#1 Posted by Bruce (6238 posts) -

For the purposes of music, of course. To make a long ramble rather short: I want to be able to record instruments and vocals and then put them on my computer, preferably in a format I can mess around with.

I have no idea where to start.

Blindly searching Guitarcenter is never a good idea, plus I figured there had to be a few musicians here on Giantbomb who could help me out. I don't need anything too crazy (or expensive), but I want the quality to be decent; I tried using an expensive Logitech microphone (rigged to a table), but the audio always goes to shit whenever the guitars get loud. Also, since I'm not really that great with setting up equipment (I can plug a bass into an amplifier, and that's about it), it has to be something relatively easy to set up. It'd be awesome if I could connect the stuff directly to my computer, but I don't know how I would finagle that.

Any help is greatly appreciated!

#2 Edited by ComradeKhan (696 posts) -

I use a Lexicon Omega interface to record audio and midi on my computer. The Lexicon Alpha and Lambda are also good, they just have less inputs. I would say the Lambda, which is the middle of the road model, would be the best for its price. Its got 2 mic plugins, 2 midi, 2 line in, 2 line out, 2 insterts in the back and a direct instrument plugin in the front. I use the midi inputs for my keyboard which i use as a controller for inputing drum beats and synth parts. I use the direct input in the front for electric bass because you usually want to just get a direct line level recording for bass, but guitars sound better when plugged into an amplifier with a microphone up close and aimed at the edge of the speaker cone. I don't have a microphone at the moment so I just plug my guitar in directly.

#3 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -


#4 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -

Unfortunately the guy who wrote and updated updated that guide died a couple years ago, but the info is spot in and will get you well on your way to understanding recording.

#5 Posted by Tarsier (1491 posts) -

microphone and audio interface

#6 Posted by Bruce (6238 posts) -


What does that mean, exactly?

#7 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -

Look, clearly you are at square one. This is OK. Go to the guide I posted, start reading. And reading. And maybe join the forums for questions and info. Trust me when I say they will take you from square one and at the vey least get you recording something. Don't go out and buy stuff yet though. First you must learn if you want to get this stuff right.

#8 Edited by Tarsier (1491 posts) -

@Bruce said:


What does that mean, exactly?

audio interface is like an external sound card that u plug into ur computer with USB or firewire and it translates all sorts of things into your computer and u can usually plug microphones or guitars into it and all types of other things

its the main thing u need if u want to make music on computer and u can get a decent one for usually 200 -350 dollars dont go any lower than 200 though

i recommend M AUDIO make sure it does 96khz and 24 bit audio recording

#9 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -
@Tarsier 96KHz not kbps, since we dealing with the sample rate.
#10 Posted by Tarsier (1491 posts) -

ya thats what i meant

#11 Posted by Toms115 (2325 posts) -

1) get a cheap usb or firewire audio interface. i used to use an M-Audio fast track. they're really easy to use (and they also come with a limited version of pro tools recording software on disc, iirc).

2) get a shure sm57 microphone. you can use it to record just about any instrument and it can handle loud noises pretty well.

3) get a bunch of XLR cables

if you want a more defined sound for your vocals, get a condenser microphone. i'd recommend one of the cheap behringer ones, like the behringer C1. i wouldn't really recommend it for studio use but it's great for bedroom recordings.

also, you'll want to look up microphone placement tips on google.

#12 Posted by bibz (42 posts) -

Yep get an interface and a couple of mics to start with. As far as specifics, I like the focusrite range of interfaces. They're great affordable units with solid drivers. As for mics, dynamics the shure sm57/58 is a standard goto, though if you find an audix i5 cheap thats good too. Condensor wise theres plenty of cheap chinese ones around a hundred bucks. CAD m179 is my pick.

Theres no wrong answers here its all about what you can spend and what you put into it. If its just funtime jams grab whatever cheap behringer stuff will do the job but don't expect it to last.

#13 Posted by ComradeKhan (696 posts) -
@Toms115: Good call on the Shure Sm57
#14 Edited by diz (1017 posts) -

I have Propellerheads Reason with a Balance audio interface. This hardware and software combo is great for a complete recording solution. It comes with all sorts of virtual keyboards, guitar effects, sound processing and drums machines and provides many different ways of creating sounds. The down-side is that it only has 2 ins and 2 outs (plus one headphone).

