Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

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abcxyz
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Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » May 29th, 2010, 4:53 am

Hi All,

I am planning to get some equipment to build a minimalist home 'studio' so as to be able to record atleast 2 channels or more at a time.

Here is my plan for the same:

1. Get 2 mics - Shure SM57 for recording guitar and Shure SM58 for vocals.

2. Get a mixer - Behringer XENYX 1204USB Mixer (http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/pr ... /Behringer XENYX 1202FX Mixer (http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/pr ... sku=631267). Please guide on this.

3. Get some kind of audio interface? or not? I will be recording into a laptop with 3 GB of RAM with Windows Vista. It only has one 1/8" mic input and one 1/8" headphones output (standard on most laptops).

4. Audio Software - Cakewalk Sonar Home Studio/Cubase LE (I know practically nothing about these softwares, so will have to learn from the very starting).

I plan to use my 61-keys Yamaha Keyboard (PSR 291) for recording piano/drums and various other sounds. I feel more comfortable to just mic the keyboard's speakers and record them straight rather than going in for recording midi out through USB. So is it important to learn midi programming (esp drums/bass) for a one guy recording thing?

Any guidance/comments/insights/help on the above points and about recording in general will be of great assistance to me.

Thanks for your time and support on this. :)

Rahul

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by dogbite » May 29th, 2010, 8:32 am

Rahul. I have the most basic recording set up. everything is under 200$.
I don't see a need for a mixer.
get the Lexicon Lambda digital interface. two inputs for mikes, guitars, and MIDI for your keyboard.
it has Cubase LE inside. that has become the default freebie. you probably will outgrow LE, so use the advantage of spending small amounts of cash to upgrade. Cubase has on line deals and discounts.
when I record I either plug the guitar into the interface or mic the amp or acoustic. works great.
I can set up my pedals and guitar and go into the interface or I can apply effects using Cubase. huge fun.
the Lexicon Lambda costs under 150$. I have a used SM57 and an 80 d9ollar wide condenser. a 25 key MIDI controller and a pair of monitors. it's all inexpensive. I am ready for the good stuff but haven't deep pockets right now.
having a digital interface really makes things easier. no need for a mixer, because Cubase has one. mics go just plug in.
simple.

www.tweakheadz.com has lots more info.

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by Alan Green » May 29th, 2010, 2:34 pm

Good choice on the mics.

For hardware, most digital recording kit will now output in WAV and mp3 format, both of which will import into Audacity for post production. Audacity is a freebie - don't forget to download the (free) mp3 encoder though.

I use a 4-track Boss Micro BR at orchestra rehearsals and concerts, output to WAV, import to Audacity across USB to beef up the sound levels, and export as mp3.

In the studio here, I have a Tascam 2488MKII, which will also output in WAV form, USB onto the PC and into Audacity; et voila

There's plenty of choice now in the recording hardware market. Tascam are good, Zoom have some very very good kit, and BOSS have a number of digital recording options. My setup isn't perfect, but it does the job - check out my recordings on my Reverbnation page via my website.


A :-)
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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » May 30th, 2010, 5:28 am

Thanks for the replies.

Ok, here are some specific queries of mine:

1. If I am using a USB mixer say 'Behringer XENYX 1204 USB' with greater than 2 (eg. 3 or 4 mics/line ins) inputs in use, will I be able to record all these channels separately in any DAW such as Audacity/Cubase/Sonar?

2. I feel that the biggest advantage of a USB mixer will be that I won't have to get a new audio interface/audio card. However, since I have no experience using this, does using USB out affects the quality of the music recorded?

3. Is it compulsory to connect the 'mains out'/'control rooms out' to a studio monitor? Can I simply ignore this mains out OR can I connect it to my Hifi music playback system?

4. What function does the ALT 3/4 and provides? I have read on studio-central that they are a great help, but can't understand them properly.

Although I know, you must be already knowing about these queries, still if you need to look at the mixer I am talking about, here it goes - http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/pr ... sku=485369

Thanks for your answers again :)

Rahul

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by Nuno » May 30th, 2010, 6:04 am

I don't use a mixer. I have this interface (Audio Kontrol 1):

http://www.native-instruments.com/#/en/ ... kontrol-1/

It has two inputs for guitar+mic or two guitars, phantom power, MIDI, and USB. And a lot of software (Cubase LE and many more). The DAC and ADC are 24 bits and 192 kHz. It has independent controls for each input. It can be adjusted in the software. Really I don't know if a mixer is a better approach when you only have two inputs.

