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When recording direct input instrument audio using Ableton, my recording is plagued with a terrible noise interference that sounds like the clicks and movements of my PCs internal Hard Disk drive. This noise is relatively subtle, but when using VST amplification effects with drive or distortion (such as those found in Guitar Rig, or in some DAWs) the noise becomes so severe that it makes the audio useless for any music production. To me, the noise sounds different from a low frequency hum or constant buzz. This noise is, somehow, directly related to my computer's hard drive movement noises.

Here's some information on my setup and various test setups that I've used to try to eliminate this interference:

  • Guitars (Both single-coil and humbucking pick-ups tested. No significant change.) [TS cable running from guitar to...]
  • Inexpensive DI Box (LiveWire PDI. Bought for this issue. No significant change.) [XLR cable running from DI Box to...]
  • M-Audio Delta1010LT PCI Audio Interface.
  • Audio is being recorded using Ableton and NI Guitar Rig 5.

[Just yesterday I had a friend bring over his Focusrite Saffire FireWire Audio Interface in order to test to see if the interface itself was the problem. Unfortunately, the noise continued to exist in the signal... I completely removed the Delta1010LT from my computer when testing my friend's Saffire.]

My PC, Monitors, Speakers, etc. are all plugged into 2 surge protectors which are plugged into two adjacent power sockets on the same 2-socket wall power outlet. Both of the surge protectors have ground indication lights, which are lit up.

Finally, I should also mention that the interference only occurs when recording (and playback of said recordings). Playing back audio from synth/sampler VSTs, youtube videos, games, other people's music, etc. is always fine and without interference. The interference occurs only when I record audio and playback the audio that I've recorded on this setup.

What steps can I take to remove or greatly reduce this strange hard-drive noise from my audio recordings?

edit: Here's a quick sample recording of the noise. (Recorded in Ableton, using some drive from Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5 VST.)

edit: AND here's a second recording of the horrible noise pattern. This is broken into 3 chunks. In the first chunk, it's telecaster -> DI -> interface -> DAW -> GuitarRig.. In the second chunk I removed the guitar from the equation. The noise changed, but if you listen carefully you can still hear that same interference pattern! In the third and final chunk I removed the DI box as well, so it's only the internal PCI audio interface, the DAW, and GituarRig!

https://soundcloud.com/katanaswordfish/recording-noise-sample

This noise is killing me! Any ideas how I can fix this?

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You can upload your sample to Soundcloud and then link to the soundcloud file. It will then render itself inline. Check out this meta post. –  JoshP Oct 15 '12 at 12:34
    
Please do upload the sample. "Like a hard drive" seems to me most likely to originate from a computer's switching power supply – a very common problem, but usually turns up only when using unsymmetric lines between an interface that's connected to the computer's power supply's ground, and another device that has its own grounding, which doesn't seem to be the case in your setup. –  leftaroundabout Oct 15 '12 at 13:29
    
Since you're recording the guitars directly from the guitars output and not actually recording the guitars using a microphone, I don't see how anything would be picking up any of the noise you're describing. I don't think your pickups would do that either... have you tried it without using the DI Box? –  Travis Dtfsu Crum Oct 15 '12 at 14:35
    
One thing you can do, and it's probably easier than it sounds though I know it's fairly radical is to swap your hard drive. You would do this by imaging your current drive to another drive. The method would depend on the imaging software which you'd need to research. I've used Rdrive image in the past and found it good. Then once you have it imaged you should be able to swap the drives and run some tests. If the problem is still there then you know it can't be the physical hard drive. You will ultimately probably have to remove pieces of the system one at a time like this to deduce the issue. –  byronyasgur Oct 15 '12 at 19:32
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You don't mention if you tested recording audio without any cables, connections and equipment attached (just guitar rig and the effects enabled) –  horatio Oct 16 '12 at 16:10

1 Answer 1

Yup, that's definitely switching–power-supply bursts. (Has nothing whatsoever to do with hard drives, though it may sound somewhat similar.)

How exactly this gets in the signal path I don't know, but you might be able to eliminate it by changing your grounding configuration. One thing to try is to directly connect the interface to ground, for instance by connecting an unused TRS input of the interface to any jack of a turned-off (but mains–plugged-in) guitar amp. That sometimes has an effect for external (USB or FireWire) interfaces, for an internal PCI one I'm afraid it's less likely. Similarly, you could try to ground the DI-Box by connecting its link output to a guitar amp (in fact, that's quite usually done anyway when recording guitars: one channel DI, one channel amp mic).

Your computer's power supply is almost certainly grounded, however the problem might vanish if you remove the ground connection. I would not recommend this, though, it's just a (very unsafe) last resort that will sometimes fix such noise problems, but might as well worsen them.

As for the DI-Box, this seems to be a passive model? (Couldn't now find any details through Google, though... seems to be a really cheap no-name thing?) Passive DIs aren't really suited for high-impedance passive instruments such as electric guitar, they tend to have quite a substantial effect on the pickups' response. A normal active DI probably won't fix your problem, either, but a proper preamp might; for instance I like using my Presonus TubePre, which also gives a nice natural soft overdrive. With such a preamp, you can put the gain on the interface much lower; if that's where the noise comes in its level in the recording should then be so low that an ordinary noise gate can well deal with it.

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Interesting. Thanks for the info. Does this problem come from bad grounding inside my PC or something? Also, I should probably note that I built my own PC. Maybe something inside isn't grounded correctly? Unfortunately I don't know that much about electricity and grounding. - Also, the DI box is a super cheap (maybe 20-30usd) LiveWire Direct Box that I picked up one night from my local 'giant music store'. I spent ages trying to solve this, and I decided to experiment with the DI box in hopes that it would help. I believe it's passive and it has a 'ground lift' switch... –  MrKatSwordfish Oct 17 '12 at 5:58
    
In a custom-built PC it's of course more possible that something's wrong with the internal grounding, but still hardly likely: the power supply certainly has a C13/C14 input that's properly connected to its shielding, which in turn should inevitably ground the entire PC by only attaching it to the housing with the correct screws. –  leftaroundabout Oct 17 '12 at 9:33

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