Livestreaming with good audio quality with the Zoom Livetrak L-12

In a previous post I discussed how I try to have good audio quality for my livestream with OBS, by linking up a mixing desk I use for all live performances with a studio audio interface that I use for live streaming. So the idea is that when I know how to mix my live performance I can also livestream that mix with good audio quality. OBS supports high quality audio with an ASIO plugin, so all is great.

The mixing desk I use for live shows and streaming is the Zoom LiveTrak L-12. Lately I started using a separate laptop to do the livestreaming, not hooked up to the studio. For a livestream I would switch over the interface cable to the laptop. Only a few days ago I realized that the L-12 itself is an audio interface and I slapped my forehead.

Sure enough, when installing the L-12 driver software and starting up OBS with the ASIO plugin, I could find the Zoom device. After assigning the master output channels to the OBS inputs it worked immediately. So now the setup is way simpler. The livestreaming laptop is hooked up directly to the mixing desk. The master mix now is hooked up directly to OBS.

Livestreaming setup simplified the L-12 connects to the streaming laptop

Now I asked myself, can I use the same trick to hook de L-12 directly to an iPad or iPhone to do livestreaming on Instagram, or other phone based streaming platforms? The L-12 can connect as a class compliant interface, so its no problem to hook it up to iOS devices. Software like Garageband will find its way in the Zoom inputs and outputs. You have to set a switch for this on the back next to the USB port.

Zoom LiveTrak L-12 Backside USB connector and switches

However, the master outputs are not output channels 1 and 2, so iOS devices cannot pick it up as the default audio input. No easy live streaming on the iPad or iPhone directly from the L-12 unfortunately. For this you will need to hook up another class compliant interface that picks up the mix desk outputs and does output the master mix on channels 1 and 2.

Controlling Ableton Live 10+ with the Komplete Kontrol A49 revisited

A long time ago I wrote something about getting my, then brand new, Komplete Kontrol A49 to work. I played around with it and soon found out it was still a work in progress with control surface tweaks and drivers. I also found out that my struggling to get it to work then is still the number one article on this blog. When you look for instructions in your favorite search engine on how to get the Komplete Kontrol A49 keyboard to work you will get here. Now it’s several versions later for both Ableton Live and the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol software, so It was a good moment to revisit the matter to see how things have progressed.

I am happy to report that setting everything up now is a breeze. Looking back, everything started to work straight out of the box with version Ableton Live 10.0.5. More good news, it still works straight out of the box in Ableton Live versions 11+. Support has become integrated now. From the corner of my eye I did see that there might be problems with Komplete Kontrol S series and Ableton Live 11+ versions, but I am not able to verify that. So, what does the support mean? It means that you can immediately start working with your Komplete Kontrol A series keyboard by selecting it as a control surface in the Preferences > Midi > Control Surface section by selecting the Komplete Kontrol Surface and the corresponding DAW input and output.

Ableton Live MIDI Preferences settings

This is just the start. If you downloaded and activated the Komplete Kontrol software from Native Instruments (through Native Access), you will find the Komplete Kontrol VST instrument as a Plug-ins intstrument. Drag it into a MIDI track and you will have instant Kontakt instrument browsing from your track. Now that takes some getting used to I must admit. Please note the following. Your A series keyboard display browse much more responsive then the Komplete Kontrol VST, so ignore the screen and focus on the tiny A series display when browsing. Click the Browse button on the A series keyboard to jump back to browsing at any point.

Browsing the Strummed Acoustic instrument inside the Komplete Kontrol VST

When browsing Kontakt instruments, nudge the browse button left or right to step deeper and back into the levels of browsing process. So at the top level you choose your either Kontakt instruments, loops or one shots. At the deepest level you choose your sounds. You will hear the selection audition a sound as you browse. If you push (don’t nudge) the browse button down as a button it will select the auditioned sound. This might take a while, so be patient. After that remember that you can click the Browser button again and nudge left several times to back to the top level. Keep your eye on the tiny display to see where you are browsing.

