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Equipping Your Studio

You want to set up a recording system that’s affordable, easy to use, and sonically excellent. With today’s wide array of user-friendly sound tools, you can do just that. This chapter is a guide to equipment for a recording studio: what it does, what it costs, and how to set it up.

In this chapter we’ll examine:

Equipment

Cables and connectors

Preventing hum and radio frequency interference

What is the bare-bones equipment you need to crank out a decent demo CD? How much does it cost? Thanks to the new breed of affordable equipment, you can put together a complete home recording studio for as little as $1200. That includes powered speakers, two mics and mic stands, recording software, a sound card, headphones, and cables.

EQUIPMENT

Let’s examine each piece of equipment in a recording studio. You’ll need some sort of recording device, headphones, cables, mics, direct box, monitor speakers, audio interface, and effects.

Recording Device

Five types of recording devices to choose from are a 2-track recorder, a recorder–mixer, a separate multitrack recorder and mixer, a computer, and a keyboard workstation. We’ll look at each one.

37

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

PORTABLE 2-TRACK RECORDER

This device is great for on-location stereo recording of classical music: an orchestra, symphonic band, string quartet, pipe organ, or soloist.

Sometimes it can be used to record folk music or jazz, or to capture a practice session or an audience perspective of a rock group. Two types of 2-track recorder are a Flash memory recorder ( Figure 4.1 ), or laptop computer with recording software. Prices range from $200 to $1800.

Details on these units are in Chapter 9. Some Flash recorders are the

Sony PCM-D1 and D50 (sony.com/proaudio), Marantz PMD620

(d-mpro.com), Edirol R-1, R-09 and R-09HR (edirol.com), M-Audio

MicroTrack II (m-audio.com), Zoom H4 and H2 (samsontech

.com), Olympus LS-10 (olympus.com), Korg MR-1 and MR-1000

(korg.com), Yamaha PockeTrak 2G (yamaha.com), and TASCAM

DR-1 and HD-P2 (tascam.com).

FIGURE 4.1

Edirol R-09W, an example of a portable 2-track recorder.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

39

MINI STUDIO

Also called a portable studio, personal studio, or pocket studio, this piece of gear combines a 4- or 8-track recorder with a mixer—all in one portable chassis ( Figure 4.2 ). A mini studio records in MP3 format to a Flash memory card. It lets you record several instruments and vocals, then mix them to stereo; that is, you “ bounce ” the tracks to a stereo fi le in the memory card. You can copy the stereo mix fi le to your computer via USB. (USB is a type of cable and ports for high-speed data transfer). The sound quality of Pocket Studios is good enough to make demos, or to use as a musical scratchpad for ideas, but it is not quite good enough to release commercial albums. Costing about $230 to $599, a mini studio can be a good choice for beginning recordists.

Some features include:

An internal MIDI sound module (synthesizer) that plays back

MIDI sequences. Includes MIDI fi les or rhythm patterns to jam with.

Built-in effects.

FIGURE 4.2

Boss BR-600, an example of a mini studio.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

Built-in mic (in some models).

Autopunch. Automatically mode to correct mistakes.

Battery or AC-adapter powered.

Virtual tracks let you record multiple takes of a single performance, then select your favorite take during mixdown.

Guitar-amp modeling simulates various guitar amps; mic modeling simulates mic models.

2 mic inputs; records up to 2 tracks at a time. Plays back 4 or 8 tracks at once.

DIGITAL MULTITRACKER (RECORDER–MIXER)

Other names for this device are stand-alone Digital Audio Workstation

(DAW), portable digital studio, or personal digital studio.

Like the mini studio, the digital multitracker combines a multitrack recorder with a mixer in a single chassis ( Figure 4.3 ). It’s convenient and portable. Offering better sound than a mini studio, the digital multitracker provides CD sound quality because it can record WAVE fi les. It records 8 to 32 tracks onto a built-in hard drive or Flash memory card. The mixer includes faders (volume controls) for mixing, EQ or tone controls, and aux sends for effects (such as reverb).

An LCD screen displays recording levels, waveforms for editing, and other functions.

Price ranges from $700 to $3600. Some manufacturers of mini studios or digital multitrackers are TASCAM, Boss, Fostex, Korg, Roland,

Yamaha, and Zoom (Samson).

Chapter 9, under the heading Recorder–Mixer (Personal Digital

Studio), lists some features to look for in a recorder–mixer.

SEPARATE MULTITRACK RECORDER AND MIXER

Ideal for on-location recording, a multitrack hard-disk recorder (HD

Recorder) records up to 24 tracks reliably on a built-in hard drive

( Figure 4.4 ), just like the hard drive in your computer. The recorder doesn’t have mic preamps, so it must be used with a mixer or mic preamps. Multiple recorders can be linked to get more tracks. Some examples are the Alesis ADAT HD24XR, TASCAM MX-2424 and

X-48, Otari DR-100, iZ Technology RADAR, Fostex D-2424LV, and

Mackie HDR 24/96. Prices range from $1500 to $20,000.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

41

FIGURE 4.3

Korg D3200, an example of a digital multitracker (recorder–mixer).

FIGURE 4.4

Alesis HD24XR, an example of a multitrack HD recorder.

