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Do DAWs sound better when recording than playing back the track?
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Red Baron
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5th March 2012
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Do DAWs sound better when recording than playing back the track?

Hi everybody, everytime I compare the sound I hear, monitoring realtime, when recording my electric guitar (into DI), with the one I get when I play back the recorded track, always notice that when playing back it sounds worse, and has lost something; the signal should sound the same in both cases, but it doesn´t.

I have tested it through my headphones and monitors. My headphones are not isolation headphones, so I realize that acoustic sound is leaking into the headphones, giving me a better realistic sound, but I know perflectly which sound comes from the DAW and which from outside the headphone, so, I am still able to notice the lack of something when playing back (less realistic, clearity and transients, smaller, boxy sound...)

I don´t blame it to the Pan Law, because I have tried all of them, and I hear no improvement.

The converters are not guilty because the signal always passes through them, in both cases, it is an already digital signal.

There is no latency to blame.


So my questions are:


1) Have you noticed the same?

2) If so, have you realized what causes it?

3) Have you achieved to get same quality sound in both cases?


Something is degrading the signal once is printed into track.
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is it possible you're monitoring the input/live signal directly off of your interface while recording, as opposed to hearing it through the channel you're recording it to? the difference in tone could then be simply a perceived one due to a volume and/or panning discrepancy.

if that's not it, i wouldn't underestimate the effect you noticed of 'bleed' from your source into your headphones while tracking - there's a reason why control rooms exist. in theory your daw shouldn't change the sound to any noticeable degree.
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yes...your not hearing the conversion
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Different gain staging perhaps? Input gain, monitoring levels...
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thanks ncoak and Keire.


Quote:
is it possible you're monitoring the input/live signal directly off of your interface while recording, as opposed to hearing it through the channel you're recording it to?
I have Pro Tools (I don´t know the rest of DAWs),and, while I am recording (same sound as when you hit the Track Record Enable Button and becomes red highlighted, to rehearsal with the guitar), I hear the signal realtime, and when it´s finished I play the track back and listen.



Quote:
the difference in tone could then be simply a perceived one due to a volume and/or panning discrepancy.
To do the test, I recorded only one mono audio track, without changing any volumen at all.

No panning, center all the time.

Quote:
yes...your not hearing the conversion
I believe that, even when, you just play the guitar to rehearsal a bit (is it called Direct monitoring?) the signal passes thorugh the AD converter to turn it into digital and you listen through yout DA converters.

Quote:
Different gain staging perhaps? Input gain, monitoring levels...
No plug-ins, nothing inserted, just as simple as it gets, faders always at unity gain (0 dB)
Monitors always at the same level, in both cases.
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Part of it could be that when you're physically playing guitar, you're hearing the acoustic sound of the guitar in the room and feeling the vibrations emanating from the guitar itself, which could go a long way towards altering your perception of the sound (and could make it feel like something is missing when you just play it back without playing the guitar at the same time).
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right, you'll be hearing the a/d conversion in most setups regardless of whether you're recording or not.

in pro tools there should be an option to select pre or post-fader metering while recording - i think what may be happening is that while recording you're hearing the pre fader signal (which will be at a different level), and when you play it back it's (obviously) post fader. switching to post-fader if this is the case might do the trick.

depending on how your headphone monitoring is set up (not a pro tools user here) this can also occur via you interface's software, where you have the option to directly monitor and adjust the incoming signal independent of what is being recorded...this is handy if you have latency problems.
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And then there is what some call the Awesomeness Factor. It's a form of cognitive distortion to which guitar players are particularly susceptible.

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The stream of data going to your converters should be exactly the same ... it's not likely that your DAW is changing this in any way, unless you choose to change it on purpose.

Try another DAW and see if you get the same effect - Reaper is free to evaluate and very good.

I don't trust soft monitoring at all. For a start, there is the unavoidable latency, which messes with the phase relationship between your guitar and your ears. This is a massive change in tone response that can't be ignored. It's also possible that the levels are not exactly the same.

I suggest you use external analog latency-free monitoring - a cheap mixer or something.

