Too many mics, not enough preamps

I knew my ongoing project to record my first album would hit its share of snags along the way—it’s inevitable in a project like this. Still, that doesn’t stop me from feeling frustrated now that I’m smack dab in the middle of such a snag—especially since the problem cropped up when the whole band was gathered together for a rehearsal.

Put simply, we ran out of mic preamps for recording.

Here’s the background: When our band records the final copy of a song, we do it in isolation—meaning that we record with headphones in separate spaces or sometimes to a music rhythm bed (previously recorded tracks). This worked out pretty well for the four of us in the band, but the songs weren’t yet tight enough to hand over to the guy who’s going to mix the songs for a finished version. So we decided to get everyone together and do some live recording off the floor to get a better feel for what we were trying to capture in the song. While we are still recording what we are playing, the pressure of getting everything right the first time would be lifted. And that might give us some more inspiration for the song, too—an added bonus.

That’s when we ran into our problem. After plugging in all the mics for the drum kit, I only had one mic preamp left and I still had a guitar, bass and vocals to get into the computer. Three more mics to plug in and only one mic preamp—see the problem?.

I’m using the Digidesign 003 Factory, which includes four mic preamps, and an M-Audio Octane with eight mic preamps. If you’re counting along at home, that’s a total of 12 mic preamps. I talked to Digi about my options and they recommended getting a couple of dual mic preamps and plugging them into the unused line inputs of the 003.

That would certainly work, but that means that I have four inputs plugged into the 003 device, eight plugged into the Octane and then into the 003 factory via its optical connection, and four others going into separate mic preamps and into the 003’s line in port.

Seriously, there has got to be a better way.

The problem with Pro Tools is that the inputs all have to end up being plugged into Digidesign gear in order to be recorded. Unlike applications such as Logic or Cubase that can take inputs from a variety of devices, Pro Tools needs Digi gear. (You can now use some Apogee gear, although it’s only compatible with Pro Tools HD).

Just for kicks over the weekend I took four audio interfaces and plugged them all into the computer. I made an Aggregate Device in OS X’s Audio/Midi application using all four devices. (For those unfamiliar with Aggregate Devices, it is a process in OS X that allows you to combine several different audio interfaces so applications like Logic see them as one. That allows you to use the sum of the inputs and outputs of the audio interfaces.) When I finished making the Aggregate Device and opened Logic Pro 8, I had 16 inputs. It was almost too easy.

Now, I know that is not a perfect solution, especially if you are going to be recording something to send to a professional audio engineer. Ultimately, if I’m going to send audio out to be mixed, I’ll want more control over how the audio is recorded instead of having it coming from a cobbled-together Aggregate Device. However, in a pinch, it’s great to be able to add another device and get the number of inputs you need.

I tried all kinds of different combinations of inputs, plugging my guitar into all of the separate devices and they all worked just fine. At one point I had my Guitar Rig controller, Apogee Duet, TonePort UX8, and a Pod X3 Live all connected and giving signals to Logic Pro 8.

I know that there are other solutions to the input problems. For instance, I could take a couple of mic inputs away from the drum kit or eliminate the overheads.

But in the midst of my frustration, I keep thinking, why? Why do I have to get rid of some mics on the drums? Why can’t I keep the mics I want on the drums and be able to record the guitars and vocals?

I really haven’t been able to answer that question to my satisfaction. I spent the weekend calling people in bands and audio engineers I know, and, while they agreed with my questions, they weren’t really able to help me solve the problem with the gear I’m using.

If you have any tips, I’d be happy to hear them via the forum link below. For now, I’m looking at getting an Apogee Symphony system. Apogee’s gear is expandable and it will allow me to run all of the preamps through one AD converter. I’ll let you know how it works out.

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