4-track simultaneous on USB

For those without firewire.

I know this might be overkill, but I was lucky enough to get a relatively cheap laptop with four USB ports (WinBook A210 - $400 brand new). Unfortunately, it didn’t come with firewire or PC card slot, so I quickly realized that I was out of luck with the 4 or more siimultaneous input audio interfaces out there since they’re all firewire devices…

The built in sound card was horribly noisey and I don’t record with less than 4 simultaneous tracks for drums. Originally, my solution was to use the iMic USB audio interface with a mixer; the bass drum channel panned all the way left and the snare channel all the right. Set N-track to split the stereo into two tracks. Then used two Samson CO1U USB condenser mics for overheads. I thought it worked okay, until I realized that a) the mixer added too much hiss and influenced the EQ and b) the Samson USB condenser has a weird time stretching problem (basically I can line up the overhead tracks in the beginning, but if the tracks exceeded 3 minutes a delay would become more and more noticeable against the tracks recorded from the iMic).

Trying to eliminate the mixer, I found another USB audio interface called “JamLab” by M-Audio. It’s meant for guitar, but I tried hooking up my bass drum mic into it and it sounded incredible. It was about this time when I started noticing that the tracks from the Samson USB mics were stretched and not lining up. I decided to take my chance and got two more JamLabs and some cheap Nady condenser mics from Musician’s Friend (and a phantom power supply and XLR to 1/4" mic cables). So, now I have an iMic ($30) and 3 JamLabs ($60 each)using 4 usb ports. Each one recording to it’s own track. I am getting some incredible results with this and the tracks all line up and no samples are being dropped. Yeah, unfortunately, it takes up 4 USB ports, but it beats having to buy a whole new (more expensive) laptop just for a firewire port and then spending more money for the PreSonus FirePod.

Oh yeah, I’m just using the WDM drivers that automatically install in Windows XP. The ASIO drivers that come with the JamLab actually perform worse. Anyone else using JamLab by M-Audio?

No- I was using a US-428 by Tascam, which had 4 simultaneous inputs available (USB 2.0). Worked great, and you used only 1 USB port. You can find 'em for under $200 around harmony-central.com or ebay. But you’re evidently getting good results, and that’s all anyone wants anyway.

Blaze the trail! Blaze it! :D

All good to hear… at some point I need to invest in a similar arrangement :)

DSP

Yeah, it’s a good device. The only reason I moved on is that I wanted to get into routing the signal around, for use with different guitar pedals, summing, whatever other crazy thing you’d want to do- so I sold it. The 428 is a good in-the-box gadget.

Now I’m using keyboard and mouse without it- but I’m learning the keyboard moves. I’m a bit picky, and like drawing the volume envelopes anyway, so I don’t miss faders that much.

But it was cool- 4 ins, faders and transport. Other things you could use too, depending on your software. And it has ‘Direct Monitoring’ for doing overdubs- no latency in that case.

Whenever you use more than one soundcard to record at the same time, the resulting tracks won’t stay in sync. The clocks on the soundcards have to be synchronized or else this will happen. It’s especially important for drums, where timing is critical and crosstalk (between mikes) is high.

If you’re not having this problem, then either you have n-Track set to use the computer’s clock (usually not a good idea) or else you’re very lucky and/or recording short songs. Do a sync test by playing a good sharp click track for 10 minutes and recording it on all 4 devices (from a mixer). At the end you’ll most likely hear significant timing issues. If not, you’re just lucky as can be.

Ergo, I do NOT recommend this kind of setup for someone looking for a solution. If it works for you, don’t worry, be happy, and hope it lasts. (Note that clocks change as they age and with temperature. They won’t necessarily change the same way.)

With soundcards that have S/PDIF in/out, you can daisy-chain the S/DIF and set all soundcards but one (the first in the S/PDIF chain) to clock off S/PDIF. Most soundcards that have S/PDIF allow this, though some may not. (You can also do this with ADAT for cards that have it.)

But it’s a lot more convenient and less likely to hit bugs to simply get a USB card that has multiple channels.

Alternatively, if your laptop takes CardBus/PCMCIA cards (you said "PC cards, not sure what you meant), you can get a Firewire card and use that. For drummers, lots of channels really helps. You can do great recordings using 4 mikes, but it depends on the genre and tone you’re going for. The “rock solid rock kit from helll” sound takes more than 4 mikes.

So am I right in thinking that using an iMic, along with my Audigy soundcard, I could record two tracks at once? And does adding USB audio devices such as http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/NEW-USB…iewItem enable me to record more than one track at once? Or have I totally missed the point…? :slight_smile:

With either of those alone you can record one stereo track or two mono tracks.

With both together you can try to record 2 stereo tracks or 4 mono tracks (or 1 stereo plus 2 mono). But don’t expect good results. You’re utterly dependent on luck as to whether – that is, how LONG – they synchronize. My post above may be a bit technical, but read it – it explains why you should not expect good results.

