Multitrack Recording, and also Drum Input
July 1, 2009 4:19 PM   Subscribe

I need some help upgrading a PC for better multitrack recording, and also selecting a decent piece of equipment for recording drum input.

1) I'm currently using an older PC for multitrack recording. It's a 1.2 GHz Athlon machine with 512M of RAM and an older soundcard (old Aureal vortex). It works ok (barely) for a few tracks, but the latency is troublesome (requires manual correction later) and has difficulty with more tracks. What would be the most economical way to upgrade this setup? Should I completely rebuild the machine, or would a higher-quality soundcard (maybe one with a separate processing unit / breakout box) be better? I can spend a little money (less than $1k, alas), but I could really use some help figuring out the most constructive way to upgrade here.

2) Is there a space-efficient way of doing realistic drum input? I hate every electronic interface to inputting drums I've ever tried, and as a former drummer I really feel like I need something tactile. The ideal solution for me would be a full drum kit with mics, but obviously that's expensive, takes up a lot of space, and has noise issues. If I'm not going to get actual drums, then I'd just need something I can hit that generates MIDI signals. Don't need or want a drum machine. Recommendations? The stuff I've seen in music stores (Roland V-Drums, etc) is extremely expensive and overfeatured.
posted by Maximian to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Cheapest route for you would be to boost your RAM to as much as your machine will take and get an outboard sound interface of some kind. Which one would depend on how many channels you want to record at once. I have an old Tascam US122 that I use for recording and is rock solid on a 1.7GHz laptop with 2GB Ram but generally it's for recording one or two instruments/vocals at a time. If you want to record all of a bands instruments live simultaneously then you want more input channels.

In terms of drums I've got my eye in one of these Simmons kits.

Also hunt the internet for resources on how to tune up your PC for multi-track work. There's a lot of resource hogging rubbish running on any computer until you get in there and switch off the crap. Makes a world of difference to what you can do in terms of music. (I recorded much stuff on a P3 450 Mhz machine so 1.2 Ghz is LUXURY I tells ya!)

All in you could probably get what you want for about $650. Now it's time to decide whether that $650 is better put towards a newer faster high spec machine...
posted by merocet at 4:55 PM on July 1, 2009

You are really close to the point where a complete rebuild makes sense, but maybe not there yet. A pentium 4 3GHz will be a tiny upgrade to processor power, but chosen carefully could be a big upgrade in convenience (PCI express slots, lots of USB 2 ports, gigabit ethernet). Not really worth it though, I think, costs about $100-150. A dual core system, like a pentium dual core or a cheap core 2 duo, will be a damned fine improvement all around. It will probably cost $300.

I think you probably want a separate sound card. Onboard solutions are a crap shoot to begin with (in terms of sound quality), but perhaps more importantly they are not very flexible (mixing channels, controls..). If CD quality recording is good enough, I'm sure you can pick up very economical used professional gear. Complete Delta 66s go for $75 on ebay right now (heh, looks like even a Delta 66 is 24bit/96kHz).
posted by Chuckles at 5:52 PM on July 1, 2009

As far a drum units go, I scored an Alesis Control Pad for under $85 with shipping from Ebay and I am pleased as pie using it with Battery. It's pretty bare bones but I have had no problems at all.
posted by Asbestos McPinto at 6:36 PM on July 1, 2009

Stupidly fast computers are really not that expensive any more. A $1000 budget will buy you more machine than you need.

I recently put together a machine with an ECS Elitegroup G31T-M mobo, Intel E8500 processor, 2x2GB sticks of Kingston DDR2-800 RAM, 250GB Samsung SATAII drive. It's a little screamer (memtest86+ shows RAM transfer rate of 20600MB/second, hdparm rates the disk at 100MB/second). Should eat just about any audio processing task for lunch. Two PCI slots, so your old sound card should fit in it OK.
posted by flabdablet at 7:53 PM on July 1, 2009

What Operating System and Program are you using on your computer?

I'm sure back in the good old days I was running a 500Mhz Celeron with Cubase VST and could get loads of tracks of digital Audio and a few VST Instruments runnign at the same time.

and even before that I used a Pentium 100 running Fasttracker and could do 8 channels of "sample based" Audio. sometimes large samples.

So it seems with the right program you could get 20 tracks from a 1.2Ghz machine. with say an Old version of a Multitrack program.

On the Latency issue. I don't know your soundcard i sit a Consumer 2/in 2/out PCI soundcard?

Have you tried the ASIO4ALL drivers with your soundcard? this may address the latency issue. but it is probably unavoidable with Midi playback.

However even most old programs had some latency compensation built in so that you shouldn't need to manually adjust for it. you shure you don't just need to turn on Latency Compensation?

On the other hand its a pretty old computer and these days you could get a much much much faster new machine + new multi-channel Audio Interface for around $1000 pretty easily.
posted by mary8nne at 3:23 AM on July 2, 2009

I just got Cakewalk Music Creator 5, after seeing it reviewed. It's kind of Garageband for the PC. It's very cheap and has some nice drum sounds programmed into it. I was playing with it last night and there's a lot there for your $40.
posted by sully75 at 3:23 AM on July 2, 2009

You'll get better results with a hardware device that handles most of the work. Trying to correct a latency problem by throwing a faster processor at it will just change the latency, not eliminate it.
posted by gjc at 5:34 AM on July 2, 2009

I'd look into a MOTU 828 audio interface. AFAIK, they're the best you can get in their price range. Musicians Friend lists them for about $800. I don't know how many tracks you're recording at once, but if it's significantly less, then you might be able to go with something lower budget, like an Apogee Duet.

As far as a rebuild goes, check out the Ars Technica build guides. I think that the Budget Box that they mention would be a huge upgrade for you. The memory especially will help your system scream.

As a quick fix for now, try the ASIO4ALL driver mentioned above.

As far as drum inputs go, my old drummer really liked the Alesis ControlPad mentioned above, and eventually also bought an Akai MPD32. I have also used the Korg PadKontrol extensively and found it really useful. None of this is any good if you can't stand pads though.
posted by Magnakai at 5:45 AM on July 2, 2009

Actually, I just thought that you might try checking out the excellent BFD. The drum samples are very high quality, and there's a certain amount of mic bleed simulated, which really enhances the realism. It's one of those things you often get a Lite version of with a piece of audio gear, so keep your eyes open.
posted by Magnakai at 5:48 AM on July 2, 2009

You sound like you want an audio interface. No electronic drums will satisfy you, (as well they shouldn't), and audio input hardware is the best way to get multiple tracks in without latency, or without dropping huge cash on a new computer.

I have a Presonus FP10, and its everything I could hope for as far as hardware is concerned. Bought it for only a few hundred bucks with some deal online.

Initially I had one Radio Shack dynamic mike taped to a bent crutch, which made for a pretty sorry recording setup. It was miserable quality, but for getting drums into a digital file, it was a pretty solid technique and sounded about as good as demo recordings. Later, I got a 5-piece drum mike kit for 50 bucks, and now the set sounds way better.
posted by ninjuhplease at 5:58 AM on July 2, 2009

This budget box from ArsTechnica looks like money well spent.

I bought the Edirol UA-25EX recently. I haven't used it extensively, but I'm pleased with it so far. I've heard bad things about the drivers for most of the cheaper USB interfaces, and this one seems to get better reviews that way than others. It installs no sweat and seems to work solidly, based on my limited experience.

I did a lot of review and ended up buying the Audio-Technica 2020 mic. Again, I haven't used it extensively, but it gets good reviews and so far sounds good.
posted by sully75 at 6:21 AM on July 2, 2009

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