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littlesongs
04-18-2010, 04:27 PM
I recently joined UU because it was by all accounts an inclusive community that catered to all skill levels. In that spirit, I would like to try to rekindle some warm cooperative feelings and invite others to add their own concrete suggestions for people who are new to recording.

I have a lot of experience and a few ideas to share on the subject, but they are being humbly offered as "a way" to do it, not "the way" to do it.

Being someone on a shoestring, I personally value gear with excellent design, substantial build quality, and useful features that enhance my ability to capture sounds on a small budget. My suggestions here are focused on recording ukulele and vocals, but they can be applied to most any strummed, picked or plucked acoustic instrument with vocal accompaniment. It isn't all about the gear though. It's about the space you record in too.

Let's begin with the practically free stuff that anyone can try to improve their sound.

First of all, you might want to grab a pad and pencil for some quick notes. Now, go to the place in your house, apartment, office, or loft that you use for recording. Just stand quietly in the room for a minute or two and listen. How noisy is it? Do the floorboards creak? Can you hear the heating or air conditioning? Do buses and trains rumble past? Can you hear the din of construction, traffic, or industry? Is the sink in the other room dripping? Do sub-woofers in a nearby residence make the windows, paintings or knickknacks buzz? If you play sitting down, does your chair make noise? Can you hear the neighbors' television? Are these sounds found only in parts of the room? Do they only happen at certain times of day? Can you pinpoint where these sounds are loudest and softest?

This is part of what engineers refer to as the noise floor.

Your voice and ukulele will be competing and blending with all of those sounds in the environment. If you multi-track, those sounds will be multiplied with each additional track. The fewer tracks you have, the less noise you will have to deal with when you mix. While layers of distant trains or wind chimes might be atmospheric, a crowd of arguing couples, a thick slab of refrigerator hum, or the clanking cacophony of steam pipes might not work well with your material. Even the soothing sound of the ocean becomes white noise if it is layered on itself.

Now that you know what it is going on in the background, you will want to see how the space reacts to live sound. Stand in the middle of the room and clap your hands together loudly once. If it just sounds like a clap to you, clap once more and listen. Turn in a circle and clap a couple more times in each direction. Wander around and clap in different parts of the room. Does it just go "clap" and die out super quick? Or does it kind of sound like a clap with something like a "snapap" or "prrrang" or "klllung" tacked on the end? If it does, you have flutter echo. It is very common in rooms with parallel walls.

Volumes have been written and millions have been made on soundproofing, but some things are easy to fix well enough for home recording without remodeling or big investments. Down the road you may want to buy bass traps and whatnot, but a bit of simple DIY can get you started on the right track.

A squeaky chair should be swapped for something quiet. Hanging thick curtains over a window instead of blinds is a good idea. A heavy knit blanket or quilt works well to tame a bare wall. A silk tapestry can cut down the reflections from the ceiling. Putting an old towel under a throw rug helps mute a noisy section of floorboards. It can also work wonders if you are a chronic toe tapper. You can shut off the heat or AC, or simply close the floor vent and put a pile of laundry over it for dampening noises from the furnace or heat pump.

A big full bookcase absorbs sound reflections. It's even better if you have two bookcases facing each other on opposite sides of the room with the spines arranged unevenly on the shelves. Moving a couch or futon to break up parallel reflections can help too. Even a carpeted scratching post or big houseplants in the corners can be of use. Check your configurations as they evolve with the clap test. Use your ears and imagination. Experiment a bit, try playing your ukulele, sing at a comfortable volume, see what you think and adjust it some more. If particular frequencies or pitches jump out at you, they might be resonating in the room. You will need to try to dampen them as much as you can without going so far that it is out of balance with the rest of the sound spectrum. You do not need a perfectly "dead" room, just a room that sounds good with you and your uke in it. Unless you live in a concrete bunker or have really low ceilings, you should be able to make it work with some tinkering.

