New to Home Recording

July 6, 2008 9:57 AM

What do I need to start recording at home?

I've been playing music for a long time, and over the years I've accrued several instruments. Without many other local musicians in the area (I recently moved), I wanted to start recording at home to take benefit of rolling in several instruments. I already have some microphone setups (SM-58s for those who are curio), but I've only ever used them for live sound. I want to get a multi-track recorder (with at least 8 open tracks), but I also want a system to upload it to my computer for mixing/editing/etc. Does anyone have any good suggestions on where I should start? Certain programs, certain brands, etc?
posted by SamuraiCarChase (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I realize there's a similar thread. I'm looking for solutions that don't require a large budget, however...
posted by SamuraiCarChase at 10:33 AM on July 6, 2008

You can probably start recording directly on your computer with a little bit of hardware, without getting an external recorder.

I can't speak for the other Mefites out here, but I've found that all-in-one recording machines can be difficult and fiddly to work with. Not that a computer isn't, but you already know a lot of the interface to start with.

I guess the major question is what sort of budget are you willing to spend? Exclusive of the computer and the guitar/bass gear I owned, I got everything I needed (and completed my first whole album) with about $2500 of gear. This included Reason synth software, an Audio interface (M-Audio Omni I/O PCI breakout box), Logic LE (which they no longer make for PC), 2 mics, and a good pair of monitors (Fostex PM-1).

You can go budget on several things. You can save around $500 off the bat if you don't need a software synth or Mics and just want to record instruments and already have a drum machine.

So my questions are: what's your budget, and what sort of computer do you currently have?
posted by chimaera at 10:36 AM on July 6, 2008

BTW, I've helped a bunch of friends get up and running for as little as $500 outlay on their part. They were using their stereo gear as monitors, and really just needed a decent interface card and basic recording software.

One good thing about audio interfaces (like M-Audio's) is that it usually comes with a "Lite" edition of Sonar or Ableton, or, in my case, Logic.
posted by chimaera at 10:38 AM on July 6, 2008

My budget is probably about $1000 at this point. I already have mics, and I have some options for monitors/headphones for that portion. I planned on using a drum machine/sampler to build beats, so I don't need a large drum setup. My largest options I need to figure out is how to record directly to my computer and then mix within, I suppose.
posted by SamuraiCarChase at 2:41 PM on July 6, 2008

I was gonna say something along those lines. I use this portastudio and when I first got it I loved it, mainly because before that I was using a 4-track analog Tascam thing, so back then it felt like a huge leap.

Later, however, I kinda got tired of the drill. It isn't the most comfortable system to work with (I think being able to see where everything is in front of you helps a lot in terms of the time it takes you to record, and eases the editing and mixing).

The reason it became tiresome is because you need to a) make a mix of your song, b) record it into the CD and then c) upload it into the computer, and some times after doing all that you find out that in the computer it sounds different and you have to do the three step thing again. And sometimes again. I sound like a whiner, I know, but after some dozens of mixes, remixes, burns and uploads it does gets tiring.

I'm considering switching to recording straight to the computer. Since I haven't done it I don't have any specific advice on what you should get, but I thought you could find my experience with the portastudio useful.
posted by micayetoca at 4:07 PM on July 6, 2008

I think you can get away with doing recording way less than $1000 if you have a monitoring system you like (for now), and have mics and musical equipment.

I currently use Sonar 5 producer edition for all of my multi(audio)-track needs. It's a bit pricey, and they only have a PC version. Because of this, I intend to move in the next incarnation of my workstation to use Ableton 7 (which is both PC and Mac, as I will never, ever, ever ever buy a PC with Vista).

So, since it seems the only thing you need is to get into your computer and once within do mixing, I wouldn't have any problem recommending something like the following:

M-Audio Delta 66 (this is a 6-in, 6-out PCI card). I like the breakout boxes with PCI cards because I've found that internal PCI interfaces are SO much more reliable than USB interfaces. Less likelihood of something hiccuping. This is just the router box for the PCI interface and has its own ASIO (asynchronous I/O) drivers. Don't pay more than $200 for one (plus tax-ish). You can get this with Ableton Live Lite version -- be aware that when I got the Logic free version with my Omni I/O that it had a max of 16 stereo channels. The full version of SONAR which I eventually bought has unlimited channels. You can probably also get a 4-in, 4-out Delta 44 which should be around $40 cheaper.

Because M-Audio doesn't make PCI breakout boxes with pre-amps anymore, I'd then recommend a mixer with pre-amps that you like the sound of. I have a Yamaha MG 12/4 which cost me $150, and I like it WAY more than the Behringer I started out with. This allows me to do one thing that I consider very important: split the input audio so that your input audio is going both to the monitors and the computer. If you rely on having your audio come into the computer, be analyzed and sent back out to monitor what you're playing (say, guitar), there will be a delay of usually at least 10 to 50 milliseconds. 1/20th of a second may not sound like much, but it can throw off what you're doing something fierce.

