Questions and Answers about Home Recording

PC Recording Questions & Answers

Questions:
1.. I have a computer with a sound card, can I record my songs on it?
2. I have a multi track recorder, how can I use it and my PC together?
2½. What should I look for in a multi track audio card?
3. I have a standalone Hard Drive recorder and a boatload of effects (compressor, reverb, etc.) what would be gained by going to the computer and using a program such as Sound Forge over the effects and compression I have available to me at present?
4. Does the computer and/or software program take the place of my mixer and processors?
5. What hardware do I need?
6. Should I get a IDE or SCSI hard drive and or CD burner


1. I have a computer with a sound card, can I record my songs on it?Sure. Almost every computer sold today or in the last three years is more than capable of producing high quality home recordings. There are some additional audio equipment you will need. First of all you will need some way to connect your sound card with your sound source (mixer, recorder, etc.).

Most consumer sound cards have 2 inputs, line in and mic in* and use stereo mini plugs. Normally, you will have RCA plugs or 1/4″ plugs from your sound source whether it is a microphone pre amp, audio mixer or other sound device. Whirlwind, Radio Shack and others sell the adapters you need. Check your owners manual on your PC and mixdown deck for the exact type of cable adaptors you will need.

And you will need a software program to use for recording. I recommend Kristal. It is a very powerful multitrack recording program. There are many others, demo as many as you can and pick the one you feel the most comfortable with.

Realize of course, that any recording is only as good as the weakest link in the chain. In this case it is probably the sound card. The most dramatic improvement in PC recording will come with a quality sound card (see Recommended Hardware Setups) .

*The mic in is essentially useless. Always use the line in when recording from an outside source.

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2. I have a multi track recorder, how can I use it and my PC together?

Depends upon how you want to integrate the two. If you plan to use your PC as a mix down deck, first see the answer to question #1. Then use it as you would any other mix down deck. You can then use a CD writer to make CDs. For more on how to use your pc as an audio recorder see my article Inexpensive Multitrack Digital Recording

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If you want to use the PC to mix with you will need some more stuff. First you will need a multi track software package. One that I recommend is Kristal.

Next, you will need to download your tracks to the computer. Using a stereo sound card transferring your tracks can be a problem, especially if you have a tape multi tracker (cassette or reel to reel).

If you have a digital deck it is a lot simpler, but you will still have synchronization problems. Trust me on this one ~grin~.

The basic idea is to first record tracks 1 & 2, then rewind and do tracks 3 & 4. If you punch play on the tape deck and record on the computer at the same time you can get very close.

A better solution is a multi track sound card. There are several good ones, the one I have used is the Wave/4 card by Gadget Labs. Unfortunately they have gone out of business.

Another card I considered when I purchased the Wave/4 was the Dman 2044 by Midiman. Which also is not made anymore. It has been replaced by the Audiophile 2496 which looks like a very good card at a very good price. Compare features and price and get one that will fit your needs and pocketbook. And read the answer to the next question.

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2½. What should I look for in a stereo or multi track audio card?

  • Resolution/Sampling Rate
    The higher the better. A 24 bit resolution is the minimum you should consider, 48 is better. Also, Any card you buy should have at the minimum a 44.1 sampling rate. The newer cards have 96khz. For comparison the sampling rate for a cd is 24 bits at 44.1khz. Usually you will see this listed as resolution/sampling rate, look for the highest numbers.
  • Signal to Noise
    Also reffered to as dynamic range it is a measure of how quiet the card is. Anything over 90db is good.
  • Full Duplex
    If a card does not have full duplex capability you will not be able to listen and record at the same time. That can make overdubs really hard.
  • Will it work with my pc and software?
    Perhaps the most important. It also depends upon the order you buy things. If you get the card first then you need to make sure you get compatible software. Almost all audio multi track cards have a list of minimum requirements and the better ones have a list of audio editing programs the card has been tested with. And vice versa, if you get the software first you need to get a compatible sound card.
  • Number of inputs and outputs for a multi track audio card
    Inputs being the more important. For instance if you are recording drums you will need a minimum of four inputs – kick, snare and two overheads. More inputs can also reduce the amount of cable switching you need to do. Outputs are less important, unless you wish to transfer tracks back to your stand alone multi track recorder. Digital ins and outs can also be handy but not required. Think of how you record and/or how you want to record. That should give you a good idea of what you need.
  • A Breakout Box
    Not a requirement but a goodie. Unless you enjoy reaching around behind your pc and trying to find where to plug in everything.

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3. I have a standalone Hard Drive recorder and a boatload of effects (compressor, reverb, etc.) what would be gained by going to the computer and using a program such as Sound Forge over the effects and compression I have available to me at present?

an extra bit of polish. It’s kind of like the difference between taking your car to a car wash or to a detail shop. The car wash will get the car shiny and clean but the detail shop adds that last little bit of sparkle.

There are sound cards that will transfer the data from your Hard Drive recorder to the computer digitally. Once in the computer you can manipulate the file in ways you can’t on the HD recorder. For instance, say the singer has some serious popping p’s going on. You can zoom in on the offending phrase and massage the waveform until it sounds perfectly pleasant.
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4. Does the computer and/or software program take the place of my mixer and processors?

Yes and no. You can still use your mixer, but the computer and software programs can handle many of the processing chores. There is some debate as to whether PC based effects are as high a quality as stand alone units. You can use both and decide which you prefer.

5. What hardware do I need?

  • To use your PC as a mix down deck.
  • Recommended Minimum:
    any computer that meets the minumum requirements for XP pro will probably work.

This will get you started and the quality will be much better than a cassette. But to realize the full potential of your PC you will want to upgrade things. If you find yourself runnning out of hard drive space get a second hard drive, as fast as or faster than the one you have now. You may also want to get a better audio card, possibly a multi track card. And of course, you can never have enough RAM.

    To use your PC as a multi track recording and mixing station.
    Recommended Minimum:

  • A Pentium or AMD Computer, 1.0 Ghz processor speed or better
  • Memory 2Gb
  • Hard Drives 80 Gig for your programs and 250 Gig for audio
  • Sound Card – M-Audio Dman 44
  • Backup CD or optimally a DVD burner.
  • Mix down What else, a CD burner.

*See the section on What card should I buy? There is a boat load of stuff out there for multi track recording on your PC. There are several complete packages, such as the Paris system from Ensonic. Be forewarned, you can spend some major dollars. I prefer to build things myself.

I started with a generic 166 with 16 meg of ram, a 2.2 gig hard drive, a Sound Blaster Pro and DOS 6.0. I have since upgraded (piece by piece) to a p4 with 2 gig of ram, a 80 gig hard drive, 2 80 gig SCSI drives in a Raid array, an M-audio Delta 44 and Windows XP pro.

The best thing about PC recording is the ability to upgrade. It’s easier to convince the spousal unit you need $300 for a sound card than $3000+ for a new system .

6. Should I get a IDE or SCSI hard drive and or CD burner

Yes. Just kidding. You can record very well with the speed of today’s UDMA hard drives. I would recommend either (SCSI or IDE). What I wouldn’t recommend is to mix and match. While you can do it, it adds unnecessary complications. Whichever you go with stick with it. If you have an IDE hard drive I would get an IDE CD burner or extra hard drive. And vice versa. If I were getting a new system I think I would go SCSI because of it’s better data transfer speeds.
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(c) 2006, Dan E. Monk, All rights reserved.

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