Does it sound pretty good in the room now? With a little bit of effort, you have already made a really nice place to write and rehearse. The space will be easier to fine tune once you have done some recording, but you have a good head start. Once you do begin tracking, it is a smart idea to take the first few rough songs you put together and listen to them on headphones in another quiet part of the house. You should be able to get a good idea of what sort of remaining artifacts are being added by the room and be able to pick out any noises that might be bleeding into the recording. It will never be perfect, but you can rearrange things enough to make it decent.

The other part of what engineers refer to as the noise floor comes from the signal path.

Before I suggest any financial investments, I want to share a caveat: No matter how new you are to recording, it is never too early to buy decent gear. It is much easier to learn with good tools. Like investing in a genuine Hawaiian ukulele, buying a nice microphone or a clean preamp is miles better than accumulating a variety of exasperating cheap stuff that sounds bad, breaks easily and costs just as much money in the long run. Frustration is the sworn enemy of creativity.

Good gear will be useful and valuable no matter how big or fancy your set-up becomes. It is also much more likely to retain that usefulness and value when you sell or trade it. With the recent economic downturn and digital transition, there are bargains to be found right now. Especially if you think outside the big box stores. Used professional equipment can be an incredible value. Radio & television stations, commercial recording facilities and film production houses often liquidate things that are great for home or small project studios.

(continued in next post)

littlesongs
04-18-2010, 04:30 PM
(continued from last post)

Alright, it is time to go shopping!

Audio-Technica designs and builds great microphones. The 40 series is popular in studios much bigger than our bedrooms for solid reasons. My AT-4040 was an amazing bargain new, but at around $150 on the used market, it is a steal. The AT-4033 and AT-4050 are also fantastic values. A true large diaphragm condenser microphone is a great thing to have if you are only going to have one mic to use. You can get a good sound fairly easily doing simple recordings of uke and vocals at the same time. It isn't terribly hard to find the sweet spots for your ukulele all by itself. It works great on solo and close harmony vocals when used with a pop screen. It also has a low cut filter to help take away the rumble of the furnace, the growl of the fridge and the scamper of the cat.

Audio-Technica also makes high quality small diaphragm condenser microphones. While an LDC sounds good on most things, an SDC is even better at capturing the detail of stringed instruments. A new AT-4040 and AT-4041 package might be the best bargain you can find where you live, but I'm actually going to recommend hunting down a Pro37. They are around $100 new and used ones can be found for half of that if you are patient. I really love how it sounds on my 12-string guitar and it shines on ukulele too. If you have a two channel preamp, one nice thing about having two mics is being able to isolate two performers and do live recordings of an instrumentalist and a singer at the same time.

With some savvy shopping and a bit of luck, you should be able to find both of these mics used for around $200 total. If that is still out of your budget range, you may want to read up on some of the other less expensive A-T side address condenser models. Even the humble little AT-2020 is a worthy investment. As an all around mic it does have limitations, but for around $50 it will make good recordings for much less than the price of many inferior budget condenser microphones that look prettier and sound pretty bad.

If you already own some of those Guitar Center blowout bargains, I would suggest checking out the mods that Michael Joly (http://www.oktavamod.com/) offers. He is very skilled at bringing out the best in low priced mics and has earned a stellar reputation with studios big and small. Michael is also a really nice guy who stands behind his work.

A good microphone on a cheap and rickety microphone stand is a disaster waiting to happen, but it can be easily avoided. I am partial to the K&M and Atlas brands. There are many good used stands on the market and bargains can be found. Craigslist, church rummage sales and school surplus auctions are worth checking out for high quality mic stands among other things.

A good microphone with a lousy cable is not going to sound like it should. You need not overpay for unscientific sonic voodoo and gold wires brushed by the wings of butterflies, but cutting corners on signal path to save a couple of dollars is pretty silly too. If you are handy with a soldering iron, get some Neutrik connectors and high quality cabling. You can actually make your own in a few minutes for less than the cheapest junk at Banjo Mart.

Some people seem to dedicate their lives to arguing about which expensive microphone preamplifier is the best one on the market. Just as many folks seem to argue about all the different lousy cheap ones too. The smartest approach by my way of thinking is to find the best used preamplifier for the money. There are not a whole lot of choices on a tight budget, but there are a few diamonds in the rough. Patience is often rewarded with a great find.