So, to wrap up, you can probably get what you want for around $500. A decent PCI interface will run 150-200 and should come with a "lite" version of a major multitrack software, and a decent mixer with which to monitor while recording and the output of your computer is another $200 or so.

From there you can choose to upgrade with more software, like SONAR (which is PC only so be aware of that) or Ableton, or Pro Tools, or etc., etc., etc.
posted by chimaera at 4:29 PM on July 6, 2008

Anyone have opinions on firewire for a breakout box?

I'm looking at the MOTU 8pre (even though I've been told the preamps are mediocre) because it connects via firewire. I would like to be able to hook it up to my PC for home recording and my laptop on the road. Brand new, it's around $500, offers 8 mic/instrument inputs, acts as analog/digital AND digital/optical converter, and comes with its own mixing/monitoring software.
posted by assoctw at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2008

The option I went with was the Digidesign Mbox2. Comes with 2 line ins, a midi in, and USB connects right into your computer. Also comes with Pro Tools LE and will run you about $400. If you want to spend a bit more, a lot of places offer the Mbox in a bundle with some cheap monitors and extra hardware.
You aren't going to be recording a live drum kit with an Mbox (at least without a mixer), but you can do two mic tracks simultaneously and an unlimited number of total tracks. If you mostly layer yourself over yourself, this is a pretty good option, imho.
posted by arcanecrowbar at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2008

I can speak pretty highly of my Tascam US-122 rig with Garageband and/or Logic (OS X).. I floundered quite a bit with the Behringer outboard and various PC programs before I settled here. I use an Audiotechnica 3035 and a couple of Shure PG-57's with a Presonus TubePre.
posted by kingbenny at 8:32 PM on July 7, 2008

I try to record everything in a tiny, egg-shaped adobe dwelling that I made in the yard several years ago using blood, feces and some stiff hair.
Live, off the floor.
Occasionally I do some overdubs while crying, into a phone. I can't fit any percussion into the egg, so I might shake some mints that I have...(I grab them in handfuls while exiting restaurants, alone.)
posted by chococat at 9:35 PM on July 7, 2008 [2 favorites]

Am I getting you right that your mic collection is a few SM-58s right now? They're nice and versatile instrument mics and you can use 'em for just about anything, but a solonoid mic like that is pretty noisy compared to even a cheap condensor mic, and I'd personally recommend looking into spending a hundred bucks or more on one—your ability to record really clean acoustic tracks (vocals, non-amplified instruments) will just shoot through the damn roof.

Depending on what you're recording, that might not be as much of a priority, but it's one of the budget moves you can make to really improve part of your signal chain.

My setup is, like I guess a lot of mefite's, pretty much computer-based rather than a standalone, so I can't help you with recommendations there. Setting aside the cost of a functional computer, though, I've spent maybe three hundred bucks on mixer, mic and external sound interface and I use probably a couple hundred bucks of software (Adobe Audition, free VST plugins for some stuff) and that's it.
posted by cortex at 10:05 PM on July 7, 2008

So...hold up a second, are we saying that the cheapest and easiest way of getting up and recording is to buy, one of these breakout boxes, a couple of SM-58s and an $800 laptop?

Its only just occured to me that this might be possible (given that I've spent 2 weeks looking at digital 8 tracks and had *nearly* made my mind up.
posted by Jofus at 9:00 AM on July 8, 2008

(Incidentally, sorry to piggyback Samuraicarchase's question, but I was about to post more or less exactly the same question - except with a $2000 budget (Heh. Suck it, savings.)
posted by Jofus at 9:03 AM on July 8, 2008

Well, Jofus, the portastudio might be cheaper. Mine (linked upthread) was something between 600 and 800 dollars (I can't remember which) and all you need aside from that is a mic. A fine condenser mic will cost around 250, so, for less than a thousand bucks you could have a working little studio. Then, if it's not a matter of which is cheaper, but which has greater potential, I'd go with the computer + preamp + mics (I would vote for one condenser mic, though, rather than two or more SM58s).
posted by micayetoca at 9:47 AM on July 8, 2008

...yeah, but then I also get a new computer too! :)
posted by Jofus at 9:54 AM on July 8, 2008

I think the answer is probably yes, Jofus. That is, if the 8pre comes with some version of Digital Performer... Though as I said up-thread, I've had bad experiences with USB interfaces. Can't personally speak to firewire, though.

And you'll have MUCH friendlier non-linear editing abilities in the computer than any portastudio I've seen.

And you'll also get a new computer, too.
posted by chimaera at 2:03 PM on July 8, 2008

The downside to recording on a computer is that Metafilter is right there. I've pulled out my ethernet cable more than once just to keep myself focused.
posted by cortex at 2:14 PM on July 8, 2008

Love my Korg D888.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:02 PM on July 16, 2008

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