Archive for the ‘studio’ Category

diy video: making cheap acoustic sound baffles

I’ve posted the DIY video on making cheap acoustic sound baffles up on YouTube! Two lessons:

  1. iMovie is seriously not capable of handling videos this long (50m, from a 1h37m rough-cut) – everything takes literally 2-7 seconds to select or move or anything. So it’s CLICK wait 3 seconds [highlighted] MOVE MOUSE TO DRAG OBJECT wait 7 seconds for object to move partly there wait 4 more seconds for object to move further to the wrong place RAEG.
  2. YouTube takes forEVER to process videos this long, omg. I still don’t have preview graphics. XD

I wanted to do looping and sync sound but had to abandon that idea and do live sound because iMovie choked too hard. But the live sound is okay. Plus, birdsong! I was working half-outdoors.

Beta listeners, if you’re listening, please let me know about those recordings – thanks! Everybody else, don’t forget the show on Monday. Have a good weekend, everybody!


This post is part of The DIY Studio Buildout Series, all on building out a home recording studio.

video editing

Working on a DIY video for how to make your own studio sound baffles the way I do. I needed to make a new one (or two, or three…) for nwcMUSIC next year if I want to do that “Find your Instrument” workshop again, so it seemed the time. Who knew editing the video would take almost as long as both shooting it and actually making a baffle?

Reminders:

thrift and pawn shop spelunking

I want to talk about kitting out on the cheap, but first, an update: I’ve heard from Meg Davis, and the fundraiser has met its goals! She has an iPad and is already working with it, learning about software. When she wrote, she was having what had been a bad day – the kind that would keep her from doing anything – but thanks to this device, she was catching up on business and email, and seeing how Garage Band works. Seriously, way to go, you guys. o/ Well done.

Now, on to cheap equipment!

I’ve been pawn-and-thrift-store spelunking again, this time for good camera tripods. I started at UW Surplus (no), then hit Goodwill and a local pawn store near Goodwill, and came up with two tripods – one that just needed cleaning and its camera pad re-glued, and one – a Slik U-210 – that needed a bit more work. I talked about that a little on Thursday here, if you’re curious, but the details aren’t really important. The U-210 is a heavy-duty no-fucking-around professional’s tripod; the successor is the U-212, which isn’t as tall. It’ll hold up a small building.


U210 on the left

I don’t need that much; to be honest, I’m probably fine with a generic $40 “prosumer” model made in China, with a 10% junk/return rate. But I hate doing that, and mostly just won’t. So if you don’t do that either, and you’re trying to kit out, here are a few key things I’ve found important to know.

  1. Learn to judge quality in a general sense. That’s not easy to teach, frankly, but you can avoid loose fittings, cheap rivets, overly-thin aluminium, flimsy or brittle plastics. Heft is no guarantee, but it generally doesn’t hurt, either. Similarly, learn to identify excessive wear. If there’s a moving part, make sure it still fits well with the parts it’s moving against. Broken is almost always easier to fix than worn out.

    If you have no idea where to start here, try watching a bunch of back episodes of the old late-90s BBC show, Bargain Hunt. Pay attention to the experts on that show and try to pick up on how they think.

  2. Talking of broken, be willing to fiddle with things and take them apart. If you’re not at least a bit of a DIYer, or interested in being one, don’t waste your time on this approach. But if you are, and are prepared to apply it, you can make off like a bandit. Recommended reading: The Readers Digest Fix-It-Yourself Manual. Not for any one repair, tho’ it’s good for that, but for a general idea about how you approach these kinds of problems.
     
  3. Be willing to see past dirt. Thrift stores in particular get a lot of estate-sale leftovers and storeroom cleanouts. Great grandmother finally passed on, and the kids aren’t photographers, and now I have a serious business tripod – a tripod that sat in a crawlspace by the furnace for 20 years, getting coated with grime. Now? Cleaned and lubricated, it’s ready to go.
     
