Audio Interface Saga

AKG Perception 220 MicrophoneBack in August, we decided that if we really are going to do this podcasting thing, we should invest in better equipment than a $40 logitech headset.

Don’t get me wrong: that $40 headset was great for what we needed and was the total monetary investment to get our recordings off the ground. Alas, it has some fundamental issues that can’t be fixed. Just by talking with the headset on your head it records transient mechanical noises from the plastic moving around. It also is difficult to modulate the volume of the recording without clipping out and you have to be very careful to avoid excessive breathing and popping.

Nope. The decision was made. we would move along to more professional equipment: a condenser microphone and an audio interface. These purchases would be made at a medium-of-the-line level.

M Audio Fast Track ProSilly me figured that this would be relatively simple. Just a case of learning some new vocabulary, talking to people and then eventually pointing at something and saying, “I’ll take that”. Notice that I said “back in August, we decided…”

It’s now November. This process has turned into one of those Murphy’s Law farces that get made into Ben Stiller movies. The only thing that went right the first time was the microphone (pictured above). Everything else has been a comedy of errors that has led to almost a three-month turnaround on the process.

A Summary (edited for length): Purchased an M-Audio Fast Track Pro and the Microphone. Took home, installed software and plugged in hardware to computer. Didn’t seem to work. Queried dealer as to why. They didn’t know. Couldn’t effectively answer my questions. Returned M-Audio and exchanged for another box (Presonus Firebox). Presonus Firebox Had another comedy of errors and spent ~$50 in gas trucking around Atlanta in order to put hands on said Firebox. Returned home. Installed Software—NOT. Firebox won’t sync to computer. Checked forums. Discovered that Firebox has a raft of hardware and software incompatibilities. Attempted solutions 1-10. No help. Attempted solutions 11-15 which involve additional purchases of hardware (firewire PCI cards). Nothing. Attempted solutions 16-20 which involved breaking out mothballed computers from the closet and installing on fresh Windows XP. Nope. Solution 21 involved contacting tech support through email (which through comments on the forum was known to be iffy about timely responses). Nothing. Contacted Tech Support through phone. Talked to dude who recommended (through various email conversations) solutions 22-30. Solution 31 is here on Craigslist and it finally solved my problem.

I/O BoardTo fully implement the podcasting equipment, we are now borrowing a mixing board I/O from a friend until I can find a solution to getting sound from the microphone into the computer. Ironically, I recently discovered through the same friend-in-a-band (Extraordinary Contraptions, check ‘em out) that the perceived issues with the original M-Audio box were actually just artifacts and the box was probably working just fine.

What does all this mean? More sound will emerge from TalkingTraffic on Monday. Because I’m stubborn and lazy at the same time, I pretty much refused to do another podcast until I could get all this shit working, and while I’ve described a lot of stuff going on over the two month period, I’ve had other stuff to do, so I didn’t make it a top priority to get it working.

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2 Responses to Audio Interface Saga

  1. Steve Eley says:

    I have no idea if you’re still interested in advice or not, but just in case… I still think the ‘interface box’ idea may not suit you as well as a decent mid-end mixer with USB out. If you get around to doing podcasts with more than one microphone you’ll appreciate having the mixer controls. (If you don’t expect to, a USB microphone would be a simpler choice from square one.)

    The Alesis MultiMix 8 USB is a lot cheaper than the Firebox was, and it’s a reliable solution with good sound. Even better, Mackie just came out with their own USB mixer — the ProFX 8 USB is a little more than the Alesis, but from the quality of my own Mackie board I’d say it’s a good bet it’ll sound better. They also have a funky little 4-channel Firewire mixer, the U420D, for only $280. You can get all this stuff from BSW, which is the best Internet audio gear outlet out there. They even give you free chocolate with every order.

    If I can help out in any way, I’m still happy to. Drop me a line if there’s anything I can do.

  2. Bill Ruhsam says:

    I’m probably going to go with the Alesis as you mentioned once I’ve sold off the Firebox. The whole firebox thing just keeps pissing me off. What’s the point in marketing a product that has such severe hardware incompatibilities? Who knows.

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