Audio Technologies Incorporated is a small company out of New Jersey that has provided professional microphone preamps to the broadcast and film industry for years. More often than not, their gear can be found used for pennies on the dollar. Not because it is bad, but because the company has no snob appeal and is not well known outside of the markets they serve. Luckily, broadcasters and production companies do not often buy used gear, so the little blue ATI single and dual channel units can be found flying under the radar at ridiculously low prices.

My very favorite of their products goes by the corny name of "Ultimike" and is also known as the ATI M-100. They are still in production and cost around $550 new. Although it is only one channel, it has enough features to be considered an audio Swiss army knife. Here is the lowdown on the M-100 from the ATI website. (http://atiaudio.com//product.aspx?id=143) I picked mine up for $80 a few years ago from a film production company surplus sale. It remains the best bargain far and away in my humble studio. I have seen them as low as $50, but most tend to hover around $150 or so.

In addition to a quiet power supply that takes out line hash, RF shielding, loads of clean gain, switchable high pass filtering, 48V phantom power for condenser mics, a VCA limiter, and a transformer balanced audio circuit, there is one feature on the M-100 that is an absolute joy for home recorders:

On the front is a little RCA jack for remote gain control. Without modification, virtually any keyboard expression pedal with an RCA jack and a 10k pot will work just fine. I use a Yamaha EP-1 to control the volume with my foot. This inexpensive accessory makes it easy as pie to control the levels while you are playing, so you can dial it in without anyone else around. It is so much nicer than having to look at the levels, stop playing and turn a knob up a little, play some more, look at the levels and turn a knob down a little, play some more, look at the levels and turn a knob up a little, rinse, repeat. One simple feature saves me a whole lot of time and hassle.

Another rather unheralded brand is Symetrix. Based in the Seattle area, this company has produced all sorts of gear for broadcasting, post production and sound reinforcement. A few of their compressors have seen some pretty serious use in recording studios, but their microphone preamplifiers are still considered uncool utilitarian pieces and the prices reflect it. An SX-202 is a good two channel mic pre in a compact package. It is a quality piece of gear that was not cheap new, but remains a bargain on the used market. Even a really nice one seldom goes for more than a hundred dollars and when you want to step up in sound quality, they can be modified by a skilled technician into a really nice front end.

(continued in the next post)

littlesongs
04-18-2010, 04:31 PM
(continued from last post)

Now that you have a good microphone and a good preamp, you'll want to turn all that soulful expression into 1s and 0s. There are lengthy debates all over the net on the subject of digital conversion. I am still a fan of PCI card based systems, so I am willing to go out on a limb and recommend the M-Audio Delta 66. For around $150 new and well under a hundred used, it is really hard to beat. You will need good cabling between your mic pre and the breakout box. Of course, with a bit of ingenuity, you can build them too. As far as I know, a brand new Delta 66 comes bundled with decent starter audio software, but I will get to that touchy subject in a moment.

It is impossible to get a decent recording if you are reading off of and writing on to the system disk, so it is absolutely mandatory that you have another hard drive for recording. If you can fit a second SATA 7200 RPM drive inside the computer, that is the least expensive and best way to go. If not, an external FW 800 option is your best bet. I have a new 500GB G-Drive that works flawlessly, although it did need an inexpensive low profile PCI card with TI chips to hook it up and it took a few extra steps to make the partitions PC compatible.

Although the Delta 66 is made for Pro Tools, I would actually recommend Reaper (http://www.reaper.fm/). With that said, I feel the need to clear the air a bit. First of all, it is not free. Baskin-Robbins will gladly offer you a taste spoon, but it does not mean that they want you to walk out with a bunch of ice cream without paying. Second, it is not expensive to get a license. Try it, learn it, and when it makes sense to you, send them $60. Third, it is the only recording software that has almost instant reactions to bug reports, a top notch dedicated developer and constant refinements with the help of many thousands of recordists. Finally, they have a comprehensive manual, very active user forums and friendly folks willing to answer questions that cannot be found with their search engine. After pricing similar software that costs much more than sixty bones, requires a dongle, has little by way of interactive support and is a massive memory hog, I am sold on Reaper.

