The Recording Forums

Basic Home Recording VII

Jim Goodman

Part 7 – Software

Well, here we are finally to choosing the software for multi-track recording. If you remember back in the installment on PC Recording there were several questions you need to answer first.  To that list of questions comes the 1 question that can stop you in your “tracks” (pun intended). That question is… “Is your soundcard full-duplex?” What this means is will your soundcard allow you to record and listen at the same time. You will need to check with your manufacture. Most multi-media soundcards are full-duplex.

Some considerations in software choosing, begin with the end in mind, know your systems specs, how many tracks (inputs) will you need to record at once, how much time you are willing to invest in learning and upgrade path.

Upgrade path is an important one especially if you get serious with recording. If you have invested $200 into your software and a new version comes out or you want to move to a higher-end version many manufactures will upgrade you for a fraction of the cost of purchasing the new version. For our purposes here this is not an issue at present, but no doubt will be important to you.

Decision-making is the tough part, especially if you are new. Review a wide variety of programs. Go to the manufactures websites and review the different offerings. The find out who is using what? Check with other musicians, lists, forums, etc. Remember that some general forums like http://homerecording.com , http://recordingwebsite.com , http://psalm149.com , etc may have members spanning a wide variety of products and may have what you are looking for in software specifics. Specific user forums are biased but offer more help and will readily answer specific questions. Many manufactures have official user groups and others do not, but you can find specific groups meeting in general forums like http://audioforums.com .

Once you have narrowed options download demos of the particular programs you want to try. Note that many manufactures demos are limited in function and/or expire quickly – so as a good tip, download your demo but don’t install it until you are ready to spend time with it. Also keep in mind that demos may not run on all systems. Many software manufactures don’t find issues until a product is released and then they offer “patches” as fixes for the problems and these patches are not available for the demo copies of software. Another point to keep in mind is demos can sometimes create conflicts and problems with other software or hardware in your machine, here user forums can be a great place to find out if a demo is “safe”.

Apart from demos is “free” software. Freeware, as it is called, is software that probably works on most machines while it doesn’t on others and also they lack commercial development meaning that the program would flop if it were offered commercially. Yet others are used as micro-demos of the larger product but offer no support.

The final category would be low cost entry-level programs that are designed as “stepping stone” products. These programs are functional offers support and have an upgrade path to higher-end products offering discounts on those products. Believe it or not some of these products can create great results and are compatible with just about every machine that meets minimum specs. The big difference here is the quality of effects and how deep you can get into audio editing and production work. But for a basic recording package they are simply a good value.

A feature to be concerned with when you consider software is “plug-in” capability. Plug-ins give you ability to add features to your program. The most common plug-ins are for effects. You can have a full studio effects rack of gear costing $10,000 to record with or you can have “software” effects that are fractional in cost. The 2 most common formats are VST and DirectX. Baring a drawn out discussion suffice it to say that DirectX is the more common amongst freeware, shareware and low-end programs. A nice benefit is you can share DirectX plug-ins across many different programs. Some programs allow for the use of both VST and DirectX and some require an additional program called a “wrapper” to allow for compatibility.

Here is a list of some manufactures and their websites with some notes.

Syntrillium maker of Cool Edit products was purchase by Adobe and they discontinued all of the low-end and feature products. The only product still available is what used to be called Cool Edit Pro. You may find Cool Edit 2000 in the bargain bins now a very popular low-end product. See link for details. http://www.adobe.com/special/products/audition/syntrillium.html

Cakewalk probably the forerunner in home recording software. Their low-end products include Guitar Tracks, Home Studio, Music Creator. Higher end multi-track program is Sonar which evolved from Pro Audio. I have Guitar Tracks and Pro Audio 9, extremely simple to use my first recordings were all on Pro Audio 9. http://cakewalk.com .

Steinberg, the makers of Cubase and Nuendo. Both of these products can be found in pro studios. Nuendo is the high end with mastering. The lower-end products include Cubase SL, Cubase SX and the low-end is CubasisVST. Personally I use Cubase SX and I also use Cubasis regularly. What is great about Cubasis is for less than $100 bucks you get a simple multi-track program (limited to 2 simultaneous inputs) comes with an integrated Mp3 encoder and VST effects. Also comes bundled with Wavelab Lite audio editor (which I use constantly) and a Master Unit to master your packages with. It has midi capabilities and a sheet music creation as well. There are no demos and Steinberg does not even talk about the CubasisVST product.

Fasoft the makers of n-Track software. n-Track is the favorite of many hobbyists. I have heard many recordings done with this product and they are incredible. This is a low-dollar program and has a following that is very enthusiastic. Most of the psalm149.com membership use n-Track. They have a demo to download, no time out but limited features and they have a multi-track song demo to download and play with in the software that is Christian song done by a Christian band and it is a great song I might add. I downloaded it and was very impressed with it http://www.fasoft.com/ .

Digidesign is the maker of Protools. Protools is a very hardware dependant program and has its own hardware to work with. Not much will be said here of the product except there is a free version called Protools Free that will run on a pc with Win98 and Me. 8 audio tracks and 48 midi tracks. It is a simple program that has some extra configurations required that may or may not render your system unusable. It was my first intro to pc recording and it worked well for me. http://www.digidesign.com/ptfree/ .

Digital Sound Planet is the maker of Quart Audio Master. This is a very simple program that has free versions. It was designed for users to do distance collaborations using their own collaborating website and program. There are 2 free versions that I have used. The fist is Studio Free and 4 track program with Reverb and Chorus. This program has no frills. The second is QAM Freeware. QAM Freeware is a 4 audio track and 16 midi track studio with effects and quality options not found in Studio Free. You can listen to projects that were done on this software. I used for awhile, but I ended up by Cubasis VST for better sound quality. http://www.digitalsoundplanet.com/ .