A.3. Sound studio accessories
The following accessories are essential to good recording and production in the studio. Since these accessories are not the big-ticket items, they are often overlooked. Do not make the mistake of spending a few thousand dollars on mixers and microphones and then get cheap cables or headphones.
Good studio reference headphones let you hear subtle details and noises that are difficult to detect with studio monitors. Several sets of high-quality headphones that completely cover the ears are necessary for voice-over recording sessions and critical sound-editing applications. Headphones also serve as a monitoring system during recording sessions where a live microphone is in the same vicinity as your studio reference monitors. Do not use cheap headphones. For under $100, buy the industry favorite, Sony MDR-7506 or AKG headphones.
A.3.2. High-quality cables
Cables are the last item anyone wants to spend money on, but considering that they transmit all the electrical signals in the studio, it is worth the extra money to buy high-quality cables with reinforced connectors and proper shielding. Cheap, poor quality cables produce noise and interference, and they break frequently.
Do not buy cheap cables. One bad cable can ruin an entire recording session and render all your high-quality gear useless. If you are adept at electronics and soldering, the best option is to buy long runs of specialized audio cables for all your studio components and attach the appropriate XLR or 1/4 connector yourself for each length of cable. This is generally the technique for large professional studios where hundreds of audio cables are needed. Look for Mogami audio cables -- they have a reputation for manufacturing the best cables in the industry.
If you are configuring a large-scale studio, you will have to special-order audio cables direct from the manufacturer or from a distributor such as Markertek at http://www.markertek.com. For small studios, it is easier to buy premade high-quality cables. For premade cables, you should expect to pay anywhere from $20 to $30 each.
A.3.3. Sound libraries
A set of sound effects CDs is an indispensable tool for any sound designer under tight deadline or budget constraints. We cannot tell you the number of times that a soundtrack called for a particular, hard-to-capture sound that would have been nearly impossible to get ourselves if it were not for sound libraries. It may be a bus traveling down the street, or a bird singing on cue for exactly 11 seconds, or even a particular door slam or footstep sound. For each of these noises, we could go right to our sound libraries, import the desired sound into our editor, and be done.
You can purchase high-quality, royalty-free professional sound effects CDs for $50 to $100 for approximately 90 minutes of sounds or upwards of $1,000 for an entire collection. The Hollywood Edge offers some of the best production sound libraries in the industry. In fact, we use The Hollywood Edge "Premiere Edition" sound effects for all our sound design projects at Raspberry Media. A sampling of 80 royalty-free sounds can be found at http://www.designingwebaudio.com.
For a low-cost alternative, you can download audio clips from a variety of web sites that provide free or low-cost sound effects. A few are listed in Section A.4, "Web resources" in this appendix. Beware: cheap sound effects packages generally contain poorer-quality audio files with more noise and glitches than high-end packages.
A.3.4. Disk repair and optimization utilities
If you do any hard-disk recording, you will need to optimize your hard drive at least once a month, if not every week. It is always a good idea to optimize your hard disk before an important recording session. Due to the speed that hard drives read and write digital audio files, it is highly critical that there is enough contiguous hard disk space for each recording session. Fragmented disks are the leading cause of audio system crashes and error warnings. Norton Utilities is the industry standard for hard drive repairs and optimization.
A.3.5. Audio plug-ins and utilities
With the steady rise of hard-disk-based recording and editing, more and more effects processing is being done internally with software. An ever-increasing number of outboard analog equipment manufactories, such as Lexicon, Focusrite, and dbx, and traditional audio software companies, such as Waves and Audio Ease, have introduced digital software plug-ins for Pro Tools and other hard-disk recording applications. Internal software plug-ins allow you to keep the audio signal entirely in the digital domain from recording to editing to final mix-down.
The most useful plug-in or utility you will want to purchase is a batch conversion and processing application such as Waves' Wave Convert Pro or Audio Ease's BarbaBatch. Both batch processors convert Macintosh and PC audio files between sample rates, word lengths, channels (stereo/mono) and file types (AIFF, SDII, .wav, .ra, .swa, QuickTime) while retaining optimal sound quality. As well as converting sound files to alternate file formats, they perform dynamics effects such as normalization, equalization, and peak limiting.
Wave Convert Pro from Waves runs native on Macintosh and is available for Windows 98 (http://www.waves.com). BarbaBatch runs on Macintosh (http://www.audioease.com).
A.3.6. Pop screens
Pop screens are essential for reducing wind and explosive P's and S's in voice-over recording sessions. A pop-screen is a circular hoop with a thin nylon material that rests directly between the speaker's mouth and the microphone. Pop screens may be found in most music stores. In a pinch, you can get away with using a homemade method that many engineers have used in the past before pop screens were manufactured. Take a nylon stocking and stretch it over a framing device, such as a bent metal clothes hanger or embroidery hoop, and then tape it to the mic stand with duct tape.
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