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ASK the Doctor


41.T: A home studio for under $3000? 4/18/98 
42.KZ: Sound dampening ductwork in my basement studio? 4/27/98 
43.Chris: Is my SP-1200 suppossed to do that? 6/8/98 
44.Rosell: My sound recorder isn't working? 7/7/98 
45.Andy: The computer adds a high pitched whine when hooked to my stereo? 8/12/98 
46.Dana: AC overloading my surge protectors? 8/15/98 
47.Bryan: Syncing my Fostex R-8 and mini-disk multi-track? 11/25/98 
48.Chris: SPX-90 harmonizing and Neve EQ's? 12/28/98 
49.Cryss: How does a Compressor work? 1/12/99 
50.Ben: Recording with a 4-track and the computer? 2/17/99

41. T: A home studio for under $3000?

I am looking to build a home studio around a new home computer. I need to apologize ahead of time...I have been in 4-track-cassette-tape-land for a couple of years now so I have some rather naive questions. First of all, can I realistically put this thing together for under 3000 bucks? What are the key elements? Computer, interface card, mixing software, more? Can you suggest the best products in this total price range available for these or other needed elements? How many live tracks are possible?

Currently I use a Tascam 4track. I sequence drums and bass (and any keyboard parts) on my ensoniq vfx keyboard. Obviously I would love to be able to have more options in sequencing, editing, sound choices and just over-all quality. The other three tracks I use for lead vocals, up to three background vocs and guitars, using some creative bouncing.

I do not have quality microphones. (Im using some kind of Radio Shack 0thing) Other than that I just have my instruments. As you can see, I'm sort of starting from scratch. The only thing this set up is useful for is to get ideas down on tape. My main project has been alty-rock oriented, but I have also been on a retro disco-funk kick lately. What I eventually would like to be able to do is create as professional as possible demos for my own use. (Although if they were good enough for radio that would be a plus.)

I would not mind having to sequence drums in the future but would like the option of trying to track live drums. I think I could get away with eight tracks but would love 16. What is the best route to go in the $3000 and below catagory? computer recording? stand alone digital 8? I am lost in a sea of new recording options-help! Thanks for replying!!!!!!!!!! T.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear T,

For under $3000, I'd stay away from the computer for now. I suggest you go for the Fostex DMT-8VL digital multi-tracker, 8 track dard disc recording with cut/copy/paste and MIDI capabilities(about $1000), an inexpensive multi-fx like the MidiVerb4(about $400) and some decent microphones(Shure SM-57 about $100 for guitars/drums and a better vocal mike like an AKG S3000, about $325 or a AudioTechnica AT4033, about $600).

For live drum recording, you'll need several mikes. Check out my recording manual for some tips. The last piece of the puzzle is a DAT machine. Perhaps the TASCAM DA-20 or Fostex D-5 (about $900-950). With this setup, Keep using the sequencer in the Ensoniq and lock the DMT-8VL to it via MTC. All the mikes you'll need to record live drums will blow your budget quick, so stay with the machines for a bit longer and upgrade to a better vocal mike first. When you have more money, add to the gear.

I don't recommend the computer route because you'll spend more than $3000 on the computer, a digital soundcard and DAT machine alone! And if you opt for a stand alone ADAT, you still need a mixer, so that blows the budget. The DMT-8VL has a built in mixer that is adequate for now, and later on you'll be able to upgrade and still utilize the DMT as your digital editor or for extra tracks. To take your demo quality up a notch, you need better microphones and more tracks to record on. I think this is the smartest approach, given your budget and current equipment.

42. KZ: Sound dampening ductwork in my basement studio?

I'm currently building a soundproof recording room in my basement. Two of the walls will be double walls. And all of the walls and ceiling will be insulated and sealed with several layers of drywall. Even though the idea is to make everything airtight, I still need to breathe. Therefore I am planning to bring an air duct into the room from a secondary trunk coming off the furnace. Are you aware of any sources for special ducts or duct baffles that will absorb sound? Any ideas would be welcome. KZ

the doctor's Rx:

Dear KZ,

You can buy insulated duct work that will quiet the sound of the moving air. Check with your local cooling/heating supply and installation companies for where and how much. They should be listed in your yellow pages.

