An Introduction to Using Professional Audio Equipment

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An Introduction to Using Professional Audio Equipment

The move from tape to digital has spawned a whole new era of audio recording. These days, artists ranging from major-label pop stars to indie rock denizens to bedroom troubadours are committing their art to eternity. As musicians and music enthusiasts alike have learned the complexities of multiple instruments, including electric guitars and MIDI keyboards, so have they taken to the intricacies of professional audio equipment.

Professional recording studios are alive and well; however, the home-based studio has exploded in popularity. As amateur and expert sound engineers build and operate recording studios, the need comes for them to identify, purchase, and maximise professional audio equipment.. Standard components of a professional recording studio include digital audio workstations, amplifiers, monitors, microphones, audio interfaces, and software programmes such as Pro Tools. Although big-box music stores are likely to carry a range of products, an internet aggregator such as eBay often has the greatest inventory at the best prices. After assessing their needs and researching their options, audio enthusiasts are prepared to make a smart purchase and go on to use professional audio equipment like the pros.

Professional Audio Equipment Defined

The realm of professional audio is a broad one, and can incorporate home and professional studio recordings as well as live event support. Amongst the tasks enabled by professional audio equipment are audio mastering, audio sampling, radio and television broadcast, concert and DJ performances, public address, and surround sound movie theatres. The variety of equipment that falls under the professional audio equipment umbrella, too, is vast, and ranges from recording devices to mixing consoles,, microphones to amplifiers, and multi-track recording devices to speakers. Some of the more common components are discussed below.

Digital Audio Workstations

The first step in building a professional recording studio is to obtain a digital audio workstation,, or DAW. This system enables the recording, editing, and playback of digital audio. Whereas early models were external systems, today’s DAW is more often a software program on a computer, interfaced with corresponding hardware.

The integrated DAW is a single device with four distinct elements: audio converter, control surface, data storage, and mixing console. While these tools were more common before the innovations in personal computer recording capacity, they may still be found in some studios. The more popular and contemporary option, however, is the computer-based DAW. In this format, the computer itself becomes the digital audio workstation, enhanced by internal sound card or external audio interface, digital audio editor software such as Pro Tools, and one or more input devices.

Amplifiers

When recording or playing back music, an audio amplifier is absolutely essential. Without its signal being picked up and magnified, the sound would be muted and difficult to hear. Low-power audio amplifiers, or preamps, perform the initial tasks of equalising, toning, and mixing the audio signal. This, in turn, is passed along to the power amplifier, which delivers audio to loudspeakers and subsequently to the human ear. Amongst the more important aspects an audio power amplifier brings to the sound are the distortion, frequency response, gain, and noise. Depending on the level of sound desired, a preamp may not be necessary, although it is helpful when dealing with multiple input sources.

Monitors

As with much professional audio equipment, what works well in a studio may not translate well to the stage, and vice versa. Therefore, it is important to purchase the right monitor for the intended use.

Studio Monitors

Studio monitors come in both powered and unpowered models. Simply put, one powers itself, largely through built-in speaker-cabinet amplification, which removes the need to purchase a separate amplifier; the unpowered studio monitor,, on the other hand, does require a supplemental amplifier. This unpowered version is more problematic, including issues with improper cooling or cables, output level control, and connectivity complications. The power amplifier is more of a plug-and-play unit, which eliminates the need for an engineer to manually adjust for wattage, overload, crossovers, and damping. Monitor placement in the studio is an important part of getting the sound right, so it is worth a bit of research to optimise the recording process.

Stage Monitors

When purchasing monitors for the studio, buyers have a choice between two types: powered and unpowered. Taking the sound to a live stage, however, presents an entirely new set of options. In general, a professional audio engineer or musician should consider the following three types of stage monitors: stage wedge, side-fill, and stand-mounted. In some instances, in-ear monitoring is worth addressing as well.
In addition to the above-mentioned stage monitors, another frequent consideration is in-ear monitors, which provide audio feedback that is even more up close and personal.

Type of Monitor

Features

Stage wedge

Positioned on the floor in front of the performers; tilts up, letting the individual musicians hear what they are playing

Side-fill

Larger monitor placed at the side of the stage; delivers a truer sound to the players on stage, a rough mix incorporating all instruments and vocals

Stand-mounted

Smaller monitors situated atop poles; height allows them to be placed closer to the performer’s ears

Microphones and Mic Preamps

The selection of microphones varies based upon whether the mic is used live or in the studio. There are three types of microphones, dynamic, condenser, ribbon, and USB, with different ones working best for different instruments or vocal sounds. The less sensitive dynamic microphone is generally the most affordable, and is best used with electric guitars and drums. A condenser mic, on the other hand, preserves a truer source fidelity than does the dynamic one. Condenser mics are available in both tube and solid-state models.

Many musicians today still choose the old-style ribbon microphone,, which gained popularity in the golden age of radio. In addition to their long-standing commercial success, ribbon mics have regained a foothold in the studio environment as well as on stage. Finally, while the USB microphone does all of the things a traditional mic does, it also includes an analogue-to-digital converter and an onboard preamp. A USB mic connects directly to a mixer or an external mic preamp, easily enabling digital recording.

