Home studio mixer/mic/monitor/headphone setup questions.

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Member Since: Nov 25, 2008

Hi all,

I am new to this forum. I have been playing with computer music for many years.. but only recently wanted to get a bit more serious. My daughter is almost 11 and has interest in singing and playing piano, so because it gives us both something to do together that we enjoy, I figured I'd try to setup the studio a bit more so that I can record her. Man, I love this stuff! I wish I could get into it professionally and make a good living at it. lol.

Anyway.. that said, I have no problem connecting most things.. I have sound, I can record, etc. But, I am finding from reading links on this forum and other articles, that there is more to this mixing than just a couple EQ knobs and some speakers and a computer.

So.. wanted to ask a few general questions that pertain to my specific current setup, see if any of you gurus can offer some advice on how to make it better.

First thing is.. I am stuck in my garage, and mind you its not a clean garage set up for studio..its loaded with my kids bikes, toys, and lot of other crap. My "home" is really in a small corner where I have a decent L shaped desk and its crammed with my gear and my computer stuff and bills, papers, etc. In a nutshell, I'm a slob, I'll admit it. But that's another story for another post. ;)

So, my gear:

PC/Vista 32, Quad-core, 4GB ram, 2x320GB HD, 160GB main drive, dvd burner, etc.

I have a Edirol PCR-300 keyboard.. love this things. Solid construction, works great and over USB. I'm a fan of the Roland style pitch/mod joystick.

I have a Mackie 1202vlz I got before Mackie sent there gear to be built over seas. Great mixer.. has worked well for several years, but I am worrying that its starting to die. Every time I touch a mute button, or turn pan, or volume, I get some pops/clicks, and sometimes I lose sound on one side. I used to think it was my soundcard..or my cable, but I think it may now be the mixer.

I recently spent too much on gear. I bought KRK Limited Edition monitors.. I forget the model, but they are the yellow ones with 6" speakers. They sound great! Also bought the Edirol UA-25ex interface and a Beringer B-1 mic just yesterday with a desk stand for the mic.

Lastly I have a nice pair of Sennheiser 590 headphones. Love these things.. I still don't recall if they were studio based headphone.. but man they sound great!

Ok.. so for the questions:

1) Biggest thing I am not sure how to do is set up my monitors/headphones on the mixer so that I can go back and forth when recording vocals, then want to hear everything. I read something about the alt 3-4 bus, using the source buttons, etc.. but for the life of me I haven't been able to nail it down. What I do now is turn the volume of main mix all the way down (monitors are on main outs, and my sub (cheap yamaha sub that sounds good) is on the tape out. I figured the main out volume controls the tape out.. so I can turn up/down volume to the monitors and sub with this setup. I then press MUTE on the UA-25EX input on channel 11/12, and then press the pre/fader solo button to put it into the headphones. This works. I can hear in the headphones and use the CR/phones volume, but it seems like a lot to do. Better than switching the monitors on and off every time tho. So.. is there a better way that I can have all my sounds (including my UA-25EX output, my computer XiFI soundcard out, and my xbox 360 out..which all go into this so I can hear them on my great speakers), but still have a simple way to simply turn them off and hear the headphone..so I can record vocals while hearing the output of the computer music? I should add to this.. I am now using the UA25-EX as my main output..due to its 24-bit audio fidelity, over my SB xi-fi soundcard..which sounds decent still. I am aware of using the UA-25 monitor port for listening in on that... and maybe that's the way to do it. I was just thinking this nice mixer I got should have some way to do some sort of single button turn off monitors (and tape output for my sub). Last thing to add.. sometime in the near future, I plan on picking up the KRK 10" sub.. that will at least avoid the tape output issue I have right now with my current small sub. Then I can route outs to the sub, which then routs back to the speakers.. putting it all on one output.

