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Appendix A. Creating the Ultimate Web Sound Studio: Buyers Guide and Web Resources

This buyers guide was developed as a result of the many interviews we conducted with web audio experts. The feedback was unanimous: with high-fidelity audio frequently compressed and degraded during conversion to web audio formats, the need to capture high-quality source material is essential.

Using the proper equipment and tools is one sure way to increase the quality of your source material. If you are a web professional with little audio engineering experience, the information in this appendix will help you purchase and configure the best possible audio production equipment and software suited to your needs.

Not all audio equipment is created equal. There is a big difference in quality between the inexpensive audio equipment found at your neighborhood electronics shop versus the high-end professional audio gear found at retailers catering exclusively to audio professionals. It is no coincidence that audio professionals highly value their tools. It takes good equipment in the right studio environment to consistently capture a great musical performance or a voice-over take. It is nearly impossible to take a bad recording with noise and distortion and turn it into a pristine, professional-sounding masterpiece, especially when faced with the compression formats used for web delivery. The proper web sound studio will help you achieve more professional results. For more tips on creating a suitable studio, see Chapter 3, "Capturing Original Source Material".

A.1. Creating the ultimate web sound studio

The key to building the ultimate web sound studio is to select professional-grade equipment that captures the highest fidelity audio while avoiding equipment that adds noise and low-level distortion. Professional gear should have balanced XLR inputs (large, three-pin connectors) instead of 1/4-inch or RCA jacks, built-in power supplies instead of external "wall warts," and high-grade, sturdy electrical components that resist age and rust.

This appendix outlines the standard equipment, software, and accessories used for professional web audio production and sound design. Where appropriate, each featured professional grade studio component is listed with a "pro option," along with its manufacturer's "list" price versus its "street" price. Keep in mind that these prices are as of June 2000. The professional grade equipment listed in this appendix is targeted at a reasonable, small-scale audio production studio budget of $25,000. Many professional studios used for film scoring and music recording spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on equipment. If you just want to add some audio to your site, the budget option targets the home studio builder with a budget of a few thousand dollars.

Street value prices are constantly fluctuating and may vary from store to store depending on the retailer's wholesale purchase price. Many retail chains offer "loss-leader" discount prices on certain items to get you into the store so they can sell you other, more expensive items. The street value prices in this appendix do not reflect this pricing.

It's the technique, not the tools

Although this buyers guide emphasizes the importance of having great equipment, you do not always need the most expensive gear to get the results you want. Good recording and editing techniques are often far more important than expensive equipment. Some of the best web audio was produced on inexpensive "prosumer" gear. So if you have a limited budget, you can still get high-quality results with a little ingenuity and skill.

However, if you are not sure you can pull recording miracles out of a custom, re-engineered $30 Radio Shack microphone, then spend the money and use professional grade equipment.

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