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Need help setting up a home rehearsal/recording studio (amatuer)


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  • Need help setting up a home rehearsal/recording studio (amatuer)

    This forum is great and I have gotten good advice in the past (when I was purhcasing my latest guitar).


    So, I have decided to jump in to setting up a home rehearsal/recording space. This will my first time recording something (besides recording on my phone )


    My goals for next 12 months are

    •  Record my tune/song ideas so I can play around with those and get more structured about song-writing
    •  Record my vocals I really know how I sound (as some people have said I have good voice quality but I guess I never realized/don't think so)
    •  Improve my guitar/soloing skills with backing tracks and record over


    What I have in mind

    •  A condenser Mic (heard Blue and Audio Technica are good)
    •  I will generally use only one guitar so guessing an audio interface with 2 channels is sufficient (acoust/electric guitar)
    •  I have a space at home (den) that is about 6 by 10 (fairly small, I know) so looking to optimize for space
    •  A simple desk setup with perhaps a new Workstation, and the above mentioned setup
    •  A studio/DAW software - heard good things about Reaper
    •  I have a pair of Bose Companion 3 Series MultiMedia Speakers so I am probably going to hold off on investing in studio montiors early on


    Where I need help

    • Recommenations for WorkStation - all-in-one computer or Laptop? Any specific recommendations? I would prefer to be around 1000 USD and not more
    •  Software recos? Do I just need one DAW software? Is Reaper sufficient?
    •  Inputs/Audio Interface? what is a recommended interface? Should I go for somethign with 2 channels or more?


    Any other things to keep in mind?


    Thanks for the help folks

  • #2

    First I'd say you sound like a candidate who should visit this site and tread every category on the left. http://tweakheadz.com/guide-to-home-and-project-music-studios/

    It covers just about all the key topics you need to know getting into home recording, and topics you will run into down the road. The information is not only important for making wise purchasing decisions but it will also help you once you do get the gear. There are many different paths you can choose and the key is to spend money wisely finding the path most suitable to your needs. You say you want to start with vocals and guitar, but chances are you'll want to expand that to other instruments, bass, drum loops, midi, samples, Loops, virtual instruments etc. 

    Having a path for expansion when you have a need is better than not having that path available and having to repurchase something you could have chosen from the start that has expandability path. This applies to hardware and software.

    If you already have a Laptop, you can put it to use but in many ways its a dead end for expansion. Its portable and will work for small projects, but as time goes on, keeping the one internal drive optimized for recording becomes a real pain.

    If you're going to buy a computer specifically for recording, I suggest a desktop that allows you to have multiple internal drives. You can start with two drives, one with your operating system and the second is for recording the wave files. This will give you maximum speed and the least problems because the wave files aren't fragmented by the OS system and the programs installed on that drive. You also have two sets of drive heads that can work independently of each other so the program and data stream being written to the recording drive can run without interruptions.

    I suggest having either a dual or quad core computer with the memory loaded up. 4G memory is all that can be utilized by a 32 bit system. If you go 64 Bits you can go higher but you will limit your choices running effects, programs and hardware. For a beginner, a dual or quad processor running a 32 bit system with 4G memory is plenty of horsepower.

    Next is the choice of interfaces. You have PCI, Firewire, USB, or the newer Thunderbolt. Most start with USB and its a good choice for most beginners because it can handle many tracks tracking and mixing. The problem with USB is it can become bursty with a busy CPU and the only way to expand the interface for more channels, is to buy a different unit. Firewire is a better choice for expandability because you can daisy chain devices. PCI is also the fastest and will give you the lowest latency but you have limitations on how many open PCI slots on the mother board you have. Thunderbolt is also super fast but its newer technology and gear choices are severely limited and expensive at the current time. You may want to wait till the technology is adopted by all computer manufacturers and the cost of interfaces comes down.

    Next is the DAW program. You can begin with Free or low cost programs before deciding to spend your money on a more expensive one. The cost of a DAW program is pretty much relative to the plugin packages. The basic programs between DAWs are pretty much the same. If you start with a low cost program like reaper or a free lite version of a major program that's bundled with an interface, they come with the basic plugins. You can then download thousands of free and demo plugins and try them out on your projects and find the ones you like. Then if you upgrade your DAW program you can target the program that contains the plugins you want. Or you could just purchase the boutique plugins separately.

    Dollar wise you can usually save some bucks buying the DAW program with the plugin package, but often times, a good percentage of the plugins never get used, either because there's no need for them or the user chooses to use third party plugins. This is one of the paths I mentioned previously you'll have to chose as you gain experience.

    For mics, the path is very broad and the choices are extreme. If you were a pro singer, the choices in mics comes with experience. For a beginner, its difficult. If I heard your voice live I could make some kind of educated decision on what might be suitable, but that's pretty much impossible on a forum. Even If I did hear a recording of your voice it would be colored by the mic you chose to record with. 

    The best I can advise is if you are recording a Guitar amp, the trusty old SM57, or even a PG57 is a good bet. Its been used on thousands of recordings and you can learn allot using one. Then you can try others to add to your mic locker.

    Voice wise, many choose a large diaphragm condenser for recording vocals. I usually recommend an MXL mic because they have a flexible frequency range and will record most vocals well. They also have a huge selection at decent prices. There are plenty of others if you want to spend more. You can even use the SM57 you use for recording guitar if you want, but most like the extra response for vocals so they have the upper frequency presence to work with mixing. In any case, its kind of like guitar pickups. You have to try some out to know where you want to go for your tones. There are some super expensive mics out there, but knowing whether the budget versions will be more than enough for your needs is a personal decision only you can make.

