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Extreme Newby Question--Recording device


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  • Extreme Newby Question--Recording device

    I came into this knowing I know nothing and after reading the forums am even more confused.  Husband is a musician back before the computer days. I'm a former author.  For the heck of it, mostly for our own entertainment, we've been having a blast creating a couple of songs.  What started with a guitar and mic run thru the kids christmas amps:-), has turned into a pretty decent PA and his half stack.  Keyboard... Mixing program.  We really just play, record on my cell, listen back and have a good time.

    Recently we decided to record so he can individually add the other insturments he plays.  I wiped everything off of one my old lap tops and loaded the mixing program.  Hit record...played a song and listened back.  I don't know what the hell you call the distorted mess that played back.  It's almost like the music is too much/loud for the laptop to take in???  Relocated the laptop, tried a couple computer mics.  No good.  It's distorted and ROUGH.

    So, then I sent one of the nice clean versions previously recorded on my cell phone to my email.  Played it on the computer and it sounds great!  Cell phone records better than the laptop?! It takes FOREVER to send a song from the cell to the laptop via email.  So my naive question is.......Is there a device that we can record cleanly onto, then transfer onto the computer???

  • #2

    You're lacking technical details, but my guess is you're trying to record through the laptops sound card.

    Windows sound cards are made from a $2 converter chip and maybe two $.50 preamp op amp chips. Laptops may have a stereo line level input that doubles as microphone input.

    The types of microphones used on most computers are the headset type 5v phantom powered. These are not professional audio grade mics in most cases, they are budget consumer type used for phone applications, multi media, dispatch, etc. The mic input levels are set by the windows driver/mixer  and aren't very accurate. The input can be adjusted down to line level with the use of the win mixer either by adjusting the input level slider level or using a tick box under the control panel audio options to switch between  line/mic level inputs.

    You likely have the same kind of adjustment for the output to adjust between headphone and line level on the output jack.

    What's happening by your description with the distortion is You are overdriving the windows sound card input. If You are connecting a mic or mixer, its levels are set too high on the laptop. If You are using the input with say a mixer or other line level input, And You have the sound cards input set to mic level its 10X too high for a line level feed and You must attenuate the input level down to avoid distortion.

    (most windows sound cards have a record meter for setting levels. You have to either right click on the speaker icon on the task bar and open the audio recording properties or dig into the control panel/sound icon to find It)

    In any case, using a windows sound card to record can work but its the poorest choice You can use.

    Windows cards can record a single stereo track of CD audio quality "If the input levels are set for the proper levels and don't overdrive the sound card preamps)

    They are not pro audio friendly.  They lack the circuitry, input level quality, adjustments, input output connections and Most importantly, they do not have low latency ASIO type drivers that allow for multitracking.

    You need to use a pro audio interface for recording. It can be a PCI card, PCI express card, Firewire, USB, or Thunderbolt interface.

    Most beginners use a USB interface for recording. They are inexpensive, easy to connect, handle a number of simulations input channels and work relatively well with manageable CPU load on most computers.

    A low end USB interface with Two channels ranges from $50~150. They may cost more if You want more features and want better quality converters. An Apogee for example can cost up to $500 fro a single channel interface and $750 for a two channel. They are Mac only and don't have allot of features like midi inputs.


    A simple two channel interface is the same as a cassette recorder that records in stereo. Its has either high impedance inputs or additional XLR mic and instrument level inputs for plugging in a mic or an instrument directly.

    You likely want the interface to have a built in 48v phantom supply to run professional condenser recording microphones. This will save You from having to spend an additional $40 to purchase an external phantom power supply to power condenser mics used for recording vocals or drum overhead mics.

    You can use regular unpowered stage mics with most interfaces but soon or later You will want to get better mics for better sound quality tracking and the additional cost of purchasing and interface with It built into the unit is a big savings in the long run. (by the way windows sound cards only provide 5v phantom for computer mics and wont power a pro mic)

    The item You must decide is how many tracks You want to record at the same time. A two channel interface is bare minimum for a solo musician. He can record a guitar and vocal mic at the same time or a stereo keyboard for example. It sounds like You are working with others so I suggest a 4, 6 or 8 channel interface my be your best option. I do allot of solo work in my studio and since I use a bunch of stereo hardware/instruments like Keyboards, Drum machines and stereo guitar effects, I find using an 8 channel interface a bare minimum for solo and recording a band.

    The number of channels needed is for simulations tracking. It doesn't limit the number of layers or tracks You can multitrack. You can use a two channel and record 2, Then 2 more Then 2 more and build a song up a few tracks at a time till your computer runs out of horsepower to play them all back at the same time mixing.

    More channels means You can record more separate tracks at the same time. If You had an 8 track interface, You could put 4 mics on the drum set, one on the bass, two guitar mics and one solo vocal track recorded at the same time. Then when You mix those live tracks You have the ability to mix each track and tweak them as needed to get a good blend.

    You could do the same with a two channel interface but the drum part would only be two channels, if You wanted 4 channels separate, you'd have to record say snare and kick only, Then go back, move your mics, record cymbals and high hat or toms. This would give You the same control over the separate tracks mixing but It sucks having to chop a drummers performance up into separate session's like that.

    Its like a guitar player only fingering the fretboard on one track and picking the strings on another. Its unnatural and requires retraining that's only good for a recording session and does nothing to improve the player as a live performer.

    Lastly an interface uses low latency drivers that stream the audio data too and from the hard drive at near real time speeds. It also allows zero latency monitoring. The computer takes time to read and write data. What You hear playing back multitracking takes several milliseconds to reach the speakers once You hit the play button. It also takes time for the notes you're playing to be written to the hard drive. If the record and playback aren't synced/locked with a clock, you'd have the new tracks shifted in time and they would sound like someone playing through an echo unit with the effect fully panned and time delayed.

    This is what low latency drivers do for an interface. The speed of data is not only increased, It is properly written down do the start and end times of the tracks match up with previously recorded tracks.

    These items are only the tip of an iceberg You see above the water. I could write an encyclopedia set on the subject which is far too vast for a forum like this. There are minimal stages You can take to get going, but You will have major obstacle that can only be overcome by educating yourself on the subject. You must know the gear, the software, applications, acoustics, recording in general, Mixing, Mastering, and Then You have to adapt your playing to get a good artistic recording.

    I suggest You start here and read every topic on the left until You know It like the back of your hand. All the topics come into play as You progress in home recording even with the simplest of setups. Its a good basic site to get You going. Just realize, It is a beginners site and all of those topics barely get scratched. Each topic You read are small tips of icebergs and go much deeper depending on what level you've reached.



    • LSSD
      LSSD commented
      Editing a comment

      The 1/8th inch input on a computer is usually mic level so if you are running a mixer into that you are probably hitting the computer with line level which is a lot stronger and will distort the computer input in the way you seem to be experiencing. Lowering that level before it gets to the computer should fix the problem and get a fairly decent sound but as was said earlier a computer input isnt really a very quality audio device so there are a number of other ways to go if you have a bit of cash to throw at the problem.     A USB interface will cost between $100 and about $250 and will give you a couple of good quality XLR as well as line and instrument inputs.  

      Another route you might want to consider if you have a bit more budget is the Zoom R16 recorder which is a really fantastic machine for about $350.  Very flexible 16 track recorder with eight inputs and easy to transfer tracks with the SD card it uses.