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Can you use audio interfaces as mixers if you connect them to a USB portable power device? And say recording into a portable recorder ie. zoom H4n?

Has anyone had any success with this or tried jimmy rigging and creating their own system?

Another idea I had was buying a cheap laptop, gluing an audio interface to the top, put the laptop in turtle mode so you can close it and have it still run, and successfully record production audio from like this?

Has anyone ever made their own portable recorder?

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3 Answers

Some audio interfaces will act as a standalone mixer. Some of the MOTU and RME units come to mind. I believe the MOTU Ultralight and the RME Fireface UFX will act as standalone mixers. With the Fireface you have to sort of set up a few preset operation configurations (routing and such) using your computer and it's software interface, then you can just select a mode of operation with the standalone. The Mbox2 will not operate standalone, none of the Digi/Avid interfaces will.

For the cost of the Fireface UFX interface, you can just buy a Sound Devices 702 and have a bit of change left over for extra CF cards and a battery. Besides that, I wouldn't want to take a Fireface UFX out of the studio if I had one. I think the MOTU might be an affordable option though. Another would be the PreSonus FireStudio Mobile.

However, this whole interface option could be a potential hassle like @g.a.harry said. It depends what else you have in your arsenal and whether you work with a boom op or solo.

Personally, just recently did location recordings with a laptop. The one thing that becomes necessary at that point is a boom op and several wireless setups as well as a shotgun or two that are battery powered.

When I did it I had my Mbox2 (2 inputs only) and a Marantz PMD660a (2 more inputs), a few wireless trans/rec pairs, 2 lavs and a battery powered Audio Technica AT897 shotgun condenser. What I was able to do was buy a small XLR - 1/8trs converter cable at the local audio shop so I could get my boom-op to be mobile. I then used two lavs, one on each of the main speaking characters. I was able to keep everything discreet without having to do any mixing besides watching the levels. I also had the output of the Marantz feeding in to Pro Tools so that way I had a backup recording of the Field recorder which acted as an additional sync reference. I was able to find a place that wasn't going to be filmed for the entire day and I set up about 10-15ft away with line of sight to the production so I could stay out of the way, but stay involved. I have to say it worked out really well. It was probably the most relaxed and smoothest time I've ever had doing location audio. With a decent rig I could very well set up everything wireless and sit back at a small foldout table and chair all day watching levels and cataloging takes. The recordings turned out quite decent as well. The Marantz is a bit noisy, but it's not anything iZotope RX can't fix if need be.

Good luck, let us know what you decide on.

Oh, one added benefit of using Pro Tools and a laptop to do location audio is that I can change my track names before recording each take and Pro Tools will name the audio file after what the track is named and then it adds a number, which if you plan out your naming conventions properly, you can even use that as the take #. So if you have the time or the speed to do this between takes, this saves you a lot of file renaming and sorting work later on.

An example of how I"ll name a few tracks in PT for location recording. I'll drop markers as I'm recording to notify clips/overs, background interferences or anything else that can be fixed. (I do this as well as writing it all down.

I might also have a "Notes" track, where I will create a blank/empty consolidated region and then rename it after anything I want to wildtrack or whetever. ie: Notes_01_WT_Knife_Flicks. All I have to do is make a selection, hit Shift+Opt/Alt+3 to consolidate and then hit Shift+CMD/Ctrl+R to rename and just amend the end of the Notes_##_Info Goes Here. I'll use stuff like WT for wildtrack.

Say the production is Dark Knight:

Translation (Pertinent info in parenthesis): (D)ark (K)night_(Lav)alier(1)(S)cene(8)/Shot(A)(T)ake_and pro tools will add the number.

Here's how I will name the tracks:

  1. DK_LAV1_S8A_T
  2. DK_LAV2_S8A_T
  3. DK_MKH70_S8A_T
  4. DK_MKH416_S8A_T
  5. WT_DX_*
  6. WT_SFX_*
  7. WT_Roomtone_*

*Need to be renamed on the fly.

Once I hit record it names the regions after what the tracks are named and will sequentially add a number at the end starting with 01, I use this as the take number and when we switch to a new take, while camera and lights are setting up I switch the track name to the new (S)Scene# and Shot Letter. Once you start recording, since you are using a new unique track name Pro Tools will start over at 01. I have them do the roomtone at the end of the takes so I don't mess up my numbering system.

