In last month’s column [“The Best Gear?,” February 2012],
we started investigating how
to find the right gear for your
studio. We began by looking
at what we wanted to do musically—be it tracking guitar, capturing
vocals, recording drums,
mixing songs, or something
else altogether. Here’s the idea
we arrived at: Once you know
what you need to do, you can
more easily target what gear
is required for the job. This
month, we’ll continue down
this road by looking at ways to
narrow down your choices and
make your specific selections.
The first step is to settle on
the centerpiece for your rig and
the “support” items that will
surround it. Only then can you
move on to the other items
needed to complete the tasks.
For most of us, our recording
be a computer paired with an
audio interface. But a computer
isn’t the only choice. Depending
on what you are doing, another
type of recorder might serve
you even better. Let’s look at
some of the options, beginning
with the simplest.
1. Stereo Recorder. Think
that you have to have a high-powered
computer system or
multi-track recorder to lay down
your project? We’re now back
to that “what do you want to
do” question. If you’re recording
classical-guitar solo pieces, steel-string
or singer-songwriter tunes, you
might get better results using
a stereo recorder that captures
the real, live sound in the room.
This can be a very transparent
way to record if your production
style and goals allow for it.
For many decades, music was
recorded directly to wax, wire
recorder, vinyl, mono tape, and
eventually, stereo tape. It wasn’t
really until the later 1960s that
4- and 8-track recorders became
widely available in studios.
A high-resolution stereo recorder
like the Tascam HD-P2 can capture
amazing sound quality. Just
plug in a pair of microphones.
Some of the greatest recordings
of all time were made with the
band, orchestra, symphony, or
musicians all playing live in the
same room. There were no fixes
or edits—just music being made
in real time. What a concept!
You shouldn’t dismiss this
option until you try it. Two
great mics through a nice stereo
preamp and into a straight-ahead
stereo digital recorder is
a super-clean, super-simple system
for recording. And it allows
you to keep your mind on the
music. At a later point, you
can always transfer your stereo
recording into a computer for
overdubbing, polishing, editing,
processing, and cleanup.
2. Hardware Multi-track
Recorder/Mixer. Not too long
ago, the only real option for
home recording was a cassette-based,
referred to as a “Portastudio”
(the Portastudio is a product
line from Tascam). Thankfully,
cassettes are long gone, but
the concept of a self-contained
survives in units from Tascam,
Roland/Boss, Samson, and others.
If your multi-tracking, editing,
and mixing demands aren’t
too heavy, these can be a great
option since they are fast and
easy to operate. Simply plug in
your microphones and headphones
or speakers, and voila,
A multi-track hardware unit like
the Boss BR-1200CD can take
you from a raw idea to
a finished CD.
There are some drawbacks
with these systems, such as the
number of simultaneous inputs
and outputs, limited headphone
monitoring for multiple musicians,
and the fixed number of
tracks. But for many projects,
a good standalone multi-track
may be just the ticket. Many
even include onboard effects
and processing for creating a
final stereo mix.
If you’re working
with multi-track recordings,
then it’s tough to argue with the
power of a computer-based system.
The trade-off is that a computer
system can be more complicated
to operate than some
of the other options. But once
you master the basics, flexibility,
editing power, processing and
mixing power, and the ability to
take a project from beginning to
end all “in the box,” the benefits
are tremendously attractive.
These days, just about any
reasonably modern computer,
Mac or PC, can handle relatively
demanding projects. Even an
uber-portable machine—such as
a Macbook Air or an iPad—can
be used to create a surprisingly
complex, multi-track arrangement.
Though if you’re working
on “serious” projects, I still
recommend the most powerful
laptop or desktop computer
you can get. Regardless of what
computer you choose, check the
sidebar for tips to ensure that
your computer will be as powerful
as it can be. That’s all we
have room to cover this month.
See you back here next time as
our journey towards the perfect
recording rig continues!
Maximize Your Computer Power
• Load up the RAM. RAM is the computer memory used to hold programs
and data while they are in use. Most computers ship from the manufacturer
with just more than the minimum required for the operating system and for
non-demanding applications. You’ll be surprised how much your computer’s
performance will improve by adding RAM (my laptop has 8 GB and my tower
has 16 GB). Some DAWs—such as certain versions of Pro Tools 10—allow
you to load complete projects off your hard drive and into RAM for ultra-fast
response. However, this requires a significant chunk of RAM.
• Have a dedicated audio hard drive. While you can record direct to the
computer’s internal drive, you’re better off having a dedicated, second drive
for storing audio—whether external (USB or FireWire) or internal (mounted
inside the computer). One of the things that cemented my use of a laptop
for audio work was finding an adapter that allowed me to replace the internal
CD-R drive with a second hard drive. My Macbook Pro now has two internal
750 GB hard drives, and as a bonus, I mounted the removed CD-R drive in
an external case and can still use it when I need to—all for less than $18.
My tower has four internal hard drives: one for the system and programs,
one for audio, one for drum and virtual-instrument libraries, and one for
backing up projects. I also use external FireWire 800 drives for back up and
archiving, and for hauling projects to outside studios.
• Expand your monitor. You can certainly work on a project using the laptop’s
screen, but it’s so much easier with a larger monitor. I often connect
my laptop to a bigger screen, and for my tower, I use a pair of 22" monitors.
One displays the mixer and the other shows the audio editor or other windows.
Be forewarned—once you work with a large amount of monitor real
estate, you’ll never want to go back to a small screen!
the former editor in chief of
magazine. He’s written
more than 1000 articles
and six books on recording
and music technology, and
has released an instructional
DVD on mastering. His upcoming book is
entitled Guitar Tone: Pursuing the Ultimate
Electric Guitar Sound
. To learn more, visit