Current units record with 24-bit resolution and up to 96 kHz sampling rate. Some record 24 tracks of 24-bit programs at sample rates of 44.1 and 48 kHz. They record 12 tracks of 24-bit recording at 88.2 and 96 kHz. (These terms are explained in Chapter 9). Some HD recorders allow track editing, either on a built-in LCD screen or on

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio a plug-in computer monitor. A few models have built-in removable hard drives for backing up projects.

A mixer ( Figure 4.5 ) is an electronic device with several mic preamplifi ers, volume and tone controls for each mic, monitor volume controls, and outputs for effects devices. To use it, plug mics and electric instruments into the mixer, which amplifi es their signals. Connect the output signal of each mic preamp to a multitrack recorder. While recording, use the mixer to send those signals to the desired recorder tracks, and to set recording levels. During mixdown, the mixer combines (mixes) the tracks to stereo. It also lets you adjust each track’s volume, tone quality, effects, and stereo position. A large, complex mixer is called a

FIGURE 4.5

Mackie 1604-VLZ3, an example of a mixer.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

43 mixing console (board or desk) and costs upwards of $3000. Chapter

11 explains mixing consoles in detail.

Price is about $180 to $1500. Mixers are made by such companies

M-Audio, Tapco, Peavey, Samson, and many others.

COMPUTER DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION (DAW)

This low-cost recording setup has three parts: a personal computer, an audio interface, and recording software ( Figure 4.6 ). Some software records MIDI data (explained later) as well as audio. The audio interface converts audio from your mics, mic preamps, or mixer into a signal that is recorded on the computer’s hard drive as a magnetic pattern.

Dozens of tracks can be recorded with professional quality. You mix the tracks with a mouse by adjusting the “ virtual ” controls that appear on your computer screen. Then you record the mix on your computer’s hard drive. Details are in Chapter 13, Computer Recording.

MONITOR

HARD

DRIVE

PCI SLOT, USB PORT,

OR FIREWIRE PORT

COMPUTER

KEYBOARD

MOUSE

ALESIS

FIREPORT

AUDIO INTERFACE

SOUND CARD

AUDIO INTERFACES (CHOOSE ONE)

CONTROLLER OR MIXER

WITH I/O

FIGURE 4.6

Computer with recording software and a choice of audio interface.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

A computer studio costs about the same as a mini studio and is more powerful. It’s a bargain. But since software requires computer skills, it’s a little harder to learn and use than a hardware multitracker.

Software recordings are at least CD quality—better than the MP3 recordings you get with a mini studio.

Recording software costs anywhere from $0 (freeware) to $1800, with $150 to $500 being typical prices. Software examples include

Cakewalk Home Studio, Sonar Studio and Sonar Producer;

Digidesign Pro Tools LE, M-Powered and HD; Apple Logic Studio and Logic Pro, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo, Sony Vegas and

Sound Forge, BIAS Deck, Pro Tracks Plus, Magix Samplitude and

Sequoia, Mackie Tracktion, Reaper; N Track Studio, RML Labs SAW

Studio, Adobe Audition, and MOTU Digital Performer (Mac only).

Free multitrack recording programs are available for download.

Although they lack extensive features, they offer a chance to practice your skills at no cost. Examples are Audacity ( http://audacity.sourceforge

.net ), Kristal (from Kreative.org), and Garage Band (supplied free with any new MacIntosh computer or $79 with a Mac software upgrade).

Related to recording software is music creation software, which comes with samples of musical instruments. You set up loops (repeating drum riffs and musical patterns), play along with them using a MIDI keyboard, and record that MIDI sequence. Examples include Ableton

Live, Propellerhead Reason, Sony ACID Pro, and Spectrasonics

Stylus RMX.

FIGURE 4.7

M-Audio Fast Track Ultra, an example of a USB 2.0 audio interface. It offers low-latency direct monitoring with reverb, and can create two headphone mixes.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

45

A sound card (PCI audio interface) costs $100 to $1700, a USB audio interface ( Figure 4.7 ) costs $100 to $500, and a FireWire audio interface costs $200 to $1950.

Some makers of sound cards include Echo, Event, Frontier Design,

M-Audio, RME, Lynx, and E-MU. USB and FireWire Audio interface manufacturers include Digidesign, Metric Halo, MOTU, PreSonus,

Apogee, Focusrite, M-Audio, TC Electronic, Mackie, E-MU, Alesis,

Edirol, TASCAM, Lexicon, and many others.

Another type of audio interface is a mixer that connects to a computer by a FireWire or USB port. It sends the output signal of each mic preamp to a separate track in your recording software, and returns the stereo mix back to the mixer for monitoring. This can be a good system for recording a band because it offers easy setup of monitor mixes with effects. Some examples are the Mackie Onyx

1640 with the optional Onyx FireWire Card (16 recording channels),

Alesis Multimix USB or FireWire series (up to 8 recording channels),

Edirol M-16DX (16 recording channels, 4 mic inputs), and Behringer

Xenyx 2442FX (4 recording channels). Generally these mixers are not controllers for recording software—you still need to use a mouse— but the Edirol M-16DX is also a control surface.

