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Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

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Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Sun Sep 16, 2018 4:46 pm

As some of you may have seen in my other thread, it appears that my Cloudlifter preamp thingy has died.

(Not too happy about that!!)

If you don't know, I am trying to set up a modest, mobile "home" studio where I can record *professional* voice-overs and podcasts for a business that I am starting this Fall.

While I try to get warranty service on my Cloudlifter, I started to wonder last night, "What would be the next logical step up from my tiny Onyx Blackjack as far as pre-amplification goes??" :?:


Here is what I currently have...
https://www.amazon.com/Mackie-Onyx-Blackjack-Recording-Interface/dp/B003VZG550?psc=1&SubscriptionId=AKIAILSHYYTFIVPWUY6Q&tag=duckduckgo-d-20&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=B003VZG550


It seems to me that either on here or surfing the Internet, that I heard on a "real" audio interface/preamp/mixer board, you should be able to get as much as 60dB of preamplification Gain??

There is a decent chance that most of my voice-over/podcast work will be done on my Shure SM7B, so I definitely could use some help on getting a stronger signal!!

Any suggestions on what my next steps (i.e. "step up") should be??

Thanks,


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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sun Sep 16, 2018 8:54 pm

There’s a myriad of options available to you, but one thing to consider, and related to your business plan and commitment, is do you really want a ‘next step’, or do you want to buy something which will last the distance?

With this in mind I’m going to make a left field suggestion of a Sounddevices Mixpre-3m.

This can act as both a standalone recorder as well as a USB interface, has absolutely superb preamps and has analogue limiters. If your business model at some point involves recording people on location this (or something similar) would make perfect sense.

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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Wonks » Sun Sep 16, 2018 10:09 pm

Your Mackie has 60dB of gain. Unity (0db) to 60db, is 60dB of gain. That will apply to the microphone input using the XLR part of the combi input. The other scale on the gain dial, -20db to +40dB is for the line input (which uses the TRS/jack part of the combi input). This is a preamp where a hotter line input signal passes through the mic pre-amp (on higher-end interfaces the line input bypasses the mic preamp) but first passes through a 'pad' (basically a resistor) to bring the signal level down by 20db before putting it through the mic pre-amp. So the signal is now 20 dB lower (so 20dB below 0dB is -20db at what was the 'unity' position) and still 20dB lower at what was the +60dB position (so now +40db).

Look at page 17 of the user manual which shows a schematic of the signal path. You can see that the line input connects to the same gain stage (the mic preamp) as the mic input, but each signal leg passes through a resistor (the angular squiggles) before connecting to the gain stage. The line/hi z switch introduces a high-impedance op-amp which vchanges the line impedance from 18k ohms (line) to 1 meg ohms (hi-z and suitable for passive guitar pickups). https://mackie.com/sites/default/files/ ... ack_OM.pdf

The Mackie has a paper spec that means you shouldn't really be having noise issues.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby James Perrett » Sun Sep 16, 2018 11:43 pm

audio_jungle wrote:Any suggestions on what my next steps (i.e. "step up") should be??

You don't need a step up - your current interface will do what you want. It has plenty of gain available and the noise level is lower than most other affordable interfaces. Yes, you could theoretically obtain a 6dB better signal to noise ratio with the quietest preamp but the background room sound is likely to swamp any improvement unless you are working in a well soundproofed studio.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Sep 17, 2018 9:22 am

I agree completely. While there are 'better' interfaces, the differences are small and not particularly relevant to your situation.

It would be far better at this stage firstly to improve your understanding of the technology and how to use it, and secondly to optimise the acoustics of your recording environment.

These will both deliver far more tangible improvements in the quality of your recordings than any new interface.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:14 am

Bob Bickerton wrote:There’s a myriad of options available to you, but one thing to consider, and related to your business plan and commitment, is do you really want a ‘next step’, or do you want to buy something which will last the distance?

With this in mind I’m going to make a left field suggestion of a Sounddevices Mixpre-3m.

This can act as both a standalone recorder as well as a USB interface, has absolutely superb preamps and has analogue limiters. If your business model at some point involves recording people on location this (or something similar) would make perfect sense.

Bob

Well, I have a Zoom H6 for recording people out in the field. That may not be as sophisticated as what you suggest, although it seems more than ample for man-on-the-street interviews along with my Elctro-Voice RE50N mic.

Tell me more...
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:22 am

Wonks wrote:Your Mackie has 60dB of gain. Unity (0db) to 60db, is 60dB of gain.

So that is much more than I thought it had! (I thought it was only 25dB of preamp.)


Wonks wrote:The Mackie has a paper spec that means you shouldn't really be having noise issues.

