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azinck3
2006-04-20, 12:48
This is potentially quite off-topic, but I need ideas and this is a very active board full of intelligent people ;) with lots of varied experience. So read-on if you have any experience in pro audio or are otherwise interested in helping me!

I'm looking for what amounts to a "slim" recording device for professional audio applications. My church records our service every week on a computer (we simply pull a mono feed from an aux send on our mixer straight into the PC sound card) for easy distribution via the internet and CDs. Due to space/budget constraints, 2 computers (one for graphics/powerpoint, one for recording) share a single monitor via a kvm switch. During the service the graphics computer needs to be used almost exclusively. This makes it very difficult to monitor the recording levels on the recording computer during the service and inexperienced operators (or even experienced ones) often end up with recordings that are either driven well into clipping, or are too quiet, at least in parts. The widely varying weekly setup (different sound engineers, different bands, etc.) complicates things. A proper setup would include a separate recording mixer, compressors, etc...we don't have the budget for that. With what we have we're obviously not looking for a studio-grade recording, just listenable, undistorted sound.

Does anyone have any suggestions for a good way to accomplish what we're trying to do? I'd love to hear about hardware or software or any other techniques that you may have used or have heard of that would help us out. Optimally the hardware should cost <$500.

I've spent a good deal of time thinking about this myself. After much consideration, what I think would be optimal would be a simple hardware box with balanced audio inputs, transport controls with an LCD display for device status/settings, and a VU meter. The device would sit on a network, or connect to a computer via USB or firewire and use the computer for storage. The computer would simply have some sort of service installed (running in the background) that would perform the functions required by the hardware. This would include things like creating and saving the audio files, etc. For example, every time you'd hit record a new file would be created in some directory on the pc, then closed out and saved when recording was stopped--all transparently. The PC should just sit there and dumbly accept data. This would prevent you from ever having to look at the PC. In fact, if this were implemented via ethernet the PC could be locked away in a closet somewhere. In effect, the hardware would look and act very much like a stand-alone CD-recorder, or even a tape deck, but in the end there'd be a file sitting on a PC somewhere, which is emminently more useful to me in my application than any other sort of media.

Now, I'm quite aware that there a number of devices that are similar to what I'm describing. I'll quickly outline them below and why I find them less-than-ideal:

USB and Firewire audio interfaces (with MIDI-based DAW control): There are many of these out there the likes of edirol, m-audio, tascam, and many others. Virtually all of these, however, lack transport controls, decent VU meters (most just have clipping LEDs), and all of them, of course, rely upon relatively complex PC-based software for the actual recording task (optimally, our Sunday-morning operators shouldn't really even have to create a new audio file with the right recording parameters, etc.--I just want them to hit record). And the devices that do happen to add transport controls and decent VU meters are much more complex devices in themselves. They have many more features for mixing and recording--these make it too easy for a novice to screw up when all you want is a straight recording. Those features also add cost.

There are also multi-track hard-disk recorders (a la Mackie and Alesis):
Overkill for our needs and relatively pricey.

Lastly, there are small, portable hard-drive recorders:
These could potentially work for our purposes, but they, too, tend to have poor VU meters and the extra step of getting the recording off the device seems unnecessary. Besides, their form-factor is less than ideal for a fixed installation.


So (for those of you who are still with me at this point)...any thoughts? Ideas? Something glaring I've missed? I keep thinking there must be a device like this out there somewhere...

jimdibb
2006-04-20, 13:03
Use VNC. Run the server on one machine and the client on the other. Then
you can have a small window of the recording machines desktop open while you
use the graphics machine. (Unless its not appropriate to have the recording
SW display on the graphics display. Do you actually display CG during the
service?)

In that case, just find a cheap monitor (I'm sure someone from the
congregation would donate one, even an old small one that works but they'd
have to pay to throw away.) But I guess there's no space for that?

VNC is free.