Now that all the bits and bytes are in the box, we need something to hear them doing their magic. Worse case scenario, you can limp along on crummy computer speakers for awhile. The aforementioned Symetrix also makes quality low power monitoring amplifiers. On the used market, they usually run around $75 in good working condition. I have a newer 420 model powering my little Polks, Auratones and AKG headphones. My only disappointment was having to shield and isolate the amp. Without those precautions, the power supply creates hum in nearby gear. For bare bones monitoring on the super cheap, hooking up a decent thrift store stereo head and some bookshelf speakers like the old Radio Shack Minimus line will easily do the trick for under $50.

Good headphones are important. I use a cheap pair of closed back AKG K-44s for some jobs and my venerable AKG K-240s for others, but I am looking forward to picking up a pair of Grados. At the same time, I really miss my beat up Nova 40s and their Koss cousins. There are as many opinions about headphones as there are ears, so I'll just suggest that you find something you like and find comfortable to use at a price you can afford. If you can do it, try a bunch of them out and see what you think before you drop any cash.

So, there you have it. A few ideas on finding bottom of the barrel prices without being stuck with bottom of the barrel gear. I hope it is of some use. Thank you for indulging me. Remember, this is just one way of going about it, and certainly not the only way. As someone who started this journey long before the rise of the internet, I would encourage everyone who has something constructive to offer to share it with the forum. If only places like the TOMB (http://messageboard.tapeop.com/) and UU were around back in the 80s. ;)

bt93
04-18-2010, 04:36 PM
great post!

AC Baltimore
04-18-2010, 06:24 PM
Thank you for some fantastic and constructive info LS. I have learned a few things here. I am a bit baffled on Reaper though. I have had it on my laptop well over a year and have yet to be forced to buy anything... same on my Father's PC. Having said that, this is a better route than I suggested in the thread gone wrong. I was just trying to cut every possible corner for those that must go ultra cheap or do without. But like I said, for a little more cabbage this is a better method.

One suggestion. Most rooms have a closet, if it is big enough... yank the shelves, throw up some cheap egg crate and you have a poor mans vocal booth. If you have a walk in closet... vocal and instrument. the wifes skirts are on their own lol.

Nuprin
04-18-2010, 06:49 PM
@littlesongs: Amazing post! You have some great suggestions for DIY isolation as well as some lesser-known, well-made products.

@Baltimore: Great idea for a vocal booth!

Another mic company to check out is Rode. Great bang for the buck. Their NT1A is an amazing mic that rivals the AT4040 (at a cheaper price point as well). Also, for those who don't have an extra, unused closet to use as a vocal booth (like me), I've gotten decent results by hanging heavy blankets over 4 mic boom stands (booms extended parallel to the floor) to create a makeshift iso booth.

scottie
04-18-2010, 06:53 PM
Getting into recording is kind of an act of faith. We all start knowing almost nothing and we have to choose gear, which we are completely unqualified to do given that we know almost nothing.

Buying cheap gear first time around is tempting if you're on a tight budget and itching to record but it's really not worth it. It takes about $1k for mic(s), interface or small mixer with preamps, headphones, powered monitors and whatever cables and connectors you'll need. You'll get decent entry level gear that you can learn on and get really great sound if you're willing to put in the time to learn how to deal with your room.

AC Baltimore
04-18-2010, 07:31 PM
Getting into recording is kind of an act of faith. We all start knowing almost nothing and we have to choose gear, which we are completely unqualified to do given that we know almost nothing.

Buying cheap gear first time around is tempting if you're on a tight budget and itching to record but it's really not worth it. It takes about $1k for mic(s), interface or small mixer with preamps, headphones, powered monitors and whatever cables and connectors you'll need. You'll get decent entry level gear that you can learn on and get really great sound if you're willing to put in the time to learn how to deal with your room.

I feel a very basic starter setup can be done well under a grand, but I was already ready to disagree with you when I seen you are in pitt... Ravens fan here lol.