And I also have this condenser mic (Studio Projetcs B1):

http://www.studioprojectsusa.com/b1.html

I think your mics are better than this one but it was recommended by the guy in the store, it has a good quality/price rate.

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » May 30th, 2010, 6:21 am

Hi nuno,

Actually, in my place I doubt that I will be able to go without a mixer since they don't sell a variety of audio interfaces here.

I am rethinking about the Shure Mics. I read reviews of Behringer XM8500 - http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/pr ... =product_A and I am seriously thinking of getting these ones.

I know Shure as the best in the market, but...I am much short on budget right now. Plus, I already have 2 karaoke mics (which I used to make my soundclick.com recordings).

Anyone has experience with these Behringer XM8500 mics?

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by Scrybe » May 31st, 2010, 6:54 pm

think about how much recording you're planning to do in the next 3-5 years and use that to help decide what to buy - its easier to add to a decent basic setup overtime than it is to sell junk pieces and replace them with good stuff.

For the price range, the Shure mics are excellent, and they're very stable in price from year to year. Even the top studios rely heavily on the SM57 to mic guitar amps, bass amps, and various bright instruments like horns. The SM58 is more of a performance mic, tho. If you do lot of live performing (singing yourself or with a singer), it can be a good purchase, but if you plan to mainly be doing recording it isn't really necessary - a condenser would be better.

But a cheap condenser will sound like a cheap condenser. And you'll need phantom power too. If you plan to keep recording (as a hobby or more seriously) 5 years and 10 years from now, you're better off waiting and getting a better condenser next year than getting a budget one now.Something like the AKG or Blue mics in the £300+ range could last a lot longer in your setup than a £80-150 mic that you later replace as you fine tune your ears. That said, if you are desperate for a budget condenser, try the Blue Ball or the Rode NT1. Also, it's worth checking a few recording mags as some of the £300-600 mics by brands like AKG are also resold by the Chinese factories they're made in but with different branding. These are cheaper than the £300-600 mics but have the same build. You need to check with a mag tho because the brand name can differ from country to country. I think some of the t-bone mics available in the UK are in this category.

If your keyboard has MIDI or USB out, use it! Trust me, it'll sound a lot better than recording those tracks audio from your keyboard speakers. And it means you can tweak the MIDI track later if you want (this is really simple to do). Otherwise, the stuff you record from keyboard will sound really out of place in your mix.

I agree with dogbite than an audio interface with multiple midi and audio ins/outs is the way forward. When buying an interface or mixer its always a compromise between channels and features, and the quality of the preamps and converters in the box. The quality of the pres are paramount. If you have crappy pres or convertes, your audio will always sound crappy. The reason the Neve consoles they use in studios cost so much money is primarily down to the quality of the preamps commanding that high price. I'd avoid Behringer - the make some decent sounding stuff, but have really shoddy build quality and most of their basic interfaces sound crappy. Unless you plan to use the mixer for live performances as well, I'd go the audio interface route instead - for the price you generally get better qualiy preamps and converters. I looked at the Lexicon dogbite suggested tho I've not tried it personally. I think the best best sub£350 interfaces for sound quality are the M-Audio (Profire 2626 and they do cheaper USB versions with the same Octane preamps). But there can be driver issues with the Profire, so think hard about the USB version. In that range, also look at MOTU and Presonus (in that order as far build quality goes, imho). If you still want a mixer at a later date, you can always add one to this set up. But personally, I wouldn't bother with a hardware mixer for computer work unless I was going to pay up the cash for something like the Yamaha N8 at around £700 or an Allen and Heath board or similar.

In short, audio interfaces are easy to work with, and are much better in sound quality and expandability than mixers in the same price range for recording.

You also want to choose how many inputs/outputs you need on your interface. Go for at least one more audio and midi input than you currently need. Preferably two. If you stick with recording, you don't want to have to replace that piece of kit next year because you need extra inputs. You neednt go overboard here, but one or two 'spare' inputs is always a good precaution.

