Advice Appreciated on High Quality Recording through the Computer

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by mmasters, Jul 5, 2008.

  1. mmasters

    mmasters Senior Member

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    I've been out of the loop on this for many years. I don't know where to start. Basically I'm looking to mic various amps I have and plug the output into my computer to make some high quality recordings of songs I've written and show off some great tones. What does it take to do this? Can it be accomplished through a unit that plugs into the USB port on the computer (plug and play)? or does a more substancial unit need installed to get me there? Do I need special software to make it shine? How much do I need to spend on this reasonably? what are my options?

    Much thanks in advance for the help!
    MM
     
  2. bchamorro

    bchamorro Member

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    I know someone will explain this better, but here is what you need.

    instrument -> microphone -> mic preamp -> AD converter -> computer

    Tell us what you want to record and we can help you with mics and the audio interface. We need to know how many tracks you want to record simultaneously too.

    Give us a budget too..
     
  3. mmasters

    mmasters Senior Member

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    Definitely would be recording guitars through cranked amps. Clean and distorted tones. A couple tracks at most say 3 or 4. My starting budget would be around 300. I would be willing to spend more (or less) depending on what's out there and what the value is per cost. As sometimes you can get 90% of the way there for one price but that extra 5 to 10% will cost you 2 or 3 times as much. I'm looking for good value and performance. Intuitive or minimalist interface would be a plus. Really appreciate the help on this!
     
  4. bchamorro

    bchamorro Member

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    This would be perfect, but you will need a bigger budget.

    Computer: Mac
    Sequencer: Garageband or Logic Express
    Interface: Apogee Duet (for 2 tracks) or Apogee Ensemble (3 tracks or more).
    Microphone: 2 Shure SM57s and then maybe you could get a Sennheiser e609.

    Wait for someone to give you some info on lower end stuff.
     
  5. mmasters

    mmasters Senior Member

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    Yeah I don't have any Macs unfortunately but looks very cool!
     
  6. jcground

    jcground Member

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    What kind of computer do you have? A dedicated hardware interface will be needed between your PC and the microphones, since the soundcard interface built into PCs is not going to get you the fidelity you want (in short, the quality of that will be from average to awful, most towards awful).

    If you've got a larger desktop PC, I believe getting a card and interface with good quality audio I/O is the best bet on a budget. There are still a number to choose from. More and more people are moving to laptops, so if that's where you are, I'd recommend looking for a firewire adapter and interface. True that there are multiple USB units on the market, but they have a lot of lag when you track. Firewire is much faster.

    For software on a budget, you might try Audacity first. It's open source and you can download it for free:
    http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
    It's not the easiest to use, but it's not too tough (especially if you only want to do a few tracks) and the sound quality is very good. You could try that with whatever hardware you already have and see if the quality is okay, or if you need to upgrade.

    If you end up buying an interface or something more complex, most come with bundled sound software too. However, you could easily blow a $300 budget on the interface and bundled software alone. That shouldn't be a big deal if you already have some microphones, but I'm just sayin'.
     
  7. andyc

    andyc Member

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    I've been VERY happy with my Presonus Firepods. You only need one, but I have two for 16 channels.

    The Firepods (now called FP10's) have 8 inputs. They include very good mic preamps. They also come with Cubase LE. Cubase is one of the premiere digital audio workstation software packages.

    With one FP-10, a couple of mics and a decent computer you would have all you need to get yourself started. I just bought my second unit, basically new in a box, for $ 300. I don't know what the retail price is these days, but when I bought my first one they were $ 599 new.

    I bought my son a Line 6 USB based interface, and it didn't work well. I ended up bringing it back and buying him a Presonus two-channel version of the FP10. I've been very pleased with the product, and I like working with Cubase.

    I agree that you'll want a couple of SM-57 mics. You will probably quickly want at least one decent condensor mic too - something like a Rode NT1A.
     
  8. stevel

    stevel Member

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    Obviously, the more you can spend, the better off you'll be.

    You need a good mic, but an SM57 is certainly not a bad investment (cheap too).

    If you can get a condenser mic with switchable patterns, it would be best. At least Cardiod and Omnidirectional. But you can spend 800 bucks on one of these (like an AKG 414) quickly.

    If you use a condenser mic, any pre-amp/Interface will need to provide Phantom Power (unless the mic uses its own power source - some use batteries).

    If your computer is new enough, I would STRONGLY recommend a Firewire interface. USB is OK, but the throughput is much better with FW. Up until very recently, a Card would be better, but FW has gotten to the point where it's really as fast.

    Something to look into - ASIO - audio engine Input and Output - one of the primary problems with internal (built in) sound cards was that they couldn't "do two things at once" - sound in and out - which means the output was always lagging by a few milliseconds. This has gotten better and with FW interfaces and the proper audio engine, you'd have flawless In/Out.