43. Chris: Is my SP-1200 suppossed to do that?

i got a problem with my sp1200.. my sp adds some crackling sound to every self recorded sample...(sounds kinda like vinyl cracks) even when i am sampling "air" (no cord connected to the sample input). The sp adds that noise to the sample (sample level adjusted to 00db, when adjusted to +20db this does not occur). When a cord is connected and i sample something the noise is added at any sample level adjustment..!!!!??!! normal sp behaviour ??? chris

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Chris,

That's part of the "charm" of the sp-1200 and why it is the hiphop drum/sampling machine of choice. I have also found that the crackling noise is less apparent when you start with an empty machine. It seems to get worse as the memory is used up. Sometimes the extra "Dust" is good, sometimes not.

44. Rosell: My sound recorder isn't working?

I hope you can help me out. I cannot get my sound recorder to work. I have the microphone hooked up right but it will not record. What should I be doing? This is my first computer. I'm just learning. I have a PowerSpec:PC. I have a 16-bit audio driver which is supposed to be compatible to the soundblaster. Hope you understand what I'm talking about. I have wave files on windows 95. Don't know if that helps you. Thanks.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Rosell,

I used to have a SoundBlaster card and the SoundBlaster software that came with it. The software should show a mixer with a bargraph display that visually shows movement when you speak into the mike, when it's hooked up correctly. Since you have .wav files already, try playing them to confirm that your speakers connected to the SoundBlaster card are working properly. If they are, you should be able to hit record on the SoundBlaster software and start recording. If your .wav files don't play back through the soundcard speakers, then your drivers aren't installed properly.

Try checking the "my computer\control panel\system\device manager\sound, video game controller" page to see if the soundblaster is listed correctly. If not, try re-installing it. Most problems of this sort are due to drivers and/or hardware not being installed properly. The result is that Windows 95 doesn't recognizes the device or proper driver.

45. Andy: The computer adds a high pitched whine when hooked to my stereo?

Hey Doc, I'm trying to connect my computer to my home stereo. The goal is to burn my entire CD collection into MP3's then have every song at my fingertips. I've bought the necessary cables and what not from Radio Shack to convert the headphone jack line-out output on my AWE32 to the CD input on my Panasonic 5400 receiver. Only problem is that there's this high pitched whine coming out of the stereo when I switch the input to CD to listen to the sound from my computer.

Please help! Should I buy some filter or something to squelch the sound? Could the poor quality of the cables I bought from Radio Shack be causing this? Do I have to get a higher quality sound card with a true line-out (without the integrated software-adjustable volume control)? Am I trying to do something that I just shouldn't be doing? Thanks for any insight!

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Andy,

The whine you're describing is often caused by the stereo being too close to a TV or the computer monitor itself. TV/video screens generate a field that interferes with audio signals; try moving the stereo away from the computer and/or keep the wires from the computer to the stereo away from the monitor/TV. Speakers can also sometimes affect signal wires. Also try not to let the signal wires run parallel with any AC/electrical wires. Sometimes they also induce a hum into the signal wires. Did you check to see if your reciever makes any noise without the wire being plugged into it? It may already be noisy?

There could be an impedance mismatch between the AWE32 output and the reciever input, but I don't think that's the problem. The soundcard line outs generally are designed to be hooked up to stereo inputs. A filter is a bad idea and Radio Shack cables are just fine, providing you purchased the correct cables. For this they should be shielded audio cables, probably a stereo 1/8" mini-jack on one end (for soundcard OUT) and two RCA jacks on the other (for stereo IN left/right). Unshielded cables will definitely cause problems!

