A Gumby's Guide to home-recording gear.

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A look at computer based recording for a total and complete newbie.

When I first put my toes in the murky waters of home recording I couldn't even determine where the flags were that I needed to swim between nor how to avoid the floating brown piles of confusion that ultimately lead to countless hours of frustration.

So if you have had NO exposure to home-recording and find that every Manual you read assumes you split atoms or splice genetic code in your spare time then help is afoot.

For now you can relax as the process is a relatively simple one to get the ball rolling.

First of all, what are you going to need?

Well, given that you're reading this, I'm going to take a punt and assume you have a computer. This is a good start.

The specs of the computer will vary depending on your recording needs but as you're a first timer you will get away with a fairly modest machine to begin with. Upgrading is always an option down the track.

Try and have at least 500 MB of RAM. With the prices of RAM these days you can really go nuts here if you like.

1.5 GB processor would be a nice start but again prices are going south on processors so try and hit the 3.0 GB if you can.

There are much more specific articles right here at HRC that can help you determine what you will get away with, go forth and read!

Secondly and perhaps most importantly you will need a Sound Card that is designed to do this kind of thing. Now this is an interesting one as there are heaps out there on the market. The best option here is to do a bit of research. If you are using the on-board sound card that came with your PC then forget it! A lot of people also have "SoundBlaster" type cards; these are better but still won't be cutting the mustard anytime soon.

So remember, do some research, ask some questions, think about what it is you want to achieve musically and you will find yourself a nice little card that'll have you belting out hits in no time.

There are also USB/Fire wire options available for you laptop users but this article is geared towards the desktop user.

Finding a card with a "breakout box" and Phantom power (or pre-amps) would be ideal for the beginner as this will save you money on pre-amps and mixers.

Basically a "breakout box" is, well, a box that sits on your desk and lets you plug things into it! Simple!

"Phantom power" is not homage to any comic book characters. It basically provides power to "condenser" microphones that are just too lazy to do it themselves.

So thus far we have

  1. Computer
  2. Soundcard

Brilliant stuff so far eh?

Ok, so now we are at the beach and really want to jump in and get wet.

But we don't have any togs yet so let's look at what's next.

Some software might help!

This is another one of those "Suck it and See" situations. There a bunch of different applications available at varying difficulties and prices.

Let's have a look at two of the most common.

Cubase and Sonar are probably the two "industry standard" apps but by no means the only ones and aren't cheap so if money is a concern there are cutdown versions of these apps available also that'll be fine.

Editors Note:

As mentioned by the author, there are multitudes of software packages available in all price ranges. Here are some others to look at:

  • www.multitrackstudio.com - the home of MultitrackStudio, around $120 USD and quite powerful.
  • www.mackie.com - the home of Tracktion, around $150 USD and very user friendly, especially nice for people new to PC-based recording.
  • www.kreatives.org/kristal/ - the home of Kristal Audio Engine, which is a completely free application, though, at this time, audio only, no MIDI.
  • www.ntrack.com - the home of n-Track, $75 USD for their best version. I was not too impressed with it myself, but many people love it, so it's worth checking out.
  • www.adobe.com - the home of Adobe Audition, formerly known as Cool Edit Pro, $299 USD and a pretty popular application.

There are many, many more

The software you use will be your friend and enemy for a long time to come so make sure you download demo's of a few and see which one likes you the best. You'll be throwing a million questions on the forums soon so remember, if you get some software designed by Lithuanian pig farmers people aren't likely going to know how to help you. (Apart from the fundamentals).

There are also some free apps as well but it would be best to spend some dollars and get something that is more recognised. This will become clearer later on.

So as it stands now we should have

  1. Computer
  2. Sound Card
  3. Software

Now you're travelling. But if you jump in now and get into to trouble, no one will hear you scream, so we'd better get some speakers I reckon.

Your going to need to hear what you will end up re-recording (another fine tip), But "what" you hear will vary depending on the speakers you buy (I'm on a roll here).

You're going to need what are called "Monitors" or "reference" speakers. These are speakers that wont help even the worst of you sound pretty. They basically play back exactly what they hear. Unlike whiz bang 5.1, surround sound, double pike, back flip bells and whistle type speakers these will give a "flat response" so you can effectively "mix" the song with the "true" sound of what's going on.

Don't worry! You can tart the song up in others ways! These are just for "reference" when you mix/record.

Headphones are another option but I find these to be a little deceiving and get uncomfortable after a while. But they will work fine.

Behringer have a range of inexpensive reference/monitor speakers. But there are others.

So before we know it we have 4 things we need to topple the music world

  1. Computer
  2. Sound Card
  3. Software
  4. Speakers / Headphones

If your planning to do some singing and stuff, your probably going to need a microphone. I've found these devices to be particularly useful when laying down vocal tracks and I urge you to consider one also.

There are buckets of Mic's out there. For vocals and acoustic guitar the more popular type of Mic would be a 'condensor' Microphone. These have a typically warmer tone than a 'dynamic' Mic but this is by no means a Rule.

Dynamic Mic's are used more for miking up electric guitars (through an Amp, not direct line) and for vocals.

Condensor microphones will need phantom power to operate so if your Mixer/Soundcard/breakout box has phantom power then you're sweet. If not you will need to buy a separate pre-amp.

Some names to look for are Behringer & Shure. But as, usual, there are plenty more.

As your needs grow and change you will most likely want different types of Mic's anyway so you will be doing well to make a bad decision here.

A good idea would be to look at some HRC member profiles and listen to their music and look at what gear they have and what sound they achieve.

So now we have

  1. Computer
  2. Sound Card
  3. Software
  4. Speakers / Headphones
  5. Microphone

This is pretty much it in terms of gear to get started. Your budget will dictate the type of gear you get but even if you're really battling there is some good, cheap stuff that will get you started.

This article should have provided you with enough info to at least know what to look for when decking out your studio.

Now you can jump in the water and have a crack.

Remember to swim between the flags.

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User-submitted comments

Oct 17, 2005 11:10 am
1.5 GB processor to 3.0 GB
For the record, I think Bleak meant to say 1.5GHz to 3.0GHz. Ghz stands for gigahertz and is has units of inverse seconds, or how many operations the processor can do per second (not strictly speaking by any means, it's just a measurement of speed).

GB is generally used to abbreviate gigabyte, which is in reference to memory e.g. 1024 megabytes (mb) = 1 gigabyte (GB).

Mar 08, 2006 01:01 pm
well done
hey, what a great, simple explanation. basics in two minutes. hope you write more stuff, i'll be looking for it.

Apr 22, 2009 10:24 pm
Another free recording program that can export to Mp3.

You can load plug-ins and lots of free fx.

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