Monday, March 12, 2012

Recording Equipment Check

Recently, quite a few people have been asking about how I record my videos. Here's what I use for recording:

Mic: AKG Perception 200 - that's that big ol' large diaphragm condenser mic you can see in the foreground in some of my videos. It's not a really expensive one, but it does give you a much wider dynamic range than, for example, a Shure SM57. Cost is about $175.

Mixing desk/Input: Alesis Multimix8 USB 2.0. This is a great little unit that lets you record up to 8 tracks simultaneously onto your computer's hard drive (when you use a DAW - see below) at 24 bit, 44.1 KHz. Cost is about $150. Now, you don't really need the 8 tracks unless you want to record a bunch of people simultaneously on separate tracks, but actually for the price I've found it's about the best low-cost way to get the sounds into the computer (there are a few other cheaper solutions but they are mostly terrible). Having 24 bit really seems to matter to my ears, 16 bit recordings always seem to lose a lot, and even though the videos suffer through compression on YouTube, starting out with a good signal helps a lot - even though it is all 16 bit playback. 24-bit also lets you raise the volume of the recorded track significantly without losing too much quality.

DAW (recording application) on my PC is Sonar 8 Producer. Just about any DAW will do. I don't do much with it other than mix the backing track together and add a tiny bit of reverb if the recording sounds dry. Once I've mixed it and have the levels and volume right, I export it using .wma (Windows Media Advanced Streaming) format - since I've found that works well with the video app I have. I use 16 bit, 44.1 KHz settings for the output file if I'm using it for video.

I make the backing tracks myself - I have an Fender Jazz bass, which I plug straight into the mixing desk, and I also play guitar and banjo. I often include a mandolin chop rhythm track too. You'll see a fiddle hanging up in the background in some of my videos - I try to play it, but I just haven't really achieved what you might call mastery yet - or anywhere near it :)

I have have lots of sound absorbing material in my room so it isn't an echo chamber.

I think the most significant contribution to the sound quality comes from the mic, 24 bit recording, and the lack of echo in the room.

I record videos with an iPod, or with my digital camera. The digital camera has better video quality, but the advantage of the iPod is that you can use the front-facing camera and see if you're positioned correctly.

I import the movie into Windows Movie Maker and trim it. Then I add the sound, and try to sync it up, just by zooming in and wiggling it left and right until it looks and sounds right, which is always tricky.

My advice is, if you listen thoughtfully to the results you get and think about how you might tweak it to make it better, the better you'll sound, regardless of what equipment you have. Keep experimenting.

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