About IKEA in musical terms - how to build music and this time a little about Harddisk recording - by Claes Holmerup
It's time again for a small music article. Since none of the readers has asked any questions (do you REALLY know everything - and what in heaven's name am I doing, sitting here writing?), I'll immediately continue the last issue's article.
This means that you replace the tape recorder with a computer with the right software and a harddisk. Most of you probably already know in general terms how a sampler works - it records sound by taking samples of the signal (that's where the name comes from) and record these into the memory.
When working with harddisk recording, you don't record into the memory, but rather on the harddisk. This demands some performance from the computer and a fast harddisk, so just anything won't work. Out of coincidence I just happened to think of Atari (or C-lab) Falcon and Cubase Audio - the Falcon was constructed for the job, letting an enthusiastic musician with a limited budget make professional recordings.
PROs and CONs
One disadvantage is of course the fact that you can NEVER saturate the recording -something that is done very often on analog recorders to get a "fatter" sound. Another disadvantage before you get the hang of it, is that you have to give each recording a name before recording it, instead of the analog situation, where you just hit the record button and go.
That's about the cons I can find - except for the costs that go a little higher than for an analog setup - but when looking at new equipment, the difference in price is very well compensated for in the sound quality (if you look at used equipment, it's another ballgame).
The advantages then? Are they motivated by the price?
Well, that's always a case of judgment and a dilemma for musicians who want to make good recordings. You can say that the costs have to stay within a certain limit (if you have a very limited budget, it generally doesn't allow HD-recording), or you can cross the border, saying that you want as good sound quality as possible - starting with a little smaller system that can be enhanced when needed and when the money allows you to...
The advantages towards tape recording are many.
You get rid of tape noise -totally! The possibilities to edit are immensly better on harddisk - if you record the vocals in one chorus perfecly, you don't have to record it again for the following choruses, you just copy it to the next, and the next...
If your timing gets a little off beat on a note, you can move it so that it gets right. If you want to, you can make several recordings of the same vocals and then you paste together the best parts from each - until you get a "perfect" recording. You get rid of the tapes' sound coloring. You can make mixdowns internally in the system, without the extra noise that's added if you do the same on analog tape. I guess I could go on forever adding to the list, but why put salt in the wounds on those who can't afford it?
A Falcon with 4 or 16MB RAM, suitable size of a harddisk (see below for details) and an SVGA monitor. 4MB is enough for "normal" use, but if you want to use the RAM- and Sampler-tracks in Cubase Audio - or if you have need to see the waveform images of your recordings when you've recorded a little more audio, you need more memory and I recommend 16MB.
Cubase Audio (if you need a built-in sequencer for the synths) or AudioTracker (if you only need to record audio). More options have arrived, but I haven't had the opportunity to try those, to see how they'd do in the competition.
You can also make some additions. I'd recommend something to replace the Falcon's original inputs with, for example a DAT connected to an S/Pdif interface (which also enables you to make backups of your valuable recordings - and with extra software also all program- and data-files on DAT tape), or a JAM-IN2 or JAM-IN8, which are separate A/D converters with professional, balanced inputs.
So far, Cubase Audio only handles two inputs at once, so the JAM-IN8 is a little "overkill" with it's eight inputs, but in AudioTracker, it's possible to record eight tracks simultaneously with the unit. Once you've replaced the inputs on the computer, you'll probably want to replace the outputs as well. This can be done by adding a JAM8, which gives you 8 professional, balanced outputs (and the possibility to send eight harddisk tracks separately to an external mixer). If you don't need more than four separate outputs, there is a unit called FA-4 available. Otherwise, you can use the DAT as a D/A converter via the S/Pdif interface, but that would make it a little hard to make master mixes...
Since about 5MB/track per minute is used, some space is needed. A normal song is for example four minutes and if you use 8 tracks throughout the song, you need about 160MB. You normally don't use 8 audio tracks throughput a whole song, but on the other hand, you might need some extra space for extra takes and editing. The harddisk has to be able to replay the data with a speed of about 1.2M/s and with the AHDI driver it may be close to the limit for some HD's. I recommend HDDriver or SCSI-tools instead, since they give a much higher transfer rate than AHDI. Most SCSI-HD's of 1GB and above can be used, but you have to be careful not to try using a calibrating HD, because if the data flow is interrupted, the replay is stopped with the error message "HD too slow". I can recommend Conner's harddisks (since Conner has been bought by Seagate, they aren't named Conner anymore, but rather Seagate Cayman).
Cubase Audio can only work with SCSI-Hd's, while AudioTracker can use either SCSI or EIDE. You should de-fragment the harddisk every now and then (with Diamond Edge or CHKDSK3) when you record audio on it, since you risk getting clicks in the recordings otherwise. With the harddisk situation in mind (1GB HD's are close to impossible to get hold of), you probably have to count on buying a 2GB HD (f ex Conner's CFP2105 or CFP2107). If you use AudioTracker and want to use EIDE-HD's instead, I'd recommend Quantum Fireball which are very fast. If you want to use EIDE-HD's larger than 1GB, it seems that HDDriver is the only driver that works.
Of course, you need the rest of the studio equipment, like mixer, effects etc, also with the Falcon system - but those are things that are needed if you use a reel tape recorder too, so they don't necessarily make the digital system more expensive.
ANALOG vs DIGITAL
There are people who claim that analog recordings sound better than digital ones. About this line of thinking, I can only say this: -let them believe so if they don't understand better!
The goal for all music recording is naturally to make the recording sound as close to the original as possible. A musician who's been tweaking his personal sound for months before he starts recording in the studio would be very disappointed if the recording doesn't sound like he expected. The most demanding music when it comes to recording, is classical, symphonic music - where most of the listeners have higher expectations than those listening to pop music. All recordings (with no exceptions) of classical music are made digitally and this fact should mean something, wouldn't it? Some people like the coloring effect of the analog tape, but if you don't want it to sound natural, you don't...
Maybe I should explain what's meant by "coloring": What happens when you record on an analog tape is that the frequency response and the dynamics are affected and make the recording sound a little different than the original live performance. Already in cheap digital systems like the Falcon or the new digital portastudios, the sound quality is much better than all analog systems (except if you go up to extremely expensive systems). When you record with a digital system, you can to some extent get the soft distortion that the analog tape gives you when it's overloaded, with the help of a valve compressor or valve mic-preamp, thereby getting a "fatter" sound.
This was a small overview of digital recording in general and if noone dislikes
it, I'll get started on an article about a recording session with Cubase Audio or
maybe I'll go for one of all the suggestions I hope will come to the editor.
Feel free to ask questions - I'll be happy to help you regardless of how stupid the questions are. Don't be afraid to ask stupid questions - I'm used to them and besides, I've probably aksed all those stupid questions myself in the past. After all, questions are the most simple way to learn...
IŽll be back!