If you crank up the Gain to maximum, certainly you will be able to hear anything to the point that it is almsot like you hear a hum, no?

(Not sure how to explain what I hear? It's not a hum hum, it's more like you are sleeping on the speakers at a rock concert kind of energy...)

So what are you suggesting or implying by your last post?
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:25 am

James Perrett wrote:
audio_jungle wrote:Any suggestions on what my next steps (i.e. "step up") should be??

You don't need a step up - your current interface will do what you want. It has plenty of gain available and the noise level is lower than most other affordable interfaces. Yes, you could theoretically obtain a 6dB better signal to noise ratio with the quietest preamp but the background room sound is likely to swamp any improvement unless you are working in a well soundproofed studio.

So I should working on sound-proofing my hotel room and stop worrying about my audio interface preamp?

BTW, I did order a new Cloudlifter this weekend...

My plan is to try it out, and if it seems to be "normal", then return the old one which I believe is defective.

If my replacement Cloudlifter does indeed work, is there any reason I would NOT want to use it?

I guess I am a bit confused what you all think about using the CLoudlifter as an additional preamp on my SM7B (and even my NT2-A)?
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:28 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:I agree completely. While there are 'better' interfaces, the differences are small and not particularly relevant to your situation.

It would be far better at this stage firstly to improve your understanding of the technology and how to use it, and secondly to optimise the acoustics of your recording environment.

These will both deliver far more tangible improvements in the quality of your recordings than any new interface.

So can you recommend any "Sound Engineering for Dummies" type books that would teach me what you belive I lack in knowledge?

And what exactly is lacking? My understanding of Physics? Sound gear? Sound engineering? Other?

And what about sound treatment?

Should I try to use my PortaBooth Pro after all?

How much sound treatment do I really need for my purposes?
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Jumpeyspyder » Tue Sep 18, 2018 3:21 am

audio_jungle wrote:
How much sound treatment do I really need for my purposes?

Ideally as much treatment as possible!
That doesn't mean cover every surface in absorbant foam, but to anaylise the acoustic problems of your space and deal with each problem in turn.
most likely for an average room:-

Bass traps, mirror points (possibly including ceiling cloud), backwall absorption / diffusers/
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Ariosto » Tue Sep 18, 2018 6:50 am

Personally I think that for close miked VO/narration work you need some room treatment. Mostly duvets, hanging towels, sheets and blankets on as many reflective surfaces including desk top and glass windows and mirrors which will be quite effective. In other words, on any hard surface that may reflect the sound waves back into the mic. Put duvet(s) and blankets behind you and also behind the mic, to get as dry a sound as possible.

Then close miking at about 12-18 inches should give a very strong audio recording with minimum room noise. However, sounds from outside your room may still intrude and be a problem, so record when it is quiet (3.00am?) or when noise from roads and aircraft etc are at a minimum.

Turn the gain up until you have the meters peaking at around -6 to -10dB (or a bit lower at -14dB if your voice sometimes gets too loud, or you can't control it well enough. Don't forget it's about voice/mic technique as much as anything else. (Peaks must not go above -3dB for commercial work, and I keep mine to about -4.5 dB overall).
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Wonks » Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:04 am

When you turn up the gain a lot with a microphone, so that any voice sounds are louder in your ears than natural voice level, you end up hearing noise from the room - computer fans, air conditioning, background road noise, wind, etc. When listening with just your ears, your brain is very good at masking out these quiet sounds so you don't notice them until you specifically listen for them. Amplifying them brings the noise up to a level where it isn't filtered out by your brain.

Almost any audio interface will have a much better signal to noise ratio than the space you are in. You can of course simply try and speak louder, which then makes the background noise relatively quieter, but you can only do this a bit before your voice then sounds unnatural and 'shouty'.

Which is why to start with you need a quiet space to record in, and why you then need to put acoustic treatment in the space to help reduce the amount of reflected sounds (which will have the effect of making the room a bit quieter) and reduce the effect the room is having on the sound of your recorded voice.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby CS70 » Tue Sep 18, 2018 9:48 am

audio_jungle wrote:So I should working on sound-proofing my hotel room and stop worrying about my audio interface preamp?

Not soundproofing - that means make sure no sound escapes the room and that definitely you don't want to (and it's impossible in a hotel room).

Sound treatment means simply reducing the reflections from walls, floor and ceiling, so that the sound captured by the mic is nicer than otherwise.

