Me, Myself and MRI

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Links

  • Planet of Tunes - a great online resource for digital audio and music creation.
  • Sound On Sound - probably the most popular magazine for those interested in music technology and sound recording. It has a very useful searchable database of articles available online on all aspects of the area. There are also useful reviews of common software and handheld recorders.
  • Chris Watson - one of the most pre-eminent sound recording artists, working in particular with natural sounds and wildlife. He's probably best know as 'David Attenborough's sound man' but has done much more besides this and is a successful sound artist in his own right.
  • Microphone Guide - a useful guide to selecting and using microphones by manufacturer M-Audio (pdf).
  • Mixing Guide - a handy guide to mixing from manufacturer Soundcraft. More focused on PA work, but still useful.
  • Focal Press - a publisher with a huge range of books available relating to working with audio (and many other aspects of the multimedia industry). Practical Recording Techniques, Fifth Edition by Bruce and Jenny Bartlett is one that I recommend to my students as a good introduction to the whole field - but there are many others and you should browse in a book shop and find one that suits your interests and level of expertise!

Equipment

There are lots of such recorders on the market now, and they work like high quality dictaphones. They have built in stereo microphones and record to memory cards (like digital cameras) so that there are no moving parts. Audio files are usually stored as mp3, WAV or AIF files. mp3s are very small in size (they don't use a lot of memory) but are often low quality unless you record at a high bitrate (typically 128kbps or higher). For the best quality though, you should always record to WAV or AIF, and use a sample rate setting of 44.1kHz or higher, and a bit resolution of 24 bit (if available otherwise 16 bit) - although these files will take up a lot more space on your memory card or hard disk. If you are not sure what 'sample rate' and 'bit resolution' mean, a good explanation can be found on the Planet of Tunes site.

We used the Edirol-R09HR which costs about £300, but comparable devices are made by Zoom, Yamaha, Tascam, M-Audio, Olympus and probably many other manufacturers too. Probably the best way to find what might be suitable for your budget is to put "Portable Digital Recorder" into Google and see what comes up.

Digital Audio Software

There are many different digital audio workstation software packages available on the market, at various different price points. We used Nuendo for this project, which is very capable but also very expensive. However there is a wealth of freeware and shareware available to allow you to do much the same thing.

Audacity

Audacity is a free audio editor available for Mac and PC and does pretty much everything you would want when it comes to editing, processing and mixing audio files. It's best for editing files individually, but you can also load up multiple files in parallel and mix between them. There are loads of options in terms of being able to apply effects to your recordings (like EQ, reverb or echo) and it also supports VST plugins - which is a means of adding even more unusual or powerful effects options via third party software, also often free!

Above is a screenshot of Audacity with one of the MRI sounds loaded. The blue waveform is a representation of the recorded sound - notice where it becomes almost solid as it hits the maximum upper and lower values of the audio track it is in? This is an example of distortion - the sound from the MRI machine was louder than the recorder could deal with adequately. The thing to do in this case would be turn down the microphone recording volume level.

Reaper

Reaper has revolutionised the world of digital audio workstation software. It is developed by a small team of people, is regularly updated (weekly sometimes!) is small and efficient to download and only costs $60 = £36 to buy online! This compares with the many hundreds of pounds for 'professional software' and yet it offers pretty much the sample level of professional features. It isn't perhaps one for the beginner to use, but it will be the only software some people will ever need. A complete working demo is also available to download and use before you buy and it is also available for PC and Mac. Highly recommended.

A screenshot of Reaper with the same MRI audio file seen in Audacity is shown.

Garageband

If you have a recent Apple Mac Computer it will come with Garageband which is an easy to use digital audio workstation mainly for writing music using MIDI sequences and audio loops. However it can also be used as a basic audio editor and has lots of options for applying various effects. Note however it is only available for Mac computers.

A screenshot of Garageband with the same audio file seen in both Audacity and Reaper is shown.