Brandon7s
04-18-2010, 08:44 PM
Great posts, littlesongs. So true about the environment that we record in. I wish I had a large walk-in closet that I could hang blankets/cloths/etc in to get the reflections down.. Alas, as it is my apartment's living room will have to do - even though it sounds baad. Hard to modify an apartment on the cheap without permanently changing the room in some way. Though, if I could find some large moveable clothing racks that I could hang blankets from, that would probably make a huge difference without having to put holes in the ceiling or walls for mounting them. I'll have to try to find a rack like that on the cheap.

Question about the headphones though: what are you going to be using the Grados for? Mixing? I'm sure you already know this, but they are open-air headphones, so recording with them causes a lot of bleed-in issues. I have a pair of Alessandro MS2 (slightly modified Grado SR325), which is a lovely headphone for every other purpose though. Not terribly comfortable (not compared to my DT990 or AKG K701s, but those are insanely comfortable), but they fit different for everyone, and I can still wear them for a couple hours at a time with no problem. In any case, I bet you'd like the Grados. :)



Buying cheap gear first time around is tempting if you're on a tight budget and itching to record but it's really not worth it. It takes about $1k for mic(s), interface or small mixer with preamps, headphones, powered monitors and whatever cables and connectors you'll need. You'll get decent entry level gear that you can learn on and get really great sound if you're willing to put in the time to learn how to deal with your room.
I suppose the cost of your setup would be determined by the scope of your projects, but for someone recording one person at a time, playing a maximum of one instrument at a time, 1k is a nice amount to start off with, but one could get VERY similar results with close to half of that budget. $200 for a mic (Rhode NT1), if you're only going to user one mic at a time (despite having multiple mics, I only record one at a time these days. I enjoy the minimalistic aspect) would be plenty for some quality recording, and then another $150 for the audio interface (Delta 66 is a great choice). I have a Rane MS1b preamp that I simply love for acoustic guitar and ukulele, though it is only a 1ch preamp. That runs about $150 new. So, $500 for the tools used to actually record - this excludes monitors and headphones though... but since I don't use monitors, I have no clue about those :D - but a quality pair of headphones will run about $100 (ATH-M50s, my personal favorite closed cans).

I guess in the end, that does run close to $1k, if you buy a pair of monitors, stands, and cables. But excluding the monitors, you can get pretty much everything you need for some dang good recording for about $600, and less if you buy some things used (wish I had when I started out.. woulda saved a lot of money).

I don't disagree with 1k being a good budget for starting, not at all. But if someone really wanted to get into home recording, I'd hate to see them discouraged from trying because they feel like they need more money than they can afford to get something worth listening to. It can certainly be done with much less money, and items in the sound chain can always be upgraded at a later point.

Nuprin
04-19-2010, 03:40 AM
I currently have a pair of AKG K240MKII and a pair of Audio Technica ATH-M50s. I also use a pair of Yamaha HS50Ms and a pair of old Event monitors I had kicking around. Once I get the basics of a mix down, I A/B that mix with both monitors and both headphones. Lastly, once I'm happy with the mix, I'll listen to it in my car for the next couple of days (at which point I'll usually make another couple of tweaks). The most important thing you can do with any pair of monitors or headphones is to learn the proficiencies and deficiencies in them. Take some time and really listen to music you know very well through them. Listen to the overall frequency response and learn to make those adjustments in the mix. For instance, I know that my Yamaha monitors lack a little in the low end so I compensate for that when I'm mixing. Learning your headphones and/or monitors will really help with your mixes.

Another tool that I have found useful is Inspector by Roger Nichols. It's an audio analysis tool. It's a free download for RTAS, VST, and AU plug-in formats. Here's the link to those interested in checking it out:
Inspector (http://www.rndigital.com/inspector.html)

littlesongs
04-19-2010, 04:24 PM
bt93: Thanks!

AC Baltimore: I should have explained that Reaper is provided to users on the "honor system" -- like a box of candy in the office that has a coffee can next to it for contributions. If you are using the software and like it, send 'em $60 sometime.

The closet iso booth idea is a good one. I should have said something about homemade isolation booths and I'm really glad you brought it up. An unzipped sleeping bag or foam bedroll held up with those clampy pants hangars is excellent dampening material in a closet, or even in a room if your beloved significant other is the tolerant sort.

