Digital Audio - Digital mixing and digital recording

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The software we have at our disposal helps us to carry out the operations we need to perform. During the recording phase we'll have a screen which will allow us to see the wave-forms of the signals we are recording in real-time. In this phase we can record as many tracks as our hardware/software allows. All of this data will end up on the HD support, ready for use and manipulation (remember that 1 minutes' worth of stereo recording at 44.1 KHz and 16 bit quantization produces about 10.5 MB of data). The number of tracks we can record at the same time depends on the amount of inputs/outputs the sound card we are using has. The phase that follows recording is, as always, mixing, and this is where the software we are using plays an important role. By putting the software into mixing mode we'll see a series of channels on the screen in which we see virtual pan-pots and faders, that we will be able to move up and down just like you'd do on a real mixer. As well as the main channels (fader, pan, solo, mute, gain) we'll also have a whole set of facilities at our disposal which make HDR a truly powerful instrument.

  • Groups: each signal can be sent to the master mix bus or to the groups which virtually simulate the functions of groups in analogue mixers. [Mixer: groups ]

  • Aux send: in this case too, a virtual aux send is available simulating a real mixer's aux send. [Auxiliary send ]

  • Automation: practically every parameter can be controlled automatically by the computer, and this is a truly powerful function to have at one's disposal, a function which any sound engineer working in the 70s would have dreamt of.

  • SMPTE/MTC synchronization: usually the software can be interfaced with a synchronization signal coming from the external world, thus allowing the HDR system to be included in a wider sound-context (normally HDR systems can themselves be synchronization generators for other systems, however in professional contexts the trustworthiness of this solution can't compete with that given by machines that are specifically made for this scope). [Synchronization ]

  • Plug-In: as we know, to "plug-in" is to insert a plug into a socket. In this case the term is used to indicate the action of adding an extention to a pre-existing context. With HDR systems, a plug-in is a supplementary programme. An example should make matters clearer.

    If we go into mixing mode we'll get a representation of the mixer on our computer screen. Say we wanted to manipulate a guitar-line that we have on one of the channels before sending it to the mix bus. At a certain point of the chain we can insert a plug-in which generates a reverb effect. This will hand us over a whole series of parameters we can now modify and, as we mentioned previously, and even make them automated. The better the quality of the algorithm, the better the sound we will obtain shall be. Every plug-in carries out a manipulation on the signal and in doing so uses part of the processing power that the system provides. This means that the amount of plug-ins we will be able to use simultaneously, depends on our HDR system's power (mainly on the DSP card's speed and the amount of RAM we can rely on). Usually to use 5 different plug-ins requires more resources than using 1 plug-in and applying it in 5 different points. Plug-ins can come in all varieties: equalizers, reverbs, compressors, gates and generally all that which existed analogically. Some effects and signal processor production companies that became a standard in sound engineering, have put plug-ins on the market that are the exact digital versions of the analogue modules. Clearly, being simulations, the digital versions won't be the splitting images of the analogue originals, however simulation algorithms generally manage to come very close to generating sounds that are identical to the original module (to the extent that many modules are already digital and thus their transposition into plug-ins works out to be far more precise, whereas for example a valvular compressor module would be far more difficult to simulate with a plug-in).

The following picture shows a HDR software in action:

Digital Audio - HDR software in action

HDR software in action


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