Audio/video setup 2019

I thought it might be useful for anyone considering putting out their own music/video to know a bit about my setup. You don't need to save up thousands for a Mac.

Tascam DP-008X, purchased early 2018

This is a digital studio about the size of a hardback book, so it's very portable. It has eight tracks and the ability to 'bounce' (combine) tracks so that you can record more than eight instruments if you really want to.

I bought this after a bad experience with Steinberg software. I wanted to be less dependent on my Windows 10 PC, as well as get back to a more natural approach to recording.

There are two inputs, so you can record two instruments at the same time. It runs on batteries or a PSU. Batteries are a must for portability and mean you can record or edit/mix anywhere. No more ties to a desktop PC or high-end laptop.

There are lots of editing functions, though I mainly use the silence function to make sure there's no unwanted noise when instruments aren't playing. There's an undo function for when you get edits wrong. (In my case, accidentally silencing the wrong track is not uncommon...)

The device has built-in mics - I think these are reasonable so try these out before buying a separate mic if you want to save a bit more cash. (You might feel a bit daft holding the DP-008X in front of your face to do a vocal.)

Tascam also make a six-track version if your budget is really tight, but other than that you'll struggle to find multi-track recording abilities for less.

YI Lite 4K Action Camera, purchased early 2018

Maybe an odd choice because of the 'action' element, but it was a good price at the time and comparable in standard to the popular Go Pro and much cheaper than the cheapest DSLR.

I've been recording in full HD on this but I'm switching up to full 4K to see what impact that has on my final videos.

MXL 990 condenser mic, purchased early 2018

Probably not a budget item, if memory serves. When it comes to vocals, I need all the help I can get. I use a pop filter too - these are so cheap it's hard to justify not having one.

You need phantom power for a condenser mic, which the DP-008X provides.

Samson SR850 studio headphones

It's important to get 'studio' headphones, as everyday headphones introduce dynamics which could mess up your mix. These are 'open back', which I think was recommended. The comfort is pretty good, but I've never had headphones I can wear for hours on end.

Other instruments/tools

Most of my instruments are old, bought over a number of years. Newer to my collection are a guitalele (compromise ukulele for guitar players) which I love, a melodica, and a set of egg shakers in lieu of drums.

More recently I decided I wanted proper keyboards again. I have two old midi keyboards but no sound module (having scrapped my old music computer) so picked up a Yamaha MU15 on Ebay. Sadly, on receiving that I discovered that both my old keyboards had different faults and were unusable. So, after much concern at mixed reviews I bought the cheap Alesis Q49 midi keyboard.

The Q49 seems fine. It feels a bit on the cheap side, but is doing its job. And, it came with Ableton Live Lite and Xpand!2 product keys. So my very latest 'tool' is these two pieces of software - in theory I can make drum and keyboard tracks and export the audio to the DP-008X where I'll add guitars and vocals. Working with Ableton is difficult because of MIDI latency. Quantization sometimes corrects the delay, or I can manually move notes to the right place, but other times it's so bad I just have to re-record. As a result I only record in small chunks - never a whole song in one. This makes a performance video problematic.

A high-powered PC would make my cheap-MIDI-keyboard-plus-free-Ableton setup much more usable, but that would blow the budget. I understand too that Apple devices (even the iPhone) don't have MIDI latency issues.

The Q49 does connect to the MU15 with no latency, so I can use this for performance videos. The sounds on the MU15 are not as good as those offered by Ableton with Xpand!2, which is a shame.

Bringing it all together

Audio is mixed on the DP-008X and exported as a WAV file to my PC. MP4 video from the Yi Lite are also copied to the PC - there should be a video for each instrument.

The files are all dropped into Cyberlink PowerDirector 14 (an old version now). PD14 has a 'sync by audio' feature which works well (considering what I feed it), but some video tracks has to be lined up by ear, using whatever audio has been captured on video (eg me doing a count-in, if I remembered...).

Once all the video is lined up with the WAV audio, the video audio is turned off and then it's just a matter of arranging the videos on the screen to make something vaguely entertaining. With my ageing PC, PD14 struggles to preview my constructed video once it has more than a few elements in it. Video timing appears to go badly awry which is frustrating, and sometimes you just have to render the final video and hope for the best.

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