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Old 12-07-2011, 08:41 AM
redavide redavide is offline
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Default Opinions on recording upgrades

A question for the recording experts . . .

I'm presently recording acoustic guitar with an Audio Technica 4050CM5 mic and an Audio Technica 4041 mic going to a Lexicon Lambda interface, using Cubase LE4 and a Lexicon PCM70 for reverb. The room I record in isn't treated in any way and I really don't have the space to build anything permanent, or unmovable, in that regard. I mostly use a Collings CJ or a Martim OM-42, so I know the guitars sound good enough.

If you had my set-up and $2000 to spend on upgrading, what would you do to get the biggest improvement in recording sound quality?
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Old 12-07-2011, 09:14 AM
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Room treatments is definitely a place to look. For non permanent, look into purchasing or making what are often referred to as Gobos. Or pieces of acoustical insulation like Owens Corning 703. Placed on stands that can be brought out for tracking and mixing and then stored when not in use.
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Old 12-07-2011, 10:10 AM
Fran Guidry Fran Guidry is offline
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Originally Posted by redavide View Post
A question for the recording experts . . .

I'm presently recording acoustic guitar with an Audio Technica 4050CM5 mic and an Audio Technica 4041 mic going to a Lexicon Lambda interface, using Cubase LE4 and a Lexicon PCM70 for reverb. The room I record in isn't treated in any way and I really don't have the space to build anything permanent, or unmovable, in that regard. I mostly use a Collings CJ or a Martim OM-42, so I know the guitars sound good enough.

If you had my set-up and $2000 to spend on upgrading, what would you do to get the biggest improvement in recording sound quality?
If you don't mind my saying so, you're going about this in exactly the wrong way if you're interested in better recordings. Your approach is suitable for someone "into" recording as a collection of gadgets, and there are plenty of folks out there with that bent.

There was a time when I was sure that buying another mic or preamp or reverb would be the key to great acoustic guitar recording. But when I started doing very careful level matched same performance comparisons I realized that the differences between preamps was vanishingly small, and the difference between mics was remarkably subtle.

If your goal is better recordings the question is, what do you want to improve - in what way are your recordings less than you desire? When I listen to your clips I'm quite impressed with the recording quality. I might suggest some modification of mic location, perhaps an EQ tweak, but those things are simply taste. I agree with Kev that some movable broadband absorbers could reduce early reflections and might give some improvement. And there might be useability issues - one device I used for a while had the gain setting adjusted so it was nearly impossible to optimize levels for acoustic guitar. The manufacturer explained that their device had been optimized for loud sources like drums and electric guitars.

If you can't identify some specific areas of improvement, some concrete goals to be met by your purchase, I honestly think you'll just be buying Dumbo's feather.

Fran
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Old 12-07-2011, 11:07 AM
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Fran makes some great points. You have to know what your shooting for. If you identify a problem, you can fix it, whether that means different gear, different acoustics, or different techniques. One way to go about that is to assemble some reference recordings you'd like to sound like. If you want to be really thorough, pick something that sounds great that you can actually play, even if you just learn a few bars. Then record yourself and compare your sound to the reference. I've spent hours (years?) doing this, and comparing my sound to my references with various analysis tools as well as just listening, trying to understand all the components that go into the sound I'm shooting for.

I have to say, the 1st thing I usually discover when I go thru this exercise is that the biggest thing I have to change to match my goal is my own playing - nailing the phrasing and tone of someone else's performance is often 90% of the difference and the challenge. But once you get that, you go on to the next step. It's an iterative process. At the end of that, you might discover you need some gear - most likely do to some feature, (say for example, you realize after much analysis that your reference is recorded with a pair of omni mics, and you don't have any, or maybe the recording has a spectacular reverb, etc), but more likely, you'll learn about mic positioning, EQing, and so on.

I don't think I've heard any of your recordings, so this might be off the mark, but it's how I've approached trying to learn to record better, so perhaps it will help.
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Old 12-07-2011, 01:20 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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...........
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Old 12-07-2011, 01:34 PM
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...........
Ellipsis probably won't help you much, but I suppose some money spent there could do something :-)

But incidently, to answer your original question more directly, what are you using for monitors? That's an area that can help make a big improvement - you have to be able to hear well to record well.
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Old 12-07-2011, 05:53 PM
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If you had my set-up and $2000 to spend on upgrading, what would you do to get the biggest improvement in recording sound quality?
Well I know exactly what I'd do

Apogee Duet (great integration with mac), RME Babyface (best connectivity), or Sound Devices Usbpre2 (bit more portable, more connection options than the Duet, OS-agnostic so works on linux) depending which feature set you like best. Clean pres rather than any kind of "character" but that's what you want for acoustic guitar. They've all got excellent audio quality, IMO.

Next, a really good mic: Schoeps CMC641 (second-hand), Gefell 295, or maybe even an AEA R84, depending what kind of sound you're looking for. The Schoeps captures the most "solid" sound I've ever heard, the Gefell is more delicate, and the R84 is a softer kind of sound.