With voiceovers, you don't really need much treatment. Check the old threads, I'd described how you can sound-treat the hotel room in five minutes, and then derig in another five when you're done.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Sam Spoons » Tue Sep 18, 2018 12:29 pm

I thought I'd linked this article in your other thread but if not here it is again. Describs exactly what you are trying to achieve. https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/recording-voiceover-on-road
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Wed Sep 19, 2018 12:42 am

Jumpeyspyder wrote:Ideally as much treatment as possible!
That doesn't mean cover every surface in absorbant foam, but to anaylise the acoustic problems of your space and deal with each problem in turn.
most likely for an average room:-

Bass traps, mirror points (possibly including ceiling cloud), backwall absorption / diffusers/

Know of any books you would recommend on this topic?

Sounds like there is a science to it?!
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Wed Sep 19, 2018 12:47 am

Ariosto wrote:Personally I think that for close miked VO/narration work you need some room treatment. Mostly duvets, hanging towels, sheets and blankets on as many reflective surfaces including desk top and glass windows and mirrors which will be quite effective. In other words, on any hard surface that may reflect the sound waves back into the mic. Put duvet(s) and blankets behind you and also behind the mic, to get as dry a sound as possible.

I have mentioned my PortaBooth Pro several times and no one has commented on it.

The whole concept of sound-proofing is somewhat foreign to me, as I often thing the end result is a muffled, unnatural end result?!

When I tried my PortaBooth Pro on a tripod stand it sorta sounded like that too.


Ariosto wrote:Then close miking at about 12-18 inches should give a very strong audio recording with minimum room noise. However, sounds from outside your room may still intrude and be a problem, so record when it is quiet (3.00am?) or when noise from roads and aircraft etc are at a minimum.

Instead of treating my entire hotel room, couldn't I just either use my PortaBooth Pro or make a box around my mic on broadcast arm using Auralex? Then maybe throw a blanket over my head?

In other words, contain the sound space to a small area versus treating a wide open space...


Ariosto wrote:Turn the gain up until you have the meters peaking at around -6 to -10dB (or a bit lower at -14dB if your voice sometimes gets too loud, or you can't control it well enough. Don't forget it's about voice/mic technique as much as anything else. (Peaks must not go above -3dB for commercial work, and I keep mine to about -4.5 dB overall).

So how do I learn that?
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Wed Sep 19, 2018 12:52 am

Wonks wrote:When you turn up the gain a lot with a microphone, so that any voice sounds are louder in your ears than natural voice level, you end up hearing noise from the room - computer fans, air conditioning, background road noise, wind, etc. When listening with just your ears, your brain is very good at masking out these quiet sounds so you don't notice them until you specifically listen for them. Amplifying them brings the noise up to a level where it isn't filtered out by your brain.

Cool explanation. Makes sense!


Wonks wrote:Almost any audio interface will have a much better signal to noise ratio than the space you are in. You can of course simply try and speak louder, which then makes the background noise relatively quieter, but you can only do this a bit before your voice then sounds unnatural and 'shouty'.

True. Plus when I was recording last weekend, I wasn't sure if I was getting too close to the mic or had the gain too high and thus sounded "boomy", or if that was a good thing?


Wonks wrote:Which is why to start with you need a quiet space to record in, and why you then need to put acoustic treatment in the space to help reduce the amount of reflected sounds (which will have the effect of making the room a bit quieter) and reduce the effect the room is having on the sound of your recorded voice.

So as asked above, can I just build a tiny sound-treated cube around my head and mic, or do I need the larger open space treated?
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby audio_jungle » Wed Sep 19, 2018 1:04 am

Sam Spoons wrote:I thought I'd linked this article in your other thread but if not here it is again. Describs exactly what you are trying to achieve. https://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/recording-voiceover-on-road

Thanks!
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Ariosto » Wed Sep 19, 2018 5:20 am

audio_jungle

I can't seem to view your PM. It won't come up when I click on it.
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Re: Next step up from Mackie Onyx Blackjack??

Postby Sam Spoons » Wed Sep 19, 2018 9:04 am

audio_jungle wrote:
True. Plus when I was recording last weekend, I wasn't sure if I was getting too close to the mic or had the gain too high and thus sounded "boomy", or if that was a good thing?

The closer to the mic you get the less the 'room' sound will affect your recording but, depending on the mic, getting very close (less than a few inches) and you will have proximity affect boosting the low end. This is very obvious within a couple of inches but can be tamed using eq as long as you keep the distance constant.

So as asked above, can I just build a tiny sound-treated cube around my head and mic, or do I need the larger open space treated?

The V/O artists in that article build a small 'booth' and work close to the mic. There shouldn't be any need to treat the rest of the room if the 'booth' is sufficiently effective but you will probably need to use a fairly aggressive HPF to avoid 'boxiness'.
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