On playback you are not only missing the bone conduction and acoustic sound in the room, but also the latency on the DI sound is like a Haas Delay, and you might actually like the effect. I find latency too disturbing from a timing point of view, but I do sometimes like the effect that a small delay gives. Any pschoacoustic effect like this you can add to your track, and make an even bigger difference.

I find a solo dry electric guitar to be fairly boring and uninspiring ... it needs some ear candy, and I don't know how you can compare that with the real sound in the room with latency going on. It is what it is, so move onto the next stage of reamping or processing, whatever it takes to make it good.
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Quote:
pre or post-fader metering while recording
I´ll try it, but I don´t think is causing this, bacause, in order to do the test right, I never change the levels, the same level since I created a new track.

Quote:
Try another DAW and see if you get the same effect - Reaper is free to evaluate and very good.
I´ll do that.


Quote:
I don't know how you can compare that with the real sound in the room with latency going on
I do the test with some saturation and Buffer Size is at 64 samples (at minimum), so no latency here.


Quote:
I suggest you use external analog latency-free monitoring - a cheap mixer or something.
My audio interface is Digi 003 rack. An small mixer is an option

I even recorded the signal with the guitar on a chair, so that the vibrations passes the less as possible through my body and without playing hard, so there is less acoustic sound from the guitar.


I think I will have to buy an isolation headphone, to be 100% sure if the acoustic liking sound of the guitar is affecting, or not, me hearing sense.
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There is a difference. You're likely listening to a 56bit sharc mixer of your interface (for the inputs) while tracking and the DAW mixer while playing back. But, honestly, it's likely just a mental thing. I mean, whether you're singing' playing piano, guitar...amp in the room--there are external vibrations involved during tracking that are gone on playback.
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Quote:
there are external vibrations involved during tracking that are gone on playback.
That´s why I have to buy an isolation headphone, to avoid completly external sounds, unless we count on vibrations through your body, which will be detected by brain.
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All of the above. Recording yourself? Welcome to why it's not the normal way to record. There's someone there just listening and making the judgements on how to best capture.

I'll tell you how I do it...it takes a few takes to get the sound sometimes--play and bit...listen...tweak digital eq to see what the problems are...do I need to switch MICS? Placement? eQ? Change something on the source? Adjust--play again. And rely on "safe" tried and true mic choice/position when that isn't possible. I use those takes as rehearsal of the parts...since I'm pulling often coming up with those in the same session anyway...a handful of takes to refine both sound and part isn't really the end of the world.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Baron View Post
That´s why I have to buy an isolation headphone, to avoid completly external sounds, unless we count on vibrations through your body, which will be detected by brain.
But it's still coming through your body even more efficiently than it is through the air. If you don't believe me, put the headstock on your forehead and play with no monitoring. Isolation phones aren't going to get rid of the vibrations in your body from playing the instrument. I suggest letting someone else play the guitar and see if you hear a difference. Bet it will be far less if any that way.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Baron View Post
Something is degrading the signal once is printed into track.
You're kidding yourself. All the hard drive has to do is store the digitized signal you're already hearing. This is rudimentary. If it was done incorrectly you'd hear some horrible noise, not some subtle degradation.

Look elsewhere for an explanation of what you're experiencing.

-R
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Quote:
I suggest letting someone else play the guitar and see if you hear a difference
Yes, that´s something I had already thought, but nobody plays the electric guitar here, anyway, you are absolutly right, I have to find some else to play it, meters away from me, or even better, in the next room.


Quote:
Look elsewhere for an explanation of what you're experiencing.
OK

Anyway, I am saving money to buy a better interface with better converters.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Baron View Post
That´s why I have to buy an isolation headphone, to avoid completly external sounds, unless we count on vibrations through your body, which will be detected by brain.
No isolation headphone will succeed at this task

The vibrations through your body DO count. Big time.

I am quite certain that feeling the pitches through the body is a prime reason why so many guitarists overdo the distortion. No matter how much their pedal is cranked, they can still "hear" the pitch of the note, since they are getting a "direct" signal. No one else does, though. The mic in front of the speaker just hears fuzz.
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Man, I`ve been there. It`s the vibrations plus the acoustic bleed and don`t discount the Awesomeness Factor.Really, it`s there.
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It's the same - you're in a totally different mindset when playing vs listening so it's impossible to judge.