Nuprin: Thanks! I am not a fan of Rode products, but that's just my opinion and opinions are like... well... everybody has one. I'm glad it works nicely for you.

I like your "kids' fort in the living room" iso booth idea too. I think you could probably fashion crude gobos using spare mic stands in a similar way with pillows, old wool sweaters and bungee cords.

Scottie: I agree that deciding to record on your own is a leap of faith, but not like it was twenty years ago and certainly not like it was for many decades before the Portastudio revolution. I think that now is the easiest time ever. Artists routinely get their start at home.

Research into gear, techniques and history does not always involve finding/buying/checking out piles of books, seeking out reclusive wizened mentors or haunting local pro audio specialty houses. Folks have Google. Gaining a little bit of experience with something as basic as editing does not involve getting into a broadcasting school or finding an internship at a studio. It does not involve blocks and razors either. Anyone can buy Pro Tools and join a web community with contributing engineers. Self-releasing your music regionally does not mean hunting high and low for willing little shops. It also does not require additional investments in tape stock, duplication, printing, phone bills, postage, mailers, etc. A Bandcamp account serves the entire world.

People are a whole lot nicer about it now too. It is accepted practice. The 80s and early 90s were much different. Even within the ranks of college radio, cassettes were never easy to get on the air. Around the independent music community, home recording endured through a broadly held negative stigma that only began to fade with the rise of GBV et al. It was a nerdy pursuit with huge limitations. It had the potential for immense investments of time, sizable expenditures of money, no chance of return and a slim chance for an audience. As a longtime devotee to the medium, I can say with certainty that analog multi-track cassette recording is still viewed as eccentric at best, but people are infinitely less snarky about it.

The kids got it easy. ;)

Brandon7s: Thanks!

I have several reasons I want the Grados. First of all, they are great cans for tracking or monitoring. Second, they are made right here in the USA. Third, they are really comfy. Fourth, they are gloriously dorky. Fifth and foremost, thanks to the open back design, I can hear the cat scratching at the backdoor when he wants to come inside late at night. If he does not wake up the love of my life several times in an evening, the investment will be worth every penny.

Scottie/AC Baltimore/Brandon7s/Nuprin: My two cents. If somebody already has a good computer, I did my best to illustrate just one way that around a thousand dollars would cover a bare bones quality set-up for vocals and ukulele. It would be more difficult, but possible to do it for less.

"Inexpensive" is not synonymous with "cheap" when it comes to recording. A real bargain is finding something of quality on the used market that does exactly what you need. The ATI preamp that I shared is available brand new for $550. The small mixing desk that I use listed for $2,525 just a couple of years ago. My multi-track cassette machine had an MSRP of $1,420 in 1994 -- or $2,029 in today's dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the discrete mic preamp that I love listed north of $2,500 in 1969. Without even considering instruments, microphones, outboard, monitoring, racks, patchbays, cables, blank media, et al, or anything involving a computer, just four essential items from my humble studio were over $7,600 new. Good gear is never cheap.

As I alluded to in my spiel, it takes a real time investment to make it happen. Beyond the money, you need a combination of research, savvy and patience to find things of quality that you can build around. Having fewer options with quality tools will help you learn faster too.

It is also far better to focus on gear that will specifically help your own recording needs, not a "one size fits all" approach. Learn as much as you can, save up for a little while and expect to spend even more in the future. Being someone who has experienced the gamut from borrowing castoff gear to building and rebuilding small recording setups a brick at a time, I do not understand the concept of having a rigid budget of a grand or whatever and the irrational need for everything in one shot. I hope folks understand that it is not impossible to have a nice home studio on a small budget, but it is also not easy or quick.

I am really glad that you are all jumping in with such good ideas. I hope this discussion is useful in some measure to people just starting out. Thank you all for getting into such a helpful spirit.