Once you inside the Plug-in MIDI button will light up and you will notice that the controls on your A series keyboard will automatically control the instrument macro’s. Again, touch the knob to see on the tiny display which parameter or macro is controlled and tweak and turn to get the perfect sound. This is how your keyboard should have worked from the start of course, but I’m happy to see how it has progressed. For all other plain MIDI control use you can still use the method of placing your instrument in a rack and MIDI mapping the controls to your instrument.

The advantages and pitfalls of a head microphone

Yesterday I did a live stream with a new head microphone or headset mic and for the first time since using it, something went wrong. Kind of spoiling an hour long live stream. Before this I used my old faithful AKG D330 on a microphone stand, but when streaming, visually this was kind of a pole with a big thing in my face. So, enter the Samson Wireless Concert 88x I chose this mic because it was affordable and suited for singing. Worth an experiment.

A big stand and microphone

A lot of these affordable headset are for sport instructors, so more intended for the frequency range of the spoken word. Also a lot of the smaller, more invisible, headset mics have an omnidirectional sensitivity. I was worried that such a mic would pick up the key clicks and foot pedal stomps. This mic has cardoid sensitivity that seems to only pick up my voice and not any of the noise from playing. Comfort while wearing is also an aspect and adjustability. On most aspects this mic is fine for me. Audio quality is a little less transparent then the AKG, but acceptable.

The first reactions on the looks in the live stream are positive. Visually this is an improvement over a big round mic on a stand. One aspect of these mics is that, because they’re stuck to your face, you can’t vary the distance to the mic anymore. Any intention or emotion you want to add, by yelling with the mic far away, or whispering with the mic close by is impossible. Some singers that want to belt with the mic far away will feel limited. In my dreamy pop songs I am missing it a little, but not a lot.

The first real pitfall I fell in was yesterday. Because I wanted to drink some water before going live a moved the mic a little bit from my face. Then in the live stream someone remarked that my voice volume was so low. I started fiddling with the faders for the mic, but only after watching back the live stream I saw that it was too far from my face. Caught by the cardoid sensitivity!

Some other downsides are when I breathe through my nose, the wind blows straight into the mic. Resulting in a rumbling sound. Also, one of my songs starts with a part where it’s like i’m calling a friend and speaking into the answering device. The design of this mic more that ever makes me look like a call center employee hahaha.

Samson Wireless Concert 88x

Another aspect is that it is a wireless model. I chose this because eventually I want to play really live again and it would be convenient. It means however that I now have to rely totally on a set of batteries. When you buy an inexpensive set like this, there is no battery indicator. For now it seems reliable in battery life and there have been no problems with the wireless connection. I’ve had maybe 6 hours of operation from the first set of batteries. I hope it won’t fail on my while playing live. Knock on wood.

I’m also the kind of person that immediately starts using a new gadget like this. Tossing aside the manual. But browsing through it after some days I found out that you should not skip reading it. Here in the studio it works out of the box on the default frequency. Live however you and I will undoubtedly have to fiddle around to find the best frequency and you need instructions from the manual to set up right.

For now this little and affordable gadget sounds good enough, really adds convenience and just looks better.

Korg VPT-1: Toy or Gadget?

A vocal pitch trainer. Any guitarist can get a very pocketable guitar tuner for just a few bucks. So why wouldn’t a singer be able to use the same? Well actually would you as a singer want one? The voice, like a violin can play any note in any tuning. Why would you want to sing a perfect 440 Hz A when other instruments around you are not in tune? Another one is that sometimes you put some ’emotion’ and ‘glides’ in. your singing. That would be lost if you would sing perfectly pitched.

To set you up right. I’m now in the vocal coaching program of Tiffany van Boxtel. I wanted to improve my live singing. Her main goal is to give you confidence while singing. Singing in tune is just one aspect and in her program its NOT the main focus. Better sing with confidence and connect with your audience than sing totally in tune is the motto. The coaching program is awesome for me.

Enter the Korg VPT-1. Its not very expensive, but then again its 4 times as expensive as an entry level guitar tuner. When you switch it on, it immediately shows a level, starting at Easy. The top control toggles between Easy, Medium and Hard. Then when you sing a note appears on the bars on screen. For me it was more useful to see the note letter and octave. For this you can use the middle control. It also sets your center note. It starts at A4 but i set it to C4. Then the bottom control plays the note but with a simple toy-like sound.