A few microphones have USB built in, so you just plug the mic directly into your computer’s USB port. Examples are the Samson C01U, Blue

Snowball, Rode Podcaster USB microphone; and MXL USB.009, 990

USB, and 990 USB stereo mics. The MXL MicMate plugs into any pro mic and converts its output to USB. Phantom power is included. Its digital-audio format is 16-bit, 44.1 or 48 kHz. The Centrance MicPort Pro is similar but records up to 24-bit/96 kHz audio.

Using a mouse can be fatiguing and can lead to repetitive stress syndrome. An alternative to the mouse is a control surface or controller. It looks like a mixer with faders, but it adjusts the virtual controls you see on the computer screen. That way you can use your computer for recording, and control the software with knobs and faders instead of a mouse. Two controllers with one fader are

FaderPort ($150). Multi-fader controllers are made by such companies as Mackie, TASCAM, M-Audio, Digidesign, and Alesis ($350 to

$1300).

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

FIGURE 4.8

Frontier Design AlphaTrack, an example of a controller for recording software.

KEYBOARD WORKSTATION

Here’s another device to record music. This is a synthesizer/sampler with a piano-style keyboard and a built-in sequencer (MIDI recorder) and effects. Examples include Alesis Fusion, Promega 2 and

Andromeda; Korg K2600X; Yamaha Motif, Roland Fantom-X, Juno-G and GW-7. The workstation lets you create a tune with several instrument sounds. Then you record the audio from the keyboard into a computer. If you want to add a vocal, use MIDI/audio recording software. An arranger keyboard workstation automatically creates backing tracks (drums, bass, and chords) by following your left hand’s notes and right-hand’s melodies. Examples include Yamaha Tyros2 and PSR-S900.

A similar device is a beat box or groove box, which is a sample player with pads that you tap to generate sounds and grooves. It lets you assemble a stereo music track from drum and synth samples. Copy

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

47 the music from the beat box into your computer and add vocals.

Examples include Akai MPC series and MPD24, Roland sampling workstations, Zoom RT-223 and Streetboxx SB-246, Korg Electribe series.

LEGACY RECORDING DEVICES

Some recording equipment has become almost obsolete, but you may need to work with it if a client brings older gear into your studio to transfer audio tracks. Some of these formats are listed below.

Analog tape recorder : This records 2 to 24 tracks of analog audio on reels of magnetic tape from 1/4 to 2 inches wide. Compared to digital recorders, analog recorders have more noise, distortion, frequency-response errors, and unstable pitch. Their electronics and tape heads need frequent alignment. Still, many people love the sound of them. Some have mic inputs; all have analog line inputs and line outputs.

DAT recorder : This records 2 tracks of audio digitally on a small

DAT-tape, a cassette about half the size of a standard analog cassette. The DAT also writes absolute time (hours, minutes, and seconds) on tape as it records. Inputs are analog mic/line level and digital; outputs are analog line level and digital.

Modular Digital Multitrack (MDM) : This records 8 digital tracks on a videocassette, using a rotating drum like a DAT recorder.

Two popular models are the Alesis ADAT which records on

S-VHS tape, and the TASCAM DA-88, DA-78 or DA-38 which record on Hi-8 mm tape. ADAT records up to 40 minutes on a single tape; DA-88 records up to 1 hour 48 minutes. With both types, you can sync several 8-track units with a cable to add more tracks. Both have analog line inputs and outputs. ADAT has Lightpipe-format digital outputs; TASCAM models have

TDIF-format digital outputs.

Microphone

So far we covered recording devices. Let’s move on to other studio equipment.

A microphone converts the sound of a voice or instrument into an electrical signal that can be recorded. Microphone sound quality varies

48

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio widely, so be sure to get one or more good mics costing at least $100 each. Your ears should tell you if a mic’s fi delity is adequate for your purpose. Some people are happy to get any sound recorded; others settle for nothing less than professional sound quality.

Probably the most useful mic types for home recording are the cardioid condenser mic and cardioid dynamic mic. The cardioid pickup pattern helps reject room acoustics for a tighter sound. The condenser type is commonly used on cymbals, acoustic instruments, and studio vocals; dynamics are used typically on drums and guitar amps. You’ll also need at least one mic cable, mic stand, and boom costing about

$25 each. For more information on microphones, see Chapter 6.

Do you want to record solo instruments or classical musical ensembles in stereo with two mics at a distance? You’ll need either a stereo mic or a matched pair of high-quality condenser or ribbon mics of the same model number, plus a stereo mic-stand adapter. See

Chapter 18 for details.

Phantom-Power Supply

A phantom-power supply powers the circuits in condenser mics. It uses the same cable that carries the mic’s audio signal. You don’t need the supply if your condenser mic has a battery, or if your mixer or audio interface supplies phantom power at its mic connectors (most do). Some makers of phantom supplies are ART, Audio-

Technica, Rolls, and Whirlwind. Prices range from $45 to $139.

Mic Preamp

This device amplifi es a mic signal up to a higher voltage called “ line level, ” which is required by mixers and recorders. A stand-alone mic preamp provides a slightly cleaner, smoother, or more colorful sound than a mic preamp built into a mixer or audio interface, but costs much more. A 2-channel preamp costs $120 to $2000, while

8-channel preamps range from $600 to $6000. Studios on a budget can do without a preamp.