I'd definitely want to buy (at least) half-a-dozen or so acoustic panels as well but I'd wait for that if it means compromising on mics - not because they're not important, but because I know I can scrape together some cash for a few panels much easier than a Schoeps etc.

Doug's right about monitoring too. You can't hear what you're doing without decent monitoring gear, and you can't hear what your monitors are telling you if you're not in a good acoustic space. This test can be an eye-opener.
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Old 12-07-2011, 08:05 PM
sdelsolray sdelsolray is offline
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Originally Posted by redavide View Post
A question for the recording experts . . .

I'm presently recording acoustic guitar with an Audio Technica 4050CM5 mic and an Audio Technica 4041 mic going to a Lexicon Lambda interface, using Cubase LE4 and a Lexicon PCM70 for reverb. The room I record in isn't treated in any way and I really don't have the space to build anything permanent, or unmovable, in that regard. I mostly use a Collings CJ or a Martim OM-42, so I know the guitars sound good enough.

If you had my set-up and $2000 to spend on upgrading, what would you do to get the biggest improvement in recording sound quality?
What is your monitoring chain?
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Old 12-07-2011, 08:55 PM
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Hmm, so many ways to go for example:
I might get another 4041 mike and mike in stereo with the 4041s.
I might get a RME Babyface or for more inputs a Fireface 400 (or something else equivalent).
Some acoustic panels on the walls would be nice.
Sell you mikes to help pay for a pair of Gefell M300s.


Don't overlook the guitar itself. Another model may give you a recording sound you like better.


Where you record in the room (with or without acoustic room treatment) makes a difference
Explore that. Monitor different locations and mike positions with headphones. Play a short section and listen back if you are not sure.
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Old 12-07-2011, 09:03 PM
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I've had a great time clicking on all this stuff.
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Old 12-07-2011, 10:53 PM
alohachris alohachris is offline
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Default Room Treatment Makes the Biggest Initial Difference in Quality of Home Recordings

Aloha Redavide,

Lots of great advice here. You have the attention of people who can really help.

I totally agree with KevWind here. What has made the most dramatic difference in the quality of my own recordings has been DIY Room Treatment.

Room treatment will help you maximize whatever recording signal chain you use & as you refine its elements & increase your knowledge. It will also give you many more choices in how to record & mic in your space.

Room treatment will save you a great deal of time & money you may spend on gear upgrades when it wasn't the gear at all in terms of achieving better sounding recordings.

Ex: In an untreated space, close-miking with hypercardioids is about the only choice you have to keep early reflections at bay. Can't use omni's, that's for sure, or ambient mic's to capture some room.

Like you, I can't permanently treat my tracking & mixing spaces. So I took a cue from Fran Guidry here, & made 22 portable/storable 4"x2'x4' broadband absorbers & bass traps. You may or may not need that many. More is better though.

A good place to start is to read Ethan Winer's treatise on room treatment. Really worth it & universally praised:

http://www.ethanwiner.com/acoustics.html

Fran Guidry lays it all out here in his neat video for DIY absorbers & they really work!

http://www.homebrewedmusic.com/2009/...-on-the-cheap/

By doubling up on 2x2x4 OC 703 & 703 or 705 FRK & wrapping with nice fabric, they become attractive & self-supporting - no need to build frames (frames actually detract from their purpose). Place 'em where needed around & above you where you track, strategically in your mixing space, & especially in the corners of your room & above (for bass freq's).

Then you can store 'em out of the way when you need to use the room for other functions. Nothing is permanent. Reflections are controlled. Gear is maximized. You can really hear it in the tightness of the lower & lower mid freq's. All the freq's sound much better-defined & separated. That's where to spend your initlal cash, Redavide. Do the homework about how to measure your room for proper placement of the panels. Every room is different.

Buy a box of 2x2x4 OC 703 regular (12 panels) - $150 & a box of 2x2x4 OC703 FRK faced panels (6 per box) - $134. Add porous material, contact cement (Loctite HD) & a hot melt gun (high temp) & glue & have at. Make 3-6 at a time as needed - pairing regular & FRK panels together.

What you're doing is creating rooms & booths within your room while also tuning & controling your room. The best combo of controlled but not totally dead is the dynamic you should aim for.

That will make the biggest & most dramtic difference initially in the quality of your recordings. Once that's under control, the real work & fun - mentioned by the experts here - begins. Constant Experimentation with miking techniques & placement, & of course, "knowing your song well before you start singing" - the playing, etc.

And what about your monitoring chain, as Sdel asked?

In terms of your current gear? I'd lose the Lambda & move up to an Apogee Duet & Logic Pro 9 on a Mac or a better pre & interface & Reaper for PC. The preamps in that little Duet gem are the best available for under $1500 - pristine sounding really. Apogee & Mac are fully integrated for the best stablity I have found out there for simple acoustic recordings. The Lamda's have had a history of wearing out fast due to overheating issues.