If you want multiple soundcards to work properly, you need a means to synchronize them. For many cards, you can do this using S/PDIF. For some, if you get the same kind they support a special feature to sync themselves. IIRC, Audigy works both ways: it has S/PDIF and can sync off it, and you can have up to 3 Audigies and slave two off the other.

(Someone please chime in whether I got that right about Audigy cards.)

Just curious dh,

I see you chose a laptop to record. And sounds like you figured things out well enough on your own.

My question is this.
Does that laptop have a built in burner?
If it does, great, sounds like your all set.
But if it doesn’t, how do you plan to backup your tracks?

I’ve said it before, here and I will say it again to whomever will take heed.
Recording music works a computer.
HOT day, HOT riff, Hot musicians= meltdown.
This problem seems to be even more likely with a laptop since it’s the same amount of hardware crammed into less space. There’s not as much room for ventilation. (and you can’t tell me it doesn’t get hot around a set)

I would suggest you burn everything, and/or save to an external portable drive, after every session. Ya never know when she’s gonna blow! :)


keep shinin’

jerm :cool:

Always good advice.

However, I haven’t seen any heat-related problems for 3 generations of IBM laptops I’ve used (T20, T30, and now T43p). All have variable speed fans, and unless I’m running a fair number of plugins, CPU usage doesn’t get high (even on the 750mHz T20). My house has AC, which I turn off during recording sessions but not for too long or the wife & cat complain. So, house stays below 80 or so.

Maybe my licks aren’t hot enough! :p

Good point Jeff,
nothin’ sayin’ bout your licks, but have you ever seen a drummer’s head light up? Drums are much more physically demanding.

But my question was more geared towards backing up files.
I haven’t seen alot of laptops with burners, although I do know they are out there.
I used a laptop for a while, while my DAW as down (yeah meltdown!) so I ran across the problem of transfering files.
I tried ethernet, to no evail, the laptop I was using was limited to USB1.o so it couldn’t even interface with my external Phantom drive that I usually use for archives.
I don’t think it ever overheated even in the summer, in an attic, but other things can cause a read error, like viruses, ect. Still making it impossible to retreive all the files it takes so long to record, or even boot Windows. :(

Doesn’t hurt to ask. If he does have a way, that is, to backup files?

jerm :cool:

Here’s a sample snippet of some music I’ve been recording with my rediculous setup.

recording sample

The drums were the only thing recorded with the multiple sound interfaces (NADY microphones…cheap), but I can’t notice any sync problems. I recorded the guitars through GXStack VST tube amp modeller (as well as the bass…I might want to change that though…anyone know of any good VST BASS AMP modellers?). Tried to be kind to my neighbors (especially after putting up with me playing the drums). Finally figured out how to sync up the overdubbs. Made life so much easier. I can’t believe how awesome this software is, especially for the price. I’ll be honest, I originally got a hold of a hacked copy of this software, but I was so impressed I went ahead and just paid for it anyway. It is so worth it!

Sounds good! I don’t hear any evidence of sync problems there either.

Are you using wave timer or system timer? Many folks with only one soundcard have problems with sync if they use system timer, but I suspect that’s the only way you’d get good enough sync with multiple unsynchronized soundcards. If you are using system timer (in prefs -> options) then the sync errors shouldn’t get continually worse during a record session, which is good.

Quote (jeremysdemo @ Feb. 21 2006,07:23)
Just curious dh,

I see you chose a laptop to record. And sounds like you figured things out well enough on your own.

My question is this.
Does that laptop have a built in burner?
If it does, great, sounds like your all set.
But if it doesn’t, how do you plan to backup your tracks?

I’ve said it before, here and I will say it again to whomever will take heed.
Recording music works a computer.
HOT day, HOT riff, Hot musicians= meltdown.
This problem seems to be even more likely with a laptop since it’s the same amount of hardware crammed into less space. There’s not as much room for ventilation. (and you can’t tell me it doesn’t get hot around a set)

I would suggest you burn everything, and/or save to an external portable drive, after every session. Ya never know when she’s gonna blow! :)


keep shinin’

jerm :cool:

Hi Jerm,

Yes, the WinBook A210 has a built in CD-RW/DVD-read drive. I’ve pretty much violated the warranty already by replacing the hard drive and adding ram. I would like to replace the DVD/CD-RW drive with the Pioneer front loading dual layer DVD-DL/RW drive (only $81, pretty good for a slim-line drive). I kept the original hard drive and put it in a USB 2.0 enclosure so I back up stuff on there too. Amazingly, I have been able to record directly on to that external drive without problems. 12 tracks even… Not good with a lot of plugins so I have to freeze them, but not a problem. But, yeah, it works nicely, but I don’t recommend it for “professional” situations. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong, but I fix all my computer stuff myself and I don’t mind tinkering around with my computers.

Bass amp modeler?

If you can find a Digitech BP200, that’s a decent bass amp modeler- an in-line pedal though, not software. I had one and sold it for $75.00, so I bet there’s one out there for under $100.00. Not a bad device- I just don’t find use for it. My sale of it is not a testimonial.