Then there is a blue indicator and a sharp red indicator and a flat red indicator. Blue lighting up shows you that you are singing in perfect tune. Red sharp means: higher then perfect tune. Red sharp means: lower then perfect tune. The idea is that if you sing scales the right notes show and the indicator is mostly blue. On level Easy that is easy and on Hard its hard. Simple as that.

Now how does this work in practice? One of the most important things I have learned is to warm up the voice before performing. I use a standard warm up exercise with scales. This is where I now pick up the VPT-1 to just check that indeed most notes light up blue and that gives me confidence. I can see that at the start of the exercise there are more red notes and slowly i get into the blue zone. I do not switch to medium.

For me now using it this way its not a toy but a gadget. It would probably be no use for me while singing otherwise. You have to hold it close to your face to pick up your voice correctly. For just the warm up, which is its perfectly in tune, its fine. Then another exercise is lip buzzes. The VPT-1 does not handle that at all. It doesn’t recognize lip buzzes as notes. All in all I hope you find this information useful. Let me know how it works for you if you have it.

Instagram live stream from a phone with good audio quality

The first platform I looked at when starting to stream live was Instagram. Straight from the start it was obvious that Instagram wants you to use a phone. It needs to be upright and there is no out-of-the-box streaming solution for connecting streaming software from a PC. There are some software packages that allow you to stream from your PC to Instagram, like YellowDuck. These always need to jump through some hoops like authentication. I didn’t want to go there.

OK. Streaming from your phone seems to be the way for Instagram. In a previous post I explained that I want a good live audio quality. When live streaming, my starting point is the output from the mixing desk that I would connect to the PA when playing live in real life, if you know what i mean. So I feed the output of the live mixing desk directly into to the PC that streams to YouTube etc. Now for me the question is how to feed this into your phone. It could be very ‘live’ to use the microphone of the phone, but I could only see it lead to a noisy and garbled live show.

Fortunately, there are several ways to feed audio into your phone. Just like feeding the audio to a live streaming PC. Isn’t it amazing how phones have become kind of like the modern ultra portable PC? The bad news is that this time your cheap budget phone probably won’t cut it. You either need an iPhone or an Android phone above mid-range.

For an iPhone you can find plenty audio to lightning cables. If you want a bit more control you can use most of these iRig devices in the interface product section. Some of these have 2 inputs so they can act as some kind of live mixer for maybe a guitar and a microphone. For Android the situation is slightly more complex. You can check if your phone supports access to the audio by means of the USB C plug, or you can check if your phone supports OTG on its USB plug. If OTG is supported again most of the iRig devices will work like a charm.

Zoom H1n as an audio interface
Zoom H1n as an audio interface

In my case the Samsung Galaxy S10 supports OTG. So the first thing I did was lookup all the iRig devices to see which one was most suitable. Then I came across the Zoom U-22 and U-24 devices. There I remembered that my Zoom H1n is actually also an audio interface. Then I tested if the Samsung Galaxy S10 recognized my Zoom H1n as an audio interface and boom! Instant success! No need to buy anything new. Then I got carried away, because my live mixer is also from Zoom and I connected my live mixing desk as an audio interface, but that didn’t work unfortunately. The phone crashed.

Instagram live streaming setup
Instagram live streaming setup

So this was the setup for my first Instagram live stream. A special OTG cable connects the USB port of the Zoom H1N with the phone. The Zoom H1n line in is connected to the mix output of the Zoom L-12 LiveTrak mixer. The first results were very promising. Unfortunately I could hear a quite audible hiss. It should tune the signal flow between the live mixer and the audio input. It could also be that the quality of the Zoom H1n as an audio interface is inadequate. Another downside is that you have to rely on the Zoom H1n batteries and/or your phone batteries. Maybe not a good idea if you want to do a live stream marathon. For my purposes now its OK. I hope you can now too join the flood of Instagram live streamers!

