Recording Equipment - Whats right for you?

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The amount of different options available when it comes to computer recording can make the task of setting up your home studio a very confusing one. Before jumping in a making any major purchases, theres a few things you need to consider:

1) Is my computer up to the task?
2) How many simultanious ins and outs do I need?
3) Is the equipment Im looking at compatible with my existing setup?
4) What else am I going to need to purchase to make this equipment work?
5) Do I know how to use this? Is it easy to learn?
6) How far will the equipment Im considering take me
7) Do I realy need all the bells and whistles I've never heard of, and dont understand?
8) What does the budget allow?

1) Is my computer up to the task??

Possibly the most overlooked question when it comes to computer based recording. I recomend a dedicated system for recording that doesnt get used for anything else, this way you dont get allot of spyware slowing down your recording software, or other programms running unessicarily in the background. Your PC will be the deciding factor on how smoothly your recording sessions go, some particular makes or particular pieces of hardware have known compatibility issues with certain softwares, so its a good idea to check the manufacturers website. Multi track recording will drain every last ounce of your computers resources, and if you dont have enough, it will crash or just not work at all.
Key areas are: Hard drive, RAM, Processor, Graphics
Hard drive: You will need a very large hard drive AND A FAST ONE. To record a 3 minute song using only 10 tracks (that doesnt give you much to work with, maybe one guitar, bass, one vocal, and 7 drum mics) your going to need 300 megabites at an absolute minimum (assuming theres only one take per instrument and no mistakes to be re-recorded) in reality, you will probably need to allow 1-2 Gigabytes worth of space or more for each song you want to record to be on the safe side. It's also very important to make sure your hard drive speed is a quick one; I sugest 7200rpm (more is good too if you have one!). Its no good having a huge hard drive, heaps of ram, the worlds fastest processor, only to find out you cant write (or read) the information from that drive quick enough.
Its also Strongly advised that you do not record to the same hard drive that your opperating system is installed on. Having a second hard drive allows faster access to your music files without having to interupt the computers standard processes.
RAM: The ammount of ram you will need depends on the ammount of tracks you want to record or playback all at once, and the ammount of pluggins and effects you use. the more you need to use, the more RAM you will need. Anything less than 1 Gig of RAM and you verly likeley need to upgrade. 3 Gig of RAM or more is strongly advised. The simple rule here is the more the better. not enough RAM will result in freezes and crashes.
Processor: Again, the faster the better, and same as with RAM, the more you want to record or playback the more you will need. anything less than 2Ghz will need upgrading if you want to record more than a few small tracks. Dual core and Quad cores are great, but just be certain your recording software make make use of more than one processing cores first (most new ones do, but hardly any of the older programs support more than one core).
Graphics: you might ask why are graphics important when im recording sound - not video? its to do with the systems displays. Allot of recording softwares require decent graphics cards. Multi Screen displays are very effective time savers, if your spending allot of time editing and recording, it wont take long before you find just one screen too small to fitt your mixing window, your editting window, and 300 thousand different effects and pluggins you use.
Remember, your computor system is only as strong as its weakest link - Get these things right, and your recording process wont end up with you smashing your guitar over the computer because the system just wont do what you need it to!

2) How many I/O's do I need?

The I/O requirements of your system  will depend entireley on what you want to record. I/O's (in/out's) are simply how many diferent things you can pluggin and record all at the same time. If you only ever want to record one vocal or instrument track at a time and play it back in mono then you might be able to get away with just one I/O. However, if you'r instrument is a stereo instrument, you will need to channels in, and if you want to be able to play it back in stereo, you will need two channels out.
If you want to record a drum kit you will need allot more I/O's. If you have a very simple 3 piece drum kit with a mic on the snare, a kick peddal mic, and one in the bass drum, a high hat mic, 1 tom mic, two overheads and a room mic you can just squeeze away with 8 Lines in. As soon as you add a few more toms, want to mic the top and bottom of your snare and high hat, or anything else, your going to need more channels. If you realy want to do your drums right, your probably going to need 16 channels of I/O which can get very pricey. There are ways of recording drums without the full compliment of I/O like using MIDI and an electric drum kit, but this also comes at its own price and is something you will need to weigh up yourself

3) Is my existing equipment compatible?

Top end recording software can commonly require you to use specific affiliate branded hardware. If you are buying new software, you need to make sure the interface you are using is compatible. If you are buying a new interface, you need to make sure the software you are already using is compatible (or prefferably that the interface comes with its own software). Theres nothing worse than forking out a gran or more for a piece of equipment that you cant use because it doesnt work with anything you already have.

4) What else do I need to purchase?

If buying everything new from scratch, you need to make sure you have the following where necessary........
A compatible computer, mouse keyboard monitor etc
An appropriate recording I/O interface
A midi interface (if your recording interface doesnt have MIDI capabilities built in) 
Suitable software (if not provided with the interface)
enough cables to connect everything
enough mics to mic all your instruments
A set of headphones (or possibly several sets of headphones)
A set of studio monitors (and possibly a sub)
a control surface (only if you want to use a hands on mixer instead of an on screen one)
An ADAT convertor (many interfaces support additional I/O from a digital source, in this case, an ADAT convertor is essential)

5) Do I know how to use this, or is it easy to learn

Pretty self explanitory, but dont overlook it. Some of the best equipment and software on the market can be extremeley difficult to use if your knowledge is limited, and people pay big money to studdy the ins and outs of recording software. The newer the software generaly the more extensive the features, and the more features built in usualy means the more things to learn. Allot of equipment these days comes with instructional CD's, but if buying used equipment, make sure it at least comes with a manual, or that one is downloadable if nothing else.

