The pendulum swings… looking at Audio hardware

I’m such a sucker for technology sometimes…. I’m into too many things it seems. I do computer repair which can keep things fairly busy, I keep up with this and a slew of other websites which is another job in itself. (Not to mention the genealogy hobby (or addiction/affliction?)) We’re fairly involved at Church… and then there is piano and music. I’ve been teaching piano now for about 9 years which is hard to believe in itself and over that time other obligations have taken their share of time, but now the pendulum is swinging back where I’m really getting in more time to try to improve my playing in one particular area. Towards that end I wanted to get some recordings of a few other pianists to dissect their approaches….. well, that’s taken me to another place – audio hardware.

One of my majors in College was a Bachelors of Science in Music with Recording Arts. So… audio/recording equipment is something I’ve spent some time with. I have only been able to have a small tascam portastudio (cassette tape based) that I’ve used for my own for about 10 years now. I typically hook it up to the pc and just use it as a mixer choosing to record to hard drive in audacity or the like. Well…. there are a lot of problems with that… One – cassette tapes – hiss, degrading media, etc.etc. etc. AND I was not eager to think about doing the portastudio + mic stands + mics plus extra tapes, etc…. and then – mix tape output to the computer to work my way to cd.

A little side note here…. the computer is probably not yet the best for recording directly to. I’ve run into problems with “bus noise” or hearing the hard drive activity out of the sound card and probably to do a computer audio setup like I’d REALLY like would take a serious system redesign for quiet running (and no AC hum….) etc. etc. etc. For what I am hoping to do, I really would like something that I could use out and about and the ideal would be that it records to compactflash. I’ve got the little NexIA which can record – but the quality isn’t what I would hope for. MP3 64 kbps and 16 khz….. NO

Wav would be nice, REAL nice…. in fact as I thought about it, really that would be a must so that I get clean uncompressed samples to work with. I’m not sure, this project could turn into something else at some point and I want to leave myself options by getting the best possible sound to media (Used to say “tape” there…). SO, I’ve spent a while looking and here are what’s out there now and looking quite tempting to me.

First off, there are the wav/mp3 recorders that just focus on stereo capture…. Edirol-R09 is one such device…. I found a lot of variation though in the battery style (custom lithium ion vs. easily found AA) Marantz PMD6770 (The Marantz-PMD660 seemed promising too (at just under $500))…. really impressive in this area (and expensive) was the Sony-PCMD1-Digital-Field-Recorder ($1900)

Another thing to look at here is the type of media used – I wanted to stick to compactflash and some used sandisk or memory stick pro…

Then I started thinking (usually a dangerous thing I guess…..) Hm… that looked like a portastudio in the results and so I started looking…. the one that LOOKS most impressive thus far is the Boss BR600 Digital Recorder it is an 8 track portastudio (2 inputs 1/4″ (NO XLR)) and each track has 8 “Virtual tracks” that you can essentially save takes to. It has some built in effects, on-board drum machine and built in stereo microphones. Hmmmm… records to compact flash. (The biggest drawback I can see is the lack of XLR inputs (no phantom power), but I have 1/4″ inputs on the current portastudio – so no big loss there, just a missed opportunity to upgrade.

Now my first thought was that the built in microphones would be pretty lousy and I suspect they’re not the best mikes on earth, however…. there is a bit of convenience and the thought that they’d probably be “good enough” for the project I had in mind. All of this for $400. There are other portastudios out there of course, there are several hard drive based workstations which all come in around 40GB for the disc. I really think I want to aim for flash based for better power consumption and quieter station activity.

I guess I’m thinking now that I might be looking at an improved portastudio and just move the audio capture off the pc completely. It’s really impressive where the prices are for the features these days. I was most interested to see the Tascam-2488-24Track-Digital-Recording-Workstation… when I was in College the studio board was a 24 track board – probably $10,000 – this digital recording workstation is just under $1000. Now, I know there are some other technical differences

And back to the digital audio workstation idea here’s another entry from Korm (D888 8-track digital recording studio). This one has a 40GB hard drive, lots of built in effects, 8 simultaneous tracks record (and virtual tracks for a total of 64). By the way… here’s Musician’s Friends review of the D888.

Well, I don’t know – I may not upgrade my portastudio for a while, but it sure looks like the price/features are still heading the right direction. $400 now get’s a portastudio with built in stereo microphones, 2 track simultaneous record and 8 track playback (with a total of 64 including virtual tracks.) all onto compactflash which should mean better signal to noise – captured digitally (plus the effects and drum machine)….. ~10 years ago it got me a 4 track cassette based portastudio with eq and 2 simultaneous input recording. I remember that one of my hopes was to someday have a little home studio and the recording to computer setup had disappointed me a bit (mostly from the background noise). I do SO many things with my pc, it’s become impractical in many ways to use it for recording (not to mention it’s hard to keep the place tidied enough to turn my monitor around to the keyboard and have the mouse within reach of the piano to click record.

Well – anyway – thought I’d share some of my “low end” audio equipment research.

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