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Solutions for the Mobile Studio

In this weeks report Jigsaw's Rob Holsman offers sound engineers of all types his advice on finding the perfect mobile studio set-up

From filmmaking to classical recording, sound recordists can all benefit from going mobile. With portability as well as the best possible sound quality in mind, Jigsaw’s audio consultant Rob Holsman takes a look at the perfect mobile studios for filmmakers, pro engineers and classical recordists.

The start-up filmmaker
The kit: MOTU Audio Express interface, Logic Studio 2, MacBook Pro

When you’re out recording on location, it’s important to have a fully portable interface as a front-end to your set-up. The little Audio Express interface from Mark of the Unicorn can provide its two high-quality mic preamps with phantom power directly from your laptop, making it a great tool for filmmakers. It might sound like the Audio Express’ six analogue inputs and outputs are a little spec-heavy for a portable interface, but it’s worth the investment as that extra I/O opens up the possibility of doing multichannel recording and working in 5.1 surround in the future. It can even resolve to SMPTE timecode through any of its audio jacks without a dedicated external synchroniser – very useful when you’re on location!
Logic Studio 2 is the perfect film composition DAW to put together professional pieces of sound to picture. Adding music, effects tracks and redubbed dialogue is easy with 35GB worth of built-in loops, Foley sounds and music beds. But Logic is more than a tool for beginners and more advanced users will benefit from features such as the Space Designer convolution reverb that lets you sample the ambience of a location then recreate its characteristics later.
At the heart of any recording setup is a computer powerful enough to run a graphics-heavy DAW and the latest MacBook Pro models are great for this. They feature Intel’s next-generation dual and quad core processors for boosted running speeds and faster OS start-up times, as well as the new Thunderbolt high-bandwidth ports. Looking at how audio hardware manufacturers have already started embracing the Thunderbolt bus, this will be very handy in the future.

The international pro engineer
The kit: Avid Pro Tools 9, RME Fireface UFX, RME Octamic II, Pro Tools qualified laptop with either FireWire or USB 2.0, Presonus HP60 headphone amplifier

If you’re faced with working without a console, the RME Fireface UFX interface is the perfect solution. Its onboard DSP can handle full mixer duties for all 28 inputs, including EQ, dynamics and reverb for easily recreating monitor mixes. The interface itself already has four mic preamps but, if you need more inputs, I’d suggest adding one of RME’s eight-channel Octamic II preamp units which connect to the ADAT ports. (There’s also room on the interface to add another Octamic II if up to 20 mic inputs are needed.) The mic preamps are great, providing loads of gain and headroom with very low noise, but are also able to accept line level signals for interfacing with existing consoles.
For me, Pro Tools 9 is the ultimate DAW for the professional engineer on the move, with the very best sound quality whether used on its own or interfaced with a hired recording studio’s equipment. Pro Tools is used so widely in professional studios around the world that, for any jobbing engineer needing compatibility with existing setups, it’s a natural choice. The latest version lets you use the software with almost any audio interface, and adding the 56-channel Fireface UFX gives the sort of Pro Tools performance that just wasn’t possible in portable systems a couple of years ago. The best thing: because Pro Tools is at home on Windows- or OS X-based machines, the choice of platform is up to you. Thankfully, Avid provides a comprehensive list of supported configurations.

The classical recording engineer
The kit: MacBook Pro, Prism Orpheus, recording software of choice

When it comes to classical recording, the emphasis should be on the purity of the sound. To get that purity, you’ll need a really top-spec interface, so it’s worth having a look at Prism, who are universally renowned for making some of the best converters in the world. The four preamps in their Orpheus interface are excellent too, making your favourite mics sound as good as you’re ever going to hear them. This FireWire interface uses a FireWire port and will work on either Windows or OS X. Personally, I’d choose a MacBook Pro as there’s much better FireWire connectivity than on a lot of Windows-based machines. Because there’s less focus on editing capabilities, your choice of recording software becomes more a case of personal preference, so you can really take your pick here. Whether you’re a Logic fan or a Pro Tools master, it’s really the interface that does all the hard work. Read more of Rob’s articles over at or call 03332 400 100.