2) This may be answered elsehwere..and if so a pointer would be great.. but ideally, my mixes sound like crap. I know I've got to learn some things. I've read a bit that with vocals, for example you want to use limiter (or compressor).. and the UA-25EX has one built in. I am guessing its not as good as some VST plugins or maybe even using my melodyne software.. but ultimately I want my vocal tracks to sound like any other CD out there... sure, I gotta learn to adjust the volumes right.. but it's much like when you record a home video with your camera.. it doesn't look like what you see in a movie. There are filters they apply to make it look darker or something. So.. what is the trick to making vocals sound like they were done in a real studio on a CD?

3) Do the quality of the cables make a huge difference if I am using the UA25..which is outside the computer? I know around electrical gear, the EM fields can add noise. I have some cheap 1/4" radio-shack 6foot cables, and one decent set that I use to sent the mixer to the monitors with. I do have these laying around/over/near computer, monitor, mixer, etc. Just wondering if there is anything I can do to clean up the sound that much more. But I gotta be honest.. my daughters voice came thru crystal clear. So not sure if this is a huge issue or not. I am impressed with this B-1 mic. I was going to try to get the MXL990/991 pair at GuitarCenter for $100.. but the B1 sounded nice in the store, and has that shock mount kit with it.. so I hope I made the right choice.. can't return mics apparently.

4) Is it only B/P sounds that make that sort of explosion sound in the mic? My mic has the foam cover on it.. figured I'd buy one of those round screens to go in front of it.. is it worth it? It's like $30.. so I don't mind.. but needed to let my credit card relax a bit after the shock of all this gear.

5) How the heck do I use the limiter/compressor on my UA-25. OR should I bypass it? I did mess with it and I got it to the point where I could yell into the mic and it wouldn't give that distorted recorded sound.. so that seemed very useful to have.. but what do you guys recommend.. does it alter the sound in any way such that I should avoid using it.

6) The pres I think are good on this UA-25.. but would you recommend a mic pre unit? They had one for $50.. wasn't sure I really needed it so I didn't get it this time around.

7) I am really digging Ableton Live 7. It's really neat how you can make clips, then play them clips in patterns and record it that way. Still learning it tho. Question is.. do you guys record vocals into the same software you lay your tracks down with.. for convenience (or perhaps plugins or something).. or do you use a separate program like SoundForge (which I own) to record audio.. then save/copy/load it up? Seems like a hassle to use separate apps.. I like to be able to stop/play back right after to hear the vocals with the song.

8) EQ on the way in.. or leave them flat and let the software plugins do the magic? Honestly the only thing I bring in right now is vocals. But I would like to sample some real instruments myself some day to have my "own" sounds to use. I have bought some sample CDs and such.. and the royalty free samples with magazines like ComputerMusic, FutureMusic, etc. But anyway.. wondering if I should leave the mixer EQ alone, set to the U on my mackie. I am guessing so on this one.

9) My desk is set up in such a way that my studio monitors are a bit below my ears, and I can't set the left side back off of the desk.. as the left side of my desk is right up against a wall.. and I can't do anything to fix this as it's a big long L desk. From what I read I want the tweeter at my ear height (or is it hte center of the speaker of woofer?), and in a triangular shap such that they are equi-distant from each other and me. Is this correct.. if not what is the "ideal" setup?

Well..I know this was long.. I apologize..but figured I'd ask in one big post rather than many others. Thanks for anyone that can lead me in the right direction. I look forward to participating more.

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Answer:On a good day, lipstick.
Since: Jun 24, 2004

Nov 25, 2008 07:03 pm

Welcome to HRC.

I'm not going to answer everything as I'm not familiar with the interface you have or your mixer. I'll answer some stuff quite generally, and I'm sure the other (brighter) members here will backfill where I'm wrong.

Slob: Me too. Move along, nothing to see here. Some are, some aren't. So long as you get organized in your head, you'll be fine.

2: Compression. Huge subject. For now, use your ears (this will encompass a few other points you made about EQ too). Junk in, junk out. I try not to mess too much with the signal going in, but do my best to make that a great signal. Don't record and hope to 'fix it in the mix'. The worlds best collection of VSTs won't cure a bad recording. Take your time, get a nice signal (gain staging and compression are covered here on HRC ad nauseum), record that. The less you do in the mix the better. I like a little reverb when I'm recording, but I record it dry.

