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Thread: Kristal Audio Engine - easy to use for multi-track recording and editing

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    Default Kristal Audio Engine - easy to use for multi-track recording and editing

    People don’t talk about audio recording programs too much on these forums, but recently I have been very impressed with Kristal Audio Engine. I thought I’d share some of what I found. This is a bit long, but…

    Like many people I have been using Audacity to record and edit audio, and I have found it to be very easy to learn. Recently I moved over to a two mic recording setup (one for voice, one for instrument). I wanted to be able to record each mic as a separate track and edit these tracks individually - essentially a two channel multi-track recording setup. What I found is that for this configuration, and my equipment, I prefer the Kristal Audio Engine for many reasons.

    I have been working with Kristal for about a year and it has a steeper learning curve than Audacity. To be honest at first I found it very frustrating and I thought it was clunky and very limited. I kept going back to Audacity. The reality was that I did not know how to use the program. Some YouTube tutorials helped explain how things work.

    The Kristal Audio Engine supports ASIO drivers using ASIO4ALL. This means you can move away from the Windows based audio drivers. ASIO is the driver technology behind Cubase. Audacity does not support ASIO drivers unless you recompile the latest version yourself from available source code. In addition to some added recording functionality, to my ear Kristal and the ASIO combination sounds better.

    Another area I prefer Kristal is working with VST plug-ins. Kristal recognizes the large array of free VST plug-ins. It allows you to work with them in real time as you edit, using their windows interfaces. Audacity also recognizes VST plug-ins (with a bridge program installed) but you can only “preview” the results before you apply them. You can’t hear the individual changes in real time as you add and modify the various effects or layers. Also, with Audacity, depending on the VST you are using, you may be presented with a series of slide bars and not a visual windows interface with knobs, etc.

    Kristal has all the same editing functions as Audacity (cut, paste, insert silence, move tracks, etc.). It takes a bit more time to learn how to do all this with Kristal, but once you do learn it, editing is quick and easy. Also the whole editing process in Kristal is “non-destructive”. This means that when you make changes to the WAV patterns, you are not actually changing the contents of the file. You are adding “pointers” into the file that tell the program what to do. It’s techy programming stuff, but the end result for someone editing the file is that damaging the file by an accidental step is much more difficult.

    A lot of people talk about doing multi-track recording with Audacity. What most us are really doing is a series of single track recordings (recording one instrument or vocal at a time) and then we do multi-track editing (editing and layering all these tracks together) to come up with a final recording. Real multi-track recording takes multiple inputs (multiple mics and instruments), and at the same time records each one as distinct and separate track. I find multi-track recording to be easier and more fluid with Kristal than with Audacity.

    I am using a simple two bus mixing board. This is connected to the computer using RCA stereo plugs of some type. In a nutshell this means my multi-track recordings are limited to recording two individual tracks at a time. This two track limit is fine for my uses. If you were recording more than a single vocal and one instrument at the same time, then you would need a mixer with a larger bus (4, 6, 8, 10 bus). Microphones and instrument line-ins are mono devices. With a two bus mixer what you are really doing is taking the left and right stereo channels and treating each as an independent mono signal. Those signals are then sent to the computer’s recording software. Kristal and Audacity each handle the receiving and recording of these independent signals differently.

    With a two bus mixer, regardless of which program you use, you need to set your mixing board so one mic (or line-in from the instrument) is panned full left, and the second mic (or line-in from the instrument) is panned full right. This separates each of the two input channels and isolates them from each other. This full panning is what gives us our two independent signals that become separate tracks.

    If you are using Audacity you have a choice of recording either a mono track or a stereo track. What you need to do is record your track in stereo. Since the mixing board has one input panned left, and the other input panned right, Audacity's stereo recording will pick up each of the two inputs as one of the two stereo channels. The channel on the mixing board panned full left will be the left stereo channel, and the channel on the mixing board panned full right will be the right channel.

    If you try to record mono tracks, Audacity mixes the signals from the mixing board and it comes out of both the left and right speakers/headphones. You won’t get separate voice and instrument tracks that you can edit.

    Because Audacity records these as a single stereo track, before you can edit them individually you have to split the stereo track into two tracks. Audacity will split them into a “left” and “right” track. At this point you can edit each track individually, or you can convert them to mono tracks and edit them. When the tracks are split, into “left” and “right”, one will play into the left ear and one into the right ear. To get the tracks to play across both ears you need to convert each track to mono.

