REAPER is a small filesize (4M win, 7M mac) multi-track audio DAW, “a complete multitrack audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing, and mastering environment.” Free trial; if you use it,tell us how it’s working for you.
Welcome to Soundville, a Sony audio performance project:
In March 2009 a small town in Iceland was filled with speakers. The Seydisfjordur village was turned into an extraordinary sound-system for a week. Sounds by Richard Fearless ( Death in Vegas ) Mum, Bob Dylan, Toumani Diabate, Roberto Goyeneche, Murcof, Federico Cabral, Guillemots, etc.
This film by Juan Cabral of London’s Fallon agency documents the town-turned-into-tunes:
“From the opening moments, “Cowboy” seizes the heart and soul of the listener for an extraordinary hour. Josh Darsa’s strong story vision and great writing, combined with John Widoff’s brilliantly clear and intimately warm recordings and mix, produced a radio experience that remains unequaled to this day. Listen to “Cowboy” and think about what went into it: planning, attention to detail, patience, and the faith and confidence that the highest standards are both achievable and worth all the work they require. A masterpiece that has endured for decades already, and surely will for many more.” –Alex Chadwick, June 1998
“This was the height of my career at NPR. It was a combination of everything… the music recording, the production sound recording, interviews… every single thing that I had ever done for this company all came together in this show. This was probably how Walt Disney felt when he made Mary Poppins. It was a dream come true for me to build something like this. ‘Cowboy’ is the kind of show you would listen to in a darkened movie theatre. The writing is spectacular.” –John Widoff, May 1998
[The following liner notes are from the 1998 CD of “Cowboy,” Volume 1 in the NPR Engineering Master Series:]
In 1980, journalist-producer Josh Darsa, technical director and recording engineer John Widoff, assisted by Miles Smith, Dave Glasser and shop technician Bob Butcher, collaborated on Cowboy, a project that has become a classic of radio journalism. Cowboy was originally broadcast on October 4, 1980 on a series called The Mind’s Eye. In an interview with Mike Starling, Vice President of NPR Engineering, John Widoff describes their unique effort.
Mega Decks, Mega Mics, Mega Mix
JW: While we were at the rodeo, Josh Darsa wanted to record multiple vantage points of a single scene. For instance, I’d have a Nagra tape recorder on the roof of the grandstand and Miles Smith, a freelancer out of New York (currently Boston), would have a Nagra in the chutes where the riders would bust out for their ride. Then we would have a freeorunning Nagra III on the rodeo announcer. We ran them in sync kinda like you would do in video with multiple cameras. This gave us three different vantage points. During the show you hear the perspective change through cross fading which is a result of these different but simultaneous perspectives. More…
The Thermopolis transmitter of Wyoming Public Radio was off-air. To fix it they needed to get up past three feet of snowdrifts, over three inches of ice, and into 40-mph winds blowing snow sideways across a cloud-covered hilltop. A four-wheel drive wouldn’t make it; a rental Sno-Cat would have taken days to find; and snowmobile travel would have been dangerous with the weight and bulk of the gear and parts needing transport. So how did Chief Engineer Reid Fletcher and Program Director Roger Adams make their mid-winter ascent? Hint: “Giddyup.”
Been using the FR-2 Field Memory Recorder for a few months now. Really like the sound of the mic pre-amps, and the internal phantom power also seems to drive my mic-of-choice well (ShureVP-88 Stereo Condenser). Net result is a noticeably cleaner sound, especially compared to the consumer mini-dat ‘chines I’d been using as back-up and on bike trips.
It’s about the size of a thick hardcover book; bigger than I thot — funny how even tho I read the specs, 206 x 132x 57 mm (8.1 x 5.2 x 2.2 inches), my desire for a small machine still made me think this thing would be more compact. Also it has internal stereo mics and speaker, neither features I wanted. But it is light, has a speedy USB2.0 post, and other flash-recorders had more serious probs for me.*
One tragic flaw: The Fostex back battery case cover is a pain-in-ass and doomed to bust someday; cuz the batteries have to be placed just right or they stick out and keep cover from closing properly.
So it’s a fine machine, sounds great, is rugged (except battery cover). But: I paid $500 for my Fostex, and it’s now $600; so at that price the Oade Bros Marantz 660 mod may be the better deal.
Here’s some recordings, the first with the VP88 of some close relatives, currently incarcerated, “Cognitive Evo Group, Univ of LA- External Mic”
Continuing the incarceration theme, when internationally known producer Scott Carrier came to visit, it wasn’t long before I was off to the cop-shop to bail Scott outta jail. So I brought my recorder along and taped his coerced confession, using the internal stereo mics. The Fostex was just sitting on the truck seat and picked up pretty well, “Car Talk- Internal mics” (0:30 mp3):
And again with the internal mics, here’s the gate thru which we later DID NOT trespass, when the criminal returned to the scene of the crime, “Gate Swing- Internal mics” (0:32 mp3):
Scott sez he’s learned his lesson. We at HV remain skeptical, having heard this declaration from him before.