On 4/20/06, azinck3 <azinck3.26kw5b1145562601 (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>
wrote:
>
>
> This is potentially quite off-topic, but I need ideas and this is a very
> active board full of intelligent people ;) with lots of varied
> experience. So read-on if you have any experience in pro audio or are
> otherwise interested in helping me!
>
> I'm looking for what amounts to a "slim" recording device for
> professional audio applications. My church records our service every
> week on a computer (we simply pull a mono feed from an aux send on our
> mixer straight into the PC sound card) for easy distribution via the
> internet and CDs. Due to space/budget constraints, 2 computers (one
> for graphics/powerpoint, one for recording) share a single monitor via
> a kvm switch. During the service the graphics computer needs to be
> used almost exclusively. This makes it very difficult to monitor the
> recording levels on the recording computer during the service and
> inexperienced operators (or even experienced ones) often end up with
> recordings that are either driven well into clipping, or are too quiet,
> at least in parts. The widely varying weekly setup (different sound
> engineers, different bands, etc.) complicates things. A proper setup
> would include a separate recording mixer, compressors, etc...we don't
> have the budget for that. With what we have we're obviously not
> looking for a studio-grade recording, just listenable, undistorted
> sound.
>
> Does anyone have any suggestions for a good way to accomplish what
> we're trying to do? I'd love to hear about hardware or software or any
> other techniques that you may have used or have heard of that would help
> us out. Optimally the hardware should cost <$500.
>
> I've spent a good deal of time thinking about this myself. After much
> consideration, what I think would be optimal would be a simple hardware
> box with balanced audio inputs, transport controls with an LCD display
> for device status/settings, and a VU meter. The device would sit on a
> network, or connect to a computer via USB or firewire and use the
> computer for storage. The computer would simply have some sort of
> service installed (running in the background) that would perform the
> functions required by the hardware. This would include things like
> creating and saving the audio files, etc. For example, every time
> you'd hit record a new file would be created in some directory on the
> pc, then closed out and saved when recording was stopped--all
> transparently. The PC should just sit there and dumbly accept data.
> This would prevent you from ever having to look at the PC. In fact, if
> this were implemented via ethernet the PC could be locked away in a
> closet somewhere. In effect, the hardware would look and act very much
> like a stand-alone CD-recorder, or even a tape deck, but in the end
> there'd be a file sitting on a PC somewhere, which is emminently more
> useful to me in my application than any other sort of media.
>
> Now, I'm quite aware that there a number of devices that are similar to
> what I'm describing. I'll quickly outline them below and why I find
> them less-than-ideal:
>
> USB and Firewire audio interfaces (with MIDI-based DAW control): There
> are many of these out there the likes of edirol, m-audio, tascam, and
> many others. Virtually all of these, however, lack transport controls,
> decent VU meters (most just have clipping LEDs), and all of them, of
> course, rely upon relatively complex PC-based software for the actual
> recording task (optimally, our Sunday-morning operators shouldn't
> really even have to create a new audio file with the right recording
> parameters, etc.--I just want them to hit record). And the devices
> that do happen to add transport controls and decent VU meters are much
> more complex devices in themselves. They have many more features for
> mixing and recording--these make it too easy for a novice to screw up
> when all you want is a straight recording. Those features also add
> cost.
>
> There are also multi-track hard-disk recorders (a la Mackie and
> Alesis):
> Overkill for our needs and relatively pricey.
>
> Lastly, there are small, portable hard-drive recorders:
> These could potentially work for our purposes, but they, too, tend to
> have poor VU meters and the extra step of getting the recording off the
> device seems unnecessary. Besides, their form-factor is less than ideal
> for a fixed installation.
>
>
> So (for those of you who are still with me at this point)...any
> thoughts? Ideas? Something glaring I've missed? I keep thinking
> there must be a device like this out there somewhere...
>
>
> --
> azinck3
> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
> azinck3's Profile: http://forums.slimdevices.com/member.php?userid=3967
> View this thread: http://forums.slimdevices.com/showthread.php?t=23154
>
>

pfarrell
2006-04-20, 13:13
azinck3 wrote:
> This is potentially quite off-topic,

Just a tad.
Perhaps if you think I have any good ideas, we should
take this off to private mail.

