1982 Tape Player records better than my MBP set up

Discussion in 'Digital Audio' started by manosaurus, Dec 5, 2006.

  1. macrumors 6502


    I have been trying to make recordings of a little rock band project that I have going. My goal is not to make professional recordings. Just want some decent and well balanced live recordings of our songs at our practice sessions to send to friends etc.

    Before I got my current setup I was using a cheap 1980's tape player/recorder to record the group just to see how it would come out. It wasn't too bad but it wasn't too good either; nothing we could, in good conscience, post online or anything. Anyway, I assured all of the guys in my group that I had a new computer on the way that was sure to get us some decent takes. So here's my setup and I'll try not to leave anything out.

    Computer: 2.16 C2D MBP. Recording to the MBP HD.

    Recording hardware: Tascam US-122 audio interface. Connets via USB 2.0 and has two inputs.

    Recording software: Garageband 3.

    Mics: 2 midrange pencil condensors, for got the brand but they are nothing special.

    Space: Finished and carpeted basement. The group plays in about a 15' x 15' area. We all pretty much face the center of the room.

    O.K., now here is how I am trying to record the group: I have tried 4 different methods. First, I tried recording into Garageband using the internal mic in the MBP. That method actually turned out to work o.k but nothing spectacular. The second way I tried was with the tascam and just using one condenser hanging in the middle of the room. Unimpressive result. The third way I have tried was to place one mic above the drum kit and one on the other side of the room near the P.A. cabinet to pic up the vocals. Recorded each mic to a separate track but the bleed over was too much on both ends and this method seems useless to me now. Very umimpressive result. The fourth way was to use the 1982 POS tape player. This method kicked all other methods a_s_s_e_s!!!!

    To make matters worse, 2 guys in the group are die hard windows fanatics (IT techs at an insurance company in my city) constantly getting on me about my "overpriced mac" and swearing that I could get a better result with a $500 DELL! I am not joking about this either. This is of course complete nonsense though. They are really just jealous of course.:D

    Anyway, anyone have any idea how I can get a better sound with all this equipment I have here? Is it possible for me to get a good sound with this equipment and method??? This is how they record the classical music concerts at school (two condensers in front of the stage) so I figured it should work like this too. For a live rock band recording like this should I try some dynamic mics instead of condensers? Is there a better placement perhaps?

    I don't want to get a mixing board and all that. I don't want to multi track at this point. Just want a decent sound or at least a better sound than this damned $20 1982 tape player. I mean I have thousands of dollars here in this stuff and I am sure that there is some way to beat the tape player.

    Thanks for any input.
  2. macrumors 601


    you've got too many variables to definitively say what's going on. with the tape player, it's recording to a different medium, you're using different mics (please correct me if i read that wrong) in different positions, and using different pre's.

    hanging one mic over the drums and using the other to get the room isn't going to give you good results. what'd i'd do instead is use both mics on the drums, then mic everything else. you'd need an interface with more inputs, then, and more mics. and mic placement is crucial.

    you might also be hearing the benefit of tape. often, the stuff i recorded to 4-track in the 80's sounds more cohesive than what i'm doing today in digital. there's a reason so many engineers are still recording to tape. that said, i'd also look at your gain staging. settings that we used to use to record to tape are too hot for digital. for digital, keep your signals in the middle third of the onboard VU meter, and not near the top. it will sound better.
  3. macrumors 68030


    Picking up on what Zim said, your tape player is probably cutting out a lot of high range frequencies and "noise" that your digital setup is picking up. You might also want to cruise around some audio recording forums for tips, as your problem sounds like more of an audio equipment/mic placement/recording techniques thing, rather than a computer problem.
  4. macrumors G5


    Hint: It's not the hardware. It's the technique.

    Please get to the library or newsstand and get yourself as many of these magazines as possible:

    Sound on Sound, Recording, Electronic Musician, Future Music, Computer Music, Keyboard, EQ.

    Also find the book "Home recording for musicians" by Craig Anderton

    Mic choice and placement, room acoustics, all have a massive effect on colouring the sound (mic'ing the PA speaker in particular is fraught with problems. Why wouldn't you simply take a monitor or auxiliary out from the PA?) Properly balanding the gain stages from Mic to Interface to Software is important as well.

    ANother reason why the tape sounds 'good' (that is, completely unrealistic, but subjectively with the 'AM radio' sound that we have come to be used to) is that the tape, with its miniscule dynamic range, is compressing the *&(^ out of the audio, saturating and distorting the bass and mids, and (as mentioned) rolling off the high end -- just like radio stations do. These are techniques you can use in computer recording as well, if thats the sound that you want, but realize that the thinner, higher sound that you record through your digital setup is far more representative of the sound in the room at those mic positions, than the tape machine is.

