FuncWorks Studio

3 Jul

imageI’m felling pretty good about launching the Feel The Func podcast; we’ve managed to consistently release episodes on time and we are starting to find our groove.  Certainly there is room for improvements by the hosts, but we’ve reached a point I felt good about investing into the production.  Last night I recorded the first episode in our new “Studio” and will release the result this weekend.

M-Audio ProFire 610

The M-Audio ProFire 610 is the heart of the new studio.  Retails for $500, I found a new-in-box one on eBay for $325.  The 610 gets its name from having 6 inputs and 10 outputs, all of which can be used simultaneously.   It connects to a computer over a FireWire port and can even be powered by the FireWire, eliminated the need for a wall adapter (note: only the large FireWire ports support device power).  Two of the inputs support XLR mics, can provide phantom power, and have adjustable gain controls.  The two line in ports on the back are just 1/4” jacks, but for $50 bucks you can get an M-Audio Audio Buddy that will provide two more XLR mics with phantom power support and gain control.  I’d love to have all 4 inputs be the same, but the Audio Buddy works well with the 610.  The last two inputs are SPDIF Left and Right channel, and 8 of the outputs are 1/4” line outs with 2 more SPDIF Left and Right channels for the total of 10 out.

imageThe 610 comes with a pretty simple software control panel for mapping inputs to outputs.  Not only are you able to map an physical input to a physical output, but you also can map 10 “software return” virtual outputs.  These are lines created in your audio software sent to the 610 over FireWire, such as a previously recorded track.

ASIO vs WDM

The first snag I hit playing with the 610 was driver related, or driver type related (the actual drivers seem flawless and had no issues on Vista x64 or x32).  In the sound world, Microsoft has lagged in providing a low latency multi-channel driver system.  Vista prefers the WDM, or Window Driver Model, and should be quite capable of handling the needs of the 610, but since this type of driver didn’t appear until Vista the majority of support is for ASIO, Audio Stream Input/Output by Steinberg.  The 610 supports only two channels with the WDM drivers, and all channels with the ASIO drivers.

The curve ball is ASIO is under patent by Steinberg, and therefore not available in open source tools like AudacityReaper is a popular recording application that supports ASIO, and has a 30 day trial with all features.  Reaper is $225, or $60 if your yearly gross revenue is less than $20K, are using it for personal use only, or are a non-profit/educational organization.  I’ve not found Reaper to be bad, but I’ve found out that you can get ASIO support in Audacity provided you compile it yourself and do not distribute the modified version.  I will be trying out ASIO Audacity before deciding on which package I’ll use to record.  (After recording, I use Audacity for editing.)

image There is an upside to this ASIO vs. WDM cage match.  Normally you are limited to recording from one device at a time in windows, but really it’s one device per driver system.  You can use your sound card’s WDM drivers at the same time as the ProFire 610 ASIO drivers.  I have a Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy Platinum eX, which is an older card but included a breakout box with every known audio interface exposed.  I’m able to connect the SPDIF connection from the Audigy to the ProFire and both play audio on the computer that gets recorded to a track (such as a listener question) and use my computer speakers as a monitor system during recording, by mapping the ProFire outputs to the SPDIF channels.

Mic Check… sibilance, sibilance

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All this stuff is for nothing, if you don’t have the right mics to record with.  John Kellar cornered Carl Franklin for an interview on podcasting and got Carl to reveal the secrets of DotNetRocks, one of the most successful developer podcasts out there.  There are many great tips in the video, and one key point was using the right type of mic – specifically a large diaphragm condenser microphone.  10 years ago it would have cost you a grand or more to get one of these mics, but the number of podcasts and the power of China’s production lines have created several $100 options.  These aren’t the best available, that $1K mic still has it’s advantages, but they are great quality for the price and will provide the rich full voice sound of professional podcasts like DNR.

After talking with my local sound guys at Guitar Center, I settled on the Sterling Audio ST51.  Even though these are targeted at budget minded consumers, they still come with a padded case and heavy-duty microphone stand adapter.  The mics themselves have a good heft to them, and feel like they won’t break easy (not that I don’t treat them gold!).  If you decided to pick up condenser mics, make sure your setup can provide phantom power that these mics require.

Check please!

image Okay, so after cables, stands, and pop-filters it might seem like $1K dropped on a podcast is excessive.  For this money I’ve gained the ability to record 4 people at once on to separate tracks and get a pretty good quality result.  I have some learning left in post production (i.e. should I normalize each speaker’s track then mix them, or mix them then normalize?), but I feel pretty good on the recording side.  I’ve been an audio geek for years (starting with my Tascam 4-track PortaStudio 414 Mark II) and love that i finally have a reason to build a home studio!