B1: Nice mic. The MXL990/991 set is actually very nice but not for the faint of heart (needs some tweaking in certain circumstances). You'll do well with the B1. Pro pop shields are great, but in reality a coathanger bent into a circle with a pantyhose leg stretched over it works in a pinch. We've all done it. The plosives may be somewhat controlled by these, but proper mic placement and proximity are factors. Similarly, proximity effect (a noticeable change in the sound when you get real close to a mic). Trial and error.

Recording: Depending on who you are and what you do, there's no one formula for how, when, who etc. I personally am a "one man band" - I record everything myself one instrument at a time. Some record whole bands at once. Yes, we usually use the same software for all (in my case I can only afford one!).

Monitors: There's a lot of scientic reasoning behind how montors should be set up. I say that as long as your ears are set up to listen then it should be okay! Monitors give a clear, uncoloured signal, and do not sound like "hi-fi" speakers (I have these set up to to A/B compare). Listen to some music that you are very familiar with and get used to the sounds/frequencies/levels/locations(pan). That way, when you mix your original music you will have a better idea of direction.

Headphones: Here you will have a bunch of people saying "never mix on headphones!". It's true, but not necessarily always true. Some people have 'silent' studios and use headphones exclusively. Again, if you know what you're listening to (see above), you can get a good mix. For recording, bleed is your enemy, so take that into consideration.

PC: You have plenty of horsepower. The Vista thing I'll leave alone....Heheheh.

Compression: I am no longer a sane man. I was once, and then I tried to get my head around "compression".
I use "juju". Works for me.
Ears work too. Read, watch, listen, absorb. Good luck there...
Someone familiar with your hardware will be able to push you in the right direction.

Have fun, and good luck. Remember that this (home recording) is a journey, not a destination.

Czar of Midi
Since: Apr 04, 2002

Nov 25, 2008 10:48 pm

KMD, I'll get back to touch on some of your stuff tomorrow. Got a long day but will get in here and help then. I'm sure some others will also chime in by then.

Byte Mixer
Since: Dec 04, 2007

Nov 26, 2008 12:43 am

Heya KMD, I'm in the same boat you are. Been working with this stuff for a few years, and been slowly building up my gear over the last year and a half.

On the cables, I don't think you need to worry too much about noise from EMR/EMF in 6ft. of cable. Now, if you were running 20ft. or 50ft. of cable, then that would be a concern I think.

As far as monitor placement, you're pretty much correct on the monitor positioning. I'm also int he same bind in that I have a rather large desk crammed against the wall, and i'm not really in an ideal setup. As is, I have my own monitors set so the space between the woofer and tweeter is close to my ear level. And I have them close to an equilateral triangle (close as I could get at least) However, I sit slightly forward of the apex/point of the triangle, since it seems to work better for my own ears. Bottom line is to do the best with what you have, and get it so it works well with your ears. Some of us have pics of our work areas and that can give you a general picture.

Also, if you have the monitors sitting flat on your desktop, it would be a good idea to try and decouple them somehow. Before I had my stands, I used to have mine propped up on CD spindles. I've also cut up bathroom mats with the thick rubbery bottom in a pinch. Dense foam pads could also do the trick.

Listen to your favorite tunes and tracks; music that you know is mixed/produced well, and possibly listen to a couple of your favorite tracks before going into mixing mode. It's kinda like setting your ears to neutral in a way.

I'm not really that far into recording, so all I can really say at this point is to play around and experiment with mic positions. I myself have bent a wire hanger into a circle, and stretched/glued some dryer sheets to it as a makeshift pop filter, and it works fairly well too. :) (i have a couple pics up of it) Experiment with mic proximity until your voice sounds the most natural, but it probably varies from person to person.

