Home Electronic Music Studio - DA signal paths and other questions.
February 10, 2011 11:36 PM   Subscribe

Re-building my electronic music home studio with a new computer at the heart of it. Have lots of pieces but not sure of optimal setup/signal path.

Pull various external and internal sound sources into the DAW with as high-quality as possible. Output from PC and record simultaneously (sing or play fresh track while listening to playback in headphones). Easily record spontaneous noise blurts while incorporating same into larger arrangements.

Hardware owned:
Mediocre (bad?) sound card (Dell stock)
Behringer Xenyx1002FX mixer (basic effects processor built-in)
Mackie reference monitors
Electronic piano
Electric guitar (recent purchase, noob in this area)
Microphone (cheap)
Various corded and non-corded sound makers (monosynths, theremin, hand held percussion, etc.)
Various rack effects (not married to these but they are available)

Hardware considering buying:
Mackie Onyx Blackjack USB DA
Behringer GDI21 Guitar Amp Modeler
Higher quality Condenser Microphone

Software owned:
FL Studio
Sound Forge
Abelton Live

Software considering buying:

FL Studio Producer Edition (adds DAW functionality)
Mackie Tracktion? (playing with the demo at the moment)

I know FL very well but I'm open to learning a new arranger/sequencer if it offers distinct advantages. Fruity can be relegated to a beat maker if necessary. I just like the grid/loop based beat composing model. Not sure if this exists in other software. No external MIDI devices (yet).

I trust the quality of the Mackie DA but where would it go in the signal path relative to the mixer? Do I sum all my sources with the mixer and then send the masters through the Mackie? Would the recorded signal be cleaner by going source>mackie>computer? If I run it that way, how do I get sound control during casual experimentation (not recording)? Is there a better way to rig the core of this system to give me more recording flexibility?

Thanks much AMeFi.
posted by erebora to Technology (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes you really do need a proper Audio Interface. That Mackie looks Ok and quite flexible. it has Mic Pres + a Hi-Z Input that you could DI the guitar into. But maybe you'd be better off with More input channels.

Its such a personal thing setting up a studio. and there are so many ways to do it. Som e thoughts I had were.

MIDI - Do you Currently have a Midi Interface ? I'd probably want a way to play Softsynths via the Digital Piano so I'd get a Interface with MIdi In/Out

MICs - The Microphones I'd probably go straight into the Audio Interface cause those Pre Amps are going to be better than the ones in your tiny little Mixer.

MONITORING - You can usually Monitor "through" the Audio Interface but as you only have 2 input channels this might not work so well. Hmm i'd probably set it up as:

Sound Making Gear -> Mackie DA -> Computer / Direct Monitoring -> Behringer Mixer -> Monitors

or if you have a lot of Line level sources I'd buy a cheap Patchbay and then have on the Mackie DA - one channel for a Microphone - and one channel set to record Mono line levels. and patch in the current item you are tinkering with.
posted by mary8nne at 3:47 AM on February 11, 2011

Oh and can FL studio record Digital Audio? I'd probably be considering a move to a more full featured DAW than FL Studio. you could try Reaper which is free / cheap.
posted by mary8nne at 3:48 AM on February 11, 2011

You could just run Fruity Loops via rewire in Ableton (or Reaper), I highly recomend spending some time on the ableton forum tips and tricks section if you dont know how to do that and you already own a full version of Live.

As far as signal chain, I agree with mary8anne: Source -> Soundcard -> PC -> Mixer -> Monitors, or just plug the monitors straight into the sound card. But with the monitors hooked up to the mixer, you can plug instruments in there when not recording.

You could use the mixer / rackmount effects when you want, but don't go through them otherwise. You'd be better off setting up sends/returns in Ableton for when you want to use effects (delays,reverbs,distortions at least), but with just 2 ins and 2 outs it'd be tough to do that. If it were my money, I'd say forget about a DI box or upgrading fruity loops, get a decent condenser mic, get a shure sm57, and get an audio interface that can do at least 4 in and 4 out. that way you can do return tracks and/or have a cue/headphone-only mix.
posted by yeahyeahyeahwhoo at 7:32 AM on February 11, 2011

There are a number of common setups such as:

1. run all of your Sources into a large mixer and then take the mixer channel "Direct Outs" or a "Group/SubMix" into the Audio Interface. And you send your Audio Interface Monitor Out on the Tape Monitor channel on the Mixing Desk. This way you can monitor through the Mixer but still get clean signals into your audio interface. But I doubt that your little Behringer Mixer has these facilities.

- this is kind of an old school setup.

2. alternative that is common today is to get a Audio Interface with say 8-16 input channels and use the Direct Monitoring - in this way the Audio Interface is your mixer.

3. Another way is to have a Mixer that is also an Interface. such as this Alan & Heath Firewire mixer: http://www.dv247.com/mixers/allen-and-heath-zed-r16-analogue-recording-mixer-with-firewire-soundcard--52824
posted by mary8nne at 7:52 AM on February 11, 2011

General advice that will always apply to the external sounds: if you want good quality, use a quality signal path. Good instrument/sound ->good preamp ->good sound card/device. In roughly that order. (Though usually these days you can have a pretty good preamp in your sound interface. I'm not sure about the Mackie but seems likely enough.) Changing sounds after they're recorded is a lipstick-on-the-pig situation. The original sound quality is everything. Even for noise blurts and randomness.

What I'm saying is, go for the microphone and/or interface, before spending money on software.
posted by Erroneous at 10:17 AM on February 11, 2011

Response by poster: Would replacing the Behringer with this or this make the whole thing easier to set up?

I haven't researched these in detail yet but having mix, effects and DA all in one box sounds handy.
posted by erebora at 11:13 AM on February 11, 2011

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