Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Alesis Products for the iPod

Here's a link to an announcement pertaining to the new Alesis ProTrack, which looks like a very cool product for people who want to record professional sound using an Apple iPod (including the iPod nano). Alesis also makes a number of other, physically larger products for that purpose, including the Multiport, the iMultiMix 8 USB, and the iMultiMix 16 USB. But the ProTrack is the first unit to essentially turn the iPod into a highly capable digital field recorder which can easily be transported to the recording site by virtually anyone.

The one thing that the ProTrack seems to lack is separate transport controls. There is a button labeled "Recording Mode", so I'm guessing that the use of that button does at least speed up access to the iPod menu items which control the "transport". But the MultiPort seems to be the smallest unit which actually features physical transport controls for the iPod. Both iMultiMix units also feature such controls. I can't seem to find the physical dimensions for the Multiport on the Alesis website (not even in the PDF brochure for the product), but it's obvious from looking at a photo of the unit that it's very, very compact.

If I were to record a music practice session using the ProTrack and an iPod, I'd get an iPod with very high capacity, engage the Record command, and then just let the thing run, rather than starting and stopping the machine with every separate take. That would minimize the hassles associated with the lack of dedicated transport controls. Since an 8GB iPod nano could record an extremely long audio recording, it would be a simple matter to record an entire session (much longer than any musician could easily endure) onto the machine. Then I'd import the recording into audio editing software (such as Sony SoundForge Audio Studio, or Audacity), review the session, and use digital editing capabilities to extract the best recordings from the overall recording in order to create new, much smaller files consisting of individual tunes.

Now, with the exception of the Zoom H4, hardly any of the compact digital field recorders which are currently available support low impedance studio condenser microphones which require phantom power, so it's great to see that the ProTrack supports such microphones. I no longer have my Rode NT4 Stereo Mic, which I had to sell in a time of financial need in order to raise funds, but it was a very nice microphone, so it's nice to know that it would work with the ProTrack if I wanted to buy another NT4 mic in the future. Rode also makes the NT5, which is a set of microphones which are specifically designed for stereo recording. That might be even better in some respects, because it would offer more flexibility in terms of positioning the microphones, which might be very beneficial when recording piano, since one could position one piano over the bass strings and another over the treble strings, close to the soundboard so as to minimize feedback and ambient room noise.

Of course, the ultimate piano mic may well be the Earthworks PianoMic system. Of course, that assessment is based on what I've read about the product, not on personal experience, since I can't afford the hefty $3,595.97 price of the product! Sweetwater Sound sells the product via this web page. Maybe someday I'll be able to afford such a system. And while I'm dreaming, I might as well dream of getting my own Fazioli grand piano as well. (It's an awesome instrument!)

The ProTrack would also be very useful for recording any digital keyboard with standard professional 1/4" instrument outputs, such as the very nice Yamaha CP300 digital stage piano (which would be my current choice, if I could afford it).

In the past, I had the idea of creating a service to be known as Mini Mobile Music. It would offer recording options to people who didn't want to pay high prices for access to gear they didn't need, but who instead simply wanted high-quality stereo digital recordings of practice sessions, recitals, and performances where on-site multitracking wasn't needed. (Naturally, one could import such recordings into DAW software programs in order to overdub additional instruments later on.)

The ProTrack would also be great for recording audiobooks, speeches and lectures, interviews, podcasts, sound effects (known as Foley effects in the movie business), ambient environmental sounds, and a wide variety of other types of audio recordings. An 8GB iPod would have the ability to record many hours worth of continuous CD-quality audio (limited only by the battery life of the iPod and the ProTrack). And of course, one also has the option of using an iPod with a hard drive instead of flash memory. But flash memory tends to be a bit more stable and rugged (if not completely indestructible), so I'm inclined to think that a nano might be better for many purposes. Also, the nano is more compact, which is always a benefit where mobile audio recording is concerned.

This particular blog post has focused on recording products, but Alesis also makes some other cool iPod products for live music playback, DJ applications, and more.

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