Also a lot of interfaces will come with some software bundled with it - Cubase LE, ProTools LE, Ableton Live, Sonar, etc.
I'd rank Cubase and Ableton above ProTools, but I haven't really used Sonar, so I can't comment on that one tho I know plenty of people use it to make really good recordings. Tbh, you can even use FruityLoops (now called FL Studio) to make great sounding recordings - the key to a good recording is in your skills as an engineer and producer more than it is anything magic about a certain piece of software. But there are less FL Studio tutorials and users to ask if you get stuck than with the others. Same goes for ProTools LE to an extent (it seems the majority of ProTools LE users mainly use it for electronic music forms, ime). You can also get free software like Audacity or the demo version of Reaper that are great for beginning with. The processes are the same in all softwares, its usually just the layout or a few simple processing steps that change, so there is a learning curve to using a new piece of software but it isn't that hard. Although I favour using the big brother of Cubase, Nuendo, bear in mind that the 'pro' versions of Cubase and Nuendo require a USB to work - this takes up a valuable USB port on your computer and slows the system down unnecessarily, so I'd advise against those (I use Nuendo because I have a lot of familiarity with that programme as much as anything else, and once you've bought into a programme its a lot easier to then stick with that one on updates than it is to switch, although I've just started using Logic Pro, too). Stay away from the Reason software though - you can't do audio with it.

You haven't said anything about monitors though. The key to a good sounding record, beyond good quality preamps and converters, is having good speakers and headphones to listen to your recordings on as you work. A key thing here is to get to know your setup very well - a pro who is familiar with budget speakers can mix better on those than an amateur on top quality speakers they're unfamiliar with. Familiarity is key, so you don't want to be changing speakers every 12 months. This really matters. On a budget, I'd look at the KRK Rokit series or there are some M-Audio powered speaker for around £100-200 that are good for the price range. Also keep a budget £5-15 pair of home computer speakers to check mixes on. And a decent pair of headphones (or a couple of these). You want several reference points or varying quality (reflecting the different environments your music will be listened to in). Having a good car stereo system is also a great reference tool (wish I had one...). Quality headphones will last you for decades, so it is worth springing for those £100-300 headphones if you can hear a difference in quality and plan to still be doing this 5 years from now (or even just listening to music a lot 5 years from now).

Summary version....
*Ditch the mixer idea - go with an audio interface, pref with phantom power (although the FMR RNP preamps also has phantom power and great preamps for the price - and preamps all have different characters, so having multiple different preamps is no bad thing)
*The SM58 isn't necessary either. Think about that one. Tho its an excellent mic for live performance (rugged design tops sound quality there) a condenser would be better.
*Audio interfaces often come with software bundled in, and there are great free programmes out there. You can save a lot here and buy some software later if you need it.
*Monitors, headphones, and microphones have purposes beyond just recording use, and the standards of quality at each price point rarely changes, so its worth investing here.
*Monitors and headphones are crucial to making good sounding music.
Quality preamps and converters are also crucial to making good sounding music if your are recording real instruments.
*Use the MIDI (either through MIDI out or through USB) to record your keyboards.
*You can easily connect decent monitors to most (if not all) audio interfaces.

Hope this helps.
Ra Er Ga.

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http://www.blipfoto.com/Scrybe

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by boxboy » May 31st, 2010, 7:10 pm

What dogbite said, Rahul.
:)
http://www.tweakheadz.com is a great resource.
Don

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » June 1st, 2010, 2:48 am

Hey Scrybe,

Thanks a ton for your detailed answer. I am definitly considering going without a mixer also. I will visit the music shop next week hopefully and ask them if they have any of those.

Can you tell me where I can start learning midi and to work in those audio sequencers like cubase/sonar etc ?

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by dogbite » June 1st, 2010, 3:38 am

I am a mdidi idiot, yet I am able to lay down all kinds of instruments using an affordable keyboard controller. I use a M Audio 25 key. it is good enough for my starter status. the midi comes with a pdf manual and coupled with the user manual in Cubase
the explanation is clear. I use midi as a real instrument. the other method is to use the 'map' and punch in all your notes. then assign an instrument. Boxboy is really good at that.