*My probs w/ other $400-600 recorders: The Zoom H4 is a piece of plastic shit, w/ no vol dial– just a switch w/ three level presets (haven’t seen H2 yet). The M-Audio Microtrack only has an internal battery, which rules it out for long road trips w/o frequent AC, especially on bikes. Edirol R-09 is hissy; as is, the outta-box non-Oade Marantz 660 (see: Transom review).
I’m kinda lucky to have HeadRoom, the large net/mail headphone retailer, right in my hometown (Bozeman MT). When I need cans I just cruise by and buy whatever they recommend: they’re audiophile fanatics and listen critically to everything they sell.
In the field I use ear canal headphones (don’t call ’em “earbuds,” sez HR). They sound good, they seat well (i.e., don’t fall out), and they’re small, so you don’t look like a Martian when approaching folk outta-the-blue to interview them. I usually pay between $100 and $200 for a really good, but not top-o-line pair.
I used a Shure E4 with an Etymotic ER6 as backup. The Shure sounded better and had a thicker cord. I say “had” cuz I recently broke both (abuse), leaving me field phone-less.
So I swung by HeadRoom for new Shures, but Shure’s new E’s have much thinner cords. “Anything else as good?” asks I.
Guy pulls out the Ultimate Ears super.fi 5 Pro ($180). I buy sans listen; take ’em home and am impressed. For the first time I hear a decent bass response from ear-canals. People say both the Shure and Etymotics have good bass, but I never thot so, even when I had the in-ear seal as tight as a [fill in offensive simile here]. But these UE’s go low, likely cuz of their dual drivers, one just for bass. (Caveat: HR mentioned the crossover could be a prob as it occurs at in vocal mid-range, but probs for them are usually out of my range of perception.)
Bass is important not just for the funk-in-recordings but also for field recording, as most of the wind and plosive overdrives occur in the lower freqs — lower than most open-ear phones go. So you could be wrecking your recording and not know (hear) it.
Latest High Country News has a profile on a pocatello graphic designer who also makes bikes to give away — when he’s not teaching folks how to fix their own bikes… Seems to be currying a sort of low-key activist stance on fighting urban sprawl.
Took the new all-in-one HHB Flash Mic/Recorder (US$1K street) for a literal spin. Wrapped it in a Rycote full-ball wind-sock (that I use for my Shure VP-88), stuffed it inside the chest pocket of a shell-jacket (in above mic it’s that tribble sticking outta my torso), then pedaled about 30-miles, recording and babbling into it much of the way.
The HHB is a good-sounding microphone with a high-quality digital recorder built right into the mic tube. It’s a mono omni dynamic mic. I rarely use dynamics cuz they just don’t sound as good as condensers (which have wider frequency response and greater signal level = better basses and highs = crispness and presence). But for a dynamic the HHB sounds pert-dern decent. Here’s a mic-ing-while-biking clip:
You can hear it’s pretty good with handling and wind-noise (at least w/ sock on). You can see the mic-to-mouth distance in above pic and hear it’s picking up my voice and road sounds rather well.
Ease-of-use is where this thing really shines. It’s gotta 1GB flash memory card (non-removable) built in, which gives you 3+ hours of recordings (at 44.1KHz, 16bit mono .wav). If it’s on it’s in record-monitor mode. One-button starts the recording, and there’s a pre-record buffer that writes-to-disk the up-to-10sec. of audio before you hit record.
Batteries (2 AAs), which weren’t fresh when I statrted, lasted 4+hours. The headphone amp powered my Etymonic buds well — no trouble monitoring. The thing is really light-weight, but the mic housing and buttons feel rugged. The level meter screen is small but usable. The LCD display is quite readable, even in fairly strong outdoor-light, with usable indicaters of mic-lvel and battery-life. The bottom button/dial on the bottom turns it on and controls all the levels and myriad menu commands, which is a bit tedious; but if you set most everything before you go out it isn’t a prob. There’s a mini-USB jack (digi-camera style) on the bottom for uploading your soundfiles via computer. Didn’t use the filters (high & lo pass) or auto-level controls, so don’t know nada about how they perform.
In sum, this thing performed admirably in this difficult-to-record situation. So considering the parameters: an all-in-one light, rugged mic/recorder that sounds good, is simple to use, stores lotsa audio , and runs a long time on a set of batteries, HHB has done a really nice job. But as with all HHB products, you pay for their high-quality and innovation: the HHB Flash Mic’s about US$1K (street).
Transom Tools just posted a Portable Digital Recorder Comparison writ by (the amazing) Jeff Towne. ‘Chines compared are the Marantz PMD 660, Zoom H4, Sound Devices 702/722, Edirol R-09, and M-Audio Microtrack.