> With what we have we're obviously not
> looking for a studio-grade recording, just listenable, undistorted
> sound.

The problem is that it takes nearly as much work and talent
to get a decent recording as it takes to get a very good one.
Wonderful recordings take more.


> Optimally the hardware should cost <$500.

You should look at the FMR RNC compressor, two channel for $200.


> I've spent a good deal of time thinking about this myself. After much
> consideration, what I think would be optimal would be a simple hardware
> box with balanced audio inputs, transport controls with an LCD display
> for device status/settings, and a VU meter.


The problem is that there is no mass market for such a thing.
Some would even say that a SlimDevices SqueezeBox is not mass market.

You should get a computer, audio card, an RNC and some software.

For transport controls, you can use something like a Contour Shuttle Pro


> The PC should just sit there and dumbly accept data.
> This would prevent you from ever having to look at the PC. In fact, if
> this were implemented via ethernet the PC could be locked away in a
> closet somewhere.

The PC can be used without PC controls, but it is going to take
technical support. Of nothing other than to
identify the date of the tracks you are recording.


> USB and Firewire audio interfaces (with MIDI-based DAW control): There
> are many of these out there the likes of edirol, m-audio, tascam, and
> many others. Virtually all of these, however, lack transport controls,
> decent VU meters


Do you realize that good VU meters cost more than your total budget?

>(most just have clipping LEDs), and all of them, of
> course, rely upon relatively complex PC-based software for the actual
> recording task (optimally, our Sunday-morning operators shouldn't
> really even have to create a new audio file with the right recording
> parameters, etc.--I just want them to hit record).

That can be setup

> They have many more features for
> mixing and recording--these make it too easy for a novice to screw up
> when all you want is a straight recording. Those features also add
> cost.

It isn't really the features that add cost, it is the tiny market size.
The features are added to help people justify why they have
to spend so much more than they want.
Software such as N-Tracks is inexpensive, as are the 'home studio'
versions of Cakewalk, Cubase, etc.

> So (for those of you who are still with me at this point)...any
> thoughts? Ideas? Something glaring I've missed? I keep thinking
> there must be a device like this out there somewhere...

You already have all the hard parts, the mics, cables, mixer, etc.
For low quality work, any PC audio will work. Better is any $200 audio
card, M-Audio Delta or audiophile series, lots others.



--
Pat Farrell PRC recording studio
http://www.pfarrell.com/PRC

azinck3
2006-04-20, 13:17
Thanks for the response, Jim.

There's certainly no space for a second monitor, but your VNC option isn't too bad, actually. Funny that I hadn't thought of it considering I use it every day at work. And the frame rate should be decent enough over a 100mbit connection. We do generate graphics live during the service (using a program called Mediashout) but the VNC solution would still be feasabl. It'd certainly be a lot easier to check levels than how we're currently doing it (the kvm switch takes a second or two to switch which just feels like an eternity if you need to get back to the graphics machine quickly).

At some point I'd love to see us get something hardware-based like I described, but I think the VNC idea will be a great stop-gap measure.

Anyone else have any other thoughts?

jimdibb
2006-04-20, 13:23
Glad to help.

On 4/20/06, azinck3 <azinck3.26kxjb1145564401 (AT) no-mx (DOT) forums.slimdevices.com>
wrote:
>
>
> Thanks for the response, Jim.
>
>

radish
2006-04-20, 14:32
You could also look at DAT. As mentioned, a compressor would help a lot, but for recording I'm sure you could pick up a decent rack mount DAT recorder (with basic VU, transport, etc) for a couple hundred bucks.

azinck3
2006-04-20, 15:11
> You could also look at DAT. As mentioned, a compressor would
> help a lot, but for recording I'm sure you could pick up a
> decent rack mount DAT recorder (with basic VU, transport, etc)
> for a couple hundred bucks.

