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Digital thing to plug into my mixer that records?


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  • Digital thing to plug into my mixer that records?

    I already have a mixer that I like and I just want a digitial box with XLR or 1/4" input that will record to USB hard drive or SD/CF media. Does anyone make this thing?

    Upon hearing this, the master was enlightened

  • #2

    Well there's a number of low cost interfaces out there. It depends on the quality you want. The Lexicon Alpha will probably do the trick for $59. Focusrite make one for about $150 that has some good quality preamps. Try could probably even get away with using one of those behringer converters with a couple of 1/4" to RCA adaptors for about $30 http://www.americanmusical.com/Item--i-BEH-UCA222-LIST?src=Y0802G00SRCHCAPN&gclid=CLf22_vmoroCFYdQ7A odETYAHQ


    The main thing you should realize the separate tracks of the mixer wont output to separate tracks through a separate interface. If the mixer has say 8 channels, those 8 channels get combined to a stereo output (this is what a mixer does, it combines mics) Once the channels are combined in analog you can't separate them.

    This is fine if you only track two channels at a time. You simply pan one hard left and the other hard right and you'll be able to record two tracks at once. If you want to record more than two at the same time, you have to pan those hard left and right as well, but you will have more than one instrument on each track. You wont be able to separate them apart mixing in the DAW.

    The good news is you can record 2 tracks, then play back those two, record two more, then two more etc etc till you have as many tracks as you want.

    That Behringer has two outputs that can be plugged into the mixer for monitoring the playback of the previous tracks so you're hearing the new tracks and old ones at the same time.

    You also have the option of connecting that mixer to your computers built in sound card. Most cards have a line level input that consists of a 1/8" stereo jack. You simply need a 1/8" stereo to 1/4" cable, or a 1/8" to RCA with a couple of RCA to 1/4" adaptors to connect to the mixer.

    The big problem with windows cards are they don't have fast low latency drivers (codecs) They use windows multimedia drivers which aren't designed for multitracking. The cards are full duplex and can play and record at the same time, but the data moves slowly through them and the new tracks don't align properly with the previously recorded tracks due to the hardware and driver latency.  

    The other problem is the DAW programs don't recognize devices that use windows drivers. They only recognize devices that uses ASIO (Audio - Stream - In - Out) and a few other drivers that are designed for professional recording.  

    The other item is most windows cards only record at CD quality, 16/44.1 A few on the newer windows cards will track at studio quality of 24/44.1, 48, 88, 96.

    There is a substitute driver you can try called ASIO 4ALL. Its supposed to allow the windows card to be recognized by the DAW program and let you record with the DAW program. How well it works depends on the type of windows card chip. It can work relatively well on a sound blaster type card. I tried it on my internet computer here so I could run the Realtec card with Sonar. Previously the driver didn't work with Realtech cards which are stock cards capable of recording up to 24/96.

    My results weren't so hot. Sonar recognized the card but attempting to play back a 24/44.1 bit audio file sounded awful. It suffered from there not being enough buffering in memory of the data so the playback stuttered and sounded grainy. This is the problem with slow hardware. It needs allot of buffering in memory so the hardware isn't overwhelmed by the huge amounts of binary data.

    Your own success may be better. You just have to try it and see what happens.

    Back 20 years ago when I first started recording digital, I used to mix my analog tapes down through a mixer onto my computer so I could burn CD's. I used Cool Edit which recognized windows cards and would record stereo tracks very well. I'd then master the recordings digitally and burn my own CD's. The process worked very well and I learned a lot in the process.

    I eventually got myself a professional 8 channel card and that was it. I eventually retired all my old analog mixers and recording gear. There was no longer any need for them. In analog, you needed a mixer to mix the multitrack tape playback, eq the tracks, pan them and add effects. The output of the mixer feeds a second deck that records a stereo track of the multichannel playback. 

    Since a DAW has a built in virtual mixer, a hardware mixer has no use any more. Its inputs can be used to preamplify and provide phantom power to condenser mics, but even there, The quality of most PA type mixers is garbage in comparison to the preamps built into most interfaces. The interface is the mixer and its tied to the DAW software that allows you to do everything including gains, panning, EQ, an thousands of effects and virtual instruments.

    Once a tracks recorded, it can stay in the box in a digital format until you mix it down to a CD or MP3 for playback on another system. You actually want it to stay in a high quality digital format until you do mix it down within the daw.

    The original digital recording systems didn't have a DAW program like we do today. The computer used was simply a storage medium like a reel to reel recorder was. All your mixing in and out of the computer had to be done on an analog mixing board. The boards were the high quality studio boards used to record to tape and they simply substituted the computer in place of the tape. The software was primitive and proprietary to the interface and converters.

    Today's low cost desktop computers, DAW software, and interfaces make all that old expensive gear obsolete. For a couple of hundred bucks you can buy a 24 channel interface with 8 mic preamps and record as good or better than anything you used to have to use in the past including external mixers. I was looking at a Tascam interface for $199 that will record 24/96 and record 20 instruments at the same time to separate tracks. I wouldn't even need external preamps for mics like I do now running PCI cards.

    I'll likely do this if just to save space. I could also sell off my analog PA gear and get a digital mixer that could be used for live shows and in the studio. 16 channels is the most I ever use. I use 8 mics on the drums, three vocal mics and the rest on the other instruments. The mixer saves the tracks and I can either mix on it so I have the hands on control, or I move the files to the computer and the mixer acts as a controller. It lines up with the DAW program and when you move a slider on the mixer, you see them move on the computer screen.

    They also make DAW controllers. They look like a mixer and have sliders and knobs. They interface with the DAW program and you can operate the virtual mixer on the screen so you have hands on control vs.. Using a mouse to make your adjustments. Then if you set up automation on the daw tracks, its like having a studio mixing console with motorized faders.

