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DonutTime Production Notes


Project Objective:

To be able to do environmental recordings (e.g. espresso coffee making and narrative voice). To be able to edit and process the recorded sound files creatively and produce the final versions as an audio CD and an MP3 file for web delivery.

Recording equipment:

Sony Portable MiniDisc Recorder MZ-R70, includes headset, rechargeable battery and AC adapter.

Sony ECM-MS907 Condenser Stereo Microphone, includes windscreen and stand.

Recording Medium: Sony MiniDisc 74 min CD-RW discs.

Extra Miscellaneous Equipment: 6 ft male-male mini plug analog cable, blank CD-R discs for audio CD production.

Software:

Sound Forge XP 4.5 (Sonic Foundry) for sound processing, editing.

ProTools Free 5.0.1 (DigiDesign) for non-destructive multi track sound editing and MP3 file conversions.

Easy CD Creator Deluxe 4.0 -- for burning CD audio discs.

Discussion:

First of all I bought some really great sound recording equipment: the Sony Portable MiniDisc Recorder MZ-R70 which is palm sized and uses these tiny CD-RW discs which hold 74 min stereo recorded at standard CD quality of 16 bit, 44,100 Hz. These discs are rewritable which is great. I also bought the Sony ECM-MS907 Condenser Stereo Microphone which has a switch on it to record at either 90 degree (for voice) or 120 degree (for environmental) and is made to work with the MiniDisc Recorder via a mini plug connector. I am absolutely astonished at the quality and recording capacity of this microphone. I stood out on my porch during the rain shortly after purchasing it and recorded for 5 minutes while the rain hit the awning, the patio and the shrubs. In the back corner of the yard a hummingbird was sitting on a branch and chirping. The microphone caught all of that in complete clarity and even the car sounds way out front came in as well. The MiniRecorder headphones played back the sounds as if I was actually there. The recorder cost $199 and the microphone $99 at The Good Guys. I also needed to purchase blank mini discs which cost $24.99 for a pack of ten. The microphone also needs one AA battery. The one disappointment with this MiniDisc Recorder is that it does NOT have digital output capability so that meant I had to buy a separate mini plug analog cable to download the sounds into my computer. Although the sound quality of the analog transferred sounds was still very good with this sound degrading intermediary step, I still would like to see a way to keep the entire process digital to ensure highest possible quality. I did some research and found that there are professional mini disc recorders which take digital input from all types of jacks, etc. See: http://www.minidisco.com for all the gear. Of course these recorders cost around $1500 so that put a damper on my enthusiasm.

Once the recordings of the coffee making were complete I downloaded the files via an analog mini jack cable from the headphone output on the mini disc recorder to the line-in mini jack plug on my SoundBlaster PCI 128 sound card. The sounds were transferred to the computer in real time, playing them at highest volume on the mini disc recorder and recording simultaneously with my sound editing software, Sound Forge XP 4.5.

I edited the coffee making process from the original 12 minute recording length into a much shorter more concise file of 5 minutes. That was about the intended length for my entire project. The last part of the coffee making sound file is a close up recording of the sounds of the steamed milk foam bubbles popping which are actually quite raucous! You can hear the bubbles suddenly popping in waves as they trigger some sort of cascading reaction.

Since Ted and I were not able to meet to record his narrative with the above equipment, we resorted to him leaving messages on my answering machine which picked up his voice with a telephone quality microchip. These were then played in real time and recorded into Sound Forge via a little condenser microphone that has a long enough cable (than the Sony) to reach my computer. Using Sound Forge I "smoothed" out the noisy clipping sounds from the telephone recordings and copied and pasted choice segments of his dialog into a separate file for use next in ProTools. Note that his voice was recorded in mono whereas the coffee making was recorded in stereo.

ProTools has a distinct feature advantage over Sound Forge: you can lay separate sound tracks for each file and edit each one separately without disturbing the others. This feature is called "non-destructive editing" and was invaluable for me to be able to take snippets of Ted's dialog and slide them up and down in their track relative to the coffee making recording. It was very easy then to precisely time when his voice came in during the coffee making process. It was a lot of fun! Unfortunately, with Sound Forge you have actually "mix" the voice sounds into the coffee making file in order to hear the combined result which makes it extremely tedious and time-consuming to have to undo and start over each time you want to make each change. So, I would say you must have both programs in order to enjoy editing your project. ProTools alone is not enough because it has only a few sound processing effects built in, so you must have Sound Forge for creative sound editing. Also, I should mention that the free version of ProTools has only 8 editing tracks, so you must buy it in order to get the full version with many tracks. Since it has only recently been ported over to Windows from Mac, it only runs on Windows 98 and Win ME. It does NOT run on win 95 or Win 2000. I tried unsuccessfully to load it on my Win 95 system here at home and so I finally went through the overdue process of backing up my files, formatting my hard drives and loading Win ME for a fresh start. It took me three days to accomplish this huge undertaking, but it was well worth it to be able to use ProTools.

Once I completed editing the DonutTime project in ProTools the project was nearly done. The last step in ProTools is to "bounce" the files into a single complete file that is to be distributed for the listeners. I wanted to create two versions:
1) a WAV (.wav) file which is for burning with Easy CD Creator onto a CD-R to make a standard audio disc for listening in all home and car CD players.
2) an MP3 (.mp3) file for distribution from my web site. The reason for making MP3 files rather than using WAV files is that the MP3 compression algorithm has about a 10:1 compression ratio to WAV files. Get this: my final DonutTime.wav file is 57.3 MB, whereas my DonutTime.mp3 produced from the exact same source files as the .wav is only 5.2 MB!! This is what compression is all about--making files of a reasonable size for downloading over creaky modems on the net. And conserving space on my web hosted quackingduck.net account where I only get a total of 25 MB of disc space!

I also should mention that when you compress a file into something smaller than the original, some destruction of the original bits of the file is inevitable and therefore a certain amount of degradation of the sound quality takes place. This is the compromise we have to make. With that said, I must comment on how really impressed I am with how close the sound quality of the DonutTime.mp3 is to the DonutTime.wav file. It is no wonder that this compression standard has taken the web by storm. Now, when I went to "bounce" the files into the MP3 format I had some choices as to quality of the compression. I chose "best" at "128 bit rate" (which was default) and clicked ok.... well, this must've been a very high quality choice :) because the bounce took 1-1/2 hours to complete!! This, as opposed to making the .wav file which was bounced in just a few minutes (on my Celeron 300A system with 320 MB RAM). Very interesting. My instructor, Tim White suggested experimenting with different levels of quality and bit rates and settle on what has the best quality you need for the fastest possible processing time. Every project is different so you just have to try it and see. Or build (or buy if you must) a faster computer!!

Well, I hope these sound production notes have been helpful to you and if you have any comments or questions please e-mail me.

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