Thanks for the reply, radish. Yes, a compressor would certainly help our situation greatly! Hopefully the budget will be available for one. As for the DAT: I don't really think it would serve our needs well as our end-product must be on a computer.

The church audio market is an unusual one in that our volunteers need professional equipment but often with scaled-down featuresets for simplicity. I'm beginning to reconcile myself with the fact that I'll probably have to compromise on some of my "requirements". Using a compressor to limit our dynamics (and monitor input levels) would at least be a big improvement from what we're doing right now. That would prevent our operators from having to switch the kvm mid-service.

(oh, and thanks, Pat--I've sent you a PM to follow up on a few of the things you mentioned)

radish
2006-04-20, 15:57
>
Thanks for the reply, radish. Yes, a compressor would certainly help our situation greatly! Hopefully the budget will be available for one. As for the DAT: I don't really think it would serve our needs well as our end-product must be on a computer.


Well, sure, but it's easy to hook up an spdif cable from the DAT to the PC and transfer the music after the fact. The advantage you get is a real transport interface which most people are familiar with (it's a just tape deck). Plus it's cheap, much cheaper than anything HDD based.

azinck3
2006-04-20, 16:45
That's true...in truth, I never gave much thought to the DAT option. I see that it's a valid solution, particularly given the constraints I articulated in my original post. However, I failed to mention that we really need to be able to burn and duplicate CD's immediately following the service.

tom permutt
2006-04-21, 10:26
Are you sure you need to control the recording levels as tightly as you think? On, say, a cassette tape, "too quiet" means not only that you have to turn the gain up to hear it, but also that when you do, you hear a lot of hiss. Serious recordists will gasp at this, but you may find with digital recording that you can just set a level that is never too high and then normalize everything that is "too quiet" and still get the quality you need.

There are also some bits of software that might be well suited to your application. Loop Recorder (www.looprecorder.de), for example, can just run all the time: you don't even need to "hit record." With that and a one-size recording level, you might not have to think about controlling the recorder at all.

Unless one of your requirements is no postprocessing. Do you need to have a finished product right away, or can somebody come later and, at a minimum, trim and normalize?

azinck3
2006-04-21, 11:48
Thanks, Tom.

Well, some post-processing is acceptable (we do this to prepare the files for streaming off our website). But as I mentioned in an earlier post, we need to be able burn cds immediately after the service for a few homebound elderly. So we do need to have acceptable quality right out of the gate.

The dynamics issue can largely be solved by a compressor, but you'd really be surprised by how easily things can get screwed up--particularly with inexperienced volunteers. We have a different band every week (4 bands on rotation) and different sound reinforcement volunteers every week (5 teams on rotation). Channels are constantly moving around and if someone's not real attentive (our volunteers have a lot of other responsibilities--there's not a dedicated recording engineer) it's pretty easy for a really low (unsalvageably low) or really high level on some particular channel to slip through (there's no way to monitor aux send levels with VU meter on the mixer itself). That's why we need some way for someone to be able to easily glance at a VU meter to be sure things are in the right ballpark.

Well, guys, if one of you comes across the perfect piece of hardware for this application then let me know, otherwise, I think we're going to go with the following setup:

aux send from mixer into a compressor (with VU meters) into a USB 2.0 interface, into the computer. Per Pat's recommendations I'll be working on some macros to make control a bit easier, and maybe pick up a Contour Shuttle Pro for my transport controls. This will get me 95% of the way towards where I want to be.

Thanks again for lending an ear and a hand.

Now, back to the Squeezebox!

