Audio Interfaces, Pro Tools First, and what I’ve learned so far.

Okay, so I think the first lesson I have to point out was clearly defined by my last post: as a total newbie to these little devices, they’re going to piss you off. They’re going to frustrate you. They’re going to seem like they’re designed to make no sense at all. So, today, after having done my fair share of noodling about, I’m going to tell you some things I’ve already learned about the Focusrite Scarlett Solo and ProTools, from a newbie, for newbies. (And, guys, so far no headache today, so this post should be way more optimistic than my last one.)

Let’s start with the preface – my recording experience thus far has mostly involved my phone, a cheap cardoid mic, practice amps as needed, and audacity. I have two cardoid mics in my arsenal, a cheap little Hisonic HS308L which I still occasionally use because of the on/off switch, and an Audix F55, which is also pretty cheap (After holiday retail is always a bit higher than the norm, but for the record, I bought it new from a major retailer a few months ago for about $40. At the time, that was a good deal, but at the time most retailers were selling it for about $50-60, not the $100 I’m seeing now that xmas is over. Life lesson: don’t shop for equipment in the week between xmas in new years unless you want to pay out the ass for it.)

The reason I’m talking about the mics in my arsenal is because it’s important to clarify that not all equipment is going to interact with your interface and recording suite the same way. The Hisonic Mic doesn’t pick up as much detail, but it’s also less sensitive to background noise. The Audix Mic has a fuller sound, but is more sensitive to background noise. And that’s important because

  • ProTools First does not have a built in noise removal tool. It assumes that you have a proper studio environment, and thus that you’re not going to be dealing with trying to block out the sound of heating vents, or cars driving by. It assumes, in short, that you have some external way of removing atmospheric noise. So, if you’r recording from home, you’re going to have some fun trying to find creative ways to make the environment less noisy, because, as far as I can tell, without some sort of add on to do this for you, there is no way that I can see to manage noise removal.

Now, if you’re used to using a free tool like Audacity, this seems like a huge hindrance. I use noise removal like crazy in Audacity. But, what I’m finding as I push through the learning curve is that

  • ProTools First blocks out some of that background noise way better than Audacity does. I’ll never be the first to say that fancier is always better, but my experimenting today says this is a case where it’s true. There’s a much wider learning curve here, but the difference in clarity of sound is apparent, even when testing both PTF and Audacity with the same equipment. It’s a significant enough difference that noise removal is not as huge of an issue.

It is there. You’re still going to have to find ways to deal with external noises, and you’re going to have to get creative about it because of the lack of a noise removal tool, but the difference in sound quality is marked enough that it might be worth it.

  • The Focusrite Scarlett Solo and/or PTF is EXTREMELY sensitive to line noise, loose connections, etc.  This ties into what I was whining about in my last post, about there just being some bizarre issue with it registering my uke.  I have no issues with my other amps and the uke, though, if you go way back into the archive, you’ll remember that when I bought my Ibanez uke, there was an issue with the connection cutting in and out, so I know there is something in there that is very marginally loose. It’s not a significant enough problem that any other amp has any issue reading it, but it seems this particular equipment is exceptionally sensitive, and doesn’t always pick the instrument up without a bit of cable wiggling. The other uke I’ve been having issues with is my Rubin, which has some super cheap electronics (and most everything else), so I’m not really surprised if things go wonky there.  I’m also running into a lot of buzzing in the line on the monitor end (headphones in question are CAD MH300) – again, no noise when using them for any other function, but I’m getting a lot of static using them with the AI and PTF combo. It’s not enough to cause a serious hindrance, but it’s there, and it’s noticeable enough to be annoying.

I’m not sure, at this precise moment in time, if this issue has more to do with the Solo or with ProTools. Logic would say most likely the Solo, but further testing is necessary before I can say either way with any amount of confidence.

  • When you combine this sensitivity with a mic with high sensitivity, you’re going to run into noise removal issues again. When combined with PTF (but not when using the Solo with Audacity), the Audix F55 actually picks up audible sound if my hand shifts on the mic at all, so I’m going to have to always use a stand to avoid this. There will be no picking up the mic and going, because the mere act of holding the microphone in hand causes background noise due to this very high sensitivity. I don’t have the problem with the Hisonic Mic, but the Hisonic mic is quite cheap, and comparatively, when used with PTF, leaves vocals with a muddy quality. Since Audacity has less clarity to begin with, the difference is not as extreme there, but in ProTools First, the sound quality coming from that cheap mic will make you cringe, even when compared to another pretty cheap mic.

So, as loathe as I am to admit it after yesterday’s rant, the learning curve is worth riding here. I’m losing some functionality, but what I’m gaining in audio quality is significant enough to just grit my teeth, bear it, and find new ways to do things. The rambly woman on youtube did have enough of value to say to help me figure out the basics – I just want someone else to do the same thing without all the fluff.




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