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ASK the Doctor


101.BobP: How can I play guitar through my stereo? 4/22/02 
102.Dee: Can you hear the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit? 5/13/02 
103.Robbie: In what order should I record my tracks? 6/27/02 
104.John: What is "slave to the master"? 7/15/02
105.Chris G: Good portable orchestra recording setup? 6/18/03
106.Rick: Recording with 3 mics on the drumset? 8/8/03
107.Jamma: Where are my silky highs? 3/29/04
108.Thomas: Sync my Fostex R8 and Tascam DA-78? 11/4/04
109.Penny: transferring BR-864 guitar parts to my computer? 11/13/04

101. BobP: How can I play guitar through my stereo?

I want a piece of equipment that will have Mic/Guitar Inputs that will play through my Stereo System. Thanks, Bob

the doctor's Rx:

Dear BobP,

The easiest would be to buy a guitar amp simulator like the Line6 Pod. It costs about $300. Roland, Behringer, Yamaha, DOD and others make these units and they range in price and features from $150 - $700 or so. Your guitar plugs into a standard 1/4" jack and they have stereo outputs that can plug into your stereo AUX inputs.

They typically have a selection of amp simulations, a selection of cabinet types (1 x 12, 2 x 12, 4 x 10, etc speakers) and some effects if you want those too, some EQ as well. Be careful not to blow up your hi-fi speakers! Have fun.

102. Dee: Can you hear the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit?

You've probably been asked this question a million times, but here it is again:

a) Is there a discernible difference between 16-bit and 24-bit recording?
b) Are commercially produced CDs recorded as 16-bits or 24-bits?

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Dee,

"discernible" is the key word in your question. Yes is the correct answer. Would you hear it? Most of the time under "real world" listening conditions for most kinds of music, NO.

How about:
a. on a boombox NO.
b. on your car stereo in a moving car NO.
c. in a walkman CD player NO.
d. sitting in front of 2 identical stereo systems in a quiet, acoustically prepared room with a switch to go back and forth between the mix formats YES.
e. in a recording studio environment with an A/B switch to compare identical tracks recorded in both 16 bit and 24 bit format YES.

Commercially released CD's are a in a 16 bit format( called the Red Book standard). Recordings are made with 24 bit systems but after they are mixed these are mastered and converted to the 16 bit format for commercial release. The process of getting from 24 to 16 bit is called dithering.

103. Robbie: In what order should I record my tracks?

I hope it's not too much trouble but I was hoping you could offer some advice on two main questions I have regarding digital multi-track recording:

1. I know this is subjective, but is there any proper order to laying down instruments for home recording? It's just me -- I play bass and guitar and have a drum machine for rhythm -- but often I don't know where to start. I would assume drums go down first(?), but is it then common to have to map out the entire song first, literally counting every measure so you can program the drum machine for all the correct patterns and what not?

2. I can never seem to punch-in to fix playing errors without erasing something or it just not sounding natural. For example, even if I just need to punch-in for one simple measure, that transition from the fourth beat of that measure to the 1st beat of the following measure is always noticeable as the note from the punch-in often ends abruptly and then the next measure begins. Could you tell me the proper method here?

Also, would the following be considered normal?: If I need to punch-in for one measure, I could actually do the punch in on another track and then combine the two tracks when finished. In this way, there's no jarring break in-between measures as the single fixed measure could carry over a bit with sustain.

Thanks so much for your help and my apologies if I've typed too much here.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Robbie,

You need to lock up your drum machine to the sequencer, either MIDI song pointer or MTC, so you can lay down a 2 bar basic beat to map the song out. Then later, lock it back up and finish the song programming. In any event you definitely want to have a solid groove to lock everything else to... drums first, even if its only a simple timing reference.

Your idea to record on another track and then edit them together is exactly the right approach. Another method is to play or sing along, matching what is there, so the punch will be smoother. And of course, look for places to punch in between phrases, etc. Nobody punches in successfully right in the middle of sustained notes!

