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Reading through the various Pro Tools forums, there are two commonly recurring themes. Firstly, Pro Tools users love Pro Tools software for its reliability, flexibility, ease of use, precision editing andÂ it being the only audio platform that maintains sample accurate sync across all tracks in a session. Secondly, weâ€™re not so enamoured of the LE hardware. The 002 and 003 ranges have been singled out for having no zero latency monitoring, audio converters below par when compared with other manufacturers and low-gain, noisy preamps.
Users are addressing the audio quality issues by either adding external converters from the likes of RME and Apogee to the digital I/O of their Digidesign interfaces or having companies such as Black Lion Audio modify their internal workings. However neither of these solutions address the latency issueÂ although weâ€™ve found one add-on that does â€“Â using an RME Fireface audio interface as an external AD/DA converter and monitor mixer.
If youâ€™re already familiar with all the issues surrounding zero latency monitoring, feel free to skip ahead but here follows a breakdown for those new to the topic.
Imagine you are a singer who is recording though a Digidesign 003. You have the mic in front of you and the backing track in your headphones. When you sing, you will hear your voice in your headphones, but only after it has gone down the firewire cable, been processed by Pro Tools, and sent back to the 003â€™s headphone sockets. All of this causes a noticeable delay, and it makes it really hard to deliver a performance.
The length of the delay depends upon the buffer size set in Pro Tools, the speed of the computer and whether or not there are any plug-ins being used. You can reduce the buffer size to minimum, but that delay will still be noticeable.
Other manufacturers produce audio interfaces which feature on-board routing that sends the mic signal directly to the headphones independently of it being sent to the recording software. However, Pro Tools LE canâ€™t use anything other than a Digidesign interface, and only the small MBox products have this feature.
Pro Tools LE does have a â€œlow latency monitoring modeâ€ that can reduce the delay to a useable level. However, this comes at a cost â€“ using it disables any auxes AND digital inputsÂ in your session.Â So if you want to record through a specialist AD converter and sing over a backing made up of software instruments, youâ€™re bang out of luck on both counts.
RME offer two models of Fireface â€“ the 400 and the 800.Â They differ in the number of channels and firewire connectivity, butÂ share a key feature â€“ although they are audio interfaces theyÂ also function as standalone AD-DA converters. Because they are audio interfaces, they have headphone monitoring sockets, and because they are rather good audio interfaces, they offer true zero-latency monitoring.Â RMEâ€™s secret weapon for this is their TotalMix software which not only allows you to create a custom headphone mix from all the available inputs via an onboard mixer, it also features a routing matrix which can send the signal from any input to any output(s). (Although, if weâ€™re getting technical, TotalMix allows you to create custom mixes for each pair of stereo outputs, so multiple independent monitor mixes can be created.)
Hereâ€™s how to set it all up:
So to summarize, what you gain is:
What you are not doing is replacing the Digidesign 002 or 003, or using the Fireface as an interface that works with Pro Tools. Despite being an audio interface, we are using the Fireface as a standalone AD/DA converter to augment the inputs.