I also have Pro Tools 8 (M-Powered) with an M-Audio Projectmix interface and Focusrite Octopre LE ADAT IO expansion. This provides me with more than 16 simultaneous inputs, 12 outputs, 2 headphone outputs and "flying faders". Pro-Tools is easier to get to grips with because it does not come with the vast number of included stuff that Reason has. Reason can be intimidating because of all the options, but it is consistent and logical and there are some good video tutorials available (I got some from eBay for a fiver) that explain all the various modules and what they all can do.

Reason is a "closed" system, although there are a small number of expansions from Propellerheads that increase the available sound-shaping options. Pro-Tools uses "RTAS" plug-ins from a wide variety of different companies. For example, I have bought Melodyne pitch correction software and "AIR Strike" drum simulator to work in conjuction with Pro Tools. Reason has it's own pitch correction tool and various drum machine modules, samplers and beat boxes.

Pro-Tools is notoriously touchy about system requirements and interfaces used, whereas Reason seems to work perfectly out the box and with minimal configuration changes - it is far less fussy about system resources and stable under load. I can use them both together, since there is as Reason RTAS plug-in for Pro Tools. I think I can also hook up my Projectmix to Reason, although I have not looked into this as yet, since the Projectmix only goes up to 48K but the Balance interface does 96K.

About mics; I'd forget about a Shure SM57 cardioid, since they are better for live work - and use a condenser mic for recording instead, such as a Rode NT1A (or better). You'll also want a decent pair of studio monitor speakers and headphones. I use Urei 813c speakers, along with the far more reasonable an manageable Adam P22A speakers, with M-Audio and Beyer cans. You may also need a huge monitor screen (or twin monitor set-up), since there is typically so much going on in a recording session.

#15 Edited by nintendoeats (6150 posts) -

I have an M-Audio FastTrack, which is a $150 audio interface intended for Guitar and Mic. It's pretty basic, but it has served my needs nicely. All the various blog posts, music and podcasts that I have posted here were recorded on it.

If you are just starting out, I'd recommend getting one. It's nice and low-investment.

EDIT: As for microphones, the SM58 is industry standard. I'm in a theater program, and we use those in most situations. Condenser mics are better for recording, but expensive and fragile.

#16 Edited by diz (1017 posts) -

The SM57/58 is not industry standard for recording. They are standard for live work, because their sensitivity, dynamic range, directional response and lack of phantom power are far better suited to live work rather than for recording.

#17 Posted by nintendoeats (6150 posts) -

@diz: This is very true, but I'm assuming that Bruce is looking for something affordable, reliable and flexible. I don't get the impression that he is looking to build the next Abbey Road.

#18 Edited by diz (1017 posts) -

@nintendoeats said:

@diz: This is very true, but I'm assuming that Bruce is looking for something affordable, reliable and flexible. I don't get the impression that he is looking to build the next Abbey Road.

Condenser mics can be cheaper than an SM57/58. They are also reliable, since they can be capable of recording higher SPLs than electrets. My example of a Rode NT1A is only slightly more pricey than a Shure, but the results would contain far more ambience and detail of the recording than a mic designed for live work.

For example, my latest mic (costing GBP40 new, or USD60) is a Behringer ECM8000. It is a condenser (requiring phantom power), but has a pancake-flat frequency response and is really good for recording acoustic instruments, despite being designed as a room measurement mic for use in their DEQ2496 equalisation processor.

Since many large studios are shutting down, getting their stuff on the cheap (like I did with my Urei 813c monitors - a design once used in Abbey Road Studios) is a fantastic opportunity for those who love their sound.