Plus all of the above.
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Know when people hear their voices recorded and they don`t think they sound like themselves(but everyone else does)? This is the guitar playing version of it.
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Check out this idea that I had about self recording. It is more about getting the right sound, mic placement etc, but still worthy of mention, I think.

I had a revelation about self-recording

This way you can hear the actual sound that you are about to record. But of course you can't use it while actually recording the take
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maybe get someone to play the guitar in another room and test again.
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Yes, it´s quite possible it´s a vibrations, acoustic, leaking issue.

I record guitar through great DIs ( no mics here), and, as the important thing is that I like what I hear while recording (same while rehearsing ), I have to find a way to get that quality sound printed into tracks, so, first step is going to be better coverters (I have a great preamp), to give me that little improvement.

----

Quote:
This way you can hear the actual sound that you are about to record. But of course you can't use it while actually recording the take
gavriloP, thanks for sharing your tip, this is great in case of micing recordings.
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You could try touching the speaker cab while playing back. It won't be the same, but you'll feel it again.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Baron View Post
I have tested it through my headphones and monitors. My headphones are not isolation headphones, so I realize that acoustic sound is leaking into the headphones, giving me a better realistic sound, but I know perflectly which sound comes from the DAW and which from outside the headphone, so, I am still able to notice the lack of something when playing back (less realistic, clearity and transients, smaller, boxy sound...)
I would be very surprised if this wasn't the answer right here. Even knowing what is happening, I don't think anybody could actually mentally separate the "inside sound" from the "outside sound".

Seems to me like you are simply hearing the input being colored by the live acoustics. This is why I hate recording myself, and almost never attempt to do so. Mind-breakingly hard to really know what you are recording when escaping the sound source simply is not an option.
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The Awesomeness Factor helps me get the performance I want. I spent a lot of time learning how to play guitar while monitoring through headphones. It's quite different than playing to an amp at ear-bleeding levels. That said, the sound through the cans isn't the same as the one I hear through the monitors. However, it is close enough so I'll know what sounds like on playback, which is usually better. I'm not talking about DI, though, which I don't do very often.
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Wait--have we determined if you are using "direct monitoring" before launching into all of this esoterica?

It sure sounds like that's what's going on, to me.
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I found someone to play the guitar on another room, while I was listening through the headphones and handeling Pro Tools, so that the vibrations from the electric guitar don´t leak through my headphone and body and we came to the same conclusion :

When the musician and the person who listens through the headphones are different persons:

A) It´s harder to notice the difference between the sound live and the playback (because there is no leaking sounds)

B) In spite of no leakage , we could still notice a subtle difference, between the sound live and the playback, and this conclusion was not expected.

Next step will be to install a different DAW, in this case Reaper, and see if we come to the same conclusion, if Reaper shows no difference between the sound live and the playback, that would me mean, in our opinion, Pro Tools causes this difference.

I don´t think it´s a placebo issue.

We´ll see what happens.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Baron View Post
I don´t think it´s a placebo issue.
you will never find out if it is a placebo issue or not as long as you continue to be "aware" of which thing you are listening to. ONLY if you are blinded as to which is which. If, for example, you have someone else "handling pro tools" while you just LISTEN - preferably with a blindfold on - will you eliminate placebo as a factor.

Also, how far away is the "other room"? What do you consider "no leakage"? If you shut down your computer and monitors, can you hear it?


Being "aware" of the possibility of Placebo does not confer any immunity to it whatsoever:

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if your realtime monitoring the input signal over cans then It's likely you might be hearing pre A to D.
When re listening, it's likely your hearing post D to A.

problem is you can't monitor post A to D without having to go D to A.

it's also hard to know how differently the signal might be driving the headphone amp when monitoring a pre A do D,
as opposed to monitoring a post D to A.

switching between zero latency monitor and using the DAWs non zero latency monitor, might highlight a difference.
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