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Digital audio workstation
Files can be easily imported into your favorite digital audio workstation software for actual editing and mixing, as is shown here.

Capturing Audio for Video: Make Redundancy Part of Workflow

Even if you’d had good success with your DAWs stability up to this point, don’t assume it will always be flawless. At a minimum, you want a second ingest solution just to be safe.

About a year ago, I wrote on the benefit of having a separate mix dedicated for broadcast purposes (such as streaming), and on the importance of ambient microphones to pick up the “feel” of the room, for those who are watching from afar. Those are both key to providing a great broadcast experience.

In this piece, I want to spend some time focusing on technologies you might use to actually ingest (capture) your audio for later editing and mixing, whether that be for television, podcast, or any other audio or video format. 

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never had Pro Tools crash on me before…” If that’s the case, consider yourself very lucky.

I’m a big supporter of redundancy. With any of the technologies we’ll cover  here, keep in mind that it’s always wise to have two, or even three, systems ingesting your audio, in case one experiences a hiccup. 

One of the most common capture methods is via a traditional digital audio workstation, or DAW, and its software, such as Pro Tools by Avid or Nuendo by Steinberg (to name just a couple of examples, out of the many excellent products on the market today).

The biggest advantage to capturing multitrack audio this way, is that you’re already prepared to edit and mix it, once the recording is complete. This can be a real timesaver and is a natural workflow for many people.

Additionally, many facilities already have a DAW in place, so it often becomes the default choice.

One of the downsides, though, is that DAWs tend to be less stable than simpler solutions.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I’ve never had Pro Tools crash on me before…” If that’s the case, consider yourself very lucky.

All DAWs can be temperamental at times, partly because it’s a complex function running on a complicated operating system (whether you’re running it on a Mac, PC, or on Linux).

Even if you’d had good success with your DAWs stability up to this point, don’t assume it will always be flawless. At a minimum, you want a second ingest solution just to be safe.

When capturing with a DAW, there are a few main ways to get multichannel audio in and out. The first is via a USB connection, which exists on many newer consoles. These typically support about 32 channels of audio, which is often sufficient, for when the input count is reasonable (although what constitutes “reasonable,” is certainly user-specific).

The downside to using this method, though, is that it is much harder to have any sort of redundancy.

The next step up from a USB connection, and a logical one, given the prevalence of this technology today, is using one of the Audio Over IP protocols. Dante, for example, allows audio to travel over traditional computer networks, with up to 512 channels available using Gigabit Ethernet.

Each device (in this case, DAW), can usually have 64 channels routed to it, which makes for a pretty reasonable and flexible multitrack solution. On the DAW itself, you only need an inexpensive license of Dante Virtual Soundcard to take advantage of it.

Another option to consider is the Waves SoundGrid protocol, which requires that your console have an appropriate card installed. However, it offers 128 channels of connectivity over Ethernet, which is significant.

Sometimes, a network-based solution isn’t appropriate, either because your channel count requirement is much higher, or because you don’t have or want the infrastructure required for Audio Over IP. In that case, the more traditional solution is MADI. MADI connections carry up to 64 channels (at 48kHz) over one connection, and you can get several MADI connections into a computer, with the appropriate hardware.

The DAWs at Lakewood Church in Houston, for example, have three-port MADI cards, which can yield up to 192 channels of I/O per computer. MADI is a point-to-point digital protocol, much like connecting any traditional audio line to your console.

In other words, it requires direct connections between devices, and requires a dedicated MADI router if you want to mix and match signals from different MADI streams. In this way, it’s less flexible than using network-based protocol, but it’s also highly reliable.

On the subject of DAWs, I want to point out one of my favorite pieces of software for multitrack ingest and virtual sound check: Waves Tracks Live. This is a free piece of software that provides a no-frills solution to recording and playing back multitrack audio on a computer. It provides no options to route audio or otherwise accidentally mess up the recording signal flow, so it’s nearly impossible to make a mistake and end up with an unusable recording.

Files can then be easily imported into your favorite DAW software for actual editing and mixing. You can use this with any of the audio connectivity options cited above, so it makes a nice, reliable addition to your toolbox.

Now that we’ve considered DAWs, and a few ways to get audio in and out of them, let’s look at a hardware-based solution. I’m always a fan of using the simplest approach when we’re talking about mission critical functions, hence my recommendation of Waves Tracks Live, if you’re going to use a computer for ingest.

By comparison, though, I sometimes like dedicated hardware options even more. One of my favorite products is the Tascam DA-6400. This box can handle 64 tracks of recording and playback onto removable hard drives and offers MADI and Dante connectivity options. It records in WAV format, so importing the files into your DAW is very straightforward and can even be done over the network. You can connect several units together, if you need higher track counts, as at Lakewood we use three. In that case, you’d want them all to chase incoming timecode, so that the files would line up properly in your DAW later.

There are several other manufacturers who make similar products, so if you also like the idea of a simple hardware solution to multitrack recording, I recommend looking into it.

There’s a lot of peace of mind that comes from knowing your capture system is as stable as possible. However, whichever platform you choose, I must reiterate the importance of redundancy. It’s only a matter of time before something will fail, so it’s important that one be prepared when it does.

I recommend a combination of software-based and dedicated hardware ingest solutions, to give you both convenience and maximum stability.

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