    Next you mentioned the Bose Multimedia speakers you have. Knowing first hand as most do in recording, Monitors are the most important item of all. Without recording monitors, nothing I mentioned above will matter much. Those who get into recording think the front end is all that's needed like they would choosing to buy a guitar, thinking that's the most important item. In recording it all works backwards. You start with the monitors being the best and you'll get the best mix from anything that's tracked. Even your budget interfaces give you a flat full frequency recording but you wont know it if your ears are impaired by bad monitors.  

    I took a quick look at the Bose site and they boast a wide image which is bad news for use them mixing. You want just the opposite, the highly focused stereo response of nearfields to mix your recordings. You use what you got but you'll be banging your head against the wall in no time thinking your tracking gear, or your mixing ability sucks, when its actually the multimedia speakers coloring the sound, so don't think you can get away with not buying monitors. Cheapen up on the interface, computer or mics first, and get monitors. Even if they are Budget nearfields, they'll be a hundred times better than multimedia speakers. I bought a set of M-Audio monitors recently as a second set when they were on sale for $200 a pair and that do as well as another set that cost twice as much 10 years ago.

    Lastly a set of headphones for tracking vocals is something you'll need. You don't have to spend allot on them. Comfort and isolation is the biggest factor. Good sound quality is nice to have, but even the best aren't a substitute for monitors. You can spend $500 on good headphones and you can get a better mix on budget nearfields. Headphones have no air between your ears and the sound source so your audio depth perception is compromised. Its near impossible to get a good three dimensional mix using headphones, plus its extremely difficult to get a flat frequency response from single speakers in a small enclosure. Many will give you a 20~20K frequency response but its the hills and valleys between those two extremes that aren't flat.

    The monitors on the other hand will give you a flat response and when you adjust the EQ on an instrument, you can trust you are accurately adding or removing what you added to the recording mixing. You could say the monitors are the trusted benchmark your ears use mixing. Something like multimedia monitors have hyped highs and lows to make the speakers sound bigger and wider than they actually are and are therefore are not trustworthy mixing on. You may get a mix that sounds good playing on them, but taking that mix to another play back system and it won't be compatible. Headphones are needed for tracking to prevent feedback, checking stereo separation mixing and giving focus on some details. You can find good tracking headphones that will last a decade or two for $50~100. The $200 and up are nice, to have, but they aren't critical items.

    In summary, A decent computer, flat screen monitor, and extra drive or two can be bought for $500. The Nearfields can be had for around $200. A pair of Mics, $200, An an interface for around $100. You can pinch here and there and buy Reaper as a DAW for under a hundred, or buy an interface with a bundled DAW program. As you can see, the least expensive item is your interface and daw program. You can Buy one of these with Cubase LE for $60 http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/Alpha?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaig n=audio&device=c&network=g&matchtype=&gclid=CJC5tJ CoorgCFVEV7AodFg4ARQ

    If you use Reaper one of these is good too. http://www.guitarcenter.com/Focusrite-Scarlett-2i2-USB-Audio-Interface-107041253-i2162367.gc?source=4WWRWXGP&kwid=productads-plaid^32411604641-sku^107041253@ADL4gc-adType^PLA-device^c-adid^13625729441

    You could cut down on your monitor cost here. http://www.guitarcenter.com/M-Audio-StudioPro-3-Desktop-Audio-Monitors-103515300-i1153199.gc?isku=107041253

    Decent budget headphones. http://www.guitarcenter.com/Sennheiser-HD203-Closed-Back-Around-Ear-Studio-Headphones-108068073-i1540565.gc?isku=107041253

    Get a Mic package like this. http://www.musiciansfriend.com/pro-audio/mxl-990-991-recording-microphone-package?src=3WWRWXGP&gclid=CPfC15WporgCFWVo7Aod3ws AeA&kwid=productads-plaid^34106004242-sku^273166@ADL4mf-adType^PLA-device^c-adid^14207118602

    Or this http://www.staples.com/office/supplies/StaplesProductDisplay?storeId=10001&catalogIdentif ier=2&partNumber=104642&langid=-1&cid=PS:GooglePLAs:104642&KPID=104642


    That should get you going. There's nearly unlimited choices going and I can't tell you specifically what to shop for. Ebay is loaded with gear too. Many buy lower end stuff then sell it off upgrading to better gear. A good 60$ of my studio is used gear. I'm an electronic tech so I can repair or refurbish anything I buy si I'm not afraid of taking chances. You just need to check the sellers ratings and make sure, the gear is really a saving, is in good condition and you can return it if needed.


    • racoustic
      racoustic commented
      Editing a comment

      Thanks WRGKMC. This was super helpful and gives me a good sense of what $$ I am dealing with. Good tips on studio monitors. I didn't think of it that ways, and they don't seem that pricey now I will keep everyone posted on what soultion/equipment I finalize over the next couple of months.

  • #3

    I like those speakers but I have the best bang for the buck is the Samson MediaOne BT5 speakers.  They are a great multiuse speaker and have bluetooth too so they are so flexible.  


    • WRGKMC
      WRGKMC commented
      Editing a comment

      ^^^ Those are a bit shy on power at 20w for my use. I do have a set of these I bought for $200 on sale. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/BX5D2?utm_source=Google&utm_medium=PPC&utm_campaig n=recording&device=c&network=g&matchtype=&gclid=CL XIjKqUobwCFRNp7AodC1YAOw

      I also use several sets of passive monitors using an Alesis studio Reference power head and have a seitch box for turning different sets of speakers on to test the mix.

      The speakers have separate amplifiers for the highs and lows which is better then using a passive crossover many inexpensive monitors have (less phase issues) I can run them at 50% and they are plenty loud for anything I'd even mix. Having a little extra power insures the bass frequencies dont get flabby and since I like big bottom end in my mixes, these do a good job. I can track with them too, even bass guitar. Weaker monitors will fart out trying to track bass so having extra headroom is good to have.