Recording gives me a headache.
July 4, 2007 6:10 PM   Subscribe

Do I need a new audio interface? What should I get?

I have an M-Audio FireWire Solo. Recording a guitar via the line input works fine, but all of my microphone recordings have a maddening whine in the background. I have to turn the gain up really high to get a reasonable signal, and anywhere past midway on the dial will whine. Listen to the very end of this recording for an example -- and that's after I tried to minimize the damage with EQ.

I've tried two different microphones and several XLR cables with no luck. I'm not forgetting to turn on phantom power. I'm inclined to think the problem is with the M-Audio unit (which is used and from eBay), but I'm no expert here. What else could the problem be? Also, what comparable product(s) do you recommend if it turns out I need a new unit?
posted by danb to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
 
Since you've tried different mics and cables (and presumably still have a low level and whine), I'd say the preamp in this box is the problem. Do you have another mic preamp around? Since the line input works fine, you can run the output of the preamp through that input as a workaround.
posted by waxboy at 6:59 PM on July 4, 2007


I have the m-audio firewire 1814, and before that had the firewire 410. I have to jack the gain up also to get a decent signal. Never got the whine that you're getting though. I think you're right that its the preamp thats the issue.

What I do now is run a condensor mic into an ART Tube MP and run that into the line in. The Tube MP is a tube preamp that you can get for like under $50. You have way more control of the signal this way.

One other thing: could it be possible that the mic is picking up noise from your computer?

Also, I like that diminished(?) chord in there (the one after Am7)
posted by eightball at 8:56 PM on July 4, 2007


I don't have any experience with your particular equipment, but I agree that it sounds like the preamp. I'd try a different preamp and see if the whine goes away.

It could be noise in the room, though - are you sure you can't hear it? Keep in mind that your ears might be blocking out a noise that's there all the time (your computer, refrigerator, ?)

One other possibility is feedback - is your signal going to speakers while it's recording? (Doesn't sound like feedback to me, but just in case)

Do either of your microphones take batteries? Try that instead of phantom power, it isolates the mic from the preamp and might help.

If you can't track down the problem and don't want to spend money on new hardware, there are various software packages (SoundSoap is one) that can "learn" the noise and then remove it from the recording. They work quite well, especially in cases like this where the noise and the guitar have little overlap in frequency. Here's an article that explains this and some other noise-removal tips.

Nice guitar track, btw! The whine doesn't ruin it, but I can hear it throughout.
posted by mmoncur at 12:47 AM on July 5, 2007


Update: It turns out the open-source audio editor Audacity has a noise removal feature, so I tried it out on your MP3. here's the result.

It worked pretty well - I was able to eliminate almost all traces of the whine in my headphones without any discernible damage to the guitar.

This would work MUCH better if you do it yourself from the original WAV file before you EQ'd and compressed it. My version has that to deal with plus extracting / recompressing to MP3, and your original probably has a longer sample of the noise to work with.

(I normalized the volume too since it was low in the original.)

Looking at this file, it definitely needs more gain - next time record with the gain set higher, whine and all, and make sure you record a clean bit of whine by itself for a few seconds after you stop playing. It will work better with the noise removal and probably sound better in the end.

This is all a short-term solution, of course - best would be a preamp / audio interface able to record at a higher gain without the whine...

[email me if this all sounds too difficult - if you send me the file I could see what I can do with it.]
posted by mmoncur at 1:19 AM on July 5, 2007


The high pitched whine sounds like a byproduct of an electrical problem. An easy way to narrow down the issue is to run the laptop off battery when you record and see if the noise is still present.

Preferably, have your FW interface power itself off the laptop as well and disconnect any devices that are plugged into the wall so the entire recording setup is isolated from your house electricity. If the whine doesn't go away, post a response and I'll take you through a few other things to try.
posted by yorick at 5:00 AM on July 5, 2007


Do you have another mic preamp around?
Unfortunately not. It's been hard to troubleshoot for just that reason!

could it be possible that the mic is picking up noise from your computer?
I don't think it is. I tried using a long XLR cable and put the mic in a different room, and had the same problem.

It could be noise in the room, though - are you sure you can't hear it?
I've tried it in three dufferent rooms in two different buildings, and the whine is identical.

One other possibility is feedback - is your signal going to speakers while it's recording?
Nope -- just to headphones. (If I turn off the monitor, the whine is still there anyway.)

Do either of your microphones take batteries?
No, unfortunately. They're both phantom powered condensers (a Samson C02 and a Studio Projects B1).

Preferably, have your FW interface power itself off the laptop as well and disconnect any devices that are plugged into the wall so the entire recording setup is isolated from your house electricity.
Still whining, even with the laptop running on battery and the FireWire interface pulling power from the laptop. Gah!

Thanks for the ideas on how to mitigate the noise, but at this point I think I'd rather get a new preamp/recording interface than have to clean up all of my recordings. Any suggestions for good home recording interfaces?
posted by danb at 2:44 PM on July 5, 2007


There's a remote possibility that the noise is due to an electrical flaw in the computer itself, so be sure you get the replacement interface from a dealer that is relaxed about returns.

As far as interfaces go, I really like the MOTU ultralite.
posted by yorick at 8:21 PM on July 5, 2007


A quick update: I tried the audio interface on two other computers, and it still whines. I think I'm ready to put the blame on M-Audio.

I'm looking into the MOTU Ultralite per yorick's recommendation, and also the PreSonus FirePod. I'm really not sure if I need ten inputs, so I'm also looking at the PreSonus FireBox, which has more comparable features to the FireWire Solo I have now. I've read all the reviews on zZounds and Sweetwater, but if anyone has personal experience with these units I'd love to hear it.

Thanks to everyone for your help so far, and also to bigmusic and cortex for helping out on IRC.
posted by danb at 7:42 AM on July 7, 2007


Inspired by this MeTa thread, here's a belated followup:

The preamp was the problem. I bought a new audio interface, and now all is well.

Thanks for your help, Ask MeFites of yesteryear!
posted by danb at 2:05 PM on May 3, 2008


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