Guitar | Bass | Keyboard | Microphones | Mixers | Audio Interfaces | Monitors | Sequencers | Soft Synths | Live Sound | Drums | Club | Accessories | Blowouts
The Signal Flow of a Recording Studio
The Importance of I/O "Inputs and Outputs"
Is your brain alive test #2: Q) How many mic/instrument inputs would you need to record this 4 piece ensemble?
A) I count 10 (if everyone sings) (of course if the drummer is a [bleep]s/he might want to double mic each drum and raise the i/o count)
Having the right amount of i/o or inputs and outputs is absolutely essential to making the right decisions for your rig. Many people get fooled here, and they feel like idiots after they make a huge and expensive blunder. Whether you go with an audio interface by itself, use a mixer and a soundcard or interface, of get a multi track recorder, the question is always the same: How much i/o do you need? What kind of i/o is the next question. Do you need at least 8 mic preamps to record you band? Or do you need 16? Of course if you are recording by yourself, one track at a time you only need 1 or 2 (for stereo). Avoid the mistake of thinking adding a mixer adds to your overall i/o. It does not. It just gives you more ways to connect gear to your existing i/o on your recorder or audio interface/soundcard.
With inexpensive multitrack recorders, you might read the they are a "16 track" but when you open it up you realize it only has 2 or 4 mic preamps and maybe a pair of line inputs. That 16 track will not record the small band above. As you go up in price, usually your i/o increases. As we get to 24 tracks, the desktop format MTR becomes impractical due to the large size of the mixer and huge number of i/o jacks.
The modular multi track recorder typically has 24 inputs and 24 outputs. The idea is that you will add a 24 (or 32) channel mixer, either digital or analog. You can connect 24 mics if you want and record 24 tracks at once. After recording, the board has to be reconfigured for the mix where the 24 outputs of the recorder now feed the mixer's 24 inputs. That is where the patchbay comes in. You can quickly and easily switch the board from recording to playback. (Note: some boards have channels that do double duty of recording and playback on a single fader. We'll get to those "Mix B" boards later). Large digital mixers are often configurable with internal switching between the analog inputs (from the band) and the digital inputs from the recorder via ADAT lightpipe or Tascam TDIF cables).
The Modular Multi-track Recording Studio
The modular multi-track studio is most appropriate for those seeking to record bands where many tracks may be recorded at the same time. This design is classic because it goes back to the 70's and 80's when multi-track reel to reel machines were mixed down to a 2 track reel to reel. Today, the equivalent of those machines is the 24 track modular digital recorder and 2 Track Recorder. In the old days, the tracks were sent to a 2 track reel to reel. Today there are many options for recording the mix, even handheld portable digital recorders as the quality is now very impressive on these. Almost any computer can work here, even laptops, as 2 track recording does not take much CPU or memory.
To rephrase, the multi track recorder simply records the performances as they stream out of the mixer. On playback, the signals go back through the mixer, through sends and returns from the rack of processors and out the 2 track output to a second recorder or computer with a soundcard or audio interface.
Note the patchbay routing traffic between the processor rack and the mixer. A patchbay allows the easy insertion of compressors, fx boxes, harmonizers, eqs, wherever they are needed. A decent mixer will have inserts, direct outs, sends and returns which will all feed the patchbay. This allows the insertion of devices in either the recording chain or the playback chain efficiently. For example, if you have an expensive vintage compressor you could use it to record the vocal and once that is done you could repatch easily to enhance the drums on playback.
While the basic example above uses all analog connections, the modular multi-track rig can also be fully digital. If a digital mixer is used once can use the digital i/o of the multi track. Most of today's processors also have digital i/o and the digital mixer can do all the functions of a patchbay in its software. A well-equipped digital mixer will have its own effects and processors onboard which will lessen the need for an outboard rack. As one goes digital, the only analog connections that may remain are those tied to microphones. As these home studios go semi-pro, they may add high end preamps to replace the functions of the onboard mixer preamps. That step, along with careful room treatment or the addition of rooms for guitars, drums, vocals can dramatically bring one's home studio up to a great spec.
Finally, it is possible to incorporate and integrate a MIDI/Audio sequencer and DAW into the multi-track rig. In fact, for today's professional studio this allows one to take on a much larger range of projects. Many of today's clients may come in with work already started on their home DAWs. An Audio interface with digital connections such as ADAT will allow 8 channel bulk transfers from DAW to Multi-track machine. Such a system also lets one use MIDI with its sequenced tracks, soft synths/samplers, plugins and arranging capabilities to generate tracks. Through use of various clock protocols such as MTC (MIDI Time Code), SMPTE or ADAT Sync, the multi track, digital mixer and DAW can all be synchronized to the same time base.
back to the previous page
Tweak's Articles on Essential Studio Concepts