Also, on the actual recording, and I've been practicing this since reading up on some of Massive Master's posts, don't record too hot. I think the rule of thumb is keep the peaks at around -12dB coming in, then when you go back to mix, or rather once you get the mix sounding good, bring the master channel up to level. I usually have a limiter on the master to accomplish that. (hopefully I'm understanding that right)

There's a number of tutorials and guides on this site dealing with compression and other effects, and the mixing process in general. I highly recommend turning to those when you have trouble or if something doesn't quite work how you expect.

I'm still educating myself as well, so it's all good.


Since: Nov 25, 2008

Nov 26, 2008 02:25 am

Hey guys.. great stuff! Thanks for answering. Glad my mic is good.. sounds good, looks very kewl.. its freaking huge. I was looking at the SM-58.. this thing looks so much nicer. I'd love to get a nice long boom that sits behind my monitors that I can push out of the way..then bring back over.. but then again I am not a DJ at a radio station.. so this probably works well for now.

I like the idea of using hi-fi and not. I was using some home-theatre speakers that sound really good.. expensive set of polk audios.. 5 speakers cost about $1500 (got a great deal on them tho.. $500 for the 5 of them).

Assuming I can be a little less messy, I would like to set up my cheap sub and regular speakers for my xbox/xifi output, and then run my monitors directly from the UA25ex outs.. since it can record and have audio come back for monitoring. I read something today.. forget where..some article about recording vocals. Said something about folding back the singers audio back into there headphones with a little reverb to give them a better sound or something? I am using the phones on the UA25 to monitor the singing.. but since I have the UA25 going into the computer.. and the outs going to my mixer.. I can also hear the mix on my phones connected to the mixer. Bah.. not sure what to do.. hoping one of ya'll can help me figure out the 1202 with monitoring.

Oddly enough.. I can hear stereo out of the mixer on my monitors.. but the headphones port on the mixer is only showing right LEDs bouncing. I think it may be the phones connector on the mixer that is not putting out stereo. Oh well.. it's served well.. gotta keep it around for a few more months at least. Another reason I think using the UA25 for monitoring might be better.

I may even take the mixer out of this... that is, I only have the one mic coming in via the UA25.. and since the sound comes back to the UA25 and goes to the outputs.. I can use that for the monitors. Only reason I use the mixer at this point is to have my 360 and my PC soundcard AND the UA25 outs all go to my monitors. But if I set up my stereo receiver and my other speakers.. which it sounds like I should to have A/B comparison of monitors and regular home/stereo speakers for mix comparisons... then I can just route the mixer outs to the stereo and use that for mixing my 360/computer outputs, and keep the UA25 going right to the monitors. My next purchase I plan on getting the KRK sub anyway.. so the UA25 outs could feed to the sub, which then handles the crossovers to the monitors nicely. With the 24-bit audio on the UA25..I'd rather use that for my music stuff anyway.. although the xifi soundcard supposedly has 24-bit audio too.

I have a question tho... my UA25 outs using uber cheap 1/4" cables, I can hear "noise" coming in. I have the ground-switch on the UA25 turned on too. It may be just a wiring thing, or cheap cables.. I mean I just got the thing yesterday and haven't set it up in any position yet.. so could be the wires that are crossed over my mixer, the UA25, etc... but anyway.. wasn't sure if there might be something else I need to do. I get less noise out of my xifi..which seems odd to me given that it's in the computer and 1/5 the price. It may also very well be that the AC plug of this mixer is plugged into a 8-plug adapter with no sort of noise/line cleaning circuitry? I would think that with all inputs at the middle U, it should be "clean".. no static like noise at all.

Vista works very well so far for all my apps. Honestly if there were as good apps for linux, I'd be gone. I keep this Vista thing around for games which I usually use my 360 for, and audio. That's about it. I can do my photo and video editing with linux just fine. There supposedly is a good audio architecture with low latency just like mac/windows on linux.. forget the name now.. but sadly it appears no hardware that is within my budget has low latency kernel drivers. As a software engineer of over 20 years.. I was really really tempted to work on a cross-platform music app.. but after learning what it takes just to do very basic mixing.. let alone all the bells and whistles of todays modern day programs.. I gave up that pipe dream.

