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2017 Music Making Starter Kit – Audio Interfaces

Are you new to music making and feel overwhelmed by the huge amount of information on gear? Here’s the short version, curated by industry professionals!

This series of articles will feature everything you’ll need to get started and not waste money on shady devices that will break at first contact (unless you’re reaaaally unlucky). I’m presuming you have a PC, laptop, either Mac or Windows. The gear list doesn’t change depending on these.

Table of contents:

  1. Audio Interfaces (today’s special)
  2. Monitors
  3. Headphones
  4. Microphones
  5. Synthesizers
  6. Various

1. Audio Interfaces

I can hear it across the web: “but I’ve got an integrated sound card, why do I need to buy something else?”

Short story: way better quality than any integrated sound card, handles microphones, speakers and gear.
Long story:

  1. Play (your) music at high quality and without latency. This is not just an audiophile gimmick. Without going into the technical details, you should know that the integrated sound cards have an innate problem: they pickup electrical noise from inside the computer. Also, the dedicated drivers for the external, dedicated sound cards offer better optimization and less latency than the integrated ones.
  2. Record anything with a mic (acoustic instruments, percussion), from a hardware music instrument (synthesizers, drum racks), from vinyl player, cassette player you NEED a dedicated sound card with as many inputs as necessary dedicated for such devices. Microphones need preamplification which can only come from audio interfaces and preamps. Whenever you hear of “Phantom Power” or “48v”, then that device can record microphones that need power, which is most of the good ones.
  3. Listen to music on dedicated studio speakers (referred to as monitors – but not to be mistaken with screens, Led Monitors!). These speakers need a special kind of signal to be sent to them, either via RCA (the cheapest, noisiest option), Jack or XLR (professional quality).
  4. Change the volume of whatever your playback device is on the fly. Having a dedicated knob for volume is not just a gimmick, you’ll be twisting and turning it a lot while recording and making music. Plus, one wrong click in the system volume slider and you’ll neighbors will get a glimpse of your new techno track at full volume.

Best value: Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) 

  • Great package all around, robust metallic enclosure, stable drivers
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 4 outputs – 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 4 RCA outs (2 x stereo) useful for DJs connecting to a Mixer, 1 headphone out selectable between output 1-2 or 3-4 (also useful for DJs)
  • Direct monitoring/no latency recording button – you hear what you’re recording, not what’s coming back from the computer
  • Midi In and Out useful for connecting external Synthesizers


Medium: Audient iD14 (PC and MAC)

  • Better sound quality all around comparing to the Scarlett 2i4.
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs, 2 TRS outs for monitoring, 1 headphone out.
  • No Midi inputs or outputs means you’ll need other devices to connect your external synthesizers. There’s plenty of value choices, I recommend the M-audio USB Midisport Uno. Works out of the box for both PC and MAC.
  • Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

High End: Universal Audio Twin (PC and MAC)

  • Requires Thunderbolt Interface! Most newer Macs come with it but Windows users need to search for Thunderbolt Motherboards
  • Top notch quality all around! It’s what the pros use. The more expensive audio interfaces from Universal Audio simply add to the inputs and outputs.
  • Also missing Midi for connecting external synthesizers but there’s an easy fix: M-audio USB Midisport Uno for both Mac and Windows.
  • Has integrated DSP CPU to process Universal Audio’s line of very fine plugins which won’t use up your CPU!
  • 2 TRS/XLR inputs with Unison Technology – can simulate other preamps, like the Neve 1073 or the LA 610.
  • 6 outputs – 4 TRS, 1 headphone out with independent mix bus
  • Like the Audient, the Twin has an Optical ADAT ( S/PDIF ) input – you can have up to 8 more inputs if you link up something like the Behringer ADA8000 – useful for bands who need to record drums or simply more instruments simultaneously.