46. Dana: AC overloading my surge protectors?

I don't know if this is an appropriate question, I am using surge protectors to run 2 fostex recorders, 2 effect racks, compressor, patchbay, mixer,and makeshift monitor dual tapedeck, and JVC digital reciever obviously I have an overload problem, my question is there any type of device made to plug multiple units in, these people that have tons of stuff do they have extension cords just running everywhere? how do they plug all their equipment in without blowing fuses. Thank you for your time. Dana of Willow.

the doctor's Rx:

Dear Dana,

By surge protectors, I take it you mean those outlet strips with 6 outlets in them with built-in surge protection? or the single plug-in surge protectors? Both are usually rated to handle at least 15 amps of current and the equipment you've described should work fine with either of those. If it's tripping and blowing fuses, then it could be defective OR there's a loose plug or frayed wire among the many AC wires OR that particular circuit that you're plugging it all into could be funky. House wiring is sometimes iffy, particularly older house wiring. Sometimes replacing an old wall socket can make all the difference. Also make sure that you're using a circuit that no one else is. If you're on the bathroom or kitchen circuit, the first time a hair dryer or the toaster gets fired up, you'll go down. Stay away from circuits with air conditioners plugged into them as well.

47. Showalter: Syncing my Fostex R-8 and mini-disk multi-track?

Doctor Doctor please help... I've read your handbook and read the posted questions, but I'm still unsure on my situation... I've got a fostex 454 8 channel mixer and a fostex R-8 1/4" reel to reel. I'm getting a Yamaha MD-8 minidisc recorder and an Alesis SR16 drum machine. For now I'm mixing down to a Sony Minidisc player. What is the best way to sync the anlalog tape, minidisc recorder, and drum machine, and then mix all that down at the same time to a minidisc player??? J.L. Cooper, that you've mentioned before, sells the PPS2 which *reads and generates SMPTE, *coverts SMPTE into midi time code, *converts MTC into SMPTE, and it *reads and generates Smart FSK(??????) for midi song position pointer applications... runs about $139, is this all i need or is there a cheaper way about it??? one other thing, personally, would you go with the yamaha md-8 or the Fostex DMT8VL??? thanks a milion, your site rocks... It's by far the most informative I found... -bryan

the doctor's Rx:


Yes, the jl cooper box sounds like the way to go. You'll stripe track 8 on your Fostex R-8 with 30 frame per second non-drop SMPTE from the PPS2. Then feed the output of track 8 back into the PPS2 and it will output Midi Time Code to the Yamaha MD-8 and/or the Fostex DMT8VL, which I believe both can read MTC(they better be able to). This will get your recorders all running in sync with the R-8 being the master. You start and stop it and the other recorders follow.

Now the SR-16 doesn't do MTC(which is for recorders), it is a sound module and it needs a song pointer/start command. I'm pretty sure the PPS2 outputs a MIDI start command, you'll have to check the manual. If it does, then you'll program your song on the SR-16 and take a MIDI plug out of the PPS2 into the MIDI IN on the SR-16. Put the SR-16 into MIDI external mode so it will wait for the start command from the PPS2 to begin playing. With this setup, the R-8 is the master machine. When you start it, the PPS2 reads the SMPTE and via MTC, tells the mini-disc where to go and via MIDI song pointer, tells the SR-16 what bar it should be playing at.

As for the Yamaha or the DMT8VL, the DMT8VL would be my pick if that's the model with the built-in SCSI connection. If it has the SCSI connector, buy a Syquest SparQ 1 gig drive(about $200, 35/cart) for it and record your projects onto seperate cartridges. It'll also sound better than the mini-disc. I'd also recommend you get a DAT machine to mix down to.

