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 the 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. So 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.

Remote control for OBS

Running a live stream with OBS can be tough if you want to have a little bit of a show and you’re making music at the same time. In OBS you can dynamically change whole scenes or switch individual sources (video clips, images, text, cameras, audio) on and off. In my case I want to launch different video clips for different songs. And I have a panic scene without camera and audio to just show that I’m busy fixing something. Fortunately OBS is full of neat little tricks to allow you to run the show with just keyboard shortcuts, or if you want to, with a push of a button on a remote control. No need to wander around with the mouse to try to hit the right spot.

Elgato Stream Deck options

One of the many options is an Elgato Stream Deck but I always hesitated to buy it. The different sizes cater for different needs, but I find it a bit pricey for just the single purpose of controlling OBS remotely. As a musician it seemed more logical to use a Novation Launchpad or other MIDI controller. The Stream Deck is the Rolls Royce option, no doubt, but it is an investment.

Unfortunately there is no standard MIDI support for OBS and also it needs to be two-way. When you push a button this sends a message and to light up the button to confirm your choice OBS needs to report back. That is what I would expect to happen on a Launchpad. You also need to map OBS events to MIDI keys. A Launchpad has very specific key sequence per row of buttons. Up to now I did not find an acceptable plugin or solution for MIDI. If you have please let me know.

Novation Launchpad and its MIDI key mapping

Maybe you noticed the mobile option in the Elgato line-up above? For the past months I controlled OBS remotely using a phone or the iPad, but I didn’t use the Elgato Mobile app. You can opt for Elgato mobile, but it has a monthly or yearly subscription model. Again there are more affordable options. All starting with installation of the websocket plug-in in OBS. There are several to choose from. I’ve used the StreamControl app the longest, but eventually reached its limits. If you have just a set of scenes to control it’s perfect. It couldn’t handle my 20+ video sources to choose from during a live stream.

Please note that if you use Streamlabs OBS you can remote control with the Streamlabs Deck app. The Streamlabs Deck app can be paired with a QR code. I have the pure OBS version running, so this is why I need the websocket plug-in and I can’t use the Deck app.

Eventually I stepped up to Touch Portal and that is what I use now. It can do your dishes, the laundry and reserve a table for your next dinner and also controls OBS. It also needs the OBS websocket plugin by the way. It has a companion Touch Portal app that you can install. I use the paid version on an iPad so I can use the full surface of the iPad to remote control so in total I invested 14 euro. I saw no other way to be fully in control and up to know it hasn’t failed me. If you have found a better way to remote control OBS during a live stream show, please let me know in the comments!

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.

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: With Green Screen

If you have seen my recent live streams, you will have noticed that I ‘travel around’ these days while live streaming. I’ve started to use the Green Screen effect. With OBS Studio its so dead simple that you can start using it with a few clicks in your OBS Studio scenes. Of course there are also some caveats I want to address. The main picture for this post shows you what it can look like. It may not be super realistic, but it is eye catching.

So what do you need to get this going? A Green Screen is the first item you need. It does not have to be green. It can be blue or blue-green, but it should not match skin color or something you wear. It should cover most of the background, so it will need to be at least 2 meter by 1.6 meter, which is kind of a standard size you can find in shops. It should be smooth and solid. Creases and folds can result in folds in the backdrop, but some rippling is OK.

Green Screen selfie
Green Screen selfie

Then you need to set up OBS Studio. Its as simple as right-clicking your camera in the scene and selecting the Filters properties. In the dialog add the Chroma Key filter and select the color of your green screen. Then slide Similarity from somewhere around 100-250 to get a good picture. Everything outside the color range will become black. Then add a backdrop image (or video!) somewhere below the camera in the the scene list and you will have your Green Screen effect.

OBS Camera Filter
OBS Camera Filters
OPBS Chroma Key Filter settings
OPBS Chroma Key Filter settings

The first caveat I bumped into was that I set it up during daytime and it kind of worked, but then I found I stream in at night time and then you need light. In fact it turned out that 2 photo studio lights came in handy. When you use at least 2 studio lights they also cancel out shadows through folds and creases in the green screen. It does however bleed a little onto you as a subject, so you will be strangely highlighted as well. This is something you can also see in my first Amsterdam subway picture. Because of the uneven lighting in subways it does not really show. Not every picture is suitable as a backdrop. Photos with people or animals don’t work, because you expect them to move.

The second effect you see is that instruments with reflective surfaces also reflect the green screen. This will result in the background shining through reflecting surfaces. My take is that its a minor distraction, so I accept some shining through of the backdrop. Its also possible that some parts of your room don’t fit well with the Green Screen, doorways or cupboards. In that case you can choose to crop the camera in the scene by dragging the sides of the camera in the scene with the Alt-key (or Apple key) down. The cropped camera borders, will be replaced by the backdrop.

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.