OBS: Live streaming with good audio quality

In a previous post I mentioned that I use OBS Studio for my live streaming and a little bit about how. It shows that I use an ASIO plugin for audio in the OBS Studio post, but why is it needed? For me in the live stream I want to recreate the studio quality sound, but with a live touch. After all, why listen to a live stream when could just as well listen to the album or single in your favorite streaming app? Lets first see where the ASIO plugin comes into play.

Live Streaming Setup
Live Streaming Setup

My setup in the studio is divided in two parts. One part is dedicated to studio producing and recording, with a Focusrite Scarlett 18i8, a digital Yamaha mixing desk and a MIDI master keyboard. For recording I use Ableton Live. The other part is the live setup, with (again) Ableton Live, another Focusrite Scarlett 18i8, a Clavia Nord, Micro Korg and the Zoom L12 mixing desk. The live setup will directly connect to the PA with a stereo output. Both sides run on separate PCs (laptops).

Home Studio Live Side
Home Studio Live Side

For OBS Studio and the live streaming setup, I chose to use PC on the studio recording side. Its directly connected to the Internet (cabled) and can easily handle streaming when it doesn’t have to run studio work. I play the live stream on the set dedicated to playing live and i use the live side stereo PA audio out to connect it to the studio side to do the live streaming. This means the live side if the setup is exactly as I would use it live.

Home Studio Recording Side
Home Studio Recording Side

It all starts with the stereo output on the Zoom L12 mixing desk, that normally connects to the PA. On the mixing desk there is vocal processing and some compression on all channels to make it sound good in live situations. To get this into the live stream as audio I connect the stereo output to an input of the Yamaha mixing desk. This is then routed to a special channel in the studio side audio interface. This channel is never used in studio work.

Of course it could be that your live setup simpler then mine. Maybe only a guitar and and a microphone. But the essential part for me is this that you probably have some way to get these audio outputs to a (stereo) PA. If you don’t have a mixing panel yourself and you usually plug in to the mixing desk at the venue, this is the time to consider your own live mixing desk for streaming live. With vocal effects and the effects that you want to have on your instruments. Maybe even some compression to get more power out of the audio and make it sound more live.

But lets look at where the ASIO plugin comes into play. The ASIO plugin takes the input of the special live channel from the Yamaha mixing desk using the studio side audio interface and that becomes the audio of the stream. Because I have full control over the vocal effects on the live side, i can just use a dry mic to address the stream chat and announce songs. Then switch on delay and reverb when singing. Just like when I play live, without the need for a technician even.

Playing a live stream is different from playing live, because it has a different dynamic. In a live stream its OK to babble and chat minutes on end, this is probably not a good idea live. I find however when it comes to the audio, it helps to start out with a PA ready output signal. Similar to the audio you would send to the PA in a real live show. Also it helps to have full hands on control over your live audio mix to prevent you having to dive into hairy OBS controls while streaming live. Lastly, for me its also important that streaming live is no different from a playing live at a venue in that you can break the mix, miss notes, mix up lyrics and that you feel the same nerves while playing.

Streaming live with OBS Studio

Okay, like everybody else i started streaming too. I had a planned live show, but live shows will not be possible for at least another half year. Every evening my social timelines start buzzing with live streams and all the big artists have also started to stream live. No place for me with my newly created and sometimes shaky solo live performance to make a stand? After some discussions with friends i decided to make make the jump.

But how to go about it? If you already have experience with live streaming, you can skip this entire article. This is here just for the record so to say. After some looking around I came to this setup:

OBS Studio with ASIO plugin
Restream.io for casting to multiple streaming platforms
Logitech C920 webcam
Ring light
– Ayra ComPar 2 stage light see this article

OBS is surprisingly simple to set up. It has its quirks. Sometimes it does not recognize the camera, but some fiddling with settings does the trick. You define a scene by adding video and audio sources. Every time you switch from scene to scene it adds a nice cross fade to make the transition smooth. You can switch the cross fade feature off of course.

OBS Main scene setup
OBS Main scene setup

I only use one scene. The video clip is there to promote any YouTube video clip. It plays in a corner and disappears when it has played out. The logo is just “b2fab” somewhere in a corner. The HD cam is the C920 and the ASIO source is routed from my live mixer to the audio interface on the PC. I setup a limiter at -6db on the ASIO audio as a filter to make sure i don’t get distortion over any audio peaks.