Brandon7s
04-19-2010, 04:47 PM
"Inexpensive" is not synonymous with "cheap" when it comes to recording. A real bargain is finding something of quality on the used market that does exactly what you need. The ATI preamp that I shared is available brand new for $550. The small mixing desk that I use listed for $2,525 just a couple of years ago. My multi-track cassette machine had an MSRP of $1,420 in 1994 -- or $2,029 in today's dollars. Adjusted for inflation, the discrete mic preamp that I love listed north of $2,500 in 1969. Without even considering instruments, microphones, outboard, monitoring, racks, patchbays, cables, blank media, et al, or anything involving a computer, just four essential items from my humble studio were over $7,600 new. Good gear is never cheap.

I just wish I could shop where you shop ;) - you've gotten some amazing deals on your used equipment. I guess if I looked around more often I might be able to find something like those deals, but eh.. I don't have that much patience, haha.

Oh, and I completely agree with the open-backed headphone advantages. I feel closed in and disconnected from everything around me when I wear closed headphones.. I like being able to hear everything around me, and it's much easier to talk with them on.

littlesongs
04-22-2010, 06:30 AM
I just wish I could shop where you shop ;)

You can! Virtually all of my gear was found on Craigslist, Ebay and the TOMB.

penster
05-15-2010, 02:45 AM
I do a lot of home recording with ukulele, vocals, electric guitar, bass guitar, mandolin.
I use a Boss Micro BR to make the recordings. It is a tiny self-contained 4 track recorder. I cannot recommend it enough. You can produce complete recordings using only the Micro BR but I normally upload the digital recordings into my PC and work on them with Cakewalk Sonar.
I record vocals in my Volvo S80 car. It is a small acoustic volume, acoustically isolated and does a good job. I use a Rode M3 condenser mic (powered by an internal 9v battery) to record. It is not a dedicated vocal mic but does a decent all-in-one job.
My cheap-as-chips solution. You learn a great deal about recording using such simple gear, but you have to be good at making complicated gadgets work - a lot of reading of the manual.
Penster

FromTheWayside
03-29-2011, 05:19 PM
Hi LittleSongs (and sorry to everyone else for necro'ing this thread; it just seems like the best way to get my questions answered) -

I read through your first few posts, and I found them to be illuminating. There are a few things I don't understand, though.

First, how does all of this connect up? Here's what I could glean from the posts (though I'm not sure if it's correct):

> = connects to

Mic > Cable > Preamp > Cable > Digital Converter > Cable > Computer + Software (+ additional hard-drives, etc) > Headphones / Monitors

I'm assuming you need all of those to record, yes?

Also, why do you need a pre-amp? I've seen a lot of boxes that combine the preamp and the digital converter, and I was wondering what the advantage of having separate units would be.

Is there a non-PCI option you recommend? I'm not particularly tech-savvy, and the idea of installing a lot of hardware irks me a bit (though I could learn...it just seems like there are more convenient options. :p).

Finally, I'd like to state I'm not really out for studio-quality sound, per se. I don't plan on selling my music, and at most I'd record a musician friend or two while tooling about at home. Is it worth it for me to invest in this gear? In the long run, I'll sound better and need to upgrade less, but it might take a rather long time for me to hit that point (not that I don't appreciate all the advice you've given, it's all good stuff).

Thanks in advance.

FTW

PS - Sorry if this is a silly question, but how can the Symetrix be a two channel pre, when it has (as far as I can tell) only one mic input? Also, when buying used, how do you know you're not being shafted (i.e. buying junky / broken equipment)?

spots
03-30-2011, 06:01 AM
...First, how does all of this connect up? Here's what I could glean from the posts (though I'm not sure if it's correct):

...

Mic > Cable > Preamp > Cable > Digital Converter > Cable > Computer + Software (+ additional hard-drives, etc) > Headphones / Monitors

I'm assuming you need all of those to record, yes?

Essentially that is how the components would be connected. The specifics will depend on the individual devices you purchase.



Also, why do you need a pre-amp? I've seen a lot of boxes that combine the preamp and the digital converter, and I was wondering what the advantage of having separate units would be.You are correct that some boxes have both a pre-amp and a USB or a Firewire out that will feed directly into a computer.

Some advantages of separate units for people might be:


initial cost (units without the connections cost less)
the ability to change D/A converters as the technology improves
ability to keep core hardware (mixing boards, mics, compressors, etc.) and change out the break-out boxes later.