    With Audacity, once you are done editing, you have to combine all the tracks into a single file. If you combine the tracks back into a stereo track before saving the file, you will still have one track panned left and one panned right. One track will be heard in one ear, and the other will be heard in the other ear. If you export the mono tracks they will combine into one single mono track, but they will merge and you will hear everything in both ears. At this point you can stop, but if you want to have a true stereo file you will need to close Audacity, open it up again, open the mono file, and then split the mono track into stereo.

    Kristal handles this entire process much more smoothly. With Kristal you start by opening each mixing board channel (left and right) as a separate and distinct mono recording track (remember that mics and instrument line-ins are mono devices and produce mono signals and not stereo signals). The ASIO4ALL drivers that Kristal can use lets you select each channel individually. You can select channel 1 only, channel 2 only, or both channels individually at the same time. When you select both channels individually, and press “record”, you are recording two separate and distinct mono tracks. Once you are done recording you have two distinct tracks that you can edit without having to split or convert them. When you play them back, each track plays back through both ears unless you specifically pan the track to the left or right in the Kristal software.

    You still have to combine the tracks with Kristal, but this is taken care of automatically when you save the file. When you go to save your file in Kristal, the program mixes all the selected tracks down for you. You are presented with the option to save it as mono recording or a stereo recording.

    Audacity is a good program, but I find that it is much easier to record multiple sources at the same time, and edit the tracks, using Kristal. It's a great setup for a home user/hobbyist.

    Kristal is free, but it only runs on Windows. Unfortunately Kristal cannot convert files to MP3 format. It is one of the few file formats Kristal cannot save into.
    Last edited by spots; 11-18-2010 at 08:36 AM.

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    Thanks for the write up. I wish we could get a subforum on recording, mixing, mic'ing etc.

    This week I wanted to start a thread on recommended condenser mics for home recording. Didn't want to add it to Uke talk and there is so little on this in the video sections.

    Thanks again.
    Mainland Mango Concert and Red Cedar Soprano, Kala KA-ASKS Soprano, KoAloha Concert, Boat Paddle Tenor, Moore Bettah Tenor, Boat Paddle Mseries Baritone

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    olgoat52,

    This sub-forum is the result folks requesting a place to talk about recording, mics, software, etc. It's just tucked far enough down that not many people see it.

    I'm not a good one to ask about condenser mics. I looked into them but determined that they weren't a good selection for my environment. I couldn't find a reasonably priced one that didn't have some level of hiss/white noise.

    I'm using two dynamic mics (Behringer XM8500). They are very affordable ($20-$30) and I think they are well made. Even more important, I really like their sound. The pre-amps on the mixing board get these plenty hot in terms of gain. They can pickup very faint sounds (hands rubbing on pants, etc.).

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    Quote Originally Posted by spots View Post
    olgoat52,

    They can pickup very faint sounds (hands rubbing on pants, etc.).
    What the hell kind of recordings are you making anyways???
    Mainland Mango Concert and Red Cedar Soprano, Kala KA-ASKS Soprano, KoAloha Concert, Boat Paddle Tenor, Moore Bettah Tenor, Boat Paddle Mseries Baritone

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    Nice writeup, spots. I haven't tried anything but Audacity yet, so its something to think about, especially now that I have a pickup in one of my ukes and am thinking of using that and voice micing separately.

    I do most of my recording and editing on my 3 year old Toshiba laptop. Its not a complete dinosaur, but I suspect its pretty slow by today's standards. I wonder how much computing power it takes to record more than one channel simultaneously? I used to notice a wee bit of lag when I would try to lay down a second track while listening, but haven't noticed it lately.
    Last edited by SweetWaterBlue; 11-18-2010 at 09:41 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by olgoat52 View Post
    What the hell kind of recordings are you making anyways???
    After I re-read that I realized I'd probably get in trouble... But since you quoted me I can't go back and fix it!

    What I meant to convey was that with a reasonable preamp, the gain on dynamic mics can be turned up enough to make them very sensitive and still have good hiss free recordings.

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    Quote Originally Posted by SweetWaterBlue View Post
    Nice writeup, spots. I haven't tried anything but Audacity yet, so its something to think about, especially now that I have a pickup in one of my ukes and am thinking of using that and voice micing separately.