I also had to choose my platform. From the start i wanted also to stream live on Facebook and Instagram. Instagram however kind of limits access to live streaming to only phones. There is software to stream from a PC, but then you have to set it up again for every session and you need to switch off two-factor authentication. For me one bridge too far for now.

I chose Restream.io as a single platform to set up for streaming from OBS. It then allows to stream to multiple platforms and bundle all the chats from the different platforms into a single session. For Facebook pages however, you need a paid subscription tier. For now I selected the free options YouTube, Twitch and Periscope. YouTube because it is easy to access for my older audience. Twitch because it seemed quite fun and i also like gaming. Periscope because it connects to Twitter.

If the live show takes shape i might step into streaming from my Facebook page. Another plan is to try the iRig Stream solution and start making separate live streams on Instagram. With high quality audio from the live mixer. I will surely blog about it if i start working with it.

For now it all works. Restream.io allows me to drop a widget on my site. Its a bit basic and only comes alive when i am live, so i have to add relevant information to it to make it interesting. If you want to drop in and join my live musings check my YouTube, Twitch and Periscope channels or my site at around 21:00 CEST.

Controlling a light show for a small solo set

I’m back on the track of my own small solo live set. The first experiment was running a video stream that would run along with the show. But now there is a new twist: The Corona virus came and there will be no live set the coming months. All public shows have been cancelled for about half a year. My first live show has been pushed to November from June. The only alternative is live streaming.

Just before the lockdown to combat the spread of the Corona virus I had bought a stage light. Just one to at least have a blue wash on stage to set a kind of moonlight mood. This was the Ayra ComPar 2. A simple LED stage light, with an IR remote and plenty of flexibility be more than just a blue stage wash.

But while staying at home and after browsing through some online articles it dawned on me: you can simply control stage lights as part of your Ableton Live set. I use Ableton Live sets to run my stage show and believe it or not I use color coding for each different song to quickly browse through all the songs without having to look up the names.

The colors match the moods of the song, so my simple idea was to use this color code to match the color of the wash on stage. A red wash for a deeply felt love song. A green wash for a song about nature. A purple wash for an up tempo hot song etc.

But why put all this effort in a stage light when there will not be a stage for months to play on? Up to then I had been a bit weary of immediately jumping to live streaming instead of playing gigs. All the bigger artists now stream live. Every night on my socials there are at least a dozen artists performing live. I’m just starting out, so what can I bring to the table?

After discussing this with a close group of musicians and my music coach it became obvious. Why not start streaming live? It’ll be fun, even if nobody watches it. I can invite friends and just have fun together. And also because I had nothing else to do I jumped in to make this stage light idea work. It would change color with the song. Not on stage, but in the attic. The attic with my home studio as my online stage.

One of the intriguing functions of the ComPar 2 is the ability to connect a XLR cable with DMX signal to control it. After diving into it and in lockdown there was a lot of time to dive into anything I found out that there are also DMX light controllers that support MIDI. From the same company I got the Ayra OSO 1612 DMX Scanmaster controller. Very friendly priced i think.

Blacked out by default
Blacked out by default

The DMX light controller simply accepts MIDI note data and maps that to programmable scenes. The controller can be connected to a chain of lights and a scene can set each light correspondingly. You can have flashing lights in a scene or movement from stage lights that can move. With 240 scenes you can probably make an interesting progression of lights for several songs, but I simply have a red, green, purple and blue scene for each song.

The controller I chose has a default setting where it blacks out all lights when starting up and that is not a bad thing at all. The only thing I must remember is to switch off the black out when playing live. That is the only attention it needs and from there everything is now running on rails. The live streaming shows allow me to test stuff out, but I’m now pretty happy with this setup.

Bad ground. When the noise is killing you…

Ok, maybe you don’t know this song, Bad Ground, from a controversial band Type O Negative. If you do know it it’ll bring a smile to your face. But if you hear it in your headphones or from your speakers, you won’t be smiling. The 50-60 Herz buzz or maybe even digital noise that ruins your listening pleasure and maybe even your recordings.