48. Chris: SPX-90 harmonizing and Neve EQ's?

i read on you page that you used a spx90 to harmonize a sampled horn with a sampled bassline so that you have both in tune...(digable planets)my effects unit does not have a harmonizing function so i am curious to get more info about that technique.... is it really that easy??? ...does the spx really put both samples in tune automatically when putting them into it??? ..canīt believe it!!....i am spending hours and hours with timestretching or chopping up samples into little pieces to get different samples in tune (hiphop) (i am not a trained musician which makes it even more difficult to me!)... thanks, chris, cologne germany

the doctor's Rx:


Yes, the spx-90 does the trick on alot of stuff, but not drums too well. Smoother sounds like a bass note or horn riff work better. It's not automatic, you can adjust the pitch up or down in 1/2 steps with (+/-)50 increments of fine tuning control. In general, the less you have to retune, the better sounding the results will be, which means, usually retuning a whole step sounds better than retuning two whole steps. Sometimes I also EQ the send to the harmonizer and EQ the harmonizer return to better match up the sound of the harmonized sample to the original.

As for Neve EQ's, they are sweet. The mic pre's are great as well and they are expensive here in the states too. The TLA gear looks good to me and is a lot more reasonably priced. There are some very inexpensive pieces of tube gear on the market now which are amazing. ART makes a 1/2 rack single space tube 4-band EQ(I think it's called the tube pac) that sells here for $200.00, they also have a 2 space stereo opto-compressor (like the old LA-2A) for $500.00. Also check out the Aphex 109, a single space 4-band tube EQ for $300.00. Of course if you can get your hands on any NEVE gear, go for it.

49.Cryss: How does a Compressor work?

hi ya ... my name is Cryss and I am working as a freelance assistant engineer in and around Melbourne, Australia. I have to say that I found your Recording Handbook fantastic reading, even some of the most seasoned engineers I work with found out one or two things they didn't know already.

Now my question for you oh great oracle, is this ... how does it work and what does each mode do on a compressor :) thanx again for the handbook .... Cryss... One of many Brown Eyed Girls on the planet.

the doctor's Rx:


The relationship between the loudest and softest parts of a signal can sometimes be a problem. A compressor acts on a signal by making the loud parts softer and the soft parts louder, automatically, according to how you set it's parameters.

Most compressors have:

   1. ratio control
                1:1     no compression
                2:1     slight compression
                4:1     slightly more
                6:1     slightly more
                10:1    lots of compression
                20:1    squash the bug!
        2. gain/makeup control
                this is to compensate for the volume loss once you start compressing the signal.
        3. threshold control
                this is for setting the level at which the compression begins to act on 
                the signal.
        4. attack/release controls
                to adjust how quickly or slowly the compressor starts acting on the signal once 
                the threshold setting has been crossed (ATTACK) AND how quickly or slowly it 
                stops acting on the signal once it falls below the threshold setting (RELEASE).

Cheaper compressors generally have less controls than more expensive ones. The two major types are VCA and opto-compressors. Some compressors are designed specifically for "program" compression which means the whole mix. SSL has a program compressor built into it's mixing boards. Mastering houses also use program compressors. Some program compressors actually split the signal into 2 or 3 bands and then apply individual compressors to each band independently. Its called multi-band stereo compression and the new digital all-in-one mastering boxes like the TC Electronic Finalizer and dbx Quantum as well as some software packages can do it.

The classic LA-2A, which hasn't been made in 25 years, is a tube opto-compressor which sounds great on vocals and if you can find one will set you back $3000 US or more. Fortunately, there is a lot of new, inexpensive tube gear out now. The ART Pro VLA is a stereo tube opto-compressor for about $500 US that looks way cool. In general, a little bit of compression goes a long way. It can also be used as an effect for pumping up distorted electric guitars, or affecting long reverb tails, making the reverb more apparent. Plug 'em in and start experimenting. That's the whole point. By the way, I'm glad to see a woman interested in all this. It's been a boy's club for way too long already.

50.Ben: Recording with a 4-track and the computer?

