I am closing in on my “final” ideal studio setup, so I will document it as I lock down each part, as it has been years in the making…
A while ago I ditched my AVID interfaces and changed over to MOTU. This was motivated by a few things, but one was the move to using ProTools Ultimate Native, which Avid at last provided full functionality to… But not quite full. The first Ultimate Native versions had a fixed limit on the total IO, of 32 physical inputs and outputs. While this might not seem a huge issue, it did stitch me up as the two main MOTU interfaces I went with were the 1248 and A16, with AVB/ethernet connection between them. But not only did AVID limit the max IO, it also did not allow editing of the IO, so if I used the 1248 as my primary interface, ProTools would grab and assign every input and output, including all the ones I did not want to use. So for the last year I had no choice but to use the A16 interface as primary, as it has 16 analog inputs and 16 outputs and that’s it, nothing else for ProTools to auto-assign. I then ran the 1248 across AVB and could choose which io from the 1248 went into the AVB streams and via the A16 to ProTools.
One of the more recent ProTools Ultimate releases at last did away with this IO restriction.
So today I swapped my interfaces back to how I originally wanted them:
1. The MOTU 1248 is my primary interface.
This 1248 provides 8 analog inputs, 8 analog outputs, 4 mic inputs, 2 guitar inputs and SPDIF in and out.
2. The MOTU A16 is the secondary interface.
It provides 16 analog inputs (for synths and outboard) and 16 analog outputs (for outboard, plus two outputs drive an InnerClock Sync Gen Pro)
The A16 interface is also on the opposite side of the room from my Mac, near to all my synths and half of my outboard, so its great to only have to run an Ethernet cable across to it.
3. The third interface is a MOTU 828mk3 and is attached via ADAT lightpipe to the 1248, which provides another 8 analog inputs and 8 analog outputs for outboard – tape echo, spring, BBD DDL, filters etc
4. The fourth interface is a MOTU 828mk3 and it is attached via ADAT lightpipe to the A16. This interface lives in a rack beside my modular synth. All audio from my modsynth goes to a Toft ATB 24/8/2 analog desk (which has enough headroom to handle modular synth levels) and I use the Tofts 8 bus outputs to premix and send the modular synth in 8 split tracks down lightpipe to the A16 and then across AVB to the 1248 and into my Mac. Of course I can also send 8 channels of audio from ProTools to the same 828 when I want to process sounds in my modular.
Sounds a bit complicated right?
Well, I had it all basically working well in the old config, but every time I dive into the MOTU routing matrix it feels like trying to sit a MENSA IQ test, after being out all night on a bender. Everything looks like it ‘should’ make sense, but…
Today I swapped the positions of 1248 and the A16 to how I always intended them, and then spent two hours in the MOTU patch matrix scratching my head and cursing, testing outputs via sending quiet white noise to each output one by one, and then patching the LemonDrop into every input.
OMFG! IT ALL WORKS!!
I HAZ AUDIO, EVERYWHERE!!
The only remaining steps are:
– get a couple more short 8 channel balanced cable looms, so all I/O is accessible via normalized patchbays.
– label all physical inputs and outputs
– label all ProTools inputs and outputs.
This last step is going to be invaluable, especially when I want to stay in ‘musician’ mode and not ‘tech/engineer’ mode.
A16 1-2 becomes A16 1-2 Korg SV1
A16 3-4 becomes A16 3-4 Hydraynth
A16 5 becomes A16 5 SH101
A16 6 becomes A16 6 Buchla Easel
A16 7-8 becomes A16 7-8 CR8000
A16 9-10 becomes A16 9-10 MKS80
A16 11 becomes A16 11 DBass9
A16 12 becomes A16 12 TT303
A16 13-14 becomes A16 13-14 ULT DS1
A16 15-16 becomes A16 15-16 VP9000
Next I’ll lock down the MIDI config, but it is really centred around the Cirklon. In this respect I have two modes of use, first with the Cirklon as master, which is how I currently use it. Cirklon can drive every synth in my studio, with super tight sync and when I’m ready I record everything into ProTools in one go. All happily locked together.
But the second mode is really the holy grail and most difficult to achieve without drift: to have ProTools (or ableton LIVE) as master and the Cirklon follow it. Naive old me would have just thought to set the Cirklon to follow MTC from ProTools and all would be fine, but as everyone discovers when they cross this threshold, MTC has jitter and drifts! Why does this matter? Overdubs! if you cannot lock your hardware sequencer to your DAW with sample accuracy and no drift, then you cannot use that sequencer to overdub into an existing piece of music! I am all for recording my jams in one pass, but to evolve my music projects I also need to be able to revisit them, and overdub new elements to existing sessions.
So that is where the Innerclock Sync Gen becomes a necessity. It works as a plugin in your session, and it outputs a sample accurate audio clock on one channel, and a start/stop pulse on a second output. These two signals go into the Sync Gen hardware, which then outputs rock solid MTC that the Cirklon will lock to, and distribute sync to all that it is controlling, including providing sync and reset etc to my modular synth.
There is going to be one unholy racket coming from my house the day this is all fully working!
And that day is rapidly approaching, next week even!
Related to all this, I have been so enjoying jamming with the Cirklon! Even just running a sequence with the CR8000, Hydrasynth and SH101 locked together is a hypnotic buzz! I remember Benji B ages ago mentioning on his BBC radio show how he had a conversation with Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, about how they worked in the studio when making eg the Rhythm & Sound tracks, and he said that when they had a rhythm locked down for a tune, they would often run it for like 16 hours without a break! And I can see why… when you find a big sparse heavy groove it is such a pleasure to live inside it, making subtle tweaks but also sometimes doing nothing other than listening and trying ideas on top of it.
Got to say I love the idea of running those four mic channels through to my vibraphone, piano etc too!
And then: build the master ProTools session template!