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Synching a Roland VS recording with your DAW

“I’m working on a project in my MOTU 2408 setup with a friend who has a Roland VS-890. I copied a rough mix of a tune onto two tracks of his VS and he worked up some parts. Now we’re ready to integrate them into my tracks. Can I just synchronize his VS-890 to my MOTU rig or do I need to transfer them over? This is important because he has some cool effects on them that are unique to the Roland. Also, we were planning to synchronize it with MTC, but someone recently told me I need a tighter sync system for best results. What should I do?”

The answer to your first question is you can really do it either way. Probably the only downside to leaving the tracks on the VS-890 is the slight wait for the unit to lock to the MOTU system each time you initiate playback, and the fact that your session will be spread across two different systems, which can make archiving and backup more cumbersome. If you want to transfer the tracks into your 2408 with the effects in place you can certainly do so by using the proper outputs in the Roland. Even if this requires more than one pass you should be fine with your MTC synchronization. If necessary it’s pretty easy to slip tracks back and forth in time for tighter sync once they are in a DAW.

The importance of really tight synchronization between the two boils down to the types of tracks on the VS-890 and how picky you are about slight timing anomalies. MTC has a timing resolution of approximately 1/30th of a second. While this is not as precise as some other methods available to us today, this level of precision served engineers very well throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s as multiple analog (and later digital) tape machines were synchronized using SMPTE time code, which has roughly the same resolution. In fact, those systems were arguably worse due to the difficulties associated with getting a big, heavy reel of tape moving at a precisely controlled speed. The key is to manage the types of tracks on the two machines so that small inconsistencies don’t manifest themselves in a way that hurts the music or sonic quality. For example, you wouldn’t want the left channel overhead microphone on one machine, while the right channel is on the other. This will certainly wreak havoc with the stereo imaging and soundstage of your recording as the salve machine tries to maintain sync with the master. For general purposes your MTC sync should be just fine, just as SMPTE sync was fine in all the top studios of the world for years and years.

With all of that said, tighter synchronization is available to you with relatively little work. You can use a word clock connection between the 2408 hardware and your VS-890 to provide a reference clock to the Roland. When you slave the VS-890’s sample clock to your MOTU system the synchronization between them will be a thousand times tighter. This might be a good temporary solution if you decide to make a multi-pass transfer of all the VS-890 tracks into the MOTU system. Either way you will still need the MTC connection to provide location information (so the Roland starts at the right time). If you’d like to know more about why or how all this would work try searching on some of the key words in the inSync search engine. It will take you to several other inSync Tech Tips where these concepts have been covered in detail.

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