Hey J-bot.. you say keep the peaks around -12dB. I see the use of dB all over the place.. yet I have no clue how to figure this out. I know what dB is.. but without meters.. mostly little LED lights that jump around in colors.. how do you determine the dB levels? I read also keeping the mix to around -14db or so for CDs is about right.. or did I read that wrong? I know that SoundForge has dB on the meters.. but at least in Ableton Live which I like to use.. I don't see that.. just the led like meters.

Also.. from what you said and what I've read.. the general idea is keep the vocals (and any other recordings.. like samples of instruments) clean all the way in.. with the exception of using a limiter (or is it compressor) on the vocals to avoid the potential spike and/or plosives.. then mix in the DAW.. that is, use plugins to add reverbs, pan the sounds a bit to thicken it, keep vocals, bass and kick drums in the center.. yada yada. When you say "When you get the mix sounding good", in my case as I do everything in software, you do mean by messing with the actual tracks of Live in my case.. including working any plugins, the mixer, eq, etc, correct?

Thanks again guys. Looking forward to learning from you experts and maybe one day I can get in a real studio, see how it's done.

Since: Nov 25, 2008

Nov 26, 2008 02:31 am

Forgot one question.. J-Bot.. the speaker stands.. where did you get them? I was thinking of making some.. I'm no home builder, but I've worked with wood here and there.. built a small bookshelf, etc. Figured I could get some MDF, add some weight to the base, put a thin rubber sheet on the stands where the speakers rest.. raise them up a bit. Would that work.. or would you recommend buying some?

Byte Mixer
Since: Dec 04, 2007

Nov 26, 2008 10:47 am

I think these are the stands I got;

I know they were Nady anyway. They're okay for what they are, and I got the warehouse resealed version at $50/pair or thereabouts. However, I wasn't impressed with how they sent it. Just stuffed in a box with parts and pieces floating around, so I'm not 100% sure I even had all the parts, but I had enough to work with, and to get the things put together. Don't think I'd go with PSSL again...but they were cheap.

Honestly, if I were to get stands again, i'd probaby go with something like On-Stage or Quicklock. Zzounds usually has decent prices, as do musician's friend and fullcompass. I think there's a pair of on-stage stands that run about $60 or $70 for the pair, and they have the triangle base, which I kinda find helpful for positioning. Might be able to find some deals on them too.

Of course, feel free to build your own if you're good at that sorta thing. The ones I have are just the metal adjustable type. Also, the metal stands come with little foam strips to keep the monitors from sliding around, and separate them from the stand. If you do build your own, I'd recommend getting some mopads or something cheaper maybe to put on the surface.

And yes you have the right idea when I said getting the mix "sounding good." Kinda like record a clean signal, and then adjust it in the DAW. When you get the mix sounding the way you want, then start looking at the master channel. Probably use a limiter to help bring the level up. Might use some verb to thicken the sound. Little final touches like that.

For the dB metering, I usually look at the meter in my DAW, but if/when I record, it's directly through the audio interface, and straight into the DAW. If your outboard mixer doesn't have a meter, then you may look into getting a vst plugin meter to work in Ableton Live 7 and attach it to the channel you're recording into. Usually the meter will have some numbers and hash marks to let you know what the level is. Rule of thumb here I guess would be "keep it in the green" I think it hits yellow just past the (-10dB) mark, but don't quote me on that. Others probably know better than me.

This one's a freebie I used to use quite a bit. www.rndigital.org/inspector.html you have to register for them to send you the download, but this one's a pretty good meter, and is very light on the cpu and gives you a lot of info too.

I think bluecat audio also has some free metering plugins. And you might be able to find something around KVR Audio if you look around enough.

Hope that helps get my thoughts across better. :)

Since: Nov 25, 2008

Nov 26, 2008 07:36 pm

Hmm..I think I might rather buy stands for $60 than build them. I'll check my local store too.. they may have some I can pick up rather than order by mail.


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