When selecting a microphone for a recording studio setting, adding a pop filter to the shopping cart is a worthy accessory. This eliminates the bursts of air that invariably emerge from singers’ lips as they enunciate certain syllables or sounds.

Headphones

To hear the nuances of what is being played and recorded, a sound engineer needs a quality pair of headphones.. In general, headphone selection comes down to the fit: some audio engineers prefer a more open feel and delivery, while others appreciate a more closed-in, sealed experience. Also known as “around the ear” headphones, circumaural models comfortably and fully encircle the ear. The insulated sound is true and consistent through multiple sessions. By contrast, supra-aural headphones rest atop the ear. Since they do not provide a seal, these headphones may not deliver the same sound from one wearing to the next.

Closed, or sealed, headphones offer the truest, most distinct sound, as they keep all other noises out. Some wearers have noted, however, that they are not comfortable over long periods. Moreover, as open-air headphones let in outside sound and do not ensure a true listening experience, they are not recommended for recording studios, but rather for casual music listening.

Audio Interfaces

Many people use a computer for recording, mixing, mastering, or playback; as such, it is necessary to connect the audio sources to the computer. This is accomplished through the use of an audio interface. In general, an audio interface offers additional features such as microphone preamplifiers and line inputs, and is responsible for converting analogue audio to digital. While it is true that computers have built-in sound cards, these are far inferior; most engineers who are serious about their craft quickly recognise the need for an audio interface.

Pro Tools

Without a doubt, Pro Tools is the most-used and best-loved digital music production software. When paired with the appropriate hardware, such as a quality computer and input devices, Pro Tools enables engineers both professional and casual to master the skills of recording, editing, mixing, and mastering. The software offers a range of functionality and audio effects, and is fully compatible with MIDI, loops, and samples.

Pro Tools is available for both PC and Mac systems, with files fully editable on any system that runs the software. Three Pro Tools systems are available, each intended to match an engineer’s level of expertise: the more basic Pro Tools LE, the M-Audio-compatible Pro Tools M-Powered, and the advanced Pro Tools HD. Common hardware pairings include those with M-Audio and Digidesign.

How to Use Professional Audio Equipment

Before learning how to use professional audio equipment, engineers must first determine what equipment they need. This is dictated by what they want to accomplish. Assuming the equipment is used in a recording studio, the next determination is the primary genre of music to be preserved, as this helps dictate equipment needs. Also important are the space selection and preparation, including the addition of noise-dampening foam to reduce echo and reverberation.

Once the audio equipment is assembled, one is ready to set up the digital audio workstation, as everything feeds into this central hub. With the DAW in place, the engineer can record, edit, distort, and assemble audio on a computer. Although multiple digital audio software programmes are available, by far the most popular is Pro Tools.

The next step is to connect the microphone to the DAW with an audio interface.. Without the interface, the sound signals would not be transferable to the computer’s data files. The most functional audio interfaces offer not only XLR input jacks but also line-in jacks. Once all equipment and inputs are connected, the audio engineer is ready to record.

While volume and other levels can be controlled live via the digital mixing console,, many of the ultimate adjustments are made after the session. This tool allows for both mixing and equalising, or adjusting the low-, mid-, and high-level frequencies. After the song has been mixed, audio mastering equipment is used to perfect the volume levels and overall sound quality. In theory, pushing volume levels to the top delivers the best sound.

How to Buy Professional Audio Equipment on eBay

Professional audio equipment is available everywhere: in major record studios, neighbourhood joints, and home recording setups. While specific audio equipment varies depending on the environment and purpose, a few items are fairly standard; these include the digital audio workstation (DAW), amplifiers,, monitors, microphones, headphones, and audio interfaces. Although at first the array of options may appear dizzying, in truth there are plenty of opportunities to learn, ask questions, and receive advice.

Once you have determined the appropriate equipment for your specific needs, you can link to eBay and survey the available inventory. Readily available on the site are amplifiers, monitors, and microphones, both new and used, from countless sellers and manufacturers. Undoubtedly, you can find more than one option to meet your professional audio equipment needs, allowing you to compare product condition, price, shipping terms, and seller feedback. If you so desire, you can view results only from eBay’s Top-rated Sellers, or utilise eBay Local to find a seller in your area.

Conclusion

Long gone are the days when bands were forced to utilise an expensive recording studio if they wanted to put their music to tape. Instead, as computer use has grown and its capabilities expanded exponentially, much of the recording studio functionality has moved to the digital arena. Instead of using expensive, time-consuming, reel-to-reel tape as in days past, engineers today can record everything to computer, manipulating the sound digitally until they achieve the ideal recording.

This new digital functionality has opened the door to a new breed of recording engineers, including home-based and amateur ones. In most situations, however, professional audio equipment, in some form, remains a necessity. Therefore, it is important for new and seasoned audio engineers alike to research their options, make smart purchasing choices, and learn how to get the most out of their investment. By doing their homework, these eBay buyers are able to find their perfect solution, one they soon learn to use and master.

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