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Guest Tam o' Shantie

Using physical outboard hardware with DAW?

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Hi guys,

Something that has totally plagued me since I first started using computers to record: how the hell do you use outboard gear with a DAW?

The only way I can think of it is as so using my setup as an example:

Let's say I have a sound card with 2 x stereo outputs and 2 x stereo inputs. I have say an acoustic guitar track, keyboard, tambourine and vocal. I want to apply some compression to the vocal and reverb to the tambourine part using my hardware, the rest is being tweaked within the software (I use Adobe Audition, but I don't think that's particularly relevant here).

So, I select output 1L for the vocal, and 1R for the tambourine. The rest of the mix, and the input monitor audio is just going to 2 L/R which are plugged into my active monitors.

I then patch output 1L to the input of my compressor, and patch the output of my compressor to input 1L - and patch output 1R to the input of my reverb box, and patch the output to input 1R. This means:

A) When I press play the audio from the tambourine & vocals won't be playing through the monitors because I have routed them out seperately - but I will hear them through the input monitor which is hooked up to the speakers. Therefore, I will only be hearing one 'copy' of those tracks - the outputs from the outboard gear.

B) I can now mix until i'm happy, arm new tracks to record from 1 L/R (the FX returns) and 2 L/R (the other tracks), hit REC/PLAY and in real time record the whole thing in realtime. On playback, i'd mute all except the 'internal' mixdown and the 'returns' mixdown and then write both to a master track.

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Yeah thats the best and most logical way to do it. I've got a 2 in 2 out soundcard and a 16 channel mixer with 4 aux sends. It's basic and totally limiting but gets the job done.

I have my recording inputs hooked up from aux sends 1&2 on my desk and outboard effects on aux sends 3&4. To record in a reverbed part all I need to do is solo the part I want on my daw, send it to the effects unit (Aux3 or 4) then send the FX return channel to the interface through aux send 1 and/or 2. Saves me plugging stuff in and out.

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You could alternatively use them in an insert in the signal path before they are recorded. Or if routing options allow you could split it between your two channels and record both the dry and effected signal.

You will have to re-align a signal that has been D/A - A/D'd as there will be added latency. If you are mixing it with a dry track, this opens up the likelihood of phase cancellation.

The other question would be, what hardware effects processors do you have that make it worth the bother of doing this? I've used some pretty good free VST plugins that are at least as good as anything in budget effects range.

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I will probably do a bit of that. However I don't use the computer to do all my recording, planning on only using it for overdubs/editing as I have a Tascam 424 MkIII for portable tape recording.

Will latency really be an issue with an ASIO soundcard and the spec I'm running? (XP Pro, 2ghz Dual Core, 4GBs ram)

The outboard gear I have is photo optical compressors mostly, a vintage roland reverb rack and an analogue delay pedal (here's a good example I guess. I have never ever used a VST that could do justice to the sound of 'live' analogue delay tweaking). I don't think they're 'better' than any VST, free or otherwise. I just like having the real thing in front of me, and if the method I've suggested is viable, then I don't really see it as a bother.

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Will latency really be an issue with an ASIO soundcard and the spec I'm running? (XP Pro, 2ghz Dual Core, 4GBs ram).

If you're producing a different but similar signal and running it alongside an existing one then there will phase issues. You can however move the effected track back in time in your DAW so the peaks and dips are more closely aligned with the original

If you are running it instead of the existing track, you may still wish to physically move the track in your DAW so it's in the place it's meant to be You could make a fairly plain noise at the beginning of your track as an extra reference point for alignment.

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