Some manufacturers are Manley, True Systems, Focusrite, Universal

Audio, GLM, Chandler, A Designs, Millennia, Avalon, Great River,

John Hardy, Benchmark, AEA, Apogee, Vintech, Grace, Groove Tubes,

Presonus, Mackie, Summit Audio, Studio Projects, Blue, Samson, dbx, Aphex, and M-Audio.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

49

INSTRUMENT

AMP

GND

LIFT

MIC-LEVEL

OUTPUT

FIGURE 4.9

A direct box.

Direct Box (DI)

A direct box ( Figure 4.9 ) is used to connect an electric instrument

(guitar, bass, synth) to an XLR-type mic input of a mixer, recorder– mixer, or audio interface. It lets you record electric instruments directly into your mixer without a microphone. A direct box picks up a very clean sound, which may be undesirable for electric guitar.

If you want to pick up the distortion of the guitar amp, use a microphone instead. Or use a guitar-amp modeling device or modeling plug-in.

Some recorder–mixers and audio interfaces have “ high-impedance ” or “ instrument ” inputs meant for electric guitars and synthesizers.

In this case, simply use a short guitar cord between the instrument and the mixer high-impedance input. If the cable run is over 15 feet, you’ll get higher quality with a direct box plugged into an XLR mic input.

Direct boxes sell for $50 to $700. Some manufacturers are Radial,

Countryman, Whirlwind, Manley, Groove Tubes, Pro Co, BSS, Tapco,

Aphex, and ART.

Monitor System

Another important part of your studio is the monitor system: a pair of quality headphones or loudspeakers. The monitor system lets you hear what you’re recording and mixing—what you’re doing to the recorded sound. The sound you hear over the monitors is approximately what the fi nal listener will hear.

50

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

Very good headphones are available for $100 and up from Sony,

AKG, Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, Audio Technica, Ultrasone, Shure, and others. A headphone amp can power several headphones at once, and some units let the musician adjust the headphone mix.

If you’re recording only yourself, one set of headphones is enough.

But if you’re recording another musician, you both need headphones.

Many recorder–mixers have two headphone jacks for this purpose.

If you want to record or overdub several people at once, you need headphones for all of them. For example, if you’re overdubbing three harmony vocalists, each one needs headphones to hear previously recorded tracks to sing with. To connect all these headphones, you could build a headphone junction box: an aluminum or plastic box that contains several headphone jacks. These are wired to a cable coming from your mixer’s headphone jack. Or you could use a splitter cable, which makes two jacks out of one. Another option is to purchase an affordable Rolls or Behringer headphone amplifi er. Feed the amp from aux sends or the stereo mix.

Powered speakers with built-in amplifi ers provide accurate, high-fi delity monitoring. Described in Chapter 5, these Nearfi eld studio monitors are small, bookshelf-type speakers that are placed about 3 feet apart and 3 feet from you as you sit at your mixer. Some monitor companies include Genelec, Dynaudio, JBL, Event, Quested, Focal, Lipinski, KRK,

Blue Sky, Yamaha, Adam, Mackie, Alesis, Tannoy, M-audio, Behringer,

Edirol, and Samson. Prices range from $200 to $3860 a pair.

Effects

A recording without effects sounds rather dead and plain. Effects such as reverberation, echo, and chorus can add sonic excitement to a recording. They are produced by devices called signal processors (see Figure

4.10 ) or by plug-ins, which are software effects used in a computer recording program. See Chapter 10 for more information on effects.

Although effects are built into most recording programs and recorder– mixers, most analog mixers require external effects units. On the mixer is a set of connectors (labeled “ aux send ” and “ aux return ” ) for hooking up an external effects unit, such as a reverb or delay device. A unit with one effects send lets you add one type of effect; a unit with two effects sends lets you add two different effects to create more sonic interest.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

51

FIGURE 4.10

An effects unit.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Other equipment for your home studio includes audio cables, USB or

FireWire cables, power outlet strips, lighting, tables or studio furniture, mic pop fi lters, masking tape and a pen to label inputs and cables, contact cleaning fl uid, MIDI equipment stands, music stands, session forms, connector adapters, pen and paper, a fl ashlight, and so on.

MIDI Studio Equipment

MIDI is covered in detail in Chapter 16. It describes the components in a typical MIDI studio, such as shown in Figure 4.11 . Also see

Chapter 2 under the heading MIDI Sequencing.

We’ve looked at several types of recording setups. All can help you create quality demos. As you go higher in price you get more features and better sound. For example, if you want to record an entire band playing all at once, with each instrument having its own mic, you’ll need a system with more microphones, more tracks, and more headphones.

As we’ve seen, putting together a home studio or project studio needn’t cost much. As technology develops, better equipment is available at lower prices. That dream of owning your own studio is within reach.

SETTING UP YOUR STUDIO

Once you have your equipment, you need to connect it together with cables, and possibly install equipment racks and acoustic treatment.

Let’s consider each step.

Cables

Cables carry electric signals from one audio component to another.

They are usually made of one or two insulated conductors (wires) surrounded by a fi ne-wire mesh shield that reduces hum. Outside

52

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

AUDIO INTERFACE

WITH MIDI I/O

Computer audio out to mixer or powered speakers

MIDI

out

MIDI

in

COMPUTER

MIDI

SPLITTER

MIDI in

MIDI in

MIDI out

SOUND MODULE (optional)

MIDI / AUDIO

RECORDING SOFTWARE multitrack audio recorder sequencer soft synths sample players

Optional sound module audio out to mixer or powered speakers

Optional synth audio out to mixer or powered speakers

SYNTH OR KEYBOARD MIDI CONTROLLER

FIGURE 4.11

One type of MIDI studio. the shield is a plastic or rubber insulating jacket. On both ends of the cable are various types of connectors.