Hello Doctor! Could I just say that I found your handbook to be an incredibly helpful summary for beginners to home recording like myself - easily the most accesible thing that I found at 'Harmony Central'.

Here's my problem : I want to connect my Tascam 414 up to my PC, so that I can burn CD's of my favorite 4 track tapes. I have a 333 Pentium with an AWE64 basic soundcard and a SCSI CD-RW. Would I need a new soundcard to connect the two devices together? And would I need some software to make this possible? The only other equipment I have is a mic and some headphones!

I invested in the SoundBlaster Live card, as the music press have been going wild about the quality of sound you can get from it. I'm very impressed by the sound quality, but I can't get it to do what I want!!! I have connected it up to my Tascam 414 via the line outs into the stereo line-in jack, and I can hear the tape being played through my speakers. But I can't get the PC to record any sound files!

I have tried Cubase AV, Mixman Studio, Sound Forge, and the basic sound recorders bundled with Windows 95 and Creative. None of them will recognise that any sound is going into my stereo line-in - even though I can hear it through my PC's speakers, also connected to the card! This is perhaps a bit of a specialised question, but I figure that I've probably overlooked something really obvious. Any ideas how I can record my .wav files ??? Keep up the good work!

the doctor's Rx:


If the AWE64 has a stereo line in then you're ready to go. Simply plug the stereo out of the TASCAM 4-track into the stereo line in of the soundcard and play your 4-track mix into the computer. The PC will automatically set up to save it as a .wav file, ask you for a title of the file and where you want to store it. If you plan on doing a lot of audio files, buy an ultra DMA hard drive, I've seen 6.4gig drives for under $200, they are cheap!! right now and dedicate it to audio only.

The soundcard is the interface between the outside audio world and the internal computer world. Once the audio is in the computer, it is in digital form and automatically saved as an audio file which gets a ".wav" extension for PC's (ex. song.wav or demo.wav)and a ".aiff" extension for mac's (ex. song.aiff or demo.aiff). The computer will know it's an audio file and ask you for a name and what directory to file it in, etc. Otherwise, it's just like any other file in the computer and can be copied, moved, etc.

Make sure the line-in on the soundcard is a stereo input. If it isn't, then you need to get a soundcard that has a stereo line-in. Also, don't use a mono input plug with a stereo input jack or vice-versa! You'll either get distorted sound or no sound at all. There are lots of music software programs out there! There are stereo editing programs ($50-300) which will basically turn the computer into your mixdown deck. Of course, you'll have very powerful editing capabilities. For instance, if your mix is real complicated, just record it in pieces into the computer and then edit it all together. Or, record several passes and cut verses from one take with chorus' from another. You get the idea.

If you're interested in multi-track capabilities, then you'll need to spend a little more ($250-750). With multi-track software you'll be able to do your mixdown and a whole lot more. For instance, I record instrumental versions of my mixes and accapella vocals so if a client tells me later, they want a vocal part louder, I can simply tweak it in the computer with Saw Plus (a multi-track recording program I use) without having to remix the whole song.

Incidentally, having a stereo soundcard with a multi-track program simply means you can only input two tracks at a time. Since you can move them all around in the multi-track program anyway, it may not be a problem. Of course, if you want to record more than two things at a time into the computer, then you'll need to get a soundcard with multiple input capabilities.

As for the soundcard problems, it sounds like you don't have your soundblaster card installed properly. If it's win95, check the hardware profile. Make sure the drivers are installed correctly and that there aren't any interupt conflicts. If it still doesn't work, uninstall it and re-install the software.


I tried to bypass the problem by altering the interrupt assignations, but I finally discovered that the solution was rather simpler. It's not made at all clear, but the Soundblaster Live! won't let you record any sound through the 'Line In' without setting it as the default input device - via the undocumented but essential 'Mixer' control. Just thought I'd let you know in case anyone else asks you the same question! Thanks once again, Ben Hart.
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