    I do most of my recording and editing on my 3 year old Toshiba laptop. Its not a complete dinosaur, but I suspect its pretty slow by today's standards. I wonder how much computing power it takes to record more than one channel simultaneously? I used to notice a wee bit of lag when I would try to lay down a second track while listening, but haven't noticed it lately.
    Your 3 year old Toshiba should have plenty of power for home recording tasks. I've been using a P4 2.8 GHz (with hyperthreading) and with 2GB RAM running XP Pro (32 bit version). It handles everything just fine. In fact it's still the computer I use daily.

    It doesn't take much computing power to record and work with several tracks of audio. Recording at 16 bit 44.1 kHz (audio CD quality) requires less processing power than recording at 32 bit 96 kHz. The P4 handles 32 bit 96 kHz just fine.

    What can make a big difference is the buffer size used when recording. If you use too small a buffer size you might start to hear pops, clicks, stutters, etc.

    Recently I have been using a modestly priced Core i3 laptop running XP Pro (I can't move the P4 to the basement yet). The Core i3 doesn't even break a sweat. The CPU fan seldom kicks on when doing audio work.
    Last edited by spots; 11-18-2010 at 12:50 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by spots View Post
    Your 3 year old Toshiba should have plenty of power for home recording tasks. I've been using a P4 2.8 GHz (with hyperthreading) and with 2GB RAM running XP Pro (32 bit version). It handles everything just fine. In fact it's still the computer I use daily.

    It doesn't take much computing power to record and work with several tracks of audio. Recording at 16 bit 44.1 kHz (audio CD quality) requires less processing power than recording at 32 bit 96 kHz. The P4 handles 32 bit 96 kHz just fine.

    What can make a big difference is the buffer size used when recording. If you use too small a buffer size you might start to hear pops, clicks, stutters, etc.

    Recently I have been using a modestly priced Core i3 laptop running XP Pro (I can't move the P4 to the basement yet). The Core i3 doesn't even break a sweat. The CPU fan seldom kicks on when doing audio work.
    I had not thought of it before but a laptop is probably a better choice than my newly built desktop. A lot less fan noise from a laptop. Well that's too bad
    Mainland Mango Concert and Red Cedar Soprano, Kala KA-ASKS Soprano, KoAloha Concert, Boat Paddle Tenor, Moore Bettah Tenor, Boat Paddle Mseries Baritone

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    I do most of my recording and editing on my 3 year old Toshiba laptop. Its not a complete dinosaur, but I suspect its pretty slow by today's standards. I wonder how much computing power it takes to record more than one channel simultaneously?
    Much of our recording is done on a PIII with with 768 MB of RAM. We have recorded 4 simultaneous instruments on that puter without problem.

    We have used Kristal as our recording multitracker since 2004. Along the way I have purchased other recording software; n-track, Powertracks Pro Audio, Mutltitrackstudio and a couple others but we keep coming back to Kristal.

    The folks at the forum are also friendly and helpful like here, (not full of the nasties like some audio forums). One problem is that the author of Kristal is no longer updating the website or the software since he has moved on to another project. Spam seems to be creeping into the Kristal Forum so I think the site is just running on autopilot. Still the software is free for personal use and for me, pretty intuitive.
    I am the best ukulele player on my block!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Doug W View Post
    Much of our recording is done on a PIII with with 768 MB of RAM. We have recorded 4 simultaneous instruments on that puter without problem.

    We have used Kristal as our recording multitracker since 2004. Along the way I have purchased other recording software; n-track, Powertracks Pro Audio, Mutltitrackstudio and a couple others but we keep coming back to Kristal.

    The folks at the forum are also friendly and helpful like here, (not full of the nasties like some audio forums). One problem is that the author of Kristal is no longer updating the website or the software since he has moved on to another project. Spam seems to be creeping into the Kristal Forum so I think the site is just running on autopilot. Still the software is free for personal use and for me, pretty intuitive.
    What interface do you use to bring simultaneous multitrack feeds into the computer?
    Mainland Mango Concert and Red Cedar Soprano, Kala KA-ASKS Soprano, KoAloha Concert, Boat Paddle Tenor, Moore Bettah Tenor, Boat Paddle Mseries Baritone

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