Honorable mention: Focusrite Scarlett Solo (2nd Generation) (PC and MAC) – This is Amazon’s (and probably worldwide) bestseller. The only reason I’m not recommending it is because of the 2 RCA outputs for monitoring. No serious monitor will accept RCA input. You’ll eventually get some proper speakers (sooner rather than later) and you don’t want your audio interface to be holding you back. It’s also missing Midi. Bulletproof your future by investing a little more in the Scarlett 2i4, it’s worth it!

 

Stay tuned for the next article in the series, we’ll be looking at studio monitors!

Victor M

 

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Livestream Setup Ready!

December 2016 Update

I’m happy to say the relocation of the studio is done and I’ve also finished setting up the livestream setup. For now I can’t stream at fixed hours but I will try to every couple of days or at least create a 30 min (ish) tutorial every week. The chosen platforms are Twitch and Youtube because (beside being free) I can stream to both without causing too much CPU strain. In case you’re into this sort of things, the restreaming part is taken care of by a service named Restream and it’s very straightforward to use. You’ll find a 4h video is already up and it’s me finishing up a remix for a romanian band (Vita de Vie) – finishing touches, mixing and mastering.

Feedback is greatly appreciated as it helps me make better, more focused content in the future.

Thanks for sticking by and Happy New Year everyone!

Victor

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Turning point for Infinity Studio

English:

This was a long time in the making. I’ve finally decided to start working on my own blog, to share my experience and know-how with whomever is interested. Now more than ever, I see a lot of young producers hungry for information on anything music related: from the more technical, engineering sides to the more tangible act of seeing a track released and followed-up in this digitized and ever-changing industry. Veterans might also find useful information here, in the form of my personal viewpoint on certain techniques and how I’m implementing them. Music reviews, interviews and guest posts will also be a part of the blog.

Any good professional will tell you the following: if it sounds good to you, then it is good. Radical, right or wrong – points of view are very rare in this domain. Skill and artistry mix in order to make any song. There are hit songs that sound like they’ve been mixed through sewer pipes and have their dynamics vacuumed into oblivion. Is that a basis for not listening to their superb composition? Can “normal” music listeners with no musical or audio education tell the difference?

Comments and feedback are always appreciated, I hope to start some constructive conversations with friends of this blog. Although the studio is located in Bucharest, Romania, I will post in english unless the subject or review is specifically targeted to Romanian speakers.

See you soon!

Victor

 

Romana:

Pregatesc asta de ceva timp. M-am decis in sfarsit sa incep lucrul pe blog, sa impartasesc experientele si cunostintele mele cu oricine e interesat. Acum, mai mult ca niciodata, vad o multime de producatori tineri avizi dupa orice informatii legate de muzica: de la partile mai tehnice, ce tin de inginerie audio pana la lansarea efectiva si urmarea acesteia intr-o industrie mereu schimbatoare si digitizata. Veteranii ar putea gasi informatii utile aici, sub forma perspectivei mele unice asupra tehnicilor cunoscute si cum le implementez. Pe blog o sa mai gasiti recenzii muzicale, interviuri si scrieri ale unor invitati.

Orice profesionist o sa va spuna urmatoarele: daca iti suna bine, atunci este bine (corect). Punctele de vedere radicale – termeni precum corect sau gresit sunt destul de rare in acest domeniu. Talentul si priceperea se imbina pentru a face orice piesa. Exista piese hit care suna de parca au fost mixate prin tevi de canalizare sau care au dinamica stoarsa complet. Este asta un motiv sa nu ascultam compozitia superba? Oare pot ascultatorii “normali”, cei fara pregatire muzicala sau audio, sa simta diferenta?

Comentariile si feedback-ul este mereu apreciat, sper sa incep conversatii constructive cu prieteni ai acestui blog. Chiar daca studioul este localizat in Bucuresti, o sa postez majoritatea articolelor in engleza, exceptand cazurile in care doresc sa tintesc in mod expres vorbitorii de limba romana si piata noastra muzicala.

Ne vedem curand!

Victor

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