Pale Blue Ego
2006-04-21, 22:01
M-Audio Microtrack, $399:

http://tinyurl.com/rtkly

Edirol Portable recorder, $439:

http://tinyurl.com/ou4ua

NRG Stereo microphone, $76.95:

http://tinyurl.com/p9u5t

dth122
2006-04-22, 19:03
Maybe I'm missing a problem with this setup, but why not record through
a compressor with good metering straight to a stand-alone CD recorder?
You have both the metering on the comps and on the CD recorder. Making
immediate multiple copies afterwards is simply a matter of ripping the
CD (takes only a few minutes) and burning on the PC.

You get all of the familiar and easy-to-use transport controls of the CD
recorder and you should be easily able to get all of the parts within
your budget.
- Dave


azinck3 wrote:
> Thanks, Tom.
>
> Well, some post-processing is acceptable (we do this to prepare the
> files for streaming off our website). But as I mentioned in an earlier
> post, we need to be able burn cds immediately after the service for a
> few homebound elderly. So we do need to have acceptable quality right
> out of the gate.
>
> The dynamics issue can largely be solved by a compressor, but you'd
> really be surprised by how easily things can get screwed
> up--particularly with inexperienced volunteers. We have a different
> band every week (4 bands on rotation) and different sound reinforcement
> volunteers every week (5 teams on rotation). Channels are constantly
> moving around and if someone's not real attentive (our volunteers have
> a lot of other responsibilities--there's not a dedicated recording
> engineer) it's pretty easy for a really low (unsalvageably low) or
> really high level on some particular channel to slip through (there's
> no way to monitor aux send levels with VU meter on the mixer itself).
> That's why we need some way for someone to be able to easily glance at
> a VU meter to be sure things are in the right ballpark.
>
> Well, guys, if one of you comes across the perfect piece of hardware
> for this application then let me know, otherwise, I think we're going
> to go with the following setup:
>
> aux send from mixer into a compressor (with VU meters) into a USB 2.0
> interface, into the computer. Per Pat's recommendations I'll be
> working on some macros to make control a bit easier, and maybe pick up
> a Contour Shuttle Pro for my transport controls. This will get me 95%
> of the way towards where I want to be.
>
> Thanks again for lending an ear and a hand.
>
> Now, back to the Squeezebox!
>
>
>

ceejay
2006-04-23, 03:49
Maybe I'm missing a problem with this setup, but why not record through
a compressor with good metering straight to a stand-alone CD recorder?
You have both the metering on the comps and on the CD recorder. Making
immediate multiple copies afterwards is simply a matter of ripping the
CD (takes only a few minutes) and burning on the PC.

You get all of the familiar and easy-to-use transport controls of the CD
recorder and you should be easily able to get all of the parts within
your budget.
- Dave



Like these people ... http://www.coomber.co.uk/ ... my wife bought one of their real-time CD recorders for recording school music performers - anyone can use it!

Ceejay

azinck3
2006-04-23, 11:21
Maybe I'm missing a problem with this setup, but why not record through a compressor with good metering straight to a stand-alone CD recorder?

Yeah, this would be ideal except for the fact that we need to be able to record more than 80 minutes at a time.

dth122
2006-04-23, 13:21
How about something like the Marantz PMD660? Up to 17hrs on a 1GB
compact flash in MP3 format. (Varies depending on compression.)

Purchase a CF reader for the PC and you're all set.
- Dave

azinck3 wrote:
>> Maybe I'm missing a problem with this setup, but why not record through
>> a compressor with good metering straight to a stand-alone CD recorder?
>>
>
> Yeah, this would be ideal except for the fact that we need to be able
> to record more than 80 minutes at a time.
>
>
>

azinck3
2006-04-23, 19:36
How about something like the Marantz PMD660? Up to 17hrs on a 1GB compact flash in MP3 format. (Varies depending on compression.)

Purchase a CF reader for the PC and you're all set.
- Dave



That's a really perfect suggestion. I hadn't seen one of these with a VU meter until you pointed this one out. I wonder if I can get the church to stretch the budget to buy a compressor, too...