    You can mix live and use your sliders like you would to bring up solo parts in the song, or fade things in and out during the mix. As you make those changes, the slider movements are recorded. Then when you play back the mix again, the sliders move by themselves the same way they did when you adjusted them manually.  

    There are hundreds of super cool things you can do mixing in the box, you just can't do on an analog mixer. You can automate your effects as well. You can have say three effects on each channel, and 30 tracks running and have everything automated. You'd need three people using all 10 sets of fingers in perfect coordination with each other just to move the volume sliders alone. You'd need those three plus 9 more to run the effects live to get the same thing you can do automating everything.

    Of course a simple mix wont need all of that. But even there, you don't have to go back to the stone age using an analog mixer. If you were to record say 10 tracks of a lead part, and you like bits and pieces of each, you have your choice of cutting and pasting them together, muting or muting tracks automatically, or running the sliders up and down for each track so the parts fade from one to the other.

    Super cool stuff can be done and I'm only scratching the surface. As you learn all the toys that are available, you learn to use them creatively. Trying to do many simple things in analog requires a tone of expensive gear.

    The one I worked on last weekend was one I used to do with analog gear recording to tape. I learned the trick listening to one of my favorite solo recording artists, Todd Rundgren. There was a song I was listening to in the car and the guitar lead was going and all of a sudden it panned front left to right, but instead of moving to the right front speaker like you'd expect, it moved from the left front speaker to the right rear speaker.

    I thought to myself, ho did he pull that off? Its only a stereo car system pushing two sets of speakers. Its not quad or surround system with four separate amplifiers. Well I pulled a stereo Equalizer off the shelf and connected it to the recorder. Then I linked up my car speaker monitors. (I have a set of 6X9" car speakers in boxes to test mixes so the sound good in a car) I then used my studio monitors as the front speakers of a car.

    I then used the EQ so the track played back strong through the left studio monitor when it was panned left, then I panned the channel right and EQed the right channel so most of the sound came through the 6X9" speaker and very little from the right studio monitor.

    Then when I played the mix back and panned from side to side the sound seemed to move in an X pattern instead of a side to side motion.

    Doing this in a DAW is a whole lot simpler. You simply copy the track, pan one hard left and one hard right, stick an EQ plugin on each track, tune the EQ to the two different speakers, then either automate the sliders or use envelope tools to fade one track out while the other fades in.

    How bout having instruments trade sides. Kind of difficult with an analog mixer because you turn two pan knobs in opposite directions mixing. The problem with this is as the knobs get closer to 120 the sound gets louder in the mix. You'd need to adjust the track volumes as you pan at the same time to prevent the mono signal from overwhelming the mix. Within a DAW, you can change panning laws so when you pan, the signal maintains its db level within the mix.

    Like I said, simple stuff but you don't learn the limitations of analog till you do many of them first hand.

    My suggestion therefore is to either use your built in sound card with that mixer or use a cheap interface. This will at lead let you experiment some and learn to use the DAW program. As you learn more, you'll likely find out whet everyone else does, that an analog mixer is a limited tool for recording and retire it for something that integrates with the daw program better.

    In fact, if you do buy a 2 channel interface like the Lexicon or the Focusrite, you can plug a mic or guitar straight into it and get better sound quality over using the mixer. There's no need to amplify a signal twice. All you do is add noise and hiss, and distortion if you don't have the gains set just right. You could always use the mixer to mic a drum set in stereo to record it, but for solo stuff its just redundant. Analog you need a mixer to push a power amp and make the mics sound good in a live mix. EQing mics isn't necessary tracking. You leave them wide open to capture all the frequencies the mics can sense.

    Additional circuitry strips sound quality from the tracks and add unwanted noise. Once the tracks are recorded you do all your sound shaping on the tracks playback. You place EQ's effects etc in the tracks and take your time tweaking each track so they all sound right together. If they don't, you can rewind a million times till you get it just right. When you EQ tracking, you only have one shot at getting the tone perfect, and if it isn't, there no way of undoing the frequencies lost. You'd have to rerecord the entire track with different settings you think will work.

    If you EQ with a mixer tracking, and cut the wrong frequencies, they're gone before they ever reach the hard drive. If you find out you needed them in a mix later, and you attempt to boost what's not there all you get is hiss and noise as you boost the noise floor up.

    This is the most important reason you want to record tracks with the flattest, full fidelity response possible. If the interface you choose has no preamplifiers, then use the mixers preamp only. Tap the mic signal from the line insert or aux buss if it has one. If its a simple mixer and you have to pass the signal through the channel strip, leave all your EQ settings at neutral 120.  It may not so hot when you're tracking and you may be tempted to boost and cut the EQ so it sounds good tracking, but try not to do this.

    Having the controls at 120 means you'll get the flattest response from the mic so you can boost or cut any frequency you captured mixing. Again, as I said, additional circuitry sucks tone. Like guitar pedals, if you want to get the crispest, and most natural tone when they are turned off, you want true bypass switches. Using an interface without a mixer is the same thing. When you compare two tracks, one through a mixer and one direct, you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about.



    • kolapsar
      kolapsar commented
      Editing a comment

      Thanks for great answer. This mixer has got spring reverb and is as much an effect as a mixer, which is why I still want to use it. Its an 8 channel mixer now you have me thinking about getting 4 stereo interfaces so I can record individual tracks to digital... :smiley-bounce002:

  • #3

    This is the closest thing to what you are requesting:  http://www.cymaticaudio.com/index.php/products/live-recorder-lr-16

    It looks pretty awesome for the price.