Cables are either balanced or unbalanced. A balanced line is a cable that uses two wires (conductors) to carry the signal, surrounded by a shield (see Figure 4.12 ). Each wire has equal impedance to ground.

An unbalanced line has a single conductor surrounded by a shield

(see Figure 4.13 ). The conductor and shield carry the signal. A balanced line rejects hum better than an unbalanced line, but an unbalanced line less than 10 feet long usually provides adequate hum rejection and costs less.

A cable carries one of these fi ve signal levels or voltages:

1. Mic level: About 2 mV (0.002 volt) to about 1 V depending on how loud the sound source is, and on how sensitive the mic is.

2. Instrument level: Typically 0.1 to 1 V for passive pickups; up to

1.75 V for active pickups.

3. Semi-pro or consumer line level:

⫺ 10 dBV (0.316 volt).

4. Pro line level:

⫹ 4 dBu (1.23 volts).

5. Speaker level (about 20 volts).

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

53

CABLE JACKET INSULATION

HOT CONDUCTOR

COLD CONDUCTOR

SHIELD

FIGURE 4.12

A 2-conductor shielded, balanced line.

CABLE JACKET

CONDUCTOR

SHIELD

FIGURE 4.13

A 1-conductor shielded, unbalanced line.

Note that “ instrument level ” can overlap mic level and line level.

Some manufacturers use dBu instead of volts (for an explanation, see Appendix A):

Mic level: About

⫺ 52 dBu to ⫹ 2.2 dBu.

Instrument level:

⫺ 17.7 dBu to ⫹ 7 dBu.

Semi-pro or consumer line level:

⫺ 7.8 dBu

Pro line level:

⫹ 4 dBu.

Equipment Connectors

Recording equipment also has balanced or unbalanced connectors built into the chassis. Be sure your cable connectors match your equipment connectors.

Balanced equipment connectors:

3-pin (XLR-type) connector— Figure 4.14

1/4-inch TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) phone jack— Figure 4.15

Unbalanced equipment connectors:

1/4-inch TS (tip-sleeve) phone jack— Figure 4.15

Phono jack (RCA connector)— Figure 4.16

A jack is a receptacle; a plug inserts into a jack.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

PUSH

FIGURE 4.14

A 3-pin XLR-type connector used in balanced equipment. Left: male output connector. Right: female input connector.

FIGURE 4.15

A 1/4-inch phone jack used in balanced and unbalanced equipment.

FIGURE 4.16

A phono (RCA) jack used in unbalanced equipment.

Connectors are confusing because a single connector can have several functions (usually not at the same time). Here are some examples:

XLR: balanced line input at

⫹ 4 dBu, balanced mic input at 2 mV to 1 V, or balanced line output at

⫹ 4 dBu.

TRS (stereo 1/4-inch phone jack): balanced mic input, insert send/return connectors (line-level), instrument input, or stereo headphones.

TS (mono 1/4-inch phone jack): unbalanced mic input, unbalanced line-level input or output (

⫹ 4 dBu or ⫺ 10 dBV), instrument input, or low-cost speaker connector.

Combi connector: an XLR mic input plus a TRS input (instrument-level or line-level ).

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

55

FIGURE 4.17

A mono (TS) 1/4-inch phone plug.

FIGURE 4.18

An RCA (phono) plug.

RCA (phono): home stereo line-level input or output at

⫺ 10 dBV, composite video input/output, or SPDIF digital-audio input/output.

1/8-inch (3.5 mm) mini phone jack: headphone jack, low-cost stereo mic card’s line in, line out, or speaker out.

Equipment connectors are labeled according to their function. If you see an XLR connector with the label “ MIC, ” you know it’s a balanced mic input. If it’s an 1/8-inch connector on a sound card, look at the icon near the connector. It’s either a mic input, line input, line output, or speaker output. You could download the manual for the sound card, which should describe the function of each connector.

Cable Connectors

shows a 1/4-inch mono phone plug (or TS phone plug), used with cables for unbalanced microphones, synthesizers, and electric instruments. The tip terminal is soldered to the cable’s center conductor; the sleeve terminal is soldered to the cable shield.

Figure 4.18 shows an RCA or phono plug, used to connect unbalanced line-level signals. The center pin is soldered to the cable’s center conductor; the cup terminal is soldered to the cable shield.

56

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

Figure 4.19 shows a 3-pin pro audio connector (XLR-type). It is used with cables for balanced mics and balanced recording equipment. The female connector (with holes; Figure 4.19A ) plugs into equipment outputs. The male connector (with pins; Figure 4.19B ) plugs into equipment inputs. Pin 1 is soldered to the cable shield, pin 2 is soldered to the “ hot ” red or white lead, and pin 3 is soldered to the remaining lead. This wiring applies to both female and male connectors.

