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Thread: How to improve recording quality

  1. #1
    Member steveryan's Avatar
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    How to improve recording quality

    I've been making some demos on the decks. The recording quality hasn't been that great.

    Here's my equipment:

    2 XDJ-1000MK2
    Pioneer DJM-450
    Mackie Big Knob
    Tascam DR-40

    I had the record-out RCA's from the mixer going straight into a Tascam DR-40. That was the problem because the mixers record output isn't very good.

    So I bought a couple 1/4" to XLR cables and started using the output on my Mackie Big Knob into the DR-40. The recording quality has improved, but I want to make it even better.

    Here's what I was thinking: Buy a Focusrite Scarlett

    Go out from the Mackie Big Knob into the Scarlett and then to the DR-40. But I don't want to drop $200 on a Scarlett if it won't make a noticeable difference.

    Yay or nay on this plan?

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    The main issue is, when you mix into a recording device is you need to allow headroom for the mix, 2 songs at the same time... This means the songs you are playing will be a lot lower in the recording. Learning about mastering and maximisers can help here. Even recording into a standard input on a PC or laptop (of todays standards) should result in a decent enough recording, the rest is what you do after.

    I do smash mixes for a few rave Dj's, relatively cheap service.

  3. #3
    Few pointers; rec out is usually fixed volume; ie. not adjustable from the master volume control and in many mixers +4dB in order to feed devices with limited, low volume inputs such as tape recorders, this engineering solution probably dates back to the 70-80's and has survived to this day.

    Another thing is source format quality, to put it harshly; crap in, crap out. 128-196kbps mp3's and youtube rips will have compression artefacts, glitches etc in them as well as distortion and lack of headroom (but I'm sure you already knew this)

    Then, adding another link in the signal chain will most likely not make the quality any better, in the worst case you just overdrive another preamp (some people in the install industry try to warm up digital sources with external D/A converters, tubes, shamans etc which is pointless in my opinion but it's a step in the right direction, ie. "hifi" PA, although a circle that feeds itself because it's a subtle message to the DJs allowing them to bring weak source material in the first place, and they get to sell more gear by using that as a solution to the problem)

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    Member steveryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mitchiemasha View Post
    The main issue is, when you mix into a recording device is you need to allow headroom for the mix, 2 songs at the same time... This means the songs you are playing will be a lot lower in the recording. Learning about mastering and maximisers can help here. Even recording into a standard input on a PC or laptop (of todays standards) should result in a decent enough recording, the rest is what you do after.
    I keep both channels and the master at zero db's.

    The Tascam has an input volume adjustment, but I don't max it out. I keep it a few notches below full. The result is a decent sounding recording, but it's too quiet. When I listen to it, I can turn the volume up all the way and it won't distort. In some regards this is not a bad thing. But to some people it just sounds like a weak recording. Most people like to crank their music to the point of where it's too loud and then turn it down to where it's as loud as it can get without distorting.

    Also, when I mix I never have both songs at top EQ at the same time. The bass is down on one while up on the other. I don't run em both at 12:00 ever unless the bass is so weak on one track that it needs a little help from the other. The mid is usually tapered off a bit also. The high isn't all that critical I've found.

  5. #5
    Member steveryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by efinque View Post
    Then, adding another link in the signal will most likely not make the quality any better, in the worst case you just overdrive another preamp (some people in the install industry try to warm up digital sources with external D/A converters, tubes, shamans etc which is pointless in my opinion but it's a step in the right direction, ie. "hifi" PA, although a circle that feeds itself because it's a subtle message to the DJs allowing them to bring weak source material in the first place, and they get to sell more gear by using that as a solution to the problem)
    If this is the case, then when does something like a Focusrite Scarlett help out? Seems like I should be able to use it in some way to make better recordings. Perhaps straight from the mixer into it??

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by steveryan View Post
    If this is the case, then when does something like a Focusrite Scarlett help out? Seems like I should be able to use it in some way to make better recordings. Perhaps straight from the mixer into it??
    I think the Mackie in this equation is useless as is the Focusrite, if the Tascam (I assume it's a recorder) has input volume adjustment there shouldn't be a problem if you get the peaks at 0dB without distorting the preamps.

