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Xtremehobo

A Primer on Recording

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Xtremehobo    820
If you're developing a game and striving for realism, you owe it to your self to put as much concideration and work into your sound design as you do with your graphics and gameplay. A realistic game environment without sound is like a book without words (and a game with poorly recorded sound effects is like a book written in pig-latin.) I've designed sound for several theatrical performances, and becaused I looked at stock sound sites, as well as sites for animation and game sounds, I can attest that if you realitivly decent sounds for your game, you're either going to have to pay, or create them your self. If you have the cash, you might want to check out sounddogs.com, or check out the resource thread sticky in this forum. They've got thousands of professionally recorded sound effects, loops, etc for sale. If you're cheap like me, you're going to want to record them :) This isn't as simple as plugging your $4 computer mic into your sound card and recording through windows sound recorder however... The frequency response, dynamic range, and noise floor associated with your standard sound-blaster are sub-par. I'll try to go over some of the inexpensive equipment avalible, as well as techniques you can use to achieve the best results with this equipment. Equipment Your recording is only going to be as good as the weakest link of equipment in your chain. Assuming the subject you're wishing to record isn't defective and actually sounds in real life as you're intending for it to, you're going to have to take into concideration a couple important pieces of equipment.
  • Microphones- The microphone you intend to use to capture a sound source is arguably your largest concern. There are no 'best' mics, just mics that are best for a certain job. There are two basic classifications of microphones, and they have to do with the method in which they convert air pressure sound waves into a sinosudal electric signal.

    The first, and most common type of microphone is the dynamic mic. A dynamic mic works similar to a speaker in reverse. changes in air pressure cause the diaphragm to vibrate. Surrounding the diaphram is a fixed magnet and attached to the diaphragm is a coil of wire. When this coil changes position realitive to the fixed magnet because of sound waves vibrating the diaphragm, a current is induced in the coil.

    Dynamic mics are often appealing because of their price, durability, and avalibility.

    The second type of microphone is the condenser mic. A condenser mic works differently than a dynamic, in that the diaphragm is often a gold-sputtered plate that flexes between a pair of electrodes, in effect, creating a variable capacitor that is controlled by sound pressure waves flexing the diaphragm.

    Condenser mics are appealing (and my choice for almost any recording situation) because they reproduce sound extremely accurately and aren't as supseptible to electromagnetic radiation sources (computer monitor) as a dynamic mic.

    One drawback of a condenser mic is that they require a ~48 volt supply of power to operate, as they require some active circuitry to derive an audio singal from the capsule. Condenser mics also require some care, as moisture (such as that from someone singing or speaking into the microphone) can cause the capsule to short out and not work for a couple weeks.

    Condenser mics come in two flavoures, small diaphragm and large diaphragm. SDC's (small diaphragm condensors) usually look like straight metal tubes with a grill on the end. These are very acurate and useful for recording sources where directional control is required (SDC's generally have a cardiod pickup pattern - meaning, they only pick up sound from directly infront of them and reject sound from the sides or behind them. Very useful when you want to record something specific and not so much of the sound around it.)

    The other type of condenser is the large diaphragm condenser. These are typically used for vocals or other high-SPL (volume) sources. They're not quite as acurate as SDC's as they color the sound a bit, but this sounds very nice on vocals (and micing guitar cabs [wink])
  • Mic Pre- Again, your recording is only going to be as good as your equipment. If you get your hands on an XLR-to-1/4" transformer/adapter and a 1/4" to 3.5mm adapter and plug a dynamic mic into your sound card's mic in, you're still not going to get an acceptable recording. (same can be said for those karyokee mics sold at radioshack. Infact, .. don't buy anyting at radioshack. period. I mean it... A faulty radioshack barell connector has caused me hours of headaches but that's another story).

    If you want to interface a decent microphone with your computer, you're going to need a preamp of sorts. Because the output signal from a microphone is so insignificant, circuitry is required to boost the signal to a line-level so it can be efficiently digitized, making the most of your interface's (sound card's line in?) dynamic range. A mic pre could be as simple as a home-built circuit, or as complex as a 32 channel mixing desk. There are also plenty of dedicated mic pres you can purchase which have XLR input jacks and 1/4" line-out jacks.

    I use a Behringer UB802 ($50) mixer to interface my microphones with my computer (at home at least... at work, it's a 24 channel mackie mixing desk and a 32 channel Allen and Heath desk.) It works because it has two mono mic pre's with a three-band EQ (read Crispy's stickied thread for a primer on EQ) and line-level outs that I run through my sound card's line-in. Mixers and mic pre's can also supply phantom power to condenser mics over the three-pin XLR cable that the mics already use to transfer the audio signal.)
  • Sound Card/ADC- This part is also important, however I've found that on newer computers (with newer sound cards) the line-in usually sounds decent. just not on my laptop. If you're more concerned about this part of the sound-chain than I am, however, you might want to look into the higher end sound cards by M-Audio like the Audiophile series, or look into external interfaces such as Digidesign's MBOX or Digi001. They're not cheap though
  • Software- This (and the microphones) might be where you end up spending a good deal of money. Though there is some decent free software for recording (Audacity and Kristal audio engine), these don't provide the effects and processing functionality that you would get with something like Logic, Reason, Audition, or Protools. Check some of those out, they really are quite nice :)
Anyways, to recap, if you're looking to create a decent quality digital recording, you're going to need a good mic running into a good preamp or mixer, going into a decent sound card or audio interface on your computer. As far as software goes, anything will work for recording, though you should make your purchase concidering what processing and effects functionality you'll require. No, $4 computer mics will not work. Thank you.

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Crispy    556
Hobo - would you mind awfully if I nudge this thread into my sticky already in this forum? Properly credited, of course.

I'm afraid this thread won't be stickified and it'd be an awful waste if it just fell off the front page.

[Edited by - Crispy on July 4, 2005 5:47:49 PM]

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