also, you shut out ambient sounds, and might notice subtle problems that get smeared on monitors in a room with reflections and computer fans.

That said, you can't get the stereo image correct with headphones. They don't let the left and right signals mix before hitting your ears. For instance, if you crosswire the phase of a mono signal, it will cancel in the listening point between stereo monitors. You'll hear the problem and fix it. On headphones the crosswired signal will sound just fine.

The other problem is that you'll mix subtle things to be too subtle on headphones. Put your mix in the real world and no one will hear that subtle whisper.

Anyway, headphones are a great investment, and a great tool. But you'll want monitors too. It's just that a good pair of monitors costs about ten times that of a good pair of headphones.
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Old June 16th, 2006, 12:20 PM   #12
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jon Fairhurst

Here's the deal: Headphones don't suffer from bad room acoustics. They sound the same no matter where you're sitting. You can learn their signature and use them as a sanity check. Also, you shut out ambient sounds, and might notice subtle problems that get smeared on monitors in a room with reflections and computer fans.

That said, you can't get the stereo image correct with headphones. They don't let the left and right signals mix before hitting your ears. For instance, if you crosswire the phase of a mono signal, it will cancel in the listening point between stereo monitors. You'll hear the problem and fix it. On headphones the crosswired signal will sound just fine.

The other problem is that you'll mix subtle things to be too subtle on headphones. Put your mix in the real world and no one will hear that subtle whisper.

Anyway, headphones are a great investment, and a great tool. But you'll want monitors too. It's just that a good pair of monitors costs about ten times that of a good pair of headphones.
headphones don't suffer from bad room acoustics, but they do suffer from bad skull acoustics. You'll tend to hear more low end than is actually there, and mix less bottom in. When the mix is played on a calibrated monitoring system, it will be thin.
Headphones are great, but attempting to mix (as you allude) is a serious, and often costly mistake. If you can't afford a good monitoring system, then find someone who has one. Check the mixes. Check the mixes on a bad TV, too.
It's a good idea to have a stereo to mono switch in your line. The Mackie BigKnob is great for this, or some NLE's allow you to switch to mono as well. Headphones can demonstrate the problem to a limited extent when you've got phase-inverted signals.

Be careful out there, good audio is addictive once you've experienced it. :-)
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Old June 16th, 2006, 02:23 PM   #13
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Douglas,

You're right about the LF emphasis with headphones, though I find that my Sennheisers are reasonably flat and only a little heavy sounding.

On the other hand, some nearfields don't reproduce the lowest frequencies without a subwoofer. Take Yamaha NS-10s for example.

In any case one needs to learn their system and mix with the shortcomings of the system in mind. To learn your system, listen to CDs and videos that you want to match. Target those mixes when working on your own material.

Calibrate your system. And calibrate your understanding of your system.
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Old June 17th, 2006, 10:33 AM   #14
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audio idiot is what I am

Here's the truth, I am much more visually attunded to life than I am audio. And I know absolutely no one (besides you all, my new friends!) in the video or audio production field, so I can't go to them to check out what they have or try out their setup. What I hear you all saying is that money will be the limiting factor *sigh*. I will go online and look at the headphones with a low cost external firewire audio interface and low cost audio monitors. This project is only for tv viewing, but I am sure my audience has surround sound capablities. I'll be back with what I find in my budget and listen to your opinions.

And of course the mics.....

Did I remember to say thanks again?

Leslie
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Old June 17th, 2006, 07:36 PM   #15
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Leslie, if you post your approximate budget here, I'm sure some of the people on this forum would be more than happy to point you in the right direction. Jon has already offered some great advice on what headphones to look into (should they fit into your budget).

Also, if you have any equipment already in mind, tell the people here, if only so you can hear a second opinion.

Oh, and welcome to the expensive world of Film & Television!
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