What is the best way to route your headphones, soundcard, and mixer for home recording?
September 27, 2004 9:35 PM   Subscribe

Home-recording question, Part Deux: What is the best way to route your headphones, soundcard and mixer? (More inside)

To get the ball rolling, I'll ask the recording enthusiasts out there:

Where do you input your headphones? Into the mixer, into the breakout box, into your monitor console...? My main concern is finding a convenient way to toggle from headphones to monitors during vocal overdubs.

Currently, my headphones are plugged into a stereo receiver which is receiving a signal from an Audigy card. Whenever I want to do vocal overdubs, I just flick a switch on the receiver: "Speakers Off". This setup is convenient, but ultimately the sound-clarity of the receiver/speakers setup is what the Germans call das ghetto. So I'm considering upgrading to an Echo Gina interface, plus two Mackie monitors, but I want to be sure I'm doing the right thing.

Should I just make sure the monitors I buy are powered monitors so that I can switch them on and off when recording vocals? Is that typical? I think the Sudafed I'm taking is making it hard to conceptualize the recording chain.

Someone suggested I run everything into the Mackie, including the card. But for recording guitar, for example, wouldn't I have to play into the Mackie first (which would then go into the card) for Soundforge receive the signal? Also: during overdubs, wouldn't the board be picking up the backing track in the mix since it'd be coming through one of the board channels?

Just curious as to how you all handle this. I could be overthinking it. Thanks again for all your reponses last time, it's been an education...
posted by dhoyt to Technology (2 answers total)
I'm really not much of an expert, but since no one else is biting, here are some wild uneducated guesses:

You definitely want to plug your headphones into a headphone jack that has a quality pre-amp. I'm using an old mixer in front of a soundcard, and it has a crappy headphone pre-amp that makes everything sound muddy. So I run a line from the mixer into a receiver, and use the receiver's headphone out instead.

You also want to worry about latency. If you have a path running from vocal mic -> mixer -> soundcard input -> Soundforge -> soundcard out -> mixer -> headphone out, then your soundcard and software are going to introduce a delay. If that delay is long enough, your singer is going to hear his own voice delayed in the cans (which is incredibly disorienting).

Your Mackie or your soundcard might have a "direct monitoring" option, which would let you listen to the input signal without the latency of going through Soundforge.

You'll also need a way to control the levels in the headphone mix between the backing tracks and the voice. Some singers like to hear more voice, others like more backing tracks.

For your guitar overdub example, your Mackie might have a way to control which channels get sent to which outputs, so you can route some channels to the output connected to the soundcard input (typically just the ones you're recording), and other channels just to the headphones (typically your backing tracks).

So the advice to route everything through the Mackie seems correct, assuming it has the routing options you need. If it doesn't, then you'll have to control the monitoring mix from Soundforge, and pay the latency price (which depends mostly on the quality of your soundcard).
posted by fuzz at 5:20 AM on September 28, 2004

Yes, route everything through the mixer; it exists to get sound from one place to another, so you should take advantage of its abilities. I just looked up the 1402 on Mackie's site; it looks pretty similar to the mixer I use, and I think my setup is pretty similar to yours overall. Here's how I have it all routed:

- Computer audio out to "tape input"
- "Tape output" to computer audio in
- "Control room" to monitors
- "Phones" to headphones
- Instruments to various channel inputs

The secret is the "C-R/SOURCE" section on the mixer's master channel: you can opt to combine "TAPE" and "MAIN MIX" in the control room monitors/headphones without actually sending the tape input to the main mix. The "Tape output", however, always comes from the main mix.

This works perfectly for a one-person computer-driven studio, because you can record a new track while listening to your existing tracks, and you never have to plug or unplug anything. It also maximizes your inputs; you don't have to waste a stereo channel strip on the computer audio return.

You will have to use the level controls on the headphones and monitors themselves, since the mixer treats them as the same output and only has one level adjustment. In practice I have not found this to be any particular inconvenience.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:37 AM on September 28, 2004

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