Figure 4.20 shows a stereo (TRS) phone plug, used with stereo headphones and with some balanced line-level cables. For headphones, the tip terminal is soldered to the left-channel lead; the ring terminal is soldered to the right-channel lead; and the sleeve terminal is soldered to the common lead. For balanced line-level cables, the sleeve terminal is soldered to the shield; the tip terminal is soldered to the hot red or white lead; and the ring terminal is soldered to the remaining lead.

Some mixers have insert jacks that are stereo phone jacks; each jack accepts a stereo phone plug. Tip is the send signal to an audio device input, ring is the return signal from the device output, and sleeve is ground.

FIGURE 4.19

A 3-pin pro audio connector (XLR-type). (A) female; (B) male.

FIGURE 4.20

A stereo (TRS) phone plug.

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

57

Cable Types

Cables are also classifi ed according to their function. In a studio, you’ll use several types of cables: power, mic, MIDI, speaker, USB, FireWire,

S/PDIF, TASCAM TDIF, Alesis Lightpipe, guitar cords, and patch cords.

A power cable, such as an AC extension cord or a power cord on a device, is made of three heavy-gauge wires surrounded by an insulating jacket. The wires are thick to handle high current without overheating.

A mic cable is usually 2-conductor shielded. It has two wires to carry the signal, surrounded by a fi ne-wire cylinder or shield that reduces hum pickup. On one end of the cable is a connector that plugs into the microphone, usually a female XLR-type. On the other end is either a 1/4-inch phone plug or a male XLR-type connector that plugs into your mixer or audio interface.

Rather than running several mic cables to your mixer or interface, you might consider using a snake: a box with multiple mic connectors, all wired to a thick multiconductor cable ( Figure 4.21 ). A snake is especially convenient if you’re running long cables to recording equipment from another room. It’s essential for most on-location recording.

STAGE BOX

CONNECTORS TO

MIC CABLES

SNAKE

CONNECTORS TO MIXER

FIGURE 4.21

A stage box and snake.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

Professional balanced equipment is interconnected with mic cable:

2-conductor shielded cable having a female XLR on one end and a male XLR on the other. Professional patch bays (described in the next section) use balanced cables with TRS phone plugs.

A MIDI cable uses a 5-pin DIN connector on each end of a 2-conductor shielded cable. The cable connects MIDI OUT to MIDI IN, or MIDI

THRU to MIDI IN.

A speaker cable connects a power amp to each loudspeaker. Speaker cables are normally made of lamp cord (zip cord). To avoid wasting power, speaker cables should be as short as possible and should be heavy gauge (between 12 and 16 gauge). Number 12 gauge is thicker than 14; 14 is thicker than 16.

A USB cable or a FireWire cable connects a peripheral device (like an audio interface) to a computer. USB and FireWire are covered in detail in Chapter 13.

An S/PDIF cable transfers a digital signal from one device’s S/PDIF output to another device’s S/PDIF input. It uses a shielded unbalanced cable (ideally a 75-ohm RG59 video cable) with an RCA plug on each end.

A TASCAM TDIF cable is a multiconductor cable with a 25-pin

D-sub connector on both ends. It’s used to connect multiple digitalaudio signals from TASCAM multitrack recorders to digital mixers or computer TDIF interfaces.

An Alesis Lightpipe cable is a fi ber-optic cable with a TOSLINK connector on both ends. This cable is used to connect 8 channels of digital-audio signals from an Alesis multitrack recorder to a digital mixer or computer Lightpipe interface.

A guitar cord is constructed of a 1-conductor shielded cable with a

1/4-inch phone plug on each end. It connects a guitar amp to an electric instrument (electric guitar, electric bass, synthesizer, or an acoustic guitar with a pickup). Also, it connects an electric instrument to a direct box or to an instrument input.

Patch cords connect your recorder–mixer to external devices: an effects unit, a 2-track recorder, and a power amplifi er. They also connect an analog mixer to the analog inputs and outputs of a multitrack

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

59 recorder, usually as a snake that combines several cables. An unbalanced patch cord is made of 1-conductor shielded cable with either a 1/4-inch phone plug or a phono (RCA) connector on each end.

A stereo patch cord is two patch cords joined side by side.

Rack/Patch Bay

You might want to mount your signal processors in a rack, an enclosure made of wood or metal with rails of screw holes for mounting equipment ( Figure 4.22 ). You also might want to install a patch panel or patch bay: a group of connectors that are wired to equipment inputs and outputs. Using a patch bay and patch cords, you can change equipment connections easily. You also can bypass or patch around defective equipment. Note that a patch bay increases the chance of hum pickup slightly because of the additional cables and connectors.

Racks and patch bays aren’t essential, but they are convenient.

FIGURE 4.22

A rack and patch panel.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

OUTPUT

NORMAL

INPUT

1

CONSOLE

BUSSES OUT

2 3 4

EFFECTS

SENDS

STEREO

REVERB

OUT

1

2

1

2

STEREO

DELAY

OUT

1 2 1

RECORDER

LINE OUTPUTS

2

3

4

CONSOLE

INSERT

SENDS

1

2

1 2 3

RECORDER

LINE INPUTS

4

Figure 4.23

Some typical patch-bay assignments.

1

2

1 2 1

REVERB

IN

DELAY

IN

EFFECTS 1

RETURN

EFFECTS 2

RETURN

2

3

4

CONSOLE

LINE INPUTS

1

2

CONSOLE

INSERT

RETURNS

Figure 4.23 shows some typical patch-panel assignments.