104. John: What is "slave to the master"?

I'm probably one of many who are in the process of putting together a home studio. I'm a former DJ who plays keyboards. Currently I have a Korg Karma, Roland Fantom, MC 307 Groove Box, VS1880 and a Roland CDR-W for writing CD's. I've been doing some preproduction work thus far. I feel I've been going about it all wrong. I hear the terms in the MIDI world called "Slave to the Master" I just can't figure it out.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear John,

"Slave to the Master" has to do with getting your MIDI sequencer to follow another master machine, either a recorder or another MIDI device OR making your MIDI sequencer the master and getting your drum machine to "slave" to it.

With your setup, the Karma and the Fantom both have sequencers built in so you could make either one the master sequencer, program beats on the MC307 and set it's MIDI CLOCK setting to "midi clock", "external" or "slave", MIDI plug out from the Karma to the 307 MIDI IN, and when you start the master sequencer, the 307 should start up and "chase" it... hence the name... "Slave to the Master".

You're probably better off using one sequencer and simply firing sounds out of the other one just as if it were a stand alone module.

105. Chris G: Good portable orchestra recording setup?

Thank you for the great handbook on the website! I am trying to come up with a good portable combination to record live orchestra concerts at the local auditorium. Marantz is coming out with a new Compact Flash recorder the end of this month, model PMD670. I have also looked at the Marantz CDR300 which looks to be the same recorder, except it records directly to CD. It requires a much larger battery pack however. Either way, I am looking at the Audio Technica AT825 Stereo Microphone for this application. I believe I have seen others use this, or a similar microphone with a DAT recorder in the same situation. Any ideas on whether or not this is a good microphone for this application / recorder? I know it won't be the best quality, by my budget is $1000.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Chris G,

The AT825 will be fine but it's definitely the weak link. The RODE NT4 Stereo X-Y mic ($450 from would be a big step up. It can be battery powered as well and comes with a custom stereo cable with XLR and mini-jack connectors. Other options like buying (2) seperate condenser mics would require preamps and phantom power and probably wind up costing more, besides having to deal with 2 mike stands, etc. lists The Marantz CDR300 at $700. Have you considered a small 8 track unit like the Fostex VF80($499, $699 w/cdr)? It has 2 XLR inputs, phantom power, S/PDIF, effects and 8 hrs of non compressed recording time with the standard hard drive. With it, you could do your edits and crossfades all on the same box.

106. Rick: Recording with 3 mics on the drumset?

Hello, first of all I would like to say how great this website is. Secondly I was wondering if you have any advice or know of any good sources of information on recording drums with as few mics as possible, 3 or less. I have a PC running Cubase VST 5.1, with an external Edirol UA5 soundcard. It has a pair of stereo inputs, hence the need for as few mics as possible. The only solution I can come up with is to either use two or three mics directly, or run as many mics as I want into a mixer and then run that into my stereo inputs. Unfortunately that means a lot of prep work and no individual track control during mixdown. I am prepered to spend as much time as is neccesary to get the sound right before recording, but would really like to be able to adjust the individual levels afterwards. I have a feeling the answer will be in the form of an expensive multi input usb or firewire device but any advice would be greatly appreciated.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Rick,

Some of the greatest rock drums were recorded with 3 mics, Led Zep among others. Of course it was done in a space that was part of the sound AND the drummers were great. I can't stress that enough. Nothing can make a mediocre drummer sound great!

With 3 mics, not matched, I'd try kick, snare and overhead. With a matched pair and a third mic, I'd try kick and stereo overheads, maybe compress the stereo pair. You're going to have to experiment, record a little, playback... get the good drummer first, and the rest will be a lot easier.

107. Jamma: Where are my silky highs?

I am an electronic Musican and working mostly on PC and Cubase Software. Since a good while i am trying to make my music sounds more "warm" and "analogue". There are quite a lot good Studio Plug Ins that i own (Like the new Synalksis Line ) but i couldn't make my HiHats or Highs in general sound good. I am currently thinking that Tube Gear is the key to those nice silky Highs. But i really donīt know what gear to buy. There are so much Mic Pre Amps out there using Tubes and promises "sikly highs" but i am not sure about that.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Jamma,

It could very well be that your speakers are lying to you. This is very common and why it's important to take your mixes around and play them on other systems. The room you work in also can severely impact the response of your speakers. The highs may be there but you can't hear them because the speaker/room combination isn't letting you hear them.

