Home Recording Studio: Build it Like the Pros

For a surprisingly small amount of money it is now possible to build a professional quality recording studio in your own home.  Both new and used recording devices can be bought easily and inexpensively from eBay – check out our links on the relevant posts on this site.

Getting Started with Home Recording

The Essentials for a Recording Studio

A good microphone

Its very important that you get a good quality microphone as you can’t do much with a poor recording even with digital editing and effects

For recording solo acoustic instruments and vocals the best kind of recording microphone is a called condenser microphone. For recording vocals, you should also use a pop filter, an inexpensive piece of material that protects the mic from hard “p” and sharp “s” sounds you often get recording vocals.

If you’re looking to record a full rock band, you’ll need to mic up all of the instruments in the band separately using smaller dynamic mics.

The choice of microphones used can have a huge impact on the quality of sound recording that you can achieve. As a general rule, you should invest in the best microphones you can afford!

There are two basic kinds of microphone: dynamic and condenser:

Dynamic Microphones

Dynamic microphones operate like speakers in reverse. When the diaphragm of the microphone moves back and forth under the pressure of the sound waves hitting it, this is converted into an electrical signal. Dynamic microphones are used for instruments and are a good general purpose solution, particularly if budget is an issue. Dynamic microphones are not ideal for recording vocals.

If purchasing a Dynamic microphone, you should consider the following:

  • Shure 58 : one of the most popular microphones for vocals and instruments
  • Shure 57 : similar to Shure 58, but slightly better for instruments

Condenser Microphones

Condenser microphones are more sensitive than Dynamic microphones. Condenser microphones use a more lightweight diaphragm and are better at picking up nuances of sound. “Large diaphragm” condenser microphones are more sensitive and more expensive than “small diaphragm” types. Hence, Condenser Microphones are the best solution for vocal recording. However, Condenser Microphones are more expensive than Dynamic Microphones (and professional quality Condensers can get very expensive).

In addition, Condenser microphones have some other drawbacks. They require powering (or “biasing”) using an external power source. In addition, they are less rugged than Dynamic microphones and hence more susceptible to damage. (For this reason, gigging musicians often prefer Dynamic microphones.)

If purchasing a Condenser microphone, you should consider the following:

  • AKG C1000S: a very popular and affordable small condenser microphone.

Microphone Pick Up Patterns

Microphones differ in their relative sensitivity of a microphone to sounds coming from the side. There are three basic pickup patterns:

  • omnidirectional: picks up equally well in all directions
  • unidirectional: picks up mostly from one direction
  • cardioid: picks up in a heart-shaped pattern

Microphone Cables and Plugs

Cheaper microphones tend to have 1/4″ plugs (i.e guitar cable plugs) or 1/8″ (consumer microphones). However, the better microphones have XLR cables. XLR cables have plugs that lock in and hence don’t pull out easily when tripped over. They are also resistant to picking up buzz, hum, etc. even for long cable lengths.

You should note that microphones with XLR plugs generally can’t be plugged directly into a 1/4″ jack on a 4-track or mixer, even with a properly wired adapter. Hence, you will need to get an adapter with an impedance matching transformer.  (A better solution is to ensure that your USB audio sound card or input pre-amplifier has XLR inputs.)

 

The Recording Device

Your own computer can be a perfectly good digital recording device. Your PCs built-in sound card will probably work fine to start with  but if you’re serious about home recording and creating professional recording, then its best to consider a sound card made exclusively for that purpose, with a high-quality digital audio converter (DAC), microphone pre-amps and MIDI input/output.

To record effectively onto your computer, you’ll need sequencing software. This is software that records either analog audio from a microphone or MIDI data from your electronic instruments as you play them. Sequencing software allows you to easily edit and mix multiple tracks, add additional sound effects and  export audio files directly to CD. The industry standard for professional audio sequencing is Pro Tools (which usually comes with its own sound card), but there are options for sequencing software.

Another option is to buy a multi track digital recording device that can record onto a compact flash card to directly onto a CD.

MIDI controller or synthesizer

A synthesizer is usually an electronic keyboard that can be programmed to play many different sounds. Synthesizers come in many different shapes and sizes and usually specific to the different sounds of an instrument, such as drum synths, guitar instrument synths or wind synths.

A MIDI controller is similar to the synthesizer, but doesn’t produce any sounds itself – it is just the controller of recording process. A MIDI controller produces MIDI data output which can be used to play other synthesizers which can be either hardware or software. You can use a MIDI controller to play an electronic keyboard plug-in like ProTools or use a single MIDI controller to play a whole network of interconnected synthesizers or  drum kits.

check this post for the best synthesizer for beginners

Monitor speakers and headphones

Monitor speakers are different from stereo speakers as in a recording studio you want to hear exactly what’s being recorded to ensure your recording will sound exactly as when you were playing it.

Often recording are made in a multi-track format, laying down each track one by one (drums first, bass second, keyboards third, etc). The best way to carryout this multi track process is to use a pair of quality headphones to listen to the previously recorded tracks as you are recording the new one.

An audio interface

This can be thought of as an external sound card.  When using an audio interface, instead of plugging your  microphones and digital instruments directly into your PC, you plug them into the audio interface which connects to your computer via USB or Firewire. The audio interface directly handles the analog-to-digital conversion process and reduces the processing load on your PC.

Breakout boxes are a type of audio interface which come with some microphone pre-amps and knobs which allow you to control the recording level of each of your microphone.

MUSIC RECORDING SOFTWARE

There are lots of choices in music recording software ranging from free packages, such Audacity, to full featured professional packages.

Music recording software is generally referred to as a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW. They come with a bewildering array of features and this can make choosing a DAW confusing.

I have been a user of MAGIX software products for many years and the current Samplitude Music Studio 15 has just about all the features that I need.

Choosing DAW Software

Although you can get bogged down in comparing DAWs on a feature by feature basis, there are three primary criteria you should consider.

  1. If your computer is a MAC, you will need to use a MAC based DAW. However, most DAWs are available for the PC
  2. If you are mostly interested in LOOPs, then you should consider a DAW that is strong on LOOP based composition
  3. Finally, your budget will probably be the biggest factor in the DAW that you choose! Even inexpensive DAWs come with an impressive list of features that grows with each new version. Also, many expensive DAW programs are also available in “light” or limited-feature versions that can cost much less than their “full” versions.

DAW Software Choices

Some of the leading DAWs are:

  1. Magix Samplitude
  2. Cubase
  3. Cakewalk Sonar
  4. Ableton Live
  5. Pro Tools
  6. Logic Studio
  7. Sony Acid
  8. Digital Performer
  9. Audacity
  10. Fl Studio

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