    Your digital recording hardware - whether Mac or PC - is not colouring the sound. You would get the same results with the same mics and positioning.

    Buying random mics, then rejecting getting whatever mixer or other outboard gear may be required to do a decent job 'coz you've already spend enough on the computer, is like buying a Porsche and driving around on the rims because you spent enough on the car, dammit, you shouldn't have to buy tires on top of that.

    The reason it sounds bad is because of operator error and unrealistic expectations.
  5. macrumors regular

    Personally I think the main factor is probably placement of the microphones. The brand of computer you use has no relevance whatsoever. Try walking around the room and finding a spot where you can hear a reasonable balance of the instruments, then put 1 mic there. Make sure have set an appropriate gain level, ie a strong signal but not clipping. I have managed some reasonable recordings of a band using one condensor in the middle of a room (going into an edirol interface and a powerbook G4 incidentally).

    Might help if you said in what way they recordings sound worse as well.
  6. macrumors 6502


    To clairify something... the tape player is actually just like little jam box that one would have bought from target in 1982 for $20. I put an old school cassette tape in and press down record and play at the same time. It records with a built in mic.

    Also, guys I am not completely retarded. I am not blaming the computer for the bad takes I've made. Come on now, is it not clear that I know that the problem is "human error?" All I want right now is to get a better sound than the $20 1982 tape player from Target! I don't think that that is realistic is it? I'm not asking for much here. I am not blaming Apple here, just to be sure.

    I know it has something to do with mic placement, mic type (dynamic condenser etc.) and levels. I just don't have hardly any time to experiment with the whole group there so I thought I would come here for suggestions.

    Thanks so far.
  7. macrumors 601


    well, that's a problem, because it will require some experimentation. per my previous suggestion of using the two condensers on drums (what's the mic model #, btw?), have just the drummer come in and try to get those sounds happening.

    i'd try these approaches and see what works best:

    1. use the mics as a stereo pair in front of the kit. focus them at the same point, possibly the snare, and keep their distance from that point the same. in fact, you can use that distance to make an equilateral triangle. place the mics higher than that point so they can point down a little bit.

    2. similar to the above, but different placement. one comes in over the drummers right shoulder (assuming he plays right-handed) and points downwards at the snare. the other mic is lower, off to the right, kind of shooting across the kit. both mics focus on the same point of the snare, and should be equidistant from that point, something on the order of 4 feet.

    both will require a lot of experimenting and careful listening. i suggest you record the signal and listen back, rather than trying to monitor while he's playing.

    as suggested above, grab the rest of the signals either through the PA direct outs, or straight into the interface. do not try to mic the room for that stuff. if you're short channels, either buy a bigger interface or overdub.

    also, try to get some isolation between the amps and drums. some bleed is okay, but when you listen to the bass track, for example, it should have more bass than anything else. the more isolated you can get, the better, because that'll cut down on phase problems.
  8. macrumors 6502a


  9. macrumors 601


  10. macrumors G5


    The reason the "stereo condensor mics in front of the stage" technique works for the concert band is because, well, it IS a stage, and the band is set up and balanced ('mixed' if you like) acoustically by placement and by the conductor's control of the dynamics. Because it is a good acoustic environment, the mics simply have to record the sound at the listener position.

    A 15 x 15 square room can't compare in any way to a stage.
    nor can amplified instruments be as easily balanced without a mixer. Not impossible just difficult.
  11. macrumors 68040


    you are recording sound in a friggen box.

    im sure it sounds awesome because in the room your ears are deafened and you cant truly hear anything but the "music" as a whole.

    if you record that, it sounds like total crap because its all a hodgepodge condensed.

    i cant say why an 80s tape deck "sounds better" to you, other than the inefficiencies of the medium making the hodgepodge sound "ok" to the human ear.

    forget the tape deck and work on your setup, worrying why you get "better" sound from a tape deck is a moot point.

    in my opinion, other than the drums, you need to get direct from amp/mixer to your recorder.

    otherwise you are just using the mics to pick up all the nuances the amps might not be able to produce, but can be digitally picked up.

    with drums, its a boom and a bang, not enough nuances (unless you ride the cymbals alot) to really care how well you captured the sound....
  12. macrumors 6502


    O.k. guys.

    I got the sound I wanted. It was simple. All I did was hang a dynamic instument mic (as opposed to the condensers I had been using) from the ceiling about 5' above the floor in the center of the room. We got a well balanced sound that was just what we wanted for rough records of our tracks. I can't think of why I did't use a dynamic mic in the first place! The recordings are now much better thatn the 1982 tape player and no more anti Apple comments!

    Thanks to everybody that was making an effort to help me out!!!!!!
  13. macrumors 6502a


    glad you found a sound you like! i'd be interested in hearing samples from the '82 tape, the "worse" condensers, and the current dynamic setup.

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