Rahul, here's my set up:
Lexicon Lambda digital interface
a pair of passive Berhinger 2031passive monitors (powered by an old Peavey 600 amp)
my PC computer
an IMP 2 DI box
a Shure SM57 (used on ebay for 50 bucks)
a large diaphragm condenser mike, a CAD GXL2200 ( as Scrybe writes, this inexpensive condenser is a bit boxy sounding)
a mic stand with pop shield
a bunch of cables and a room with sound baffles.
oh, yeah, headphones, Audio Technica ATH M20.

this is a inexpensive basic set up. all of it is upgradable, which I hope to do.
first on the list is a very nice mic pre amp.

with this setup I can mic an amp or plug the guitar right into the interface.
I can add effects in front or add effects after the track is laid down.
I use Cubase Essential 4 as my recording platform. I upgraded from the freebie, Cubase LE for less than 100 dollars.
the upgrade is amazing. better sound quality AND I am now armed with 'drag and drop' capability. this is use for making a drum track. for drums I use ezdrummer. awesome sounding drums. and they are upgradable or expandable. (a midi keyboard can also b use to make a drum track).

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » June 1st, 2010, 5:26 am

Hi dogbite,

I believe this is the audio interface you have - http://pro-audio.musiciansfriend.com/pr ... sku=245506..?

Ok, since I will be doing all the work myself, so I doubt that I will need more than 2 channels at a time.

One channel will be vocals and other can be guitar or keyboard.

So let us suppose I am going mixerless OR I am using a mixer and I have 2 inputs - one mic for vocals and other (amp mic'd or line in) guitar/keys, will I be able to record them separately in the sequencer or will they be summed in one track as I am playing and singing?

Moreover, since my current soundcard in the laptop has only one 1/8" mic-in input, will I need something else to let the output coming from the mixer/interface inside the computer?

In other words, I mean to say this:

Guitar/Keyboard+Vocals (2 inputs) ---> Mixer/Audio Interface ---> (any special soundcard reqd?) Computer ---> Sequencer (Do I get Guitar/Keyboard and Vocals separately or summed up when recorded?)

I will be much obliged if someone can clear these up for me. I think right now I will not dabble in midi. First, let me understand the recording of normal music and then I can take it up later on hopefully.

Thanks,

Rahul

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by Nuno » June 1st, 2010, 6:02 am

Hi Rahul,

I'm not sure here but you could record several tracks from several sources concurrently and independently. Mainly I use GarageBand (and less frequently Cubase). I think you only can select a track for recording. Cubase has much more options and other pro (or pro-like) software could do it. With my device (Audio Kontrol) you can choose each channel as mono or both as stereo.

But if you are using mics for recording you should isolate the sources. I mean, if you are singing and playing guitar each mic records every sound in the room (and every noise in the house).

The advantage of an external device is that it is an external soundcard. It digitalizes the sound and sends the data to the computer via the USB (or firewire) port.

Hope it helps.

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by abcxyz » June 1st, 2010, 6:52 am

Hi Nuno,

Mainly my concern is regarding the tracks IN the sequencer.

I may have as many tracks as the inputs on the mixer/interface but when they are sent to the computer won't they be simply summed to just ONE single track so that in the sequencer eg. cubase, I will be getting only one graph of recording? (And not separate channels/graphs for vocals and instruments)

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by boxboy » June 1st, 2010, 7:17 am

It may depend, as Nuno mentioned on the recording software you're using, but with mine, Logic Express, it's no problem:

Image

I can record up to 3 discrete tracks simultaneously. Two* from the inputs on the audio interface and one through the Midi port. You can see the 3 lit Red Rs, mean each track is armed for recording.
Info from Input 1 only gets recording in the top track, Info from Input 2 only to the middle and Midi from the keyboard to track 3.
Once you get going at it, a lot of it becomes second nature. Honest!
:)

* My audio interface only has 2 inputs. If it had 4, I'd be able to record 4 at the same time and so on. But...at some point you'd likely hit the wall in terms of what your CPU could process in real time.
Don

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Re: Building a Home Studio for decent recordings

Post by boxboy » June 1st, 2010, 8:52 am

Update, Rahul,
I did a little poking around and the ability to record multiple tracks simultaneously is both DAW software and hardware dependent. Meaning some audio interfaces can't do it at all, some can only do 2, etc. Learn something new everyday. :)
Cubebase LE supports it and the interface db has allows 2 discrete channels.
From the Lexicon Lambda forum:

How many inputs can I record at the same time with the Lambda?

You can record 2 discrete channels of audio with the Lambda. All 4 of the Lambda's inputs can be mixed down onto the 2 channels to be recorded.

So with that software and hardware package, you'd be good to go!
:)
Don

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