    That is, unless you're recording from tens of meters away in which case a simple active DI could do the trick (there are some very neutral sounding ones on the market I've read, I've personally used a BSS active DI on a gig which weren't mine but the PA guys')

    I own a Tascam too, a DP-03SD which is ok for most studio work. It picked up a direct signal nicely via a 5m guitar cable from a Telecaster's pickups but I did have to turn up the gain for some distortion (I even reamped it through a Vox amp because it sounded more like a banjo but I preferred the original sound to the reamped one so I kept it)

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by steveryan View Post
    I keep both channels and the master at zero db's.

    The Tascam has an input volume adjustment, but I don't max it out. I keep it a few notches below full. The result is a decent sounding recording, but it's too quiet. When I listen to it, I can turn the volume up all the way and it won't distort. In some regards this is not a bad thing. But to some people it just sounds like a weak recording. Most people like to crank their music to the point of where it's too loud and then turn it down to where it's as loud as it can get without distorting.

    Also, when I mix I never have both songs at top EQ at the same time. The bass is down on one while up on the other. I don't run em both at 12:00 ever unless the bass is so weak on one track that it needs a little help from the other. The mid is usually tapered off a bit also. The high isn't all that critical I've found.
    Hi, I'm thinking you need to get into the settings of the Tascam and set to wav or flacc, and sort the channels, stereo, ect. Also, I have mine linked-up with XLRs.

  8. #8
    Member steveryan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by dlove View Post
    Hi, I'm thinking you need to get into the settings of the Tascam and set to wav or flacc, and sort the channels, stereo, ect. Also, I have mine linked-up with XLRs.
    I just did all of this today. Good suggestion. I watched a YouTube video of a wedding DJ who walked through the settings. Still, something tells me that the studio quality sound coming out of the Focusrite is superior to the record out on the mixer.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by steveryan View Post
    Still, something tells me that the studio quality sound coming out of the Focusrite is superior to the record out on the mixer.
    This "debate" in audio discussion is sort of useless because you're absolutely right, since it's your money and gear.

    There *are* audio interfaces in the market that are limited in their sampling rate and bit depth due to space saving, I for example have a XXL Mr. Brown which is a tri-power portable USB mixer and you can clearly hear the difference to a bigger audio interface, however it fits at the palm of your hand and costs $50 or so. At the time we were making music with a couple of friends and my studio PC was down so we tried recording with Macbook and the XXL, the sound was horrible (but I never intended to use it in recording, only occasional playback on gigs etc where space is an issue)

    Iirc the Mackie Big knob isn't much larger physically but I guess it's designed mainly as a monitor controller (and is probably mains powered too)

    I've read many people use the Focusrites, and no wonder since they're somewhat affordable, look sleek (ooh, red) and have a "professional" line of products for more serious work.

    I can however recommend Presonus since I've had one for years (Firepod 10), but like the top-end Focusrites they're more geared towards studio work and multitrack recording. I've also had a Behringer FCA202 which I recall using with headphones most of the time because I was living with my parents at the time and it didn't have physical volume control for the line outs.

    Which brings to mind another subject about Firewire interfaces (sorry for hijacking this thread); out of 3 manufacturers the Mackie D.4 Pro is still going strong (and I bought it used) while the Presonus and Behringer stopped working (the computer or laptop no longer recognized the device when connected, this could also be an issue with the OS, my PC ran 64-bit Vista and the laptop was OS X 10.6.8 although I've read there's a BIOS fix with Windows for Firewire devices)

  10. #10
    The focusrite will do nothing for you, it is a USB interface for a computer it will not work directly with a recorder.

    There is no problem with the record output on the mixer either. What I suspect your problem to be is that the DR40, like most small recorders, does not have a separate "line" input, it only has a combined "mic/line" input which is too sensitive to handle the signal from the record output of your mixer. What you need there is an attenuator cable.. which you can buy. You need a minimum of 10dB of attenuation.. up to 20 would be good. You put that in between the recorder and the mixer (you will probably need an adapter from female stereo (trs) 1/8 inch to dual RCA in addition to the attenuator cable).

    Then yea you will want to set your recorder to a level where it does NOT hit the max but comes within let's say 6dB of max.. this will guarantee that you do not get any clipping (distortion) in your recording. Once you have got your recording, copy it to your computer then use the (free) program "Audacity", load it into Audacity and use the "Normalize" effect to bring your recording up to the maximum possible level.

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