    Personally, I don't think your software has to be anything special - as long as it does standard audio file types (AIFF, WAV, etc.) and you can get by with 16 bit 44k specs if your ultimate product is going to be on standard CD. Obviously though, if it supports higher bit depth and sample rate, it's not going to be a bad thing (higher numbers just mean the files you record will be larger - they're theoretically "better quality" but when you burn them to CD, they have to be dithered down to 16 bit 44 k anyways - kind of like printing a 600 DPI image on a 300 DPI printer - you still only get 300 DPI).

    Also, the interface doesn't have to be exceptional either. Again, it needs to handle the appropriate sample rates, and transfer speeds for audio (FW). In many cases, it's the quality of the Mic Preamp in the interface that makes or breaks the interface, not it's Analog-Digital conversion quality (which is now typically pretty good in most).

    Of course, you can always buy a separate Mic Pre, but if the FW Interface has decent to good ones, that's where I'd spend my money.

    One thing no one's mentioned yet (I think) - you really should consider getting a second hard drive if you don't already have one. As a general rule, Audio files use 5 Megabytes per minute of recorded sound per track (so that's 10 for stereo). As you work with audio programs, most of them are non-destructive, meaning they keep every take you've recorded, even if those takes are not "active" in the current file. This means they can take up space fast. Additionally, being so large, they also need a little more "freedom" to be recalled and written and so forth. So most people use a second drive dedicated strictly to audio.

    A second internal drive is fine.

    Otherwise, something like a Glyph Firewire (again, I'd go FW and not USB) drive would be good.

    I've seen some newer portable drives, but I don't know if they're FW or not, but if you can find one of those, that might be handy too.

    HTH,
    Steve
     
  9. hobbes1

    hobbes1 Member

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    mics as noted previously. i want to clarify something that several other people have stated. usb can give you performance easily in the <10ms area as far as overall latency is concerned. this will be fine and you can track live and record a new track while playing back and listening to other tracks you've previously recorded.
    i use an m-audio jamlab sometimes, which can be had for $30 at musicians friend when on sale. this is usb and although i do not use the software that comes with it, the unit does fine to get your guitar and bass into the computer when recording direct. if you want to mic amps, use the mic/preamp set up that other have described. FW or USB will work well and get you <10ms latency and that's all you really need worry about assuming you have a reasonably modern, fast computer.
    you should definitely get a second hard drive, spinning at least 7200 rpm. and it would be portable too if you want to leave your computer but take your recording stuff to someone else's computer that runs similar software.
    i use Reaper (www.cockos.com) for my software, which is a non-crippled, pay or shareware software that, IMHO, is more user friendly than any of the big names like cubase. you will find it may work well for you and be much cheaper as well as having a great support network/forum.
    there are many included plugins for nearly every type of sound treatment you could want with Reaper and there are many free plugins on the net as well. start at www.kvraudio.com and you will find more than you can assimilate in a year. all free but there are plenty of payware out there too.
    as noted, audacity is good to start but reaper is by far a more advanced program in its capabilities while not being too overwhelming. prepare to spend some time on the learning curve regardless fo your choices.
    see www.musicxp.net if you run a pc with win xp for tuning suggestions to make your computer run more efficiently for recording. stop all antivirus and wifi/internet programs while recording, at the minimum.
    good luck. ask questions as you come to problems and i'm confident people will chime in to help you, only make sure to read the manuals as you go.
     
  10. mmasters

    mmasters Senior Member

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    I will be getting a new laptop in the next few months for my job. I'll definitely make sure it has a firewire port (none of my current computers do).

    So I understand right you basically buy a preamped standalone interface that connects to the computer viat the firewire port. You mic the cabinet and go into the interface which converts the signal through the firewire and ultimately onto your hard drive.

    As of right now I'm probably just looking to mic the guitar and record it and nothing more, are there any good single preamp firewire interfaces well valued? I think I would probably start off there.
     
  11. t0neg0d

    t0neg0d Member

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    I'm partial to Sonar Producer 7 on the software side. Sounds as if you are a PC user, so a decent option, if you want to spend the money.

    Preamps = color to your sound. I would suggest, if you are looking to record your guitar sound as uncolored as possible that you find a converter box with clean/non-coloring, simple (and defeatable) preamps included when doing this.

    Compression... no need in this context. Maximum peeks are easy to determine with guitar... just senseless coloration.

    Converts... there are a ton to choose from and many reproduce inputed sound without adding coloration (in reference to the preamps of the breakout box).

    Mics... everyone has a different take on this. I will, however, steer you away from SM57's at ALL COSTS. They add a clearly distinct coloration to guitar that (IMO) is horrid. The AGK C1000s was completely panned when it was first released, as it was touted as a vocal mic (which it is SOOOOO not). But, now-a-days, it is a studio staple mic and has many uses (with very good results I might add). I LOVE this mic for recording guitar. Its ability to capture pleasant mids and keep your highs from sounding harsh are amazing (considering the price). Lows are capture well and it blends easily with many different choices for ambient mic'ing. They can be had on the cheep, and even if you are not pleased with its application as a guitar mic, you will inevitably find a use for this mic. I saw someone had made mention of the 414 up above--as an added note, I think you will find the C1000s much more pleasing when recording guitar than a 414.
     

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