  4. Recognise what’s out of place. If a pawn shop has a lot of something, it’s probably not that good a deal; they know it, they recognise it, they go through a lot of it, and they can price it with confidence rather than searching the internet and hoping. Guitar amps are a perfect example of that; they know crummy guitar amps, and they move well. DJ equipment, too, to a lesser degree. But if they have only one of something, and it doesn’t look like the other things? That’s the interesting item. Particularly if it’s dusty.
     

    (There are exceptions, of course. If you need an SM-57 or SM-58 microphone, those don’t stand out, and they know what they are, but they’re such commodities that the price will be good, and the damn things are nearly indestructible. Knowing when it doesn’t matter is a lesser skill, but a skill nonetheless.)

  5. Play with stuff in the store. Plug it in, bring in your equipment and use it. If they won’t let you, go somewhere else.
     
  6. Pawn shops always negotiate. Never pay what’s on the label, always bring cash, and if you get it out, make sure you don’t have enough to pay the label price anyway.

Examples: A: My PA’s board/amplifier unit met rules 4 and rule 1, spectacularly. The pawn shouldn’t ever have taken it. It’s not DJ equipment, it’s not a guitar amp, it’s not a car stereo. Few of their customers know what it is, and almost none of them know how to use it, or are even interested. It was missing a knob, which I replaced easily without even taking the unit apart, so I’m not counting it as rule 2, but that didn’t hurt, either. B: My speaker main, an old-school Crate, met rules 4, 3, 2, and 1. It was some arena-band-wanna-be’s stage monitor, and a total monster, and more than I’ll ever need for primary PA. It was dirty but would clean up well; it had a bad coil in the tweeter horn ($26 total repair cost), reeked of quality despite that, and it was totally out of place.

I got them both for dirt – seriously, like 90% off new retail – and for about 60% of the pawn’s asking price in both cases, because they didn’t want them around anymore. They stood out, saying, “this doesn’t belong here,” and were idle too long on the floor.

You can even find instruments that way, occasionally. They know guitars of all kinds, but they’re much less sure about anything else. I have a student violin for which I paid $40, including tax. It’s not a good violin, but it holds tune just fine, is complete with bow and case and all parts, and the screwed-up part wasn’t even broken, just, you know, screwed up. I put it back together correctly and saved it from a junk pile. Now I have my viLOLin. Tremendously useful? Eh, probably not. Fun to play around with and maybe even learn on? Oh yeah.

When the turret says, “I’m different!” – sometimes it is.

You got any suggestions for putting together a kit? Leave them in comments!

some answers, and another question

I’m going to round up the indie maker recommendations from the Recommendations Post, in a minute. But before that…

I have another question! It doesn’t work as a poll, so let’s just go for answers-in-comments again. Specifically:

Who inspires you?

Artistically, musically, engineeringly, whatever. Shit is all fucked up and bullshit, as the sign said, but people keep going anyway. Some of that’s determined ignorance, but not all of it. So: who inspires you? Not what: who.

Leave comments. Others might take notes.

And as promised, indie recommendations-from-fans time! These are all from comments:

And, of course, I recommend my own studio album, Dick Tracy Must Die, which is about as handmade as CDs and digital recordings can be. Buy the studio album for someone, or just for yourself! Short on cash, as so many people are right now? Download Cracksman Betty and/or Espionage: Live from Mars for anything you can afford, including free, and give as stocking stuffers.

G’wan, take a look. ^_^

Finally, I have SOLVED THE LINUX PROBLEM! o/ For details, see comments in the original post. Thanks go out to several people, but particularly to criacow on Twitter who pointed me at a sane explanation for how to swap out kernel images cleanly. I’m now running Linux kernel 3.1.5 underneath Ubuntu 10.4, which is vaguely hilarious, but which fixes the crash bug and gave me room enough to get the hardware running. Yay! My tiny studio is now somewhat less tiny! SIX CHANNEL RECORDING WOOOOOOOOOOOO! 😀

any linux kernel people out there

ARE YOU OR DO YOU KNOW A SERIOUSLY HARDCORE LINUX PERSON?

If so, I need their help. Please forward this around, I have a problem and I’d really like a workaround or fix.

THIS IS INTENSELY GEEKY. You have been warned.