When you go on break or you're done for the day you can select everything in your regions bin and hit Shift + CMD/Ctrl + K to export regions as files to back them up. It also makes it dead easy to use a thumb or external bus powered drive to give the production manager or director your production audio dailies, that way someone else has a backup as well and they're already renamed and ready to go right there on location.

Cheers!

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Fucking wicked. –  g.a.harry Jun 4 '11 at 22:59
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You should get a trolly and set everything up in that. I've boomed for a bunch of guys with that set up. Wireless booming and protable rigs are the best thing in the history of mankind. –  g.a.harry Jun 4 '11 at 23:02
    
Oh, correction, the Digi002 and 003 will run standalone. I forgot about that. –  Syndicate Synthetique Apr 16 '12 at 18:34
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Q1: I can't say it's something I've ever though about, but I'm gonna go with no. Most of the ones I've seen are software dependent. The mixer is on your laptop, controlling the interface. Just buy a cheap mixer, a 4 channel euro-rack or something.

Q2: These days the extent to which we need to Jimmy Rig stuff is really nothing more than buying a couple of converters, turnarounds, or impedance matchers. Maybe some cables or a home-made boom pole. You're still going to need a recording medium, be that an H4, an SD702, or a laptop with ProTools or Nuendo. I'm willing to bet that the kind of location audio we spend most of our time bitching about is recorded with hack'n'slash setups.

Q3: This, while a cool-ish idea, is totally impractical if you're going to be on set. Think about how long the average shot lasts. It's somewhere between 20 seconds and 3 minutes. That means that every time they yell cut, you're going to have to whip out your laptop, find somewhere to set it so you can type in take numbers and descriptions, then restart the recording and get yourself ready for the next take. And do it over again, 45 times. Nightmare.

Q4: Ummm... I watched a TED talk by a guy who tried to build his own toaster. It didn't turn out so good.

I don't know how long your production schedule is, but save yourself the monumental balls pain of putting something like that together and go rent a Sound Devices 302 Mixer, a 702T Recorder, some cables, a boom, and a mic. Renting can be expensive, but buying even the most basic system is going to cost you at least a grand.

The more random pieces you put into your system, the more random problems your going to have when individual and probably incompatible parts go tits up.

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Thanks. I was wondering if you know of somewhere that can tell me about the writing down of the audio takes or whatever. Maybe you can tell me. I thought that was the job of someone else but I have seen sound people doing it. I'm interested in expanding my recording capabilities, picking up a fostex or edirol for under a grand and grabbing a boom, pole, cables, and lav for a package. DIY seemed like another route that I wanted to check into. –  Chris Jun 4 '11 at 20:43
    
For note taking, im sure that some people have got systems set up on their phones or tablets, but you could just as easily make up a printable spreadsheet with headinge like FileName, Scene, Day, Shot, Take, Mic #, Comments, &tc. Basically anything that'll be relevant to the guys on the receiving end of your files. –  g.a.harry Jun 4 '11 at 21:14
    
@Chris - Since I rarely do location audio, I just bring a simple spiral notepad with me, or I'll bring a clipboard and just regular paper if I happen to have one. I make columns for the various info and just fill it out as I go. The columns I use are: Track #, Scene, Shot, Take #, Good Y/N, Comments. I also use my own sort of shorthand if a take has DX or SFX I might want to wildtrack. This is simply putting a star next to the track number outside the leftmost column and a small note in the comments section. Before we move location I can quickly spot it by the star and get it done. –  Syndicate Synthetique Jun 4 '11 at 22:12
    
Oh, and I write the date, location and any other technical info at the top of the page in the header section. If you do a lot of production audio or field recording it would likely be worth it to make your own similar spreadsheet in Excel and just run copies off. –  Syndicate Synthetique Jun 4 '11 at 22:14
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I have a frankenstein like portable recorder, limited to 96khz.

A Sound Devices USBPre 2 (which is also an awseome interface with Pro Tools or good additional preamps for your upcoming 744) via toslink into a Sony PCM D-50 both powered by a Tekkeon battery pack. Not really comfortable but its ok.

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