6) How far can this equipment take me?

Its not uncommon to buy something cheap to first have a bit of a dabble in recording, but time and time again, I see people trading in items they purchased only a short time ago becuase they now want to do something they didnt think about at first. Its important to consider this now before buying anything, because buying the right item once can save you allot of money not having to constantly upgrade..
I only need to record one band member at a time today, but how many will I need to record in 2 months?
If I can only afford 8 channels of I/O now but know I will need more, can I upgrade easily, or will I need a whole new settup?
If I want to do this professionaly, is the gear up to the task? Will my clients be impressed or dissapointed? What would my opinion be if I paid someone to record me and they were using this equipment or produced recordings with 'x' quality?
How easily can I add more functionality to the software if I need to later

7) Do I realy need all the bells and whistles

The simple answer is 'no', the more complicated one is 'yes, maybee'.
When it comes down to it, anyone can buy a cassett recorder, stick it in a room hit record, and go for gold. If all you want to do is record and playback music, that will do the task for under $10!
The bells and whistles that you pay for increase quality, add extra functionality and features, give you more editing options, save time and make things easier for you. If performing simple tasks takes you forever because you took the cheap option with limited functionality, it wont be long before you decide the system you bought sucks and you get sick of doing it. For this reason, I cant stress enough to get the best software and equipment your buget will allow, and the more bells and whistles the better, because its likeley you'll need them at some point, if not right now. unless someones gone right over the top, I rareley hear anyone say, "the systems great, but I think its probably overkill for what I needed, I wish I got the cheaper one"! More often than not what I hear is "I got a great system, it cost me $X, but I just wish I spent that little bit extra on the one that does it this that or the other". If you get the best setup you can afford, you wont be dissapointed with poor results later.

7) What does the budget allow?

Now its all well and good to say I want the best, but the best always comes at a price, and in most casses, the budget is the limiting factor. If you cant put off saving a little bit more to get the setup you realy want, see if you can layby the item, or buy the settup in pieces getting the most crittical bits first.

Can you reccomend me something?

I couldnt reccomend the digidesign gear highly enough, and when it comes to software based recording you cannot go past Pro Tools. Pro tools is the industry standard for very good reasons:
It has extremeley extensive functionality
There are endless tutorial resources available over the net
Most studios, producers, and engineers use protools, meaning you can take your files to any studio to work on them.
The same software that can run a 100+ track studio can also be scaled back to use on a laptop on the train!
The layout is logical making it relitiveley simple to learn
it offers non destructive recording (meaning you can record over a previous track without ever loosing the original recording)
low or zero latency monitoring options (nothing more confusing than the sound being delayed through the headphones)
and its capable of Incredible professional sounding recordings at a consumer price.

For a 16 channel I/O setup, paerhaps consider the following, as it is all available to those on a limited budget but is still very profesional gear
Digidesign 003 Rack -
does everything the 003 console does just without the control surface built in which reduces the price. New it comes packaged with Pro Tools LE which you cant go past for choice of software, and a massive pluggin bundle to get you going From Day one. gives you 8 analog tracks (4 XLR + 4 Line Level) and 10 digital ones
2 sets of headphones, at least one refference quality.
your going to want headphones and not just monitors when recording anything with mics to stop track bleeding. Your headphones should be reference quality, and dont go too cheap, get good ones, the performer on the other hand can make do with any old headphones, even ipod headphones if restrained by costs, as long as they can hear the backing track(s) loud and clear is all that matters to them.
KRK RP5 Rokit Powered Monitors
These are great little monitors, big sound, top quality, and they look awesom and a price that wont break the bank. If the budget allows, by all means go bigger, maybe RP6's, or RP8's, and while a sub is not critical, it will help you to stop pushing too much bass into your mixes
Behringer Ultragain Pro (ADA-8000)
This is the cheapest AD/DA converter I've seen, and it does the job just niceley. Theres definiteley higher quality gear arround, but if you need a cheap way to add extra tracks, this one will add 8 XLR or line level inputs to your existing setup and connects to your 003 via the ADAT optical input. I've heard horror stories of the clock not being accurate and power supply burnouts, but I've not experianced any such problems with one of these units. The pre-amps are clean and clear, and the quality is absoluteley outstanding for the price range.
If you want to add a couple of extra tracks on top of this, you can also add an SPDIF AD/DA convertor seperate from the ultragain
Patch Bay -
This will make your life soo much easier instead of climbing behind your rig all the time to plug your gear in and out. Behringer gear is cheap hear, and going against the trend, just because its cheap doesnt mean its no good. Theres not much to a patch bay, so it probably wont matter what you get unless its realy bad.
Mics -
This will depend on what your specific requirements. As a great all rounder, grab yourself a Rode NT2 or NT2000. With a variable polar pattern it makes the mike extremeley versatile as both a vocal or instrument mic. If you need multiple vocal mics, Sure SM58's are very robust units that sound great, and are also perfect for live use meaning you dont need to double up on your mics, or go the SM57's for instrument mics
Leads and Cables -
Go for the good stuff, cheap uninsulated cables have a habbit of picking up noise on your recordings which is the last thing you want. You're going to need mic leads, intrument leads, Optical and RCA cables, patch leads, speaker leads, and all sorts of connecters. Dont be surprised if you've forgotten something, and keep some money asside for exactly this, as you will probably need it

Hardware requirements will differ from person to person, but if you visit our store and are having trouble deciding what you need, please feel free to get in touch with us and ask for help....... The only dumb question is the one that didnt get asked!

Hopefuly this helps you find what your looking for

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