Whatever you build into your signal chain, try to ensure that all the elements are of similar quality (a key).

In any case, get on that Room Treatment, Redavide. Even if it's just a coupla layers of mover's blankets hung 4" apart around your tracking area (really helps with mid's but little else), you'll be on the way to better controlling your sound & improving your recordings.

http://www.uline.com/BL_7900/Moving-...FQoBbAod1Bhyag

Tip: Check your local movers for free used blankets, wash 'em, hammer in some grommets & hang 'em around you (4" off the walls & windows, & another layer 4" off that one).

That's been my experience thus far with home DAW recording. Make room treatment a priority.

All the Best.

alohachris

PS: check out gearslutz.com for more recording clues & discussions

Last edited by alohachris; 12-07-2011 at 11:17 PM.
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Old 12-08-2011, 01:03 AM
redavide redavide is offline
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Thanks for the replies -- lots of food for thought here.

Monitors are Roland DS-50A powered and Sony MDR-7506 headphones.

I realize that in the effort to improve sound, lots of things aren't for sale -- I have a fair idea of the things that can't be bought. As far as the things that are for sale, I think I have to agree that room treatment is economically the logical first step.

But here's a more specific question: Regarding interfaces -- I paid 119 bucks for a Lexicon Lambda interface with 2 pre-amps. On the other hand, you've got people with 10 thousand dollar plus chains of mics, pre-amps, converters, etc. What I'm wondering is -- where in the spectrum between these extremes do you find the biggest benefit in terms of significant improvement in sound quality?

For example, I've never tried a 2-pre-amp interface, let's say in the $500 range. I'm just using $500 as a random point, could be $1000 or $2000 . . . I have very little idea of what kind of change I might notice other than higher credit card payments.

In your opinion, at which price point do you find objective, noticeable, significant differences? Fran touched on this above, mentioning that the differences in pre-amps become "vanishingly small," presumably as your budget gets bigger. Where's the vanishing point?
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Old 12-08-2011, 08:43 AM
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Thanks for the replies -- lots of food for thought here.

Monitors are Roland DS-50A powered and Sony MDR-7506 headphones.

I realize that in the effort to improve sound, lots of things aren't for sale -- I have a fair idea of the things that can't be bought. As far as the things that are for sale, I think I have to agree that room treatment is economically the logical first step.

But here's a more specific question: Regarding interfaces -- I paid 119 bucks for a Lexicon Lambda interface with 2 pre-amps. On the other hand, you've got people with 10 thousand dollar plus chains of mics, pre-amps, converters, etc. What I'm wondering is -- where in the spectrum between these extremes do you find the biggest benefit in terms of significant improvement in sound quality?

For example, I've never tried a 2-pre-amp interface, let's say in the $500 range. I'm just using $500 as a random point, could be $1000 or $2000 . . . I have very little idea of what kind of change I might notice other than higher credit card payments.

In your opinion, at which price point do you find objective, noticeable, significant differences? Fran touched on this above, mentioning that the differences in pre-amps become "vanishingly small," presumably as your budget gets bigger. Where's the vanishing point?
First off, get rid of the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. Everything sounds harsher and thinner on those. I had them and thought they were ok until I tried Grados. The one I use now is the Grado 225i.

Speaker monitors are fine if you have a good room for them and don't have to consider other people living at home, but IMO for solo guitar headphones are ok to monitor with.

Forget about video for awhile and just concentrate on getting the best recording sound, i.e. don't sacrifice the sound just to get a good video shot.

Regarding what would be the most important gear upgrade given what you already have, that is hard to say. It is a circular thing. For example if your mike pres are the weakest gear then upgrading those would be first. However once the pres are ok then something else becomes the weakest piece of gear.

I don't have hands on experience with the gear you are using but I am still guessing that the Lexicon Lambda is probably the first gear to be replaced with something better.

You might post a short section in wav (or 320 mp3 format) of something that you feel is one of your best recorded sounds (preferably not at a lowered resolution you get on youtube) and tell us what you feel is still missing in the sound.
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Old 12-08-2011, 09:21 AM
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In your opinion, at which price point do you find objective, noticeable, significant differences? Fran touched on this above, mentioning that the differences in pre-amps become "vanishingly small," presumably as your budget gets bigger. Where's the vanishing point?
The $500-600 dual channel interfaces mentioned above (Duet, Babyface, Usbpre2) are just a squeak away from pro studio quality, IMO. The rack-mounted separates which are the next step up would cost thousands of dollars. Each. One of these and a great mic (or two) in a good acoustic space is capable of capturing a very high quality sound.

There are more expensive interfaces but, as a rule, they'll add more I/O rather than better quality audio.
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Old 12-08-2011, 09:32 AM
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tell us what you feel is still missing in the sound.

Just to sound like a broken record :-), this was the point of the exercise I suggested. Go thru that process of trying to replicate a reference recording you like, and identify what is missing, then you'll have a good idea of what (if anything) you need to upgrade.
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