Recording Studio

From Stu2
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Background

My notes for setting up a home recording studio. I play the acoustic six string guitar and have been practicing using the computer as a partner. ;) It doesn't complain when my timing is off.

I have tried (not exhaustive list):

  • Sonar LE (Windows) - Very nice
  • Ardour (Linux) - Free, active development, but buggy
  • Fruity Loops (Windows) - No recording capability, but made for doing loops.
  • Reaper (Windows) - simple, small and excellent manual
  • Guitar Port - USB connection with sound card, for one instrument (24bit)
  • Audacity - Start here! This is a free sound editor

After much work, I have settled on the current combination:

  • Reaper
  • Alesis iMultiMix8 USB
  • Internal AC97 Sound Card
  • ASIO Driver (ASIO4ALL)
  • Washburn D30S with Magnetic Pickup (in hole, no name brand)

I spent a lot of time working with the Linux tools, in hopes they would provide an excellent DAW. But alas, I had many problems with JACK and Ardour. There is activity and someday, I'll go back.

I used Sonar LE for a while, but I had troubles with the sound card freezing. So I started looking for an upgrade and man - they have a pretty bad business model (for the customer) which requires shelling out more dough for minor upgrades. That's when I found Reaper. It's small, very inexpensive and well done. Worth the $60!

After playing with REAPER and the ASIO driver, I encountered too many glitches with the Alesis iMultiMix USB sound card. It worked - but then would hang for no reason. Thus - I switched to the AC97 sound card for now. So I suspect my issues with the Sonar LE package was really my USB sound card. However - it lead me to Reaper, which I like much better for now.

BTW - I have trying the ASIO driver to get the latency as low as possible. Currently, it's at 6.1ms, which is pretty good. The extra processing delay doesn't bother me. (I can run the guitar audio through FX filters and listen to the results in real time.

Music Theory Background

Key Settings

Connections

Main Mix Output - to Line IN (Blue) on sound card. 2 X 1/4" to 1/8" Stereo cable
CTRL Room Output - to amplified speakers. 2 x 1/4" phono plugs to 1/8" Female Stereo - to accommodate the 1/8" Male
Tape In - from sound card. 2 x RCA Phono Plugs to 1/8" Stereo

Mixer

Guitar INPUT 1
Level 1 Preamp Gain - almost full.
Level 1 - 12 o'clock (all controls at 12 o'clock)
Main Mix - about 10 o'clock
CTRL Room - as needed, adjusts volume to speakers
USB to Mix - not pushed
USB to CTRL Room - push to listen to processed audio (Tape Input)
MIX to CTRL Room - push to listen to the sound card input

Only push the USB/CTRL Room button or the MIX Button - otherwise, you'll hear your guitar 'twice' on both the input and processed outputs. :)

Don't press the USB to MIX button, that sets up a feedback loop.

Notes

Sound Card Mixer (Record) - select Line IN and adjust slider 1/2 click up.
Sound Card Mixer (Playback) - mute Line IN
Reaper - enable AC97 Options/Device) for both input and output
ASIO - 208 Buffer Size, 32 Samples Latency Comp, Always resample, nothing other checked

Latency

Reaper can adjust the recording to remove the sound card latency. That is, when you record along with a track played back through the system, Reaper will remove the system latency from the recorded track. That way, the two tracks line up in time. This can be done using the latency reported by the sound card or you can manually enter an offset. I found this link, which explains it very well: http://www.cockos.com/wiki/index.php/ReaperTips#How_to_deal_with_interface_latency_.28delay.2Flag.29

I measured my latency, using the Direct Sound driver (on-board sound card) and discovered the auto setting was horrible! The delay reported by the soundcard was 46ms (in the options/device screen) There was over 500ms TOO MUCH delay subtracted from the recorded click. So I set the delay to zero and measured 3600. After some tweaking, I found 3750 to be about right. (Original click lined up with the recorded click.)

ASIO with no auto or manual delay is 1285. With autodelay 767 sample offset. A manual offset of 1300, which worked.

To summarize:

Direct Sound Driver - 3750 In Samples
ASIO4ALL - 1300 In Samples
   ASIO settings - Buffer Size 208 Samples, IN/OUT Latency Comp 32)

Note - I provided the loopback by sending the 2TK input into the MIX. The MIX output is fed into the soundcard input.

MIDI Notes

In reaper, there are two ways to produce midi sounds. They seem much more intuitive than the other programs I've tried. Essentially, you create a MIDI track by creating a track and choosing a MIDI source. (GS Wavetable, for example.) Then, you can record as usual (Arm the Track) and use the virtual keyboard to input the notes. Or - once you create the track, you can edit the notes manually using the piano roll. (double click on the track recording).

Use the FX button on that track to assign instruments to the MIDI notes. There are two approaches. 1) Use the DSK VTSi plugins. There are several available for all kinds of instruments and effects. (see reference links below). 2) Use SFZ from Cakewalk and load a sound font.

After you download the plugins, you can make them available by choosing the plugin directory under Options/Preferences/Plugins/VST. Rescan the directory. Use F5 in the FX window to refresh the plugins. SFX is found under the VSTi plugins.

References

http://www.tweakheadz.com/how_to_hookup_a_mixer.htm - Good explanations and diagrams

http://dskmusic.wordpress.com/vsti/ - VSTi plugins

http://www.hammersound.net/ - Soundfonts

http://www.cakewalk.com/support/project5/sfz.aspx - SFZ VST Soundfont plugin

http://www.7-zip.org/ - Use to uncompress RAR files. (Free)

http://songfight.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=164 - plugins