This is something I feel I need to discuss, because earlier I wrote about impedance. Like the previous article, you may be an experienced sound engineer or pro musician. In that case please skip this article. This is for the home studio creatives that just can’t keep the noise from creeping into the system. By the way you can find plenty of articles on the subject. This one just compounds it all into one.

In any case I was helping out building a home studio and when connecting a second display to the laptop there it was: bad ground. A digital fizz from the HDMI cable and a hum from the bad ground. The active speakers amplified the noise sounds coming from the signal in the unbalanced cables from the audio interface. Simple jack cables.

Ah you should say. There you have it. Unbalanced cables work by shielding a single signal wire with a mesh that wraps around it. This mesh wiring should be grounded. The shield mesh then prevents electromagnetic interference from the outside reaching the signal cable. This all goes wrong if not every device in the chain is solidly grounded along the same wire more than half a meter into the earth.

This bad ground can just be floating, catching interference from all noise sources around it. Or it can be that one part of the chain is grounded differently and the signal difference of the shielding interferes with the signal. Do you have the option to bring a solid ground in your studio setup? Please start there. In other cases there is only one other solution and that is to accept the bad ground and the interference of other signals.

Does that mean accepting the noise? No of course not. The answer to noise in the studio and on stage has always been the use of balanced cables. In balanced cables there is also the shielding mesh of a ground cable, but inside there are two twisted cables. A hot and a cold one. Usually using XLR connectors instead of the jacks. Although XLR cables can also be used unbalanced.

This time the difference between hot and cold is used as the signal. This time the effect of interference on the signal is much less, because it evens out on the twisted pair. This can only mean that you should always use balanced cables when possible.

Now if only it was that simple… Some audio interfaces only have unbalanced outputs. Instruments usually have only unbalanced outputs. what should you do with these signals to prevent bad ground? This is where you need DI’s. Direct Input devices, pick up the unbalanced signal from a jack connector and output a balanced signal to an XLR connector.

Inside the DI you will find a transformer that picks up the signal and passes it to the hot and cold wires of the XLR. But transformers are coils wrapped around the same core. the signal energy is passed from one coil to the other. This means signal loss and a coil does have a frequency response that is not 100% flat. In other words, the signal is lower in energy at the other side and can have slightly less low and high frequencies.

Passive DI’s just use the transformer and give you signal loss and a slight effect on the signal quality. Active DI’s can compensate for the signal and signal quality loss, but need a power source to make the additional electronics work. Even worse, cheaper active DI’s can add noise to the signal from the electronics. A more expensive passive DI can sound better than a cheap active DI.

In the end for my noise problem I found an affordable passive DI that sounds great. The studio setup was inexpensive and simple and there was therefore no noticeable degradation of the sound. You might also want to try this Millenium DI-E. DI’s can sound muffled, but the transformer can also add warmth to the signal. Some very expensive pre-amps for vocals and guitars use transformers to add warmth.

So there you have it. May you kill the noise…

When you need a patchbay

You might already have seen this on my socials. A nice photo of a new box stacked alongside my MIDI patchbay. Lately studio life got more complicated. I have 2 mixing tables. One for working in the studio and one for practicing live gigs. I found myself plugging instruments in and out of these mixing tables. Also, the studio mixing table, a Yamaha 01v, is getting old and some switches now already noticeably start making noise. For me this was the sign to start saving the desk and considering a patch panel.

You can spend any amount on a good one, but for my modest home studio purposes I chose the Behringer Ultrapatch Pro PX3000. With 48 channels it is well beyond my need to patch 6 channels across 12 inputs. But hey, who knows what will happen in the future. And it doesn’t break the bank at around 80 euros.

Plugging the instruments across the inputs of two tables now won’t wear down the inputs on the more expensive mixing desks any more. There is even be an option to use the patchbay in half-normal mode. In this mode I can make a setup to send the instruments to both inputs at the same time. Then you have to factor in the impedance of both mixing desks against the line outs of the instruments, but to my calculations it might just work.