Is there a non-PCI option you recommend? I'm not particularly tech-savvy, and the idea of installing a lot of hardware irks me a bit (though I could learn...it just seems like there are more convenient options. :p).There are USB and Firewire based external breakout boxes. Firewire will let you record more channels at once than USB, and it is more expensive. USB is less expensive to get started with, but the data transfer rate is slower.

Both USB and Firewire are not inherently "better" than using sound cards. Their ability to have "clean" inputs into the computer depends on how well shielded the USB and Firewire connections are on the motherboard or card. I've heard some noisey USB ports with poor shielding that pickup electrical noise when neighboring ports are used. This will ruin your recording.


Finally, I'd like to state I'm not really out for studio-quality sound, per se. I don't plan on selling my music, and at most I'd record a musician friend or two while tooling about at home. Is it worth it for me to invest in this gear? In the long run, I'll sound better and need to upgrade less, but it might take a rather long time for me to hit that point (not that I don't appreciate all the advice you've given, it's all good stuff).You don't need a very expensive setup to get good results.

I use a Pentium 4 running XP Pro with 2 GB or RAM, a $90 Behringer 10 input 2 channel mixer going into the Line-In on my sound card, and some $30 dynamic mics. I also have a $30 RCA to USB digital converter if I want to use it.

For recording software I am using "Kristal Audio Engine" (it's free, uses ASIO drivers, accepts free VST plugins, and I like it better than Audacity). This setup lets me record two independent tracks at once.

The biggest issue with my recordings (aside from musical ability) is the ambient noise from air ducts, water pipes, pets, etc.

knadles
03-30-2011, 08:14 AM
littlesongs,

Thank you for your posts. It's good to see someone championing a higher grade of gear and some good planning. As something of an audio guy myself (part time, but with a degree in it), I have a hard time balancing my own desire for high-quality against my potentially coming off like an audio snob. Like many around here, I came into recording with the attitude that the Shure SM-58 was all anyone might ever need. That lasted exactly until I heard it A/B-ed against a Beyer M500, against which the 58 sounded like a walkie-talkie. Unfortunately, it also started me down a dark path that has taken me through a variety of microphones, preamps, converters, etc. But I'd be the last to say it hasn't been worth it. :)

So I say to everyone...if you're looking to strum out a couple of chords and put a video on YouTube, there are 1,000 products that will probably do the job for you. Save money, go cheap, and I won't ever try to talk you into upgrading because it can be expensive and will offer at best only marginal improvement by the time YouTube's compression software gets through chewing on it.

But if you're hoping to do this for a long time, and planning to make recordings that will be pleasurable to listen to years down the line, and don't want to purchase a ton of gear you won't be satisfied with that will collect in your closet until the next yard sale...please please PLEASE consider buying decent stuff to start with. littlesongs is right: just as a better instrument is capably of producing a better sound, better recording gear (and a good room in which to record) is essential and will save you money in the long run. I know how it is to want to jump right in and I've made some dumb purchases that I've regretted. TRY NOT TO MAKE THAT MISTAKE. The complete recording setup for $100 may sound like a good deal, but if you get serious about recording you'll outgrow it quickly.

This turned into more of a manifesto than I intended. Sorry about that. I now return you to your regularly scheduled forum...

-Pete

Ukulele Jim
03-30-2011, 08:31 AM
Thanks so much for this information. Lots of good stuff here.

Personally, I've muddled along with a Zoom H4 recording in my living room. It's worked out quite well.

sharp21
06-07-2011, 06:50 AM
Funnily enough I am buying a new house soon with a nice little room that I am turning into a recording studio! This thread comes at the perfect time.

What about using Garage Band? I've already got the Mac that runs it & have turned out a couple of tracks using that. Just add an M-Audio firebox!

That said, I just got a new hard drive (old one crashed) & am in the process of reinstalling everything & starting from scratch so would consider making a switch. What makes Reaper the one to beat?

My next purchase for the Workshop will be a condenser mic, followed by speakers & headphones. After that it'll be some kind of midi controller & / or drum machine.

S.