I have a shiny new USB 2.0 Audio-compatible device, a TASCAM US-800. It validates as a generic USB 2.0 Audio device under OSX, and all the I/O ports are available. With drivers, it works also under Windows XP, to which my studio system can dual-boot. (Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-G31M-ES2L MB, BIOS version FI 2010/08/12.)

I plug it into my studio system when booted to Ubuntu (10.04 LTS (Lucid Lynx), 2.6.32-35-generic, all patches applied) and the Ubuntu machine falls over dead right after acknowledging the USB device. If I’m in Gnome the whole thing dies almost immediately; if I’m in a text console I have more time. The task queue fills because CPU0 soft-hangs.

Again, the exact same machine in exact same configuration, booted to Windows XP, works fine.

What appears to happen is some sort of interrupt fuckery (“ata3: lost interrupt (Status 0x58)”) and the USB hub controller loses an interrupt and doesn’t realise it, or, looking at the call stack and audio.c, maybe has an extra interrupt mapped to it somehow? With predictably hilarious, by which I mean disastrous, results.

Here is a syslog dump from a boot-through-dying session. It’s pretty typical. The adventures start at 15:41:29. Note the call stack. Note also “BUG: soft lockup – CPU#0 stuck for 61s! [khubd:29].”

This appears to be the most closely-related kernel bug report. It’s acknowledged as a bug but hasn’t been touched in a year. 🙁 I am not convinced it’s identical, in part because the workaround described down at the bottom (booting with noacpi) does not work for me.

I really, really, really want to be able to use this hardware on my Linux DAW. I can, yes, use it with my MacBook and Garage Band, or CUBASE on the same hardware as the Linux DAW, and shuffle files over. But both of those options kinda suck.

Anybody have a workaround? Or a dev machine that can analyse this? Pretty-please?

videos and hackery

Thanks to Zorp, who was in the audience at the Gypsy last month, I have a couple of live videos on my YouTube channel! If you’re reading this on the band site, you might notice a new videos tab, to match. Guess what it does! XD Here, have a video:


Live at the Gypsy Cafe; Video courtesy Zorp

That’s “Something’s Coming.” I’ve also posted the first recording – from the same performance – of “World Trapped in Amber,” which will appear on Din of Thieves.

I celebrated Seafair Weekend by rebuilding a 1978-era Pioneer power amp. I’ve had this thing kicking around for a while, and have used it as a monitor amp in the studio, but it’s always been noisy and kind of cruddy, and I was going to replace it until I found out that audio fidelity in my price range has actually been going downhill for the last 10-15 years as more and more money gets put into remote-control/iPod and iPhone interfacing/digital output/etc and less into basic sound quality.

I’ve never thought much of this amp, really; I picked it up used, for no money to speak of. Turns out replacing a whole fleet of really old capacitors makes it A GOD AMONGST AMPLIFIERS. Well, okay, not really. But – re-capped – it has one of the cleanest transistor preamps I’ve ever heard. Cranked all the way up to maximum output on all drivers, the preamp noise level in studio reference headphones is ZERO. You hear nothing. It’s fucking inaudible. And silence on speakers, too. It’s kind of shocking.

I still have some more work to do – I’ve got distortion on channel two on speakers only (headphones are pristine) caused by me trying to hack together the correct replacement cap value when I didn’t have it, and the tone control board is still a noise fountain and still needs the other half of its caps swapped. (Right now I’ve got it bypassed, and you shouldn’t be using that shit in a studio anyway, but I like having all the functionality of a piece of equipment available.) If finishing the rebuild doesn’t solve the tone board noise issues, I’ll leave it bypassed. Or maybe add a switch, to cut it in and out. ‘Cause this amp sounds great now. Seriously, I had no idea.

It’s no Dynaco ST70, don’t get me wrong. But I never knew it was capable of really sounding good. Turns out, in fact: fuck yeah! And that’s the kind of surprise I could use a lot more often. If you have some hackery in you, and see an old Pioneer (or similar) amp hanging out in a garage sale or thrift store or something, and it powers up at all – buy it and recap it, it’s probably worth the rebuild. This one was.

That’s what I did with my Seafair weekend. What about you?

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