Fortunately, there are some real bargains out there right now in the speaker department. I recommend getting a pair of bi-amped active monitors. Behringer has the Truth Speakers for $400/pair. Alesis, Event and Mackie all have several models from $400 - 1500 a pair. Then you need to look at the room you're mixing in. Adding hard, reflective surfaces (wood floor, flat walls, stone) will "brighten" up the sound. Adding absorbing, deader surfaces (curtains, bass traps, padding) will bring out more bass.

108. Thomas: Sync my Fostex R8 and Tascam DA-78?

Can I sync my Fostex R-8 r/r recorder with my new Tascam DA-78HR so that i can get 16 channel recording?

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Thomas,

Yes, but it'll probably be 14 track recording. There are basically 2 methods: MTC (midi time code) usually not available on older models...

1. If both recorders are capable of chasing MTC AND either of them is capable of outputting MTC... the one that can output MTC is the MASTER and the other is set to be a MTC SLAVE. This would give you the full 16 tracks for recording.

or use SMPTE (how we did it in the old days...)

2. You'll need a SMPTE synchronization device that can control both units (try Both will have to dedicate 1 track for recording the SMPTE time code on. Then 1 unit is designated the MASTER and the other is designated the SLAVE. The SMPTE audio from the recorded track on each machine is fed into the synchronizer.

When you start the MASTER, the synch box reads the SMPTE and starts up the SLAVE and adjusts it's speed until the SMPTE coming off both machines is locked. This is called "chasing" and that's what the SLAVE machine does. It usually happens in 3-4 seconds and that's why it's important to leave some extra "chase time" at the beginning of your song. IE, if you have a 4 minute song, "stripe" both tapes with 5 minutes of SMPTE. Leave the extra 30 seconds of "pre-roll" at the start. 

109. Penny: transferring BR-864 guitar parts to my computer?

Hi. I found your handbook very helpful first of all. And I've read a lot of material. I have a question about recording that I hope you can help me out with.

I have various software, Cubase, Ableton Live, Wavelab, etc., I use my laptop with a factory Yamaha soundcard, Pentium 4, lots of memory, and I also have the Boss BR-864 8 track digital recorder. I understand this uses 24 bit resolution.

Now, I love the way the guitar sounds when I record it with the BR-864, but I want to add other instruments of course, some of which I need the computer for (synths). When I try to transfer the guitar recordings to wavelab or Live, they sound like CRAP, all distorted and such. I've used the 24 alt bit to record 24 bit files, 16 bit files, I've tried it all. And it also goes the other way, when I play the synths or anything else from the computer to the BR-864, I get the same CRAP, even worse!!!

Now, I saw on the handbook you mentioned the Worlclock issue, which I am going to try, but I can't help but think it has something to do with the bit resolution. Please help!!!!

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Penny,

It's not the 24-bit file format, I suspect it's plain old analog distortion from overloading the input of your soundcard. A bad wire and/or connection can also cause distortion even when all the other settings are right!

audio into the computer:
1. You need to make sure you are sending the audio into the line input of the soundcard. If you have been trying to use the mic input it will almost always distort. If you have input level controls on the line input, back them down 1/2 way to start.
2. The BR-864 output should be a line level output. (This is where you see +4(pro) and -10 (semi-pro) levels in the docs). You'll need to back this output way down, then start experimenting with sending increasing levels into the computer soundcard.

audio out of the computer:
1. You need to make sure you are sending the audio out of the line output of the soundcard. If you have output level controls, back them down 1/2 way to start.
2. The BR-864 input should be a line level input. You'll need to back this input way down, then start experimenting with sending increasing levels into the BR-864. If it has them, a mic input on the BR-864 could also work, but you'll have to turn the pad way up(decreases the level of the incoming signal). In general, mic inputs are easily blown away by line level signals.




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