Warning - this activity can grow to consume you!
#19 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -

Most acoustic instrument recording will be done with condenser microphones, usually with a stereo pair. However when recording sound off of amp stacks or when recording drums(such as on a kick, snare, or tom) dynamics are usually better suited. With drums in particular though, a combination of dynamics and condensers is used, with dynamics recording close up transient sounds, and condensers serving for overheads to catch crisp high frequency sounds such as cymbals, as well as ambience. For vocals large diaphram condensers are the usual choice of microphone, but not always. For example, Frank Sinatra swore by the SM57 because of it's rich proximity effect which really complimented his voice. When building out a selection of mics, you'll want to get a variety of styles and makes, to give you a broad sound, since every mic has it's own "color" to it. Hope this provides a little clarification. There's definitely a lot to go over here.

#20 Edited by diz (1017 posts) -
Shure SM57 - probably cunningly disguised as a Neumann U47

I hate to be contrary, but I thought Frank Sinatra preferred the Neumann U47 condenser. He took is own "Telefunken" branded U47 to many of his sessions.

Frank Zappa sang about his favourite mic - an evolution of the U47 - The Neumann U87 condenser.

The Neumann U87 still IS the "industry standard" vocal recording mic - and has been for decades. It is still manufactured, but it costs GBP2000 and commands high 2nd hand prices too.

Many studios use piezo mics for recording high frequency drum ambience. Low sensitivity dynamic mics (such as the Shure 55SH) are used with kits to minimise overspill from other drums being recorded and because the frequency response of drums is limited.

#21 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -
@diz I'm sure he used a number of mics over the years, I'm just going off what I've heard from teachers and such.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make is that there is a dizzying array of microphones and microphone applications, as well as general guidelines, but at the end of the day what sounds right to you will probably work. Which holds true whether frank used a 57 or not.
#22 Edited by diz (1017 posts) -

@Sbaitso: I thought Frank Sinatra's love of his own Telefunken U47 (and not SM57) was legendary. It is why I took issue with your SM57 comment with a link justifying this U47 legend and a pic from another source showing the Telefunken branded Neumann U47 in action with Frank in the studio. There are plenty more, besides those two.

There are good technical reasons why condensers are better suited to recording than dynamic mics: Their frequency response if generally far wider and flatter than dynamic mics (typically 20Hz to 20KHz, whereas dynamics like the SM57 start at 40Hz and tail off at 15KHz. The sensitivity of condensers is enhanced because they are powered by 50 volts through the cable. Phantom power is not always a good idea in live situations, but not such an issue in studios. The directional pick-up pattern for a condenser is typically far wider and more open than for dynamic mics. They are more prone to feedback because of this, but this is not a consideration in recording, since the sound they convert is not fed back into them in a studio situation. For live work, where amplification of the mic source is a requirement, mics have to be designed to only pick up the closest sounds to them (particularly right in front of them) and reject everything else; i.e. the amplified sound. This is obviously a constraint for an ideal studio microphone.

There aren't that many different types of microphone. The only one I don't think we've discussed (aside from the boundary piezo types used for ambience) are ribbon mics. Ribbons can make vocals sound silky and rich, but are often really band limited above 15KHz and typically very fragile, due to the nature of the extremely thin ribbon required to negate the moving mass of mic's diaphragm. They usually come with a guarantee of a number of factory ribbon replacements! Ribbons are expensive because of their delicate materials of mere microns in thickness, difficulty of manufacture and required guarantees for inevitable torn ribbons.

What sounds "right" depends on experience, availability and application. Subjective evaluations on differences in sound are underlined by objective and technical reasoning that supports the differences. You can easily remove frequencies and dynamics from recorded sound, but it is harder to add them when they were not recorded in the first place because of a limitation of the mic.

#23 Posted by cnlmullen (910 posts) -

I think Pro Tools and Reason might be overwhelming for someone just getting started. I'd pick up FL Studio Producer Edition, a Shure 58 and a usb audio Interface with a built in pre-amp (e.g. http://www.amazon.com/Focusrite-2i2-USB-Recording-Interface/dp/B005OZE9SA/ref=zg_bs_11973691_10 ). That's a lot of money ($200 + $100 + $140 = $440), but that will get you started in a simple, easy to learn environment capable of producing extremely high quality results (in the right hands).

#24 Posted by Sbaitso (609 posts) -

Reaper may be worth looking at as well. You can get an evaluation copy(which is actually the real deal) for free. And the basic license is $60.