Equipment Connections

The instruction manuals of your equipment tell how to connect each component to the others. In general, use cables that are as short as possible to reduce hum, but that are long enough to let you make changes.

Be sure to label all your cables on both ends according to what they plug into—for example, MIXER CH1 MONITOR OUT or ALESIS

3630 IN. If you change connections temporarily, or the cable becomes unplugged, you’ll know where to plug it back in. A piece of masking tape folded over the end of the cable makes a stay-put label.

Typically, you follow this procedure to connect equipment (see

Figure 4.24 ):

1. Plug the AC power cords of audio equipment and electric musical instruments into AC outlet strips fed from the same circuit breaker. Make sure that the sum of the equipment current ratings doesn’t exceed the breaker’s amp rating for that outlet. Plug the power amplifi er or powered speakers into their own outlet on the same breaker so that they receive plenty of current.

2. Connect mic cables to mics.

3. Connect mic cables either to the snake junction box, or directly into mic inputs on a mixer, mic preamps, or audio

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

61

POWER AMPLIFIER

AND MONITOR SPEAKERS,

OR POWERED MONITORS

MICS / DI

MICS

IN

HEAD-

PHONES

INSERT

SEND/RETURNS

MONITOR

OUT

MIXER

L

R

LINE

OUT

LINE

IN

LINE

OUT

L

R

LINE

IN

IN / OUT

MULTITRACK

RECORDER

(OPTIONAL)

COMPUTER

WITH AUDIO

INTERFACE

FIGURE 4.24

Typical connections for recording-studio equipment.

FIGURE 4.25

A female XLR to phone plug adapter. interface. Plug the snake connectors into the mic inputs. If your mixer has phone-jack mic inputs, you may need to use an impedance-matching adapter (female XLR to phone) between the mic cable and the mic input jack ( Figure 4.25 ).

62

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

4. Set the output volume of synthesizers and sound modules about three-quarters of the way up. Connect their audio outputs to instrument or line inputs on your mixer or audio interface. If this causes hum, use a direct box.

If you’re recording a guitar direct, connect it either to (1) an instrument input on your mixer or audio interface, or (2) a direct box.

Connect the XLR output of the direct box to a mic input on your mixer or audio interface.

5. If the mixer is a stand-alone unit (not part of a recorder– mixer), connect the mixer’s stereo outputs to the inputs of an audio interface. If the mixer has a USB or FireWire connector, connect that to the mating connector in your computer.

6. Connect the audio interface audio outputs to the mixer’s

2-track or tape inputs, or to a volume-control unit, or directly to powered speakers.

7. Connect the mixer’s monitor outputs to the power-amp inputs.

Connect the power-amp outputs to loudspeakers. Or if you’re using powered (active) monitors, connect the mixer monitor outputs to the monitor-speaker inputs.

8. If the mixer doesn’t have internal effects, connect the mixer aux-send connectors to effects inputs (not shown). Connect the effects outputs to the mixer aux-return or bus-in connectors.

9. If you’re using a separate mixer and multitrack recorder, connect mixer bus 1 to recorder track 1 IN, connect bus 2 to track

2, and so on. Also connect the recorder’s track 1 OUT to the mixer’s line input 1, connect the track 2 OUT to the mixer’s line input 2, and so on. As an alternative, connect insert jacks to multitrack inputs and outputs. At each insert plug, connect the tip (send) terminal to a track input; connect the ring

(return) terminal to the same track’s output.

10. If you have several headphones for musicians, connect the cue output to a small amplifi er to drive their headphones. Or if the mixer’s headphone signal is powerful enough, connect it to a box with several headphone jacks wired in parallel.

Semi-pro studio equipment with unbalanced connectors (usually phone or RCA) operates at a level called dio equipment with balanced connectors (XLR or TRS) works at

⫹ 4 or

⫹ 4 dBu. Check your equipment manuals to determine their input and output levels. When you connect devices that run at different

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

63

POWER AMPLIFIER

AND MONITOR SPEAKERS,

OR POWERED MONITORS

MICS / DI

HEAD-

PHONES

MICS

IN

MONITOR

OUT

AUDIO INTERFACE,

CONTROLLER SURFACE, or

USB/FIREWIRE MIXER

PCI, USB or

FIREWIRE

COMPUTER

FIGURE 4.26

Typical connections in a DAW recording studio. levels, set the

⫹ 4/ ⫺ 10 switch on each unit to match the levels. If there is no such switch on either device, connect between them a

⫹ 4/ ⫺ 10 converter box such as the Whirlwind LM2U line-level converter

( www.whirlwindusa.com ). Or try the cables shown in Appendix A

(dB or Not dB), Figures A.3 and A.4.

Figure 4.26 shows typical connections in a DAW recording studio that uses an audio interface, controller surface, or USB/FireWire mixer (described in Chapter 13). Figure 4.27 shows a typical layout for a DAW recording studio.

A recorder–mixer studio can be quite simple. Plug mics into mic inputs, plug headphones into headphone jacks, and plug powered speakers into the mixer monitor outputs.

HUM PREVENTION

You patch in a piece of audio equipment, and there it is—HUM! It’s a low-pitched tone or buzz. This annoying sound is a tone at 60 Hz

(50 Hz in Europe) and multiples of that frequency.

Hum is caused mainly by

1. Cables picking up magnetic and electrostatic hum fi elds radiated by power wiring—especially if the cable shield connection is broken.

2. Ground loops. A ground loop is a closed loop of ground wires.

It’s made of two separated pieces of audio equipment each

64

CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

LEFT

SPEAKER

COMPUTER

MONITOR

RIGHT

SPEAKER

HEAD-

PHONES

AUDIO INTERFACE,

CONTROLLER SURFACE, or USB/FIREWIRE MIXER

PCI, USB or

FIREWIRE

TO MIC INPUTS

COMPUTER

KEYBOARD

COMPUTER

SNAKE

MULTITRACK

RECORDER

(OPTIONAL)

MICS

FIGURE 4.27

Typical layout of a DAW recording studio. connected to power ground through a 3-prong power cord, and also connected to each other through a cable shield. The ground voltage may be slightly different at each piece of equipment, so a 50- or 60-Hz hum signal fl ows between the components along the cable shield.

These are the most important points to remember about hum prevention:

To prevent ground loops, plug all equipment into outlet strips powered by the same AC outlet.

Do not use an AC (electrical) 3-to-2 adapter to disconnect the power ground—this creates a safety hazard.

Some power amps create hum if they don’t get enough AC current. So connect the power amp (or powered speakers) AC plug to its own wall outlet socket—the same outlet that feeds the outlet strips for the recording equipment.

If possible, use balanced cables going into balanced equipment.

Balanced cables have XLR or TRS connectors and two conductors

Equipping Your Studio CHAPTER 4

65 surrounded by a shield. At both ends of the cable, connect the shield to a screw in the chassis, not to XLR pin 1. Or use audio gear whose XLR connectors are wired with pin 1 to chassis ground, not to signal ground.

Transformer-isolate unbalanced connections. If that isn’t an option, use the cable assemblies shown in Figures A.3 and A.4 in Appendix A.

Don’t use conventional SCR dimmers to change the studio lighting levels. Use Luxtrol variable-transformer dimmers or multi-way incandescent bulbs instead.

Even if your system is wired properly, a hum or buzz may appear when you make a connection. Follow these tips to stop the hum:

If the hum is coming from a direct box, fl ip its ground-lift switch.

Check cables and connectors for broken leads and shields.

Unplug all equipment from each other. Start by listening just to the powered monitor speakers. Connect a component to the system one at a time, and see when the hum starts.

Remove audio cables from your devices and monitor each device by itself. It may be defective.

Lower the volume on your power amp (or powered speakers), and feed them a higher level signal.

Use a direct box instead of a guitar cord between instrument and mixer.

To stop a ground loop when connecting two devices, connect between them a 1:1 isolation transformer, direct box or hum eliminator (such as Jensen CI-2RR, Behringer HD400, Rolls HE18 or Ebtech He2PKG). See Figures A.3 and A.4 in Appendix A.

Make sure that the snake box isn’t touching metal.

To prevent accidental ground loops, don’t connect XLR pin 1 to the connector shell except for permanent connections to equipment inputs and outputs.

Try another mic.

If you hear a hum or buzz from an electric guitar, have the player move to a different location or aim in a different direction. You might also attach a wire between the player’s body and the guitar strings near the tailpiece to ground the player’s body.

Turn down the high-frequency EQ on a buzzing bass-guitar track.

To reduce buzzing between notes on an electric-guitar track, apply a noise gate.

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CHAPTER 4 Equipping Your Studio

Route mic cables and patch cords away from power cords; separate them vertically where they cross. Also keep recording equipment and cables away from computer monitors, power amplifi ers, and power transformers.

See Rane’s excellent article on sound system interconnections at

www.rane.com .

By following all these tips, you should be able to connect audio equipment without introducing any hum. Good luck!

REDUCING RADIO FREQUENCY

INTERFERENCE (RFI)

RFI is heard as buzzing, clicks, radio programs, or “ hash ” in the audio signal. It’s caused by CB transmitters, computers, lightning, radar, radio and TV transmitters, industrial machines, auto ignitions, stage lighting, and other sources. Many of the following techniques are the same used to reduce hum from other sources. To reduce RFI do the following:

If you think that a speaker cable, mic cable, or patch cord is picking up RFI, wrap the cable several times around an RFI choke (available at Radio Shack). Put the choke near the device that is receiving audio.

Install high-quality RFI fi lters in the AC power outlets. The cheap types available from local electronics shops are generally ineffective.

If the shield is disconnected in a balanced cable connector, solder it to pin 1.

If a mic is picking up RFI, solder a 0.047 microfarad capacitor between pin 1 and 2 and between pin 1 and 3 in the female

XLR connector of the mic cable. Caution: this might cause highfrequency distortion with some mics.

At equipment XLR mic inputs, use a cable connector with a tab that is connected to the metal shell. Use a wide strip of metal braid to connect this tab to pin 1. Make sure the connector makes metal-to-metal contact with the chassis.

Periodically clean connector contacts with Caig Labs DeoxIT, or at least unplug and plug them in several times.

This chapter briefl y covered the equipment and connectors